Wednesday, November 22, 2017


Have reconsidered the first several lines of the MVP.  Believe I have had a breakthrough.

The first problem is the use of gorlassar in the poem.  As you know, this has generally been thought of as gor(g)lassar, so very blue or the like.  Suggestions link it to the color of weapons.  I wondered once about woad.  But...

In Irish, we have two words:

Cite this: eDIL s.v. forlas(s)ar or
Forms: forlasrach

n (lassar) a great blaze ; great radiance: sruth tentide co forlasair fair LU 2092 ( FA 16 ). ? g s. (as attrib.) leni ... co nderginliud ōir forlasrach LU 10222 . As adj. radiant, dazzling: eo find fota f.¤ RC xiii 395.7 . Cf. techlach fial forlassuir IT i 145.6 = for lasadh ZCP v 502 . Leg. for lassair ? cf. LL 259bx ( IT i 70 ).

Cite this: eDIL s.v. forlas(s)arda or
Forms: for- lassardha

adj io-iā blazing ; radiant: tuatha finna for- lassardha , Ériu ii 130 § 99 .

Cite this: eDIL s.v. forlas(ṡ)ardacht or
Forms: f.

n ā,f. dazzling radiance: f.¤ int slōig (sc. of heaven) Ériu ii 144 § 159 .


Cite this: eDIL s.v. forglass or
adj o-ā green-surfaced (`oben-graulich' Thurn., ZCP xvii 302.4 ); very green: l. torc ... at e foliath forglasa Ériu xii 176.9 . dar in fairggi fírdomain forglais LL 235a x ( TTr. 1363 ; cf. ind ḟ.¤ úani ochorgorm 1364 ). ar ferand forglas fírdomain ... a ndéé ... Neptúin LL 224b8 ( TTr. 535 ). fér f.¤ LU 5325 ( TBC 1512 ). co lár Maige Find forglaiss, Met. Dinds. iii 452 . bruitt forglassa TBC 177 . Name of the letter n in `Mucogam,' Auraic. 5669 , 5939 . orc a cru forglaisi (letter i) 5676 . indoth forglaisi `litter of a blue ... sow' (letter r) 5673 . Cf. brec oc forglais 5934 .

Given that Uther is THE CHIEF DRAGON, and dragons are always associated with fire, I think gorlassar here as a name or descriptor is for a great fire, a blazing, radiant light.  This alone makes sense out of the following line, where the speaker of the poem calls himself the 'leader in darkness.'  He is a leader in darkness precisely because he is so bright, a blazing fire.  You can't lead in darkness unless you can be easily seen!

While the Welsh cognate of Irish lassar is lachar, I would make a case for gorlasar (a very rare word in Welsh) being a semi-borrowing of Irish forlassar (with for- replaced by gor-).  *Gorlachar does not exist in Welsh. Irish lassar occurs in the Welsh name Llassar Llaes Gyfnewid, a borrowing from Irish myth (although Llassar may here be for Laisre, a personal name derived from lassar, fire, flame).  

Now, he is also 'a second kawyl in the gloom/darkness.'  Here I would use kan(n)wyl(l), which has the primary meaning of luminary, and a figurative meaning of "leader."  As Dr. Simon Rodway made clear before, kanwyll could have become kawyl when the the copyist missed an n-stroke over the a. So, this would echo the earlier 'leader in darkness.'

All of which leads us to the intervening and very problematic line -

a'm rithwy am dwy pen kawell

I was again struck by Haycock's discussion of the poem as pertaining not to Uther, but to Taliesin.  In her words:

"The speaker of the present poem presents himself in lines 1-25 as a warrior
above all. In the second half, lines 26-35 the emphasis is on the speaker’s poetic
skill, and his ability as a harpist, piper and crowder (player on the crwth). Other
poems in this collection such as §5 Kat Godeu indicate that both martial and
artistic qualities (as well as others) coexist in the delineation of Taliesin himself,
and it is tempting to assume that he is the speaker of the whole poem.
Alternatively, the second half may have been originally a ‘Taliesin’ piece which
became attached to a soliloquy (?by Uthr) because of the very marked egocentric
nature of the two, and perhaps because Taliesin was imagined to have sung the
deathsong of Uthr (not necessarily the first part of our poem), just as he was the
putative author of Dylan’s elegy and the poem on Cunedda (§§22 and 23)."

And now I think there may be even more to this idea.  I would render pen kawell without any change whatsoever as 'chief of the basket.'  The basket in question is Taliesin's hide-covered one (see the HANES TALIESIN).  The transformation is that which he undergoes IN THE BASKET, where he goes from being Gwion Bach to Tal-iesin, the Bright/Shining/Radiant Brow that is so visible at night to Elphin.

From the GPC:

radiant, sparkling, shimmering, bright, gleaming

The Radiant Forehead of Taliesin may be akin to the luan láith ("warrior's moon"; see eDIL) of the Irish hero Cuchulainn.  The 'second luminary' of the MVP may well be the moon.  

So, I would translate the troublesome line as 'May God transform me, the Chief of the Basket.'

The entire first portion of the MVP could then be rendered thusly:

Neu vi luossawc yn trydar:
It is I who commands hosts in battle:

ny pheidwn rwg deu lu heb wyar.
I’d not give up between two forces without bloodshed.

Neu vi a elwir gorlassar:
It’s I who’s styled the great blaze/radiance

vy gwrys bu enuys y’m hescar.
my ferocity snared my enemy.

Neu vi tywyssawc yn tywyll:
It is I who’s a leader in darkness:

a’m rithwy am dwy pen kawell.
May God transform me, Chief of the Basket.

Neu vi eil kawyl yn ardu:
It’s I who’s a second luminary/leader [the moon?] in the gloom:

ny pheidwn heb wyar rwg deu lu.
I’d not give up without bloodshed [the fight] between two forces.

All of this, then, is spoken by Taliesin himself.  But, if Taliesin is speaking throughout, and about himself, why was this poem called the Death-Song of Uther Pen[dragon]?

Good question!  The notion that we can identify Taliesin with Uther Pendragon is not very tenable.  It is certainly possible, however, that whoever wrote the poem was imagining Taliesin, the great transformer/shapeshifter, as becoming Uther in death.  This strange kind of unity of poet and his subject is found in other Taliesin poems.  In fact, one might call it a hallmark of Taliesin's poetry.  In this sense, then, the dead Uther, pronouncing his own elegy, is also Taliesin.  

This is an alien concept to us nowadays.  But it may well have been understood by the audience of the time. 


We need to look more closely at the guide-title of the ‘Uther Pen’ poem.  After receiving false or conflicting or just plain confusing information on this from several sources, I finally asked Dr. Maredudd ap Huw, Manuscripts Librarian, Department of Collection Services at the National Library of Wales.

Dr. Huw’s response, in full:

“Firstly, I confirm that there is no ellipsis indicated in the manuscript, and that the gloss (or more correctly guide-title) reads 'mar. vthyr dragon.'

Secondly, on looking at the manuscript, it appears that the guide-title is written by the main scribe to inform the rubricator, who subsequently added the abbreviated title. The red ink of ‘n’ in ‘pen’ appears to cover the letter ‘d’ of ‘dragon’.

I regret that I am not in a position to speculate as to why the rubricator did not follow the exact wording offered by the scribe in the guide-title.”

This last is an important observation. The rubricator (called such because he used red ink) wrote ‘marvnat vthyr pen.’ for the main scribe’s ‘mar. vthyr dragon.’  Why?  

Uther Dragon (GPC for dragon, 'warrior, hero, war leader, chieftain, prince'), alone, makes for a perfect match with the mil uathmar, 'terrible warrior', of the Irish "Conception of Mongan" tale.  This tale provided Geoffrey of Monmouth with his story of King Arthur's birth.  But if Uther Dragon were originally the mil uathmar, why add Pen- to dragon?

The only possible explanation that I can think of is to to make Uther Dragon more distinct, and to separate him more fully from the mil uathmar.  This may have been done by Geoffrey or his source.  The original poem, written about mil uathmar, had Pen- added to the title after Geoffrey or his source made the new title fashionable.  

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