Species: Red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris); oak (Quercus robur); crow (Corvus corone) ; tawny owl (Strix aluco); wild cat (Felis sylvestris).
Source: ‘Coed Marchan’ by Robin Clidro.
Date: Around 1580 A.D.
Highlights: After Marchan Wood was cut down, a delegation of red squirrels went to Parliament in London to request no more deforestation. They begged this on behalf of the wild animals mentioned above, but also mentioned the poor domestic stock and humans that were suffering. Sadly they weren’t listened to.
MAIN PART OF POST
The main part of this blog post can be found on the RSPB blog site. You should click on the link to go see that before continuing.
However if you are looking for the original poem, come back here after you have finished…
ABOUT THE POEM
Robin Clidro was a low-grade wandering poet, originally from the Vale of Clwyd. He was active c.1580 A.D. and is representative of the new grade of Welsh poet which flourished in the early modern period, when the complicated cynghanedd rhyme schemes of the traditional Welsh poets were being replaced by a kind of blank verse (Parry, 2015; Britannia, 2001).
Scholars have tended to emphasise Clidro as a less professional bard, and a symbol of the early modern period’s slipping standards (ibid). However, this poem at times achieves sophisticated word-play (‘lludw y derw llwydion’) and serious themes (the loss of biodiversity and ecological harmony) even within a humorous poem.
|Coed MarchanCywydd dros y gwiwerod a aeth i Lundain i ffilio ag i wneuthur affidafid ar y bil am dorri Coed Marchan yn ynyl Rhuthyn.||Marchan WoodApoem on behalf of the squirrels who went to London to file and make an affidavit on the bill for the cutting down of Marchan Wood, near Rhuthun.|
Blin ac afrydd yw’r gyfraith,
Gwych oedd hi’r wiwer goch hon,
Pan roed y llyfr dan ei llaw
Ar ei llw hi ddywed fal hyn,
Nid oes fry o goed y fron
Mae’r tylluanod yn udo
Gwae’r geifr am eu coed a’u cyll,
Cadair y cathod coedion,
Os rhostir gŵydd foel, rhiad fydd
O daw mawnen o’r mynydd
Nid oes gaynac ysgyrren
|Odious and hard is the law
and painful to little squirrels.
They go the whole way to London
with their cry and their matron before them.
This red squirrel was splendid,
When the Book was put under her hand
Then on her oath she said,
Up there remains of the hill-wood
The owls are always hooting
Woe to the goats, without trees or hazels,
The chair of the wild cats,
If a plucked goose is to be roasted,
and if peat comes from the mountain
There’s no hollow trunk or branch,
The poem is organised in rhyming couplets, which I have sorted into four-line verses based on subject matter. The matron is actually described as the mamaeth (foster-mother) of the red squirrels (gwiwer goch). They are frightened because not only have they lost their homes and food, without trees they cannot flee from hunting dogs.
The end of the third verse seems to contain a joke, the meaning of which is now lost. Would the squirrel be embarrassed by swearing on the Bible because she cannot talk, or because she is too short? Is she misreading the title of the Bible by calling it Sir Bribem? The word twym ordinarily means ‘hot’ not ‘deep’. The reference to Angharad in the last verse is also unclear to me.
The idea that the hooting of tawny owls is so annoying it drives people mad may have been a poetic device, we find the same idea in another Welsh poem called ‘The Owl’ by Dafydd ap Gwilym from two centuries earlier. The sound of the owl hooting (yn udo) parallels the earlier reference to the sound of the squirrel shouting (yn gweiddi), both are distinctive cries only heard around trees.
The biach gul hen is ambiguous. The Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru suggests this is a snipe (usually giach), but could have prompted the g>b is unclear. Today giach is still the term used in Welsh for the bird (Williams, 2005).
Coal began to be used as an alternative fuel to wood and peat around 1500 in some parts of Britain, and Robin Clidro appears to be hoping a coalfield will be found in north Wales to provide a new source of fuel. His wish was soon realised, as the end of the sixteenth century saw a new intensification of the coal-fields in Flintshire (Lloyd Gruffydd, 1996)
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