Guest Blog Post – Vote for Bobbe!

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.

This week's blog post is on the RSPB web site, see it here. Image from British Library Additional Manuscript 18852, a red squirrel from c.1500 AD. Image in the public domain.

This week’s blog post is on the RSPB web site. Click here to see it.
Image from British Library Additional Manuscript 18852, a red squirrel from c.1500 AD. Image in the public domain.

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,
mac’n boen i’r gwiwerod bach;
mynad ar lawndaith i Lundain
â’u bloedd a’u mamaeth o’u blaen.

Gwych oedd hi’r wiwer goch hon,
dorllaes, yn medru darllen,
yn ymddiddan â’r cyngawr,
ac eto ma’n fater mawr.

Pan roed y llyfr dan ei llaw
a choel oedd i’w chywilyddiaw,
hi ddywed wrth y beili,
“Sir Bribwm, un twym wyt ti!”

Ar ei llw hi ddywed fal hyn,
anrheithio holl goed Rhuthyn
a dwyn ei thŷ a’i sgubor
liw nos du, a’i chnau a’i stôr.
“mae’r gwiwerod yn gweiddi
am y coed rhag ofn y ci.

Nid oes fry o goed y fron
Ond lludw y derw llwydion.
Nod oes gepyll heb ei gipio,
na nyth brân byth i’n bro.

Mae’r tylluanod yn udo
am y coed, yn gyrru plant o’u co’.
Gwae’r dylluan rhag annwyd,
oer ei lle am geubren llwyd!

Gwae’r geifr am eu coed a’u cyll,
a pherchen hwch a pherchyll!
Gwae galon hwch folgoch hen
Dduw Sul am le i gael mesen!

Cadair y cathod coedion,
mi wn y tu llosgwyd hon.
Yn iach draenog; nac aerwy
na chafn moch ni cheir mwy.

Os rhostir gŵydd foel, rhiad fydd
â rhedyn Bwlch y Rhodwydd.
Crychias ni feirw crochan,
na breci mwy heb bricie mân.

O daw mawnen o’r mynydd
a y glaw, oer a drud fydd.
Annwyd fydd yn lladd y forwyn,
oer ei thraed a defni o’i thrwyn.

Nid oes gaynac ysgyrren
na chae chwipio biach gul hen.
Gwir a ddywed Angharad,
oni cheir glo, yn iach i’n gwlad.”

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,
soft-bellied and able to read ;
She conversed with the Council
and made a great matter of it.

When the Book was put under her hand
in the faith that this would shame her,
she spoke thus to the bailiff,
“Sir Bribem, you’re a deep one !”

Then on her oath she said,
“All Rhuthyn’s woods are ravaged ;
my house and barn were taken
one dark night, and my store of nuts.
The squirrels all are calling
for the trees ; they fear the dog.

Up there remains of the hill-wood
only grey ash of oak trees ;
There’s not a stump unstolen
nor a crow’s nest left in our land.

The owls are always hooting
for the trees, they send the children mad.
The poor owl catches cold,
left cold without her hollow trunk.

Woe to the goats, without trees or hazels,
and to the sow-keeper and piglets !
Pity an old red-bellied sow
on Sunday, in her search for an acorn.

The chair of the wild cats,
I know where that was burnt.
Goodbye hedgehog ! No cow-collar
or pig-trough will come from here any more.

If a plucked goose is to be roasted,
it must be with bracken from Rhodwydd Gap.
No pot will come to bubbling,
no beer will boil without small twigs ;

and if peat comes from the mountain
in the rain, it’s cold and dear.
Colds will exhaust the housemaid,
with cold feet and a dripping nose.

There’s no hollow trunk or branch,
or a fence for the beating of an old thin snipe.
Yes, Angharad spoke the truth,
if we don’t get coal it’s goodbye to our land.”

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)

 

REFERENCES

Baillie SR, Marchant JH, Leech DI, Massimino D, Sullivan MJP, Eglington SM, Barimore C, Dadam D, Downie IS, Harris SJ, Kew AJ, Newson SE, Noble DG, Risely K & Robinson RA (2014) BirdTrends 2014: trends in numbers breeding success and survival for UK breeding birds. BTO Research Report 662. BTO, Thetford.

Britannia (2001) The Renaissance. An Introduction to Welsh Literature. Accessed: March 30th 2015.

Forestry Commission (2014) Forestry Statistics 2014. (pdf)

Gurnell J, Lurz PWW & Halliwell FC (2008) Red Squirrel. Harris S & Yalden DW Mammals of the British Isles: Handbook. Mammal Society, Southampton.

Lloyd Gruffydd K (1996) The export of Flintshire coal before the Industrial Revolution. Flintshire Historical Society Journal. 34:53-88.

Kitchener AC & Daniels MJ (2008) Wildcat. Harris S & Yalden DW Mammals of the British Isles: Handbook. Mammal Society, Southampton.

Northern Mine Research Society (NMRS) (2013) Coal Mining in the British Isles.  Accessed April 6th 2015.

Parry T (2015) Robin Clidro. Dictionary of Welsh Biography. Accessed: March 29th 2015.

People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) (2013) Mammals on Roads Update.

Rackham O (1986) The History of the Countryside. 1995 ed. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London.

Williams G (trans. 1946) Welsh Poems, Sixth Century to 1600. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Williams I, Hayman P, Hume, R (2005) Llyfr Adar Iolo Williams. 2007 ed. Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, Llanrwst.

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