Elegy for Geraint: Battle of Llongborth


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Elegy for Geraint
Welsh Battle Poem, c.500

The poem below, found in the "Black Book of Carmarthen," is an English translation (believed to be accurate) of a sixth century Welsh battle poem written in praise of Geraint, a Dumnonian king, who fell during the conflict with the Saxons. The significant thing about the poem is that it is not a wild, legendary tale of one of Arthur's deeds, but mentions him only in an incidental way.

While this does not absolutely prove Arthur's reality, it does indicate that his name was synonymous, at least as early as the sixth century, for prowess in battle. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle, in its entry for the year 501*, reports the event this way:
Port and his two sons, Bieda and Maegla, came to Britain at the place called Portsmouth, and slew a young Welshman, a very noble man
Scholars believe that the Llongborth mentioned in the poem is, in fact, the Portsmouth of the Chronicle entry and that Geraint is the "young Welshman" who was killed, there. In those days, the term Welshman was used by the Saxons to refer to the Britons, in general, and did not denote a person from present-day Wales.


* According to John Morris' book, "The Age of Arthur," dates given in the early parts of the Anglo Saxon Chronicle are believed to be about 20 years off, due to an error by the 8th century historian, Bede, in dating the Adventus Saxonum, the coming of the Saxons. If true, then the Battle of Portsmouth (Llongborth) may have taken place as early as 480.
.............................................................

Before Geraint, the enemy's scourge,
I saw white horses, tensed, red,
After the war cry, bitter the grave

Before Geraint, the unflinching foe,
I saw horses jaded and gory from battle,
After the war cry, a great driving force

Before Geraint, the enemy of tyranny,
I saw horses white with foam,
After the war cry, a terrible torrent.

In Llongborth I saw the rage of slaughter,
And biers beyond all number,
And red-stained men from the assault of Geraint.

In Llongborth, I saw the clash of swords,
Men in terror, bloody heads,
Before Geraint the Great, his father's son.

In Llongborth I saw spurs,
And men who did not flinch from the dread of the spears,
Who drank their wine from the bright glass.

In Llongborth I saw the weapons,
Of men, and blood fast dropping,
After the war cry, a fearful return.

In Llongborth I saw Arthur's
Heroes who cut with steel.
The Emperor, ruler of our labour.

In Llongborth Geraint was slain,
A brave man from the region of Dyvnaint,
And before they were overpowered, they committed slaughter.

Under the thigh of Geraint swift chargers,
Long their legs, wheat their fodder,
Ruddy ones, swooping like spotted eagles.

Under the thigh of Geraint swift chargers,
Long their legs, grain was given them,
Ruddy ones, swooping like black eagles.

Under the thigh of Geraint swift chargers,
Long their legs, restless over their grain,
Ruddy ones, swooping like red eagles.

Under the thigh of Geraint swift chargers,
Long their legs, grain-scattering,
Ruddy ones, swooping like white eagles.

Under the thigh of Geraint swift chargers,
Long their legs, with the pace of the stag,
With a nose like that of the consuming fire on a wild mountain.

Under the thigh of Geraint swift chargers,
Long their legs, satiated with grain,
Grey ones, with their manes tipped with silver.

Under the thigh of Geraint swift chargers,
Long their legs, well deserving of grain,
Ruddy ones, swooping like grey eagles.

Under the thigh of Geraint swift chargers,
Long their legs, having corn for food,
Ruddy ones, swooping like brown eagies.

When Geraint was born, Heaven's gate stood open;
Christ granted all our prayer;
Lovely to behold, the glory of Britain (Prydain).


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