Peter Philpott

Wound Scar Memories

Fragments of Vulgar Things #8

yes, I've had such fun with Tim & Peter
they do know what a woman might want
and it isn't fancy figures of speech
direct address & a joke do fine

you're hiding still on the edge of this town
little shitheap with lots of water I'd call the place
what you engage with is really just language
I know, you know, as does the world it says

oh it grows up & it lives
I know you did & I'm glad
I think of you as my twelfth child

they're all else long gone & I'm fading fast
no spring or fountain plays for ever
when you find what you need to say
                                                     I'll vanish

Action in the Play Zone #8
even in winter, there is sunshine, they say

they are the friends of something
OK, they were children once
but what they did utterly absurd
they remain grey sheets of high cloud

most of what they say — ignore
please they always say that
they were born as they are, too
they have no other purpose

they are much more indescribable
please hate what they stand for
constraint they read as something else
they are simple and no fun
they smell
                 & smell us others out

Hedge of Utterance #8
"Gwyr a aeth gatraeth"

oh Neirin, my little one, my darling grandson
how you hate all this shouting even in
DogTanian you flee it: absurd!
but this world you will find is full of it

most of what they say — ignore!
it's obvious why you want to stay a babe
as happy and as innocent as we all were born
your purpose is to be helpful I know & to laugh

this world alas! much more indescribable
it may come to fierce struggle we are afraid
though we do good things & make our pilgrimages
that's not enough here to make sure we all survive it
you will do fine, my little boisterous boy
even when you travel in the warband to Catterick

you will break the silence when you return
you will help us with what we need to do
all of us together helping to build up & tend
these poems survive even then our darkest ages

from Not a Note on Some Matters with Britain

Here are some very pertinent statements from Anthony Conran's "Introduction" to The Penguin Book of Welsh Verse (Penguin Books, 1967), pp 22–3:

The Welsh . . . when we first meet them in the sixth century, are in the process of undergoing the traumatic experience of Roman withdrawal, re-emergence of total tribalism, failure to keep their lands, mass migration and constant war. A people does not change its language for nothing: suddenly to adapt a whole new pattern of syntax — or rather, to let the old formalities of speech lapse into linguistic chaos — this is tantamount to cultural amnesis. The same phenomenon can be witnessed in Anglo-Saxon England in the centuries following the Norman conquest.

This provides a good cue for my grandson Neirin to make a typically cheerier entrance than his namesake. Neirin is a standardised version of the original (proto-Welsh) name of the poet of Y Gododdin, usually referred by a more modern Welsh form, Aneirin. It is enjoyable to consider Neirin/Aneirin as the earliest named British, the earliest named Scottish and the earliest named Welsh poet. (Yes, Taliesin is of the previous generation, but less has survived linked to his name that is genuinely from his period, and his biography is muddled by folklore — he is resonant but too strongly "Celtic" in his associations, no longer a credible real person.) Aneirin's poetry (and some of the Taliesin poetry) is the limited, militaristically survivalist poetry Conran was referring to, whose purpose and value are fighting the "English". It is beautiful, plangent, vivid, formally masterly; but pretty monotonous, unless you were in the meadhall getting drunk, and listening out for how you and your mates were being ranked. A poetry for the hardest of times and the fiercest of societies. Probably very similar to what was sung in the Great Hall at Yeavering to Æthelfrith, just different language & different forms, and probably a more elegiac tone, cos Neirin's side was losing. Oh fuck — Æthelfrith? King of Bernicia and the whole of Northumbria, a great fighter and conqueror, of Deira, of the British/Welsh and even of Dál Riata (the Irish-speaking group, centred originally on the Western Highlands, which later formed the Kingdom of Scots after taking over the Pictish kingdom of Alba). He may well have been responsible for defeating and killing virtually all the 300 warriors who'd set out some time just before 600 from Din Eidyn (Edinburgh Castle), a fortress of the Gododdin, to attack the English at Catraeth, probably Catterick, still a major base for the English Army.

Our final, well, obscure and puzzling Early Medieval personage enters after this, and brings in some more local interest. Stortford was owned before the Norman Conquest by someone referred to in the Domesday Book as "Eddeva Pulchra", recorded as a major land-owner. She can be identified, and I choose to do so, with Edith Swan Neck — Eadgifu Swann Hnecca — King Harold Godwinsson's mistress/first wife/wife "more danico"/"handfast wife." As opposed to his Queen, Ealdgyth, daughter of Ælfgar Earl of Mercia, and previously wife to Gruffudd ap Llewellyn, King of Gwynedd and last King of the Britons (before he was defeated by Harold and killed by his subjects). Eadgifu Swann Hnecca was Harold's love and the mother of his children. The other Queen also around we could call Edith was Edward the Confessor's Queen, Ealdgyth, Harold's sister. Eadgifu Swann Hnecca is reported as having identified Harold's body on the battlefield at Hastings through "secret marks".

OK. Apart from this fruitful confusion of Ediths, there is the tradition (ie someone wrote it down quite a little way after, but much nearer to the time than we are) that Edith Swan Neck had Harold's body buried in St Michael's Church in Stortford, which is given some support by reliable Victorian accounts of the presence of "Early Norman" stone coffins in a crypt. Alternative, and possibly more reliable, traditions, give Waltham Abbey, which Harold had refounded and rebuilt, or Bosham, a royal manor with an important church (shown in the Bayeux Tapestry), where the Conqueror could control any cult of the dead king. These are all equally un/convincing narratives, with some evidence or rationale for each.

But I choose the story with the Swan Neck. Some claim she was "Swann Hnesce", the Fair Swan, as if a Swan Neck does not immediately indicate clearly a tall, willowy slim elegance. I discovered too a further delightful complication (thank you, oh at times not reliable, but always interesting, Wikipedia) — a claim that the Swan Neck, retiring from the world, was the Richilde who had the vision of the Virgin's House, and built it in Norfolk, at Walsingham.