The Welsh poet, Henry Vaughan wrote to his cousin, the antiquary John Aubrey, in October 1694, in response to a request that he supply details of any remnants of the druids inWales. He was presumably looking for evidence of the awenyddon mentioned by Giraldus (see last post) but what Vaughan gives him is something quite different. The ‘inspired’ shepherd spoken of by Vaughan is no trained bard but an individual who has been struck by divine inspiration. The idea that a god or an inhabitant of some faërie realm can confer poetic gifts is well established in the folklore tradition where it is often the Queen of Faery on horseback, as in the Scottish border ballads about Thomas of Ercildoune. But in this case it is a god: Here is part of Vaughan’s reply to Aubrey:
 … the antient Bards  … communicated nothing of their knowledge, butt by way of tradition: which I suppose to be the reason that we have no account left nor any sort of remains, or other monuments of  their learning of way of living.
As to the later Bards, you shall have a most curious Account of them.
This vein of poetrie they called Awen, which in their language signifies rapture, or a poetic furore & (in truth) as many of them as I have conversed with are (as I may say) gifted or inspired with it. I was told by a very sober, knowing person (now dead) that in his time, there was a young 
lad fatherless & motherless, soe very poor that he was forced to beg; butt att last was taken up by a rich man, that kept a great stock of sheep upon the mountains not far from the place where I now dwell who cloathed him & sent him into the mountains to keep his sheep. There in Summer time following the sheep & looking to their lambs, he fell into a deep sleep in which he dreamt, that he saw a beautifull young man with a garland of green leafs upon his head, & an hawk upon his fist: with a quiver full of Arrows att his back, coming towards him (whistling several measures or tunes all the way) att last lett the hawk fly att him, which (he dreamt) gott into his mouth & inward parts, & suddenly awaked in a great fear & consternation: butt possessed with such a vein, or gift of poetrie, that he left the sheep & went about the Countrey, making songs upon all occasions, and came to be the most famous Bard in all the Countrey in his time.

This might not tell us much about the ‘ancient bards’ but the identity of the young man in a garland of green leaves with the hawk and arrows is of some interest. Maponus (Mabon) has been suggested. But even if we prefer to think of him as a generalised ‘Green Man’ figure, this is a remarkably specific and evocative  written record of a pagan spirit of nature, music and inspiration. {More on Maponus to come}.


Magaly Guerrero said...

Nice! You know? A friend asked me if I knew anything about "Fairy Faith" I sent him a link to your blog. Thanks for sharing all the knowledge.

BTW, I love this image of The Green Man.

Bo said...

Yes, I think this has to be an echo of Maponos. It's also reminiscent of Oengus mac Oc in the oldest tales: there's one passage in Cormac's Glossary (on the word 'prull') when the tale is told of how the 'poematis spiritus' appeared to Senchan Torpeist: it's probably intended to be O. m O, and is strongly reminiscent of this passage.

No cauldron of Ceridwen here!

Heron said...

Thanks Magaly.

And thanks, Bo, for the Cormac reference, I presume it's the one about the atagladasdtar gilldae (I'm using Whitley Stokes' commentary on the 'Bodleian Fragment' - can you recommend a good and accessible translation of the Glossary?)

Certainly no Cauldron of Ceridwen but there is a wondrous boy! I'm currently trying to pull together Oengus mac Óc and Maponus and looking at correspondences with Apollo. But I think you see where I'm going!

Bo said...

It's under the head word 'prull': the used is gille, 'lad'. Irish here:

There's an Irish Texts Society trans and edition by Sharon Arbuthnot, I think.

(the bit you quote is a verbal phrase: ad:gladathar means 'to address').

Susanne Iles said...

Your blog continues to inspire...thank you!

Heron said...

Thanks Susanne.

Thanks Bo for the reference and the clarification. I just quoted the beginning of the passage to check that I had the right one: "gladastar gilldae écuisc amal dastai inandiaid dentír: ...". But I'm sure it is. The 'gillie' then is the Spirit of Poetry. I'll follow this up in the next blog.