The Tides of Llyr
you alone are uncontainable invincible
I. A Call to Llyr
Llyr Llyr Llyr
of the sea
fill my voice
with your words
Llyr Llyr Llyr
II. The Mourning Wave
From the wide sea-fountain flows the tide,
it advances, it retreats, it smashes, it surges…
From the wide sea-fountain flow the currents,
(the sea) advances, it retreats, it surges, it smashes…
From the wide sea-fountain flows a flood,
Swiftly-coursing currents strike, attack the shore…
- The Death Song of Corroi
The ‘motif of the mourning wave’ is common in the elegaic poetry of medieval Wales. In the death songs of Corroi and Dylan and in ‘The Stanzas of the Graves’ we find waves, as Marged Haycock puts it so poetically, ‘breaking ceaselessly on the shore’ as a ‘reminder of the eternal might of natural forces contrasted with the fragility of man’s short time on earth’.
In ‘The Death Song of Corroi’ the ceaseless smash of the waves contrasts with ‘the sad silencing of a man with tempestuous qualities’. The waves of Ireland, Man, the North, and Britain mourn Dylan, struck down on ‘the deadly shore, violence in the current’. In the grave poems ‘the wave laps’ ‘the grave of / Dylan in Llanbeuno’ and ‘waves / strike the land’ where Pryderi’s grave lies in Aber Gwenoli.
In ‘The Conversation of Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir’, Gwyn, the Brythonic gatherer of souls, speaks enigmatically of being called to battles in ‘Tawe and Nedd’:
Not the Tawe here in this land
But the one far away in a distant land
Where the tide ebbs fiercely on the shore.
The mourning waves, born of ‘the wide sea-fountain’, beat against the shores of Thisworld and the Otherworld.
III. The Prison of Llyr
52. Three Exalted (Supreme) Prisoners of the Island of Britain
Llyr Half-Speech, who was imprisoned by Euroswydd,
and the second, Mabon son of Modron,
and third, Gwair son of Gwerioedd.
- The Triads of the Island of Britain
Llyr-Half Speech, whose words can only be half-heard in the rolling tongues of the tides of the sea was imprisoned by Euroswydd, the Golden God. Who was he? Another guise of Pen Annwn, the captor of Mabon in his ‘house of stone’ and Gwair who sings sorrowfully before the Spoils of Annwn?
All alone in your prison
in your prison beneath the sea
without any walls without any bars
you alone are uncontainable invincible.
Who knows how you were locked away
never giving up always giving up
your treasures in half-speech
to those who do not know
the fullness of your language.
How to speak the roll of your tides
on the roll of the tongue smashing surging
swiftly-coursing from the source?
IV. The Rise of the Nine Waves
It’s been a long long time since Llyr was imprisoned in the depths of the sea with his giant sons. The story hums with analogies with the chaining of the titans, the defeating of the Formori, the holding back of the spirits of Annwn by Gwyn ap Nudd to prevent the destruction of the world.
Pen Annwn has succeeded in containing the aryal ‘fury’ of his spirits but not the dristwch ‘sorrow’ with which he also has a deep familiarity. This is hinted at in lines from ‘The Hostile Confederacy’:
In Annwn below the earth…
there is one who knows
is better than joy.
Where he walks the seashores beside the villages and towns of Fairbourne, Aberystwyth, Barmouth, Borth, Hemsby, Happisburgh, Blackpool, Lytham, Fleetwood (which will soon be drowned like Cantre’r Gwaelod) bog oaks, ancient antlers and footprints of aurochs are found as a reminder of past upwellings.
He is aware of the rising of the nine waves – the giant sons and daughters of Llyr – headless Brân, Branwen, Manawydan, those whose names have only ever been half-spoken, throwing off their chains and riding from the waters of the Cauldron of Rebirth aboard their dark, foaming, frothing sea-horses.
If he cannot stop them can anyone stop the sorrow arising from the ‘wide sea fountain’ without and within?
Lorna Smithers is a poet, author, awenydd, Brythonic polytheist, and devotee of Gwyn ap Nudd. By questing the deep wisdom of Annwn and dreaming new myths she seeks to reweave the ways between the worlds. She has published three books: Enchanting the Shadowlands, The Broken Cauldron, and Gatherer of Souls. She is a co-founder of Awen ac Awenydd and writes for Gods & Radicals. Based in Penwortham, Lancashire, North West England, she gives talks and workshops, performs poetry, and is learning Welsh.