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The Stephen Spender Prize 2019 for poetry in translation
in association with the Guardian

14-and-under category, winner

Read the judges’ comments
Download the 2019 booklet
Email to request a free hard copy of the booklet (UK addresses only)
Read the winning entries from previous years

Ide Crawford

Cad Goddeu

In many forms have I appeared
Changing through the wheeling years
Once the swift-flung shaft of the spear
Once the sky's tears dropping clear
Once the climbing spark of the star
Once the shield tight-held in war
Once a great bridge stretching far
Over the fierce free-flowing flood
Once the sword that drew the blood
Once the harp-string by fingers stirred
Once the path, once the binding cord
Once among the letters the word

In the book of birth and beginning
Once food at the feast, the bowl brimming
Once the wild hawk high in the tree
Once the winged ship on the wasted sea
Once the white water, the froth-foam free
Once the moving flames that tune-like play
Once in the whirling wood the winding way
Now the torch in the dark before the day
With full unfaltering fearless rays.

Translated from the Middle Welsh by Ide Crawford

Cad Goddeu

Bum yn lliaws rith
Kyn bum kisgyfrith.
Bum cledyf culurith.
Credaf pan writh.
Bum deigyr yn awyr.
Bum serwaw syr.
Bum geir yn llythyr.
Bum llyfyr ym prifder.
Bum llugyrn lleufer
Blwydyn a hanher.
Bum pont ar triger.
Ar trugein aber.
Bum hynt bym eryr.
Bum corwc ymyr.
Bum darwed yn llat.
Bum das ygkawat.
Bum cledyf yn aghat.
Bum yscwyt ygkat.
Bum tant yn telyn
Lletrithawdc naw blwydyn.
Yn dwfyr yn ewyn.
Bum yspwg yn tan.
Bum gwyd yngwarthan.



Translation commentary

This is the opening of the Middle Welsh poem 'Cad Goddeu'. It follows a traditional pattern also found in ancient Irish texts, where the poet claims incarnation in a diverse string of physical forms. I am fascinated by the way this trope confidently elides the subject/object relation which is so complicated in poetry in the modern period, with poems like John's Clair's "Clock o' Clay" occasionally stepping back into direct identification.

Although I write poetry all the time, I have never translated anything before – so researching how to set about it was a fascinating process in itself. Translating a text written in the fourteenth century, and likely formed through a much older oral tradition, brings the translator up against issues at once of linguistic and dense cultural difference.

I have kept close to the original rhyme scheme, and attempted to preserve parts of the alliteration, which involved minor changes and rearranging of the lines. It is almost impossible, however, to duplicate exactly the intricate Welsh sound patterns in English.

As I am not fluent even in modern Welsh, I have relied largely on dictionaries. Even this is complicated by the many mutations which change the first letter of words.

Ide Crawford