The Spoils of Annwfn (Preiddeu Annwfn)

“The Spoils of Annwfn” is a mysterious sixty-line poem in Middle Welsh, included in the Book of Taliesin. It narrates King Arthur’s journey to Annwfn or Annwn, a mythic Otherworld in Welsh lore. This unique piece is solely contained in the Book of Taliesin, dated to the early 14th century. Pinpointing the poem’s composition is challenging, with estimates varying from the era of the bard Taliesin in the late 6th century to the manuscript’s completion.

Linguistic analysis, that the poem attained its current form around 900 AD. The poem shares a structural trait with several pre-Gogynfeirdd poems in the Book of Taliesin, namely a caesura typically creating longer and shorter line sections.

Several academics have identified similarities with other medieval Welsh texts, proposing that it may have influenced the development of the Grail theme in Arthurian literature. Marged Haycock, in her work “The Figure of Taliesin,” was the initial scholar to suggest that the poem primarily focuses on Taliesin and his boastful display of wisdom. Additionally, Sarah Higley interprets the poem as a self-referential metaphor, viewing it as an allegory for the tangible rewards of poetic creation.

Overview of the Spoils of Annwfn

The first six stanzas of the Englynion y Beddau offer brief glimpses into a captivating journey. In the initial stanza, Gweir is discovered ensnared within the confines of “Cær Pedryvan”. Rachel Bromwich links Gweir to Gwair, one of the “Three Exalted Prisoners of Britain” from the Trioedd Ynys Prydein (Welsh Triads, or Triads of the Isle of Britain) in Triad 52.

Gweir languishes in chains, chanting before the “Spoils of Annw(f)n”. The second stanza delineates the cauldron of the Chief of Annwn and its acquisition, ostensibly constituting the aforementioned “Spoils”. The third and fourth stanzas hint at confrontations with the forces of Annwn, while the fifth and sixth stanzas portray a mighty ox that potentially contributes to Arthur’s cache of treasures.

The initial stanza references Pwyll, the prince of Dyfed, who, in the first branch of the Mabinogi (Mabinogion), ascends to the role of Chief of Annwn after aiding its monarch, Arawn (who is attributed ownership of a cauldron). The speaker could possibly be Taliesin himself, as indicated by the second stanza which states, “my poetry, from the cauldron it was uttered, from the breath of nine maidens it was kindled, the cauldron of the chief of Annw(fy)n”, intertwining with a similar narrative in the legend of Taliesin’s birth, as suggested by Sarah Higley.

The The Spoils of Annwfn contains the fullest description of the Briton “other world” that mythological literature can provide. The text below has been collated by Charles Squire (1905) from four different translations of the text, those being of Mr. W. F. Skene, Mr. T. Stephens, Prof. John Rhys, and D. W. Nash.

The Spoils of Annwfn

“I will praise the Sovereign, supreme Lord of the land,
Who hath extended his dominion over the shore of the world.
Stout was the prison of Gweir [ Gwydion fab Dôn ] in Caer Sidi,
Through the spite of Pwyll and Pryderi:
No one before him went into it.
The heavy blue chain firmly held the youth,
And before the spoils of Annwn woefully he sang,
And thenceforth till doom he shall remain a bard.
Thrice enough to fill Prydwen [the name of Arthur’s ship] we went into it;
Except seven, none returned from Caer Sidi [Revolving Castle].

“Am I not a candidate for fame, to be heard in song
In Caer Pedryvan [Four-cornered Castle], four times revolving?
The first word from the cauldron, when was it spoken?
By the breath of nine maidens it was gently warmed.
Is it not the cauldron of the Chief of Annwn? What is its fashion?
A rim of pearls is round its edge.
It will not cook the food of a coward or one foresworn.
A sword flashing bright will be raised to him,
And left in the hand of Lleminawg.
And before the door of the gate of Uffren [The Cold Place] the lamp was burning.
When went with Arthur–a splendid labour!–
Except seven, non returned from Caer Vedwyd [Castle of Revelry].

“Am I not a candidate for fame, to be heard in song
In Caer Pedryvan, in the Isle of the Strong Door,
Where twilight and pitchy darkness meet together,
And bright wine is the drink of the host?
Thrice enough to fill Prydwen we went on the sea.
Except seven, none returned from Caer Rigor [Kingly Castle].

“I will not allow much praise to the leaders of literature.
Beyond Caer Wydyr [Glass Castle] they saw not the prowess of Arthur;
Three-score hundreds stood on the walls;
It was hard to converse with their watchman.
Thrice enough to fill Prydwen we went with Arthur;
Except seven, none returned from Caer Golud [Castle of Riches].

“I will not allow much praise to the spiritless.
They know not on what day, or who caused it,
Or in what hour of the serene day Cwy was born,
Or who caused that he should not go to the dales of Devwy.
They know not the brindled ox with the broad head-band,
Whose yoke is seven-score handbreadths.
When we went with Arthur, of mournful memory,
Except seven, none returned from Caer Vandwy [another name for otherworld].

“I will not allow much praise to those of drooping courage.
They know not what day the chief arose,
Nor in what hour of the serene day the owner was born,
Nor what animal they keep, with its head of silver.
When we went with Arthur, of anxious striving,
Except seven, non returned from Caer Ochren [another name for otherworld].”

Preiddeu Annwn in Welsh

Llyfyr Taliesin XXX

Golychaf wledic pendeuic gwlat ri.
py ledas y pennaeth dros traeth mundi.
bu kyweir karchar gweir yg kaer sidi.
trwy ebostol pwyll a phryderi.
Neb kyn noc ef nyt aeth idi.
yr gadwyn trom las kywirwas ae ketwi.
A rac preidu annwfyn tost yt geni.
Ac yt urawt parahawt yn bardwedi.
Tri lloneit prytwen yd aetham ni idi.
nam seith ny dyrreith o gaer sidi. 

Neut wyf glot geinmyn cerd ochlywir.
yg kaer pedryuan pedyr ychwelyt.
yg kynneir or peir pan leferit.
O anadyl naw morwyn gochyneuit.
Neu peir pen annwfyn pwy y vynut.
gwrym am y oror a mererit.
ny beirw bwyt llwfyr ny ry tyghit.
cledyf lluch lleawc idaw rydyrchit.
Ac yn llaw leminawc yd edewit.
A rac drws porth vffern llugyrn lloscit.
A phan aetham ni gan arthur trafferth lethrit.
nam seith ny dyrreith o gaer vedwit. 

Neut wyf glot geinmyn kerd glywanawr.
yg kaer pedryfan ynys pybyrdor
echwyd a muchyd kymyscetor
gwin gloyw eu gwirawt rac eu gorgord.
Tri lloneit prytwen yd aetham ni ar vor.
nam seith ny dyrreith o gaer rigor. 

Ny obrynafi lawyr llen llywyadur
tra chaer wydyr ny welsynt wrhyt arthur.
Tri vgeint canhwr a seui ar y mur.
oed anhawd ymadrawd ae gwylyadur.
tri lloneit prytwen yd aeth gan arthur.
nam seith ny dyrreith o gaer golud. 

Ny obrynaf y lawyr llaes eu kylchwy
ny wdant wy pyˇdyd peridyd pwy.
py awr ymeindyd y ganet cwy.
Pwy gwnaeth ar nyt aeth doleu defwy.
ny wdant wy yr ych brych bras y penrwy.
seith vgein kygwng yny aerwy.
A phan aetham ni gan arthur auyrdwl gofwy.
nam seith ny dyrreith o gaer vandwy. 

Ny obrynafy lawyr llaes eu gohen.
ny wdant py dyd peridyd pen.
Py awr ymeindyd y ganet perchen.
Py vil a gatwant aryant y pen.
Pan aetham ni gan arthur afyrdwl gynhen.
nam seith ny dyrreith o gaer ochren. 

Myneich dychnut val cunin cor.
gyfranc udyd ae gwidanhor.
Ae vn hynt gwynt ae vn dwfyr mor.
Ae vn vfel tan twrwf diachor. 
Myneych dychnut val bleidawr.
o gyfranc udyd ae gwidyanhawr
ny wdant pan yscar deweint a gwawr.
neu wynt pwy hynt pwy y rynnawd.
py va diua py tir a plawd.
bet sant ynˇdiuant a bet allawr.
Golychaf y wledic penefic mawr.
na bwyf trist crist am gwadawl.