The Battle of the Trees

“Cad Goddeu” or “Kat Godeu” (The Battle of the Trees), a poem from the 14th-century “Book of Taliesin,” delves into a mythical battle led by the divine sons of Dôn, using an army of magically animated trees, possibly from Coed Celyddon, the Caledonian Forest. The poem is considered part of the transformational genre in Welsh literature and contains elements that may trace back to older traditions like pagan tree-lore.

Arthur is mentioned only once in the poem, where the ‘druids of the wise one’ are instructed to prophesy to him, suggesting his presence in the narrative. The poem also refers to the ‘lord of Britain’ in the context of the battle, which Haycock interprets as another reference to Arthur.

Key elements of the poem include the battle around the fort Kaer Nefenhir and references to Arthurian characters like Gwalchmai, also connected to Arthur in other early sources. The battle’s alternate name, Cad Achren, links it to Arthur’s assault on Caer Ochren in “Preideu Annwfyn,” and its description as a ‘futile battle’ instigated by a roebuck and a dog aligns with the narrative in “Preideu Annwfyn” of a conflict to retrieve a beast with a silver head.

This mythical Arthurian battle, along with its association with the forest of Coed Celyddon, is likely connected to the Cat Coit Celidon mentioned in the early ninth-century “Historia Brittonum.” Like other battles in the “Historia,” it appears to be a mythical battle historicized for the text’s list of Arthur’s victories.

The Battle of the Trees

I have been in a multitude of shapes,
Before I assumed a consistent form.
I have been a sword, narrow, variegated,
I will believe when it is apparent.
I have been a tear in the air,
I have been the dullest of stars.
I have been a word among letters,
I have been a book in the origin.
I have been the light of lanterns
A year and a half.
I have been a continuing bridge,
Over three score Abers.
I have been a course, I have been an eagle.
I have been a coracle in the seas:
I have been compliant in the banquet.
I have been a drop in a shower;
I have been a sword in the grasp of the hand:
I have been a shield in battle.
I have been a string in a harp,
Disguised for nine years.
In water, in foam.
I have been sponge in the fire,
I have been wood in the covert.
I am not he who will not sing of
A combat though small,
The conflict in the battle of Godeu of sprigs.
Against the Guledig of Prydain,
There passed central horses,
Fleets full of riches.
There passed an animal with wide jaws,
On it there were a hundred heads.
And a battle was contested
Under the root of his tongue;
And another battle there is
In his occiput.
A black sprawling toad,
With a hundred claws on it.
A snake speckled, crested.
A hundred souls through sin
Shall be tormented in its flesh.
I have been in Caer Vevenir,
Thither hastened grass and trees,
Minstrels were singing,
Warrior-bands were wondering,
At the exaltation of the Brython,
That Gwydyon effected.
There was a calling on the Creator,
Upon Christ for causes,
Until when the Eternal
Should deliver those whom he had made.
The Lord answered them,
Through language and elements:
Take the forms of the principal trees,
Arranging yourselves in battle array,
And restraining the public.
Inexperienced in battle hand to band.
When the trees were enchanted,
In the expectation of not being trees,
The trees uttered their voices
From strings of harmony,
The disputes ceased.
Let us cut short heavy days,
A female restrained the din.
She came forth altogether lovely.
The head of the line, the head was a female.
The advantage of a sleepless cow
Would not make us give way.
The blood of men up to our thighs,
The greatest of importunate mental exertions
Sported in the world.
And one has ended
From considering the deluge,
And Christ crucified,
And the day of judgment near at hand.
The alder-trees, the head of the line,
Formed the van.
The willows and quicken-trees
Came late to the army.
Plum-trees, that are scarce,
Unlonged for of men.
The elaborate medlar-trees,
The objects of contention.
The prickly rose-bushes,
Against a host of giants,
The raspberry brake did
What is better failed
For the security of life.
Privet and woodbine
And ivy on its front,
Like furze to the combat
The cherry-tree was provoked.
The birch, notwithstanding his high mind,
Was late before he was arrayed.
Not because of his cowardice,
But on account of his greatness.
The laburnum held in mind,
That your wild nature was foreign.
Pine-trees in the porch,
The chair of disputation,
By me greatly exalted,
In the presence of kings.
The elm with his retinue,
Did not go aside a foot;
He would fight with the centre,
And the flanks, and the rear.
Hazel-trees, it was judged
That ample was thy mental exertion.
The privet, happy his lot,
The bull of battle, the lord of the world.
Morawg and Morydd
Were made prosperous in pines.
Holly, it was tinted with green,
He was the hero.
The hawthorn, surrounded by prickles,
With pain at his hand.
The aspen-wood has been topped,
It was topped in battle.
The fern that was plundered.
The broom, in the van of the army,
In the trenches he was hurt.
The gorse did not do well,
Notwithstanding let it overspread.
The heath was victorious, keeping off on all sides.
The common people were charmed,
During the proceeding of the men.
The oak, quickly moving,
Before him, tremble heaven and earth.
A valiant door-keeper against an enemy,
His name is considered.
The blue-bells combined,
And caused a consternation.
In rejecting, were rejected,
Others, that were perforated.
Pear-trees, the best intruders
In the conflict of the plain.
A very wrathful wood,
The chestnut is bashful,
The opponent of happiness,
The jet has become black,
The mountain has become crooked,
The woods have become a kiln,
Existing formerly in the great seas,
Since was heard the shout:–
The tops of the birch covered us with leaves,
And transformed us, and changed our faded state.
The branches of the oak have ensnared us
From the Gwarchan of Maelderw.
Laughing on the side of the rock,
The lord is not of an ardent nature.
Not of mother and father,
When I was made,
Did my Creator create me.
Of nine-formed faculties,
Of the fruit of fruits,
Of the fruit of the primordial God,
Of primroses and blossoms of the hill,
Of the flowers of trees and shrubs.
Of earth, of an earthly course,
When I was formed.
Of the flower of nettles,
Of the water of the ninth wave.
I was enchanted by Math,
Before I became immortal,
I was enchanted by Gwydyon
The great purifier of the Brython,
Of Eurwys, of Euron,
Of Euron, of Modron.
Of five battalions of scientific ones,
Teachers, children of Math.
When the removal occurred,
I was enchanted by the Guledig.
When he was half-burnt,
I was enchanted by the sage
Of sages, in the primitive world.
When I had a being;
When the host of the world was in dignity,
The bard was accustomed to benefits.
To the song of praise I am inclined, which the tongue recites.
I played in the twilight,
I slept in purple;
I was truly in the enchantment
With Dylan, the son of the wave.
In the circumference, in the middle,
Between the knees of kings,
Scattering spears not keen,
From heaven when came,
To the great deep, floods,
In the battle there will be
Four score hundreds,
That will divide according to their will.
They are neither older nor younger,
Than myself in their divisions.
A wonder, Canhwr arc born, every one of nine hundred.
He was with me also,
With my sword spotted with blood.
Honour was allotted to me
By the Lord, and protection (was) where he was.
If I come to where the boar was killed,
He will compose, he will decompose,
He will form languages.
The strong-handed gleamer, his name,
With a gleam he rules his numbers.
They would spread out in a flame,
When I shall go on high.
I have been a speckled snake on the hill,
I have been a viper in the Llyn.
I have been a bill-hook crooked that cuts,
I have been a ferocious spear
With my chasuble and bowl
I will prophesy not badly,
Four score smokes
On every one what will bring.
Five battalions of arms
Will be caught by my knife.
Six steeds of yellow hue
A hundred times better is
My cream-coloured steed,
Swift as the sea-mew
Which will not pass
Between the sea and the shore.
Am I not pre-eminent in the field of blood?
Over it are a hundred chieftains.
Crimson (is) the gem of my belt,
Gold my shield border.
There has not been born, in the gap,
That has been visiting me,
Except Goronwy,
From the dales of Edrywy.
Long white my fingers,
It is long since I have been a herdsman.
I travelled in the earth,
Before I was a proficient in learning.
I travelled, I made a circuit,
I slept in a hundred islands.
A hundred Caers I have dwelt in.
Ye intelligent Druids,
Declare to Arthur,
What is there more early
Than I that they sing of.
And one is come
From considering the deluge,
And Christ crucified,
And the day of future doom.
A golden gem in a golden jewel.
I am splendid
And shall be wanton
From the oppression of the metal-workers.

Englynion Cad Goddau

This text was copied in Middle Welsh from an unknown source by seventeenth-century Welsh scholar John Davies of Mallwyd and although nothing is known about the origins of the verses, he is generally known as a reliable copyist. It is an englyns (a traditional Welsh and Cornish short poetic form) that may be related to the “Battle of the Trees”. They might be part of the same narrative or a different version of the same story.

Englynion Cad Goddau Translated by Lady Charlotte Guest, in her notes on the Mabinogion.

These are the englyns that were sung at the Cad Goddeu (the Battle of the Trees), or, as others call it, the Battle of Achren which was on account of a white roebuck and a welp; and they came from Hell, and Amathaon ab Don brought them. And therefore Amathaon ab Don, and Arawn, King of Annwn (Hell), fought. And there was a man in that battle, unless his name were known he could not be overcome; and there was on the other side a woman called Achren, and unless her name were known her party could not be overcome. And Gwydion ab Don guessed the name of the man, and sang the two Englyns following:

“Sure-hoofed is my steed impelled by the spur;
The high sprigs of alder are on thy shield;
Bran art thou called, of the glittering branches.”

And thus,

“Sure-hoofed is my steed in the day of battle:
The high sprigs of alder are on thy hand:
Bran by the branch thou bearest
Has Amathaon the good prevailed.”

Kat Godeu

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.
Nyt mi wyf ny gan
Keint yr yn bychan.
Keint ygkat godeu bric.
Rac prydein wledic.
Gweint veirch canholic.
Llyghessoed meuedic.
Gweint mil mawrein.
Arnaw yd oed canpen.
A chat er dygnawt.
Dan von y tauawt.
A chat arall yssyd
Yn y wegilyd.
Llyffan du gaflaw.
Cant ewin arnaw.
Neidyr vreith gribawc.
Cant eneit trwy bechawt
Aboenir yny chnawt.
Bum ygkaer uefenhit.
Yt gryssynt wellt gawyd.
Kenynt gerdoryon
Kryssynt katuaon.
Datwyrein y vrythron
A oreu gwytyion.
Gwelwyssit ar neifon.
Ar grist o achwysson.
Hyt pan y gwarettei
Y ren rwy digonsei.
As attebwys dofyd
Trwy ieith ac eluwyd.
Rithwch riedawc wyd.
Gantaw yn lluyd.
A rwystraw peblic.
Kat arllaw annefic.
Pan swynhwyt godeu.
Y gobeith an godeu.
Dygottorynt godeu
O pedrydant tanheu.
Kwydynt am aereu.
Trychwn trymdieu.
Dyar gardei bun.
Tardei am atgun.
Blaen llin blaen bun.
Budyant buch anhun
Nyn gwnei emellun.
Gwaet gwyr hyt an clun.
Mwyhaf teir aryfgryt.
A chweris ymbyt.
Ac vn a deryw
O ystyr dilyw.
A christ y croccaw
A dyd brawt rac llaw.
Gwern blaen llin
A want gysseuin.
Helyc a cherdin.
Buant hwyr yr vydin.
Eirinwyd yspin.
Anwhant o dynin.
Keri kywrenhin.
Gwrthrychyat gwrthrin.
fuonwyd eithyt.
Erbyn llu o gewryt.
Auanwyd gwneithyt.
Ny goreu emwyt.
Yr amgelwch bywyt.
Ryswyd a gwyduwyt.
Ac eido yr y bryt.
Mor eithin yr gryt.
Siryan seuyssit
Bedw yr y vawr vryt.
Bu hwyr gwiscysseit.
Nyt yr y lyfyrder.
Namyn yr y vawred.
Auron delis bryt.
Allmyr uch allfryt.
Ffenitwyd ygkynted.
Kadeir gygwrysed.
Omi goreu ardyrched
Rac bron teyrned.
Llwyf yr y varanhed.
Nyt oscoes troetued.
Ef laddei a pherued
Ac eithaf a diwed.
Collwyd bernyssit
Eiryf dy aryfgryt.
Gwyros gwyn y vyt.
Tarw trinteryn byt.
Morawc a moryt.
Ffawyd ffynyessit.
Kelyn glessyssit.
Bu ef y gwrhyt.
Yspydat amnat.
Heint ech y aghat.
Gwiwyd gorthorat.
Gorthoryssit ygat.
Redyn anreithat.
Banadyl rac bragat
Yn rychua briwat.
Eithin ny bu vat.
Yr hynny gwerinat.
Gruc budyd amnat.
Dy werin swynat.
Hyd gwyr erlynyat.
Derw buanawr.
Racdaw crynei nef allawr.
Glelyn glew drussiawr
Y enw ym peullawr.
Clafuswyd kygres.
Kymraw arodes.
Gwrthodi gwrthodes
Ereill o tylles.
Per goreu gormes
Ym plymlwyt maes.
Goruthaw kywyd
Aches veilon. wyd.
Kastan kewilyd.
Gwrthryat fenwyd.
Handit du muchyd.
Handit crwm mynyd.
Handit kyl coetdyd.
Handit kyn myr mawr.
Er pan gigleu yr awr.
An deilas blaen bedw.
An dathrith datedw.
An maglas blaen derw.
O warchan maelderw.
Wherthinawc tu creic.
Ner nyt ystereic.
Nyt o vam athat.
Pan ym digonat.
Am creu am creat.
O nawrith llafant.
O ffwyth o frwytheu.
O ffwyth duw dechreu.
O vriallu a blodeu bre.
O vlawt gwyd a godeu
O prid o pridret.
Pan ym digonet
O vlawt danat
O dwfyr ton nawvet.
Am swynwys i vath.
Kyn bum diaeret.
Am swynwys i wytyon
Mawnut o brython.
O eurwys o ewron
O euron o vodron
O pymp pumhwnt keluydon.
Arthawon eil math
Pan ymdygyaed.
Amswynwys i wledic.
Pan vei let loscedic.
am swynwys sywydon
Sywyt kyn byt.
Pan vei genhyf y vot
Pan vei veint byt.
Hard bard bud an gnawt
Ar wawt y tuedaf a traetho tauawt.
Gwaryeis yn llychwr
Kysceis ym porffor.
Neu bum yn yscor
Gan dylan eil mor.
Ygkylchet ymperued
Rwg deulin teyrned.
Yn deu wayw anchwant
O nef pan doethant.
Yn annwfyn llifereint
Wrth urwydrin dybydant
Petwar vgeint cant.
A gweint yr eu whant.
Nyt ynt hyn nyt ynt ieu
No mi yn eu bareu.
Aryal canhwr a geni pawb o naw cant
Oed genhyf inheu.
Ygcledyf brith gwaet
Bri am darwed
O douyd o golo lle yd oed.
O dof yt las baed.
Ef gwrith ef datwrith.
Ef gwrith ieithoed.
llachar y enw llawfer.
Lluch llywei nifer.
Ys ceinynt yn ufel.
O dof yn uchel.
Bum neidyr vreith y mryn.
Bum gwiber yn llyn.
Bum ser gan gynbyn.
Bum bwystuer hyn.
Vyg. cassul am kawc.
Armaff nyt yn drwc.
Petwar vgeint mwc
Ar pawb a dydwc
Pymp pemhwnt aghell
A ymtal am kyllel.
wech march melynell.
Canweith yssyd well.
Vy march melyngan
Kyfret a gwylan.
Mihun nyt eban.
Kyfrwg mor a glan.
Neu gorwyf gwaetlan.
Arnaw cant kynran.
Rud em vyg kychwy.
eur vy yscwytrwy.
Ny ganet yn adwy.
A uu ym gowy
Namyn goronwy
O doleu edrywy.
Hir wynn vy myssawr.
Pell na bum heussawr.
Treigleis y mywn lawr
Kyn bum lleenawr.
Treiglies kylchyneis
Kysceis cant ynys.
Cant caer a thrugys.
Derwydon doethur.
Darogenwch y arthur.
Yssit yssyd gynt.
Neur mi ergenhynt.
Ac vn aderyw
O ystyr dilyw.
A crhist y croccaw.
A dyd brawt rachllaw.
Eurein yn euryll.
Mi hudwyf berthyll
Ac vydyf drythyll
O erymes fferyll.