Posts Tagged ‘Guto’r Glyn’

In Praise of Oswestry! Week 27 of the Oswestry Heritage Comics

Some people, it seems, just can’t say enough good things about Oswestry! During the 1400’s, someone with a particularly long list of good things to say about Oswestry was the Welsh poet, raconteur, drover and soldier, Gruffudd ap Siancyn – known by his pen name “Guto’r Glyn” – “Guto” being short for Gruffudd, and “-r’ Glyn” meaning from Glyn. The “Glyn” in his name might mean either Glyn Ceiriog, in the Ceiriog valley, or Glyndyfrdwy between Corwen and Llangollen. It might also refer to Valle Crucis Abbey.

Unusually, we have a very good physical description of Guto via the mocking of other poets: he was big, strong, with a black beard, a nose “like a billhook”, and balding – “tonsured almost like a monk”. One poet even said Guto alarmingly resembled a big bear. He was known as a joker and wrote humorous and satirical verse, often gently mocking local figures. However, he was best known as a master of “Praise Poetry” – a form of poetry common in the 1400s which was addressed to a noble patron. These were not simply fawningly sycophantic verses – these were nuanced and sophisticated works. Praise Poems adhered to complex rules that governed both content and structure, and served an important social and political function. Guto’s clients included gentry – both men and women, as well as abbots and bishops, local government and military officials between Llangollen and Shrewsbury. Sometimes these poems were clearly part of an ongoing conversation between Guto, the client, and other poets. But Guto’s prowess with words gained him nationally-important clients, too: John Talbot, second Earl of Shrewsbury and even King Edward IV.

But Guto was no Chatterton – no starving aesthete shivering in a garret. Although he was clearly well-educated (possibly at either the abbey of Strata Florida or Valle Crucis) he was not a member of the nobility or the gentry. His father might have been a smith – and, indeed, he may have followed him into that profession as a young man. He worked as a drover, kept flocks of sheep, travelled widely, and was renowned as a horse rider, a sportsman (particularly known for weight-lifting), and an archer. He had a career as a soldier – fighting in France in the Hundred Years War, and then later for the Yorkists during the Wars of the Roses. He was a complex man, too – a Welsh poet working in England; a Yorkist who fought for Richard III and yet praised his killing on the battlefield; a writer of feisty, satirical verse who also penned haunted elegies in his final years.

Poet, archer, weight-lifter, soldier – and Oswestrian! Guto lived for many years in the town, ran several businesses there (as did his wife, Dyddgu), knew many of the top people in town, worked for them – and was one, too: a Burgess. When he wrote his poem “In Praise of Oswestry” in about 1460, Guto was an old man (probably in his sixties), and he freely admitted to giving up the wandering and carousing of his youth in favour of the comforts and security of town living. His description of the town’s delights, fame and wealth is no exaggeration: at that time, Oswestry – an important and significant border town – could indeed be favourably compared to London. His poem also shows a genuine and deeply-rooted affection for the town (and, despite old age, an eye for the ladies!).

Guto’r Glyn ended a long, eventful life as a kind of “poet-in-residence” at Valle Crucis Abbey, thanks to one of his patrons. Here, his last poems look back on life’s experiences from the vantage point of old age:

Woe to the weak man, two lifetimes old, who doesn’t look, – who doesn’t laugh,

Who doesn’t walk further than the furrow’s width…

Could we call this couplet “In Praise of Curiosity?”

Guto’s life, world and poetry is all worth discovering – and fortunately, that’s easy to do: the University of Wales and the Arts and Humanities Council have recently completed – under the directorship of Pr. Ann Parry Owen – a complete online database of Guto’s works, including an excellent biography and fully-annotated texts and English and modern Welsh translations. Thanks to Pr. Owen’s project, the work of Guto’r Glyn – “one of the foremost poets of fifteenth-century Wales” – will be able to reach the larger audience it deserves.

The Oswestry Heritage Comics are a year-long series of weekly newspaper comic strips about the archaeology, history and heritage of the area around Oswestry, Shropshire in the UK. The comics are published in the Oswestry and Border Counties Advertizer every Tuesday, and on Facebook. The project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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