In Praise of Ale 

A Poetic Treatise on Cervisage, or The Noble Art and Practice of Beer Drinking, in Nine Excursions

being partly naughtily narrated in the merry manner of the
mischievous monk Rabelais, together with an army of asterisks and
endless explanations for which patience is politely pleaded.



1. In Praise of Ale
(Adapted from the French of Charles Baudelaire)

Ale… !
Why, it could transform
a sordid hole into a miracle, a gleaming hall,
and castles would arise
by virtue of its liquid gold
to be revealed in sunsets…
seen, alas, through bleary eyes.


Le vin sait revêtir le plus sordide bouge
D’un luxe miraculeux,
Et fait surgir plus d’un portique fabuleux
Danse l’or de sa vapeur rouge,
Comme un soleil couchant dans un ciel nébuleux.


You’ll note, no doubt, that Baudelaire was writing about wine, and not
beer. The translation and slight adaptation represents the first of Baudelaire’s four stanzas of his poem. This first one deals with the expanding, transforming effect of wine (or beer!) The second brands it as being an opium to the senses. The third and fourth go on to say that these effects of the drink are nothing compared to how the eyes of the woman he is with dizzy and sway him all the way to the Underworld (the two are related, no doubt … ). But the first stanza alone is all that is required, in the spirit of the main title, to extoll the releasing virtues of the golden juice. Upon deciding to include this translation in a once-projected collection of 100+ Welsh-themed poems, though, I dispensed with ‘Ale … !’ as the opening line and replaced it with a more suitable ‘Felinfoel’, somewhat tailoring what followed to fit *.


Felinfoel? Well, that rather intrusive interpolation into M.Baudelaire’s poem needs, with apologies to him, explaining (he would have never heard of the name, of course).  Another reason for explanation is that unless of Welsh nationality or with some close affinity to Wales, it’s unlikely that others who might be looking in on ‘The Ig-Og’ will have heard of it. So, as Teilhard was so fond of saying, ‘Let me explain’. ‘Felinfoel’, here, is short for ‘Felinfoel ale’, known, along with the specific nomenclature reserved for very best brews, simply as ‘Felinfoel’. (‘A pint of Felinfoel, please’; and you would not receive a quizzical look from the bartender.). Felinfoel Ale was the first canned beer to be produced in the British Isles, by the Felinfoel Brewery Co. Ltd., debuting on December 3, 1935 – so we are just a little late to celebrate that anniversary; this followed closely on the first ever successful canning of beer, in the USA in January of that year. Why the Felifoel Brewery? Well, it was chosen for its proximity to the humming steel and tinplate boomtown of Llanelli – ‘Tinopolis’ as it was famously known, and at that time the world’s leading producer of tinplate; the thin sheets were shipped to the Metal Box Company and the finished cans returned to Felinfoel for filling with the magic liquid. The brewery’s top product has always been its tall cans of ‘Double Dragon’ – an elegant can with a deep green background bearing two red dragons intertwined; both heraldic and patriotic! I remember, as an eight or nine-year-old in Llanelli, throwing these Double Dragon cans into the Afon Lliedi, the little river which terminates its journey to the sea after passing through the town – throwing stones at them, following them at a run along the bank when the stream was in full flood in a bid to hit or even sink them *.

The Double Dragon can I used in The Final Call, a poem of a post-Apocalyptic Wales:

It was the last can of Double Dragon in the Universe,
and I sipped it only slowly so that I could savour
each and every drop – each single, golden, godly drop –
perched high upon the blackened carcass of the Stadium,
where below the rows of seats lay scorched, and the sacred turf
where winged feet had sped in generations gone was now bare earth
upthrusted to the sun…


The complete poem has previously appeared in The Igam-Ogam Mabinogion under its title.

And the double-dragon doesn’t go away. Some years ago I picked up an interesting item in a local Taiwan market – an antique bronze of two Chinese dragons intertwined. It makes good company on the shelf *.


Now Felinfoel itself is a small village, no more, really, than a couple of streets of slate-roofed terraced houses and the famous brewery. I lived there, a long time ago, where the lane leaves the main village to climb steeply and windingly upward, crossing the old single-track Mynydd Mawr railway (where a steam locomotive pulling a string of coal-laden trucks passed twice a day) to the little scatter of houses which formed the outpost of Trebuan *. My Hughes ancestors had lived in the village for generations, And hereby hangs the tale …  In the early years of the 1800s there were two water-driven mills in the district – one had a stack, and the other didn’t. The one without the stack was known as Y Felin Foel / ‘The Bald Mill’. Now that was the mill of John Hugh, my 2nd great grandfather – and it is his mill which gave the village its name; the name which was to achieve such fame in the annals of beer-brewing; the name so beloved of the thirsty thousands of the great Welsh south-west. That is my claim to fame.


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2. Brewing Beer        
(From the German of Hans Sachs (1568) )

From barley I brew beer that’s better,
with body – mild, and also bitter.
In a vat that’s wide and spacious,
that’s where all my hops will end up.
Boiled full well and left to cool down;
into the barrel – there it goes now!
Settled well and finely flavoured,
left fermenting till it’s savoured.


Der Bierbreuwer

Aus Gersten seid ich gutes Bier
Feist und Tüsch auch bitter monier
In ein Breuwfessel weit und gross
Darein ich denn den Hoffen stosch
Lasch den in Brennten fühlen basch
Damit Full ich darnach die Fasch
Wol gebunden und wol gebicht
Denn giert er und ist zugericht.




Der Bierbreuwer appears in Jost Amman and Hans Sachs’ 1568 work popularly known as the Ständebuch, ‘The Book of Trades’, which illustrates in woodcuts and describes in verse an extensive number of professions, trades and crafts followed in Nuremburg, and is thus a valuable social document for other large German cities in the sixteenth century. Its full title was Eygentliche Beschreibung Aller Stände auff Erden, ‘An Exact Description of all Ranks on Earth’, and it goes quite a way toward doing that, from the exalted (the Pope, his Cardinals and the Holy Roman Emperor) to the least (the pin-maker, the thimble-maker and no less than four types of fool). The butcher is there, as is the baker – but not the candlestick-maker, although the lamp-maker, who makes his appearance, more than suffices; quite surprised there is no candle-maker, though, as candles, wax and tallow, were universally used in Europe for centuries to come.  Both Amman and Sachs enjoyed wide reputations – Jost Amman for his skilled artwork, especially.

My translation is from a facsimile copy of the Ständebuch which has been sitting on the bookshelf for a couple of decades, picked up just now and again, usually when I’ve been tempted to tackle another of its poems, but Der Bierbreuwer is the only one so far attempted. I’ve never seen an English translation of the poem; I did before writing this look up the Ständebuch on the Net, and like everything else these days, lo and behold, it was there! (we don’t have to buy books any more, sad to say … in a way) but hmmm … the poems were not there in extenso, and Der Bierbreuwer had escaped the editorial clutches. So my translation had to be made directly from the original print in heavy Gothic letters, along with their peculiarities; my German version, above, also reflects this, coming as it does directly from the original.  Viewers will notice that there are some small differences between sixteenth-century and modern German. I’ve as much as possible retained Hans Sachs’ metre and rhyme scheme.

When we first went to live in Germany, I tried some of that German beer. Mein Gott! Half way through the second glass I felt like marching into Poland.


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3. After the Game

Wil and Dai went out ecstatic
carried by the joyous thousands
swirling in that happy river
sweeping through the streets of Cardiff,
drizzly, shining streets of Cardiff.
Then they stopped to have some supper
made of hops and served in tankards,
long and drawn-out frothy supper
held in tankards big and brimming,
brimming with the gold and flowing
soft-as-velvet wonder-water,
fabled patriotic potion
strong as steel and clear as crystal;
tossed it down their throats with vigour
as had mighty men of valour
in the days of yore before them
in the storied Mabinogion.


After the Game is seventeen lines taken from the long poem The Game in Cardiff, which has previously appeared in The Igam-Ogam Mabinogion.


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4. Crack and Hiss

Hot day. Crack
and hiss. Cool can of beer
opens. Bliss.


5. Seeking Nirvana

The roads to truth are
sadly few. But one goes
straight through Felinfoel.


6. Ancient Ritual (Colliers Arms)

Libation’s poured.
With elbows bent, at each descent
the spirit soars.

7. Pub Wisdom

Wife’s advice? Not nice.
The lads’… well, yes! Golden letters,
sacred text!

8. Drowning in Sorrow

Morose, depressed
– the Colliers Arms is closed!-
retrace your steps.


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The Ninth Poem

The ninth poem would have been – would  have been, I say – to use the expression of those latter-day, foot-dragging but nonetheless welcome continuators of the Arthurian Romances, The Verse Perilous * – a cap-fuddling, brain-fogging, giddysome, staggery, peg-diddly, froth-lickety, pint-pushing, brim-battling, jug-glugging, keg-hugging, pitcher-plonking, glass-clashing, beaker-banging, tankard-swilling, flagon-flushing, bottle-bibbing, hop-slobbering, spigot-swigging, cask-guzzling, spittoon-pinging, belch-exploding, gut-heaving, spew-retching, coppish-fumbling, breeches-befouling, wall-splashing, puddle-soled, pocket-roused, crotch-fiddling and filly-famished, randified, lewdy-eyed, candy-goggling, lip-frisky, rut-mongering, frock-stalking, up-skirting, down-blousing, treacle-greedy, futtock-fixed, buttock-bewitched, grope-happy, touch-lusty, barmaid’s-bum-fondling, gallivanting, hallooing, yahooing, whoopeeing, galumphing, bamblusterating, and in the spirit of divers other debauching, hyper-inebriated, Silenusian* rascalities in the manner of the noddle-addled, vision-dizzy, wit-stricken, ruby-nosed and speech-slurred, barrel-besotted, vat-sacking, lager-louting, bouzed-up-to-beggary binge-bishops and piddle-parading, pish-ridden, sloshed, sozzled, soused and sodden samples of rowdy-bowdy tavern-trooping, gob-valiant ale-knights and tosspots, hot-frolickers, hunt-crumpets, cleavage kings, udder-fumblers, sog-merchants, crack-trackers and crevice-detectors, underbrush-rummaging fanny-fiddlers, shrubbery-grubbing minge-milkers, five-finger pasty-pokers, slink-down-the-corridor funnel-fillers, skunk-dipsy biddy-whammers, mutton-struck belly-bumpers, knicker-kissing pudding-plungers, sponge-dippers, fudge-dunkers, meringue-gobbling sludge-nuzzlers, canyon-yodelers, dangle-waggers, coracle-flashing wick-twitchers, squirtards, cackards and stinkards who teetered, tottered, veered, swayed, cuddy-jigged, lurched and reeled their way with beery braggadocio into the crapulent chronicles of Touraine* and of Clemendy,* an irreverent, heretical, sacrilegious travesty and utter inversion of the miracle at Cana over which – alack, alas and ych-a-fi – in the name of all that is fermented, good Christian men, in these the very throes of this the festive season, would rejoice with neither heart nor soul nor voice, and be mischievous and injurious in the extreme and to the scathe, detriment, undoing, bedevilment, perversion and prostitution of all the noble cerevisian* sentiments insofar and heretofore expressed, and can therefore find no place in such a gently-laudatory treatise as this and would, I’m sure you will agree, sober reader, have been one over the eight.

But what could I do? There they came, tumbling, nay, cascading, nay, vomiting forth from the Colliers! And I think – drink in my words, chaste reader – that all I can do is apologize profusely for their unwanted and ignoble company! I tried, Lord knows, I tried to stem that horrid flow, endeavored indeed to deny you the most wicked vulgarities, but out the many poured, unceasing and unstoppable! Deflect, I did, the utterly unbridled detestabilities of Rebelaisanism …

‘But still – ‘ growled Rebelais, emerging from the shadows
…from tainting your apostolic ears…
‘And yet – ‘ rasped he
… steering hard to port of the unprintably priapic…
‘All the same – ‘
… but, oh my! Deary me and… well, botheration…
‘Even so – ‘ he pressed nastily
… I am left horrified and shocked…
‘And besides – !’ (pushing me hard in the small of the back)

In the midst of this onslaught from the Colliers and now this stream of Cabellian* interjections so menacingly uttered, the thought had occurred to me of summoning the Constable of Adjectives, but all of a sudden and instead found myself peremptorily and roughly seized from behind by the Tankard Marshal, who threatened to have me dragged through the Assizes of Ale. ‘You!’ he thundered, ‘I’ll drag yer through the Assizes of Ale!’. Outnumbered, and held in durance vile! There they stood, the Tankard Marshal, the tall Touranian, backed up rock-solidly by petite Police Officer Priapus*, as always sporting his big badge.
 
‘And besides – ‘ spat Rabelais, hatefully… but I did not let him finish. Thinking quickly while the burly Marshal had taken a break from snarling chapter and verse of the Law of Soakage into my ear and  temporarily eased his grip to take yet another swig, I wrenched myself free and made a dash for it, skipping nimbly, Jack-wise, over the short policeman’s authority, and with a simultaneous sideways swerve to fully evade the law’s long reach that would have amazed Phil Bennett, ran blindly into the night, followed by the angry shouts of the man from Chinon:

‘Yes, besides!- ‘ he bellowed after me. ‘About the barmaid! Try to be more >>>>>>> explicit!, for >>>>> sake! You forgot ’ >>>> -lofty’! You forgot ’ >>> -smitten’! on the way to her. And when you got to her you didn’t know ‘ >>>> -tickling’! Nor ’ >>>> -thwackng’! Nor ‘ >>>> -bibbling’! Nor ‘ >>>> -shiggling’! And then there’s ‘ >>>>-stoking’!  And ‘ >>>> -flugging’’! And  ‘ >>>> -wobbing’! And what about ‘ >>>> -floshing’? And, ‘ >>>> -gargling’? And how about ‘ >>>> -snorkeling’? Huh? (Here I blushed). ‘And, moron, dunce, it’s plain you don’t know a >>>>>>> sausage about… that thing… I forget what it’s called… You’ve gone and been and mixed me up now, you hwntw *  >>>>>> ! … something to do with those animals with flat tails that build dams on rivers…’  Here he faltered, aware that the little police officer regarded him with a look of puzzlement and was drooping visibly in dismay, but rallying somewhat from his confused lapse of memory, roared further:  ‘Yes, that’s it – something to do with what you Welsh have your women make their hats out of… what’s it called? Something to do with cats, too… Nick my vocabulary, would you? Well, >>>> and >>>> again! >>>> twice!  >>>> thrice! >>>> a hundred times, by >>>>! >>>> to infinity and no returns!  And you too, you >>>>>>> hwntw! I’ll get you for this, Lewis!  Felin- >>>>>>> -foel? I’ll get you!’

And as I fled heedlessly into the dark, another voice joined his. It was Cabell, who, debonair and devil-may-care as ever, had sauntered last out of the Colliers, cigarette in one hand and glass of mineral-water in the other and who, in the refined tones of a southern gentleman (and targettng, though he knew it not, another, fleeing, southern gentleman) called after me – with more than a trace of urbane irony and, I would  fancy, a suggestion of a smile – that he would report me to the Society for the Suppression of Vice, and with the warning that for plagiarism in the shape of the misappropriation and misuse of interjections he would have me appear on the morrow in the law-courts of Richmond-in-Virginia. Lastly, the faint echoes came to me of a heated argument between the tall Touranian and the small policeman; the subject appeared to have taken a horticultural turn, concerning the correct descriptive nomenclature for a certain type of shrubbery (ladies’ gardens being the particular province of Priapus) and the sounds of them scuffling, and the copper threatening the Touranian with his truncheon. Angry cursing then from the drunken Marshal as he tripped over something in the darkness and started kicking it viciously… then pitiful screaming and wailing from the diminutive detective-constable… But by then I had run laughing all the way to Felinfoel.

And that’s it. I apologize. I have no idea what made me stray so far away from my usually staid poetic path. It’s all that Rabelais’ fault, although we haven’t met up for years. I have trodden, I swear, only upon the very margins of naughtiness, despite his urgings to unharness the most horribly indelicate indecencies. Oh, he tried, he urged, continuously, to make me say things at total variance with my gentle nurturing at my Mamgu’s bosom, crass crudities at which the very thought makes me shudder, and which lay not within me. He dug me in the ribs with eyes agleam, whisperng ‘Go on! Go on! Obscenities! Obscenities that will make coy maidens let their pent-up smiles spill forth unbidden, and honest modest matrons demurely avert their eyes to disguise their wakened fantasies!’ But I would not. I’d a good mind to take him by the scruff of the neck and toss him into the street. Yet nevertheless, noble friends, I beg you to give the man a break. The bloke can’t help it. He doesn’t know when to stop. It’s embarrassing. I’ll have a quiet word with him, I promise, although I doubt it will do much good. But anyway, hands up who likes that long sentence? And if you want to know the final score of the game in Cardiff, I’ll tell you. It was Wales 100, England 0.


DISHCLAIMER (or, ‘Where is Sean Connery when you need him?’)

I shwear, temperate reader, upon the egshalted altar of Ceresh, that not a jot nor tittle of what appearsh above wash contrived under the abhorrent affluensh of inchohol. I confesh, indeed, that never, not wunsh, sinsh my coming-of-age (which wash a couple of yearsh ago) have I been in the shlightesht in- ineb- inebri- ineb … drunk. I confesh further that I know very little about that wondroush, magic, heavenly potion known ash cw- cw– whashit called … cwrw da, and nothing, nay, nil and zero even, about the imposhtor wine – Theodoshiush imposhtor too, blydi wine-drinker; shoulda been Magnush Maximush in Con – Con – Consh – Conshtan – … that plashe. Maximush, yesh – coulda played for Walshe … that Sharlsh ‘nother ‘poshtor, damn prinsh ‘pershinator, eyesh like a blydi mandril – and that my shole truck with ale ish nowadaysh and hash been for many yearsh a shmall can of Taiwan Beer or perhapsh a Ki- ki- kirin Ishiban, or maybe an Ash – Asha- Asa … that other Shapaneesh beer (all egshellent brewsh, but <sigh> would that they were Felinfoel) twuysh or thruysh a week ash my … not ash! … I mean to accompany, of coursh, my evening repasht. I don’t like thoshe Yankee beersh mush, but shum o’ thoshe Mecshicun brewsh are firsh-clash. Shurmuns brew good shtuff, too … But Felinfoel’s the besht. Abyshinian beer I don’t like either. No, no, ych-a-fi, tashtes like cat’sh. And I don’t like that Rabelaish bloke any more <sob> He’sh really rude. I’ll cut off hish co- co- communicashunsh… Where’sh my beer … ? Iechyd da, nawr …


GYDA DYMUNIADAU GORAU AM Y BLWYDDYN NEWYDD

WITH BEST WISHES FOR THE NEW YEAR


Notes to Poems 1 – 8:

* Ale/Felinfoel: Baudelaire chose Poison / ‘Poison’! as the title of his poem, which may refer to the wine or, more fittingly, to those alluring, distracting eyes which threatened to lure him to perdition. It’s a title which doesn’t fit the lure of a ‘Felinfoel’ at all, as we shall see (although I’ve heard it described by certain jealous sons of the south-east – those ones from the wrong side of the mighty Llwchwr, those ones who are not of the Demetae – as ‘Feelingfoul’ (Smile when you say that, Silures… ). More explanation needed for those not ‘in the know’? The river Llwchwr (anglicised to ‘Loughor’) is what may be taken as the dividing line between the territories of the two tribal units which occupied the southern parts of what is now Wales during the period of Roman occupation, and who the Romans termed the Demetae and the Silures. The Romans established a fort – Lucernum – there. (I would play there in my boyhood days). This modest stream today marks the county line between Carmarthenshire in the west and Glamorgan in the east; as in many other places, a jocular rivalry exists.

* Afon Lliedi: The name of this stream from the cherished days of yore was also adapted for the name of the brook in the opening lines of my mediaeval-style My Pallid Queen:

’Twas on the brook Lieti
I first beheld my lady


the first part of which has appeared in The Igam-Ogam Mabinogion  as The Lure of the Naiad under the main title Lays of the Armoured Isle (3) posted in the section Aug.-Oct. 2020. It’s a prelude to the whole poem which will feature in Manifestations of the Muse (2), yet to come.


* Dragons intertwined: It may be of interest, too, that the double dragon was the insignia of the Seguntienses, a unit of the Late Roman army whose name is connected with the fort and naval base of Segontium (Welsh Caer Segeint ) near today’s Caernarfon. In Welsh tradition Segontium is strongly connected with the military coup of Magnus Maximus, who took substantial units of the Army of Britain over to Gaul and was recognised as Emperor of the West from 383-388CE. To cut a long story short – and I could include reams from my jottings on Mag Max – it was in August of the latter date that, in a bid to become master of the whole Empire, he was defeated by the army of the Eastern Roman Emperor Theodosius on the Save River in Illyricum, from whence he retreated to Aquileia in northern Italy and was there delivered to Theodosius and executed. On this event:


Aquileia ’88

It was raining when we rode into Aquileia,
a grey rain that had preceded us
as we came in through the olive groves;
over that monotony
of coastal plain.
It ran from the tall columns of the town,
down on to the stones.
Wet.
Grey.
Our belongings were dampened,
as were our spirits.
No people welcomed us.


Great gods,
this is no place for Eagles!

It was evening when we pressed on
into Illyricum. The rain
was with us still…
We could have turned for home.



In part, the foreboding thoughts of one of Maximus’ following on that fateful retreat; in part, too, my own thoughts as we drove through Aquileia, toward what was Illyricum, a thousand and six hundred years later. It was a depressing day. I’ve said ‘This is no place for Eagles’ in reference to the name of the place (aquila, Latin ‘eagle’) and in reference to the Roman Eagle Standard. But it could just as well be ‘no place for Dragons’, as by that time the dragon had replaced the eagle as Rome’s military standard. As a fascinating postscript to this story, the Notitia Dignitatum (a document relating to the organization of the Later Empire, including all military units and their stations) records among the palatini, the highest-ranking troops in the army and soldiers of the Imperial household, a unit called Seguntienses. These have been proposed to be the former garrison of Segontium, and that they may have well composed the personal guard of Maximus which, upon being withdrawn from Caernarfon, accompanied him on his Continental campaigns, being posted to Illyricum – where they are located in the Notitia – after his collapse. Illyricum, in present-day terms, covers the western Balkans from northern Albania to Croatia.

About the change from eagle to dragon: This can be found in Book XVI, 39 of Ammianus Marcellinus’ history of the Roman Empire in the period AD 96-AD 378, Rerum Gestarum Libri, which is really a continuation of Tacitus and along with Procopius the only surviving long account of events in the later period. In this place Ammianus says: ‘per purpureum signum draiconis summitati hastae longieris aptatum’ /  ‘at the top of a long lance was fixed the figure of a red dragon ‘. It’s believed to have been adopted from Sarmatian practice. This, connected with Magnus Maximus’ Segontium ‘command’, has led to the possibility of an early Draig Goch, and from the interpretation of evidence in history and early Welsh tradition that’s plausible. Maximus appears in the years preceding his bid for the Imperial throne to have been commander of the field army of Britain. But what a pity Ammianus didn’t tell us more about him! He could have. He mentions Maximus’ earlier career under Theodosius the Elder (father of Theodosius I, the Emperor who Maximus finally came up against in the end) in Britain (367-379) and in Mauritania (373-375). Some years afterward he was appointed Comes Britanniarum / Count of the Britains [that is, the constituent Provinces within the Diocese of Britain], the senior British military office, and in 383 led its field army into Gaul and was acclaimed Emperor of the West. Now at this very time, during the 380s, Ammianus was living in Rome where he was busy writing his history until probably the 390s, and must have been well aware of Maximus’ activities – so why didn’t he go ahead and cover Maximus’ later career as rival Emperor? Probably the answer lies in politics, and in being careful about what one said. This Theodosian family, all from Galicia and perhaps elsewhere in Spain , were a powerful aristocratic clique. Count Theodosius the Elder, as already said, was father of Theodosius the Emperor – and Maximus was of the same family. At what remove is not clear, but he was said to have been the nephew of Count Theodosius, and must therefore have been related to his son who became Emperor. It was probably all too close to Ammianus’ own time under the auspices of Theodosius to go writing anything brushing on the affair, which would have still been sensitive ground. Ah, Ammiaus could have told us so much about Maximus, especially of his role in Britain during the lead-up to his revolt, all which has ever since remained murky and has caused modern historians to go scrambling about on their knees in search of clues. His tumble when he had almost reached the top decreed that Maximus should be regarded as a ‘bad lad’, all down the line. Tyrant and usurper, almost routinely accused by an array of insular historians for ‘denuding Britain of its defences’, right up to our sometimes too speculative modern commentators.  But there seem  to have been no inroads into Maximus’ British power-base recorded during the five years he was the recognized ruler of the West; indeed, those appear to have occurred after his downfall and severance of his authority with Britain and the result, rather, of his slayer Theodosius’ preoccupation with his own continental problems after 388. The man was but a hairsbreadth away from replacing Theodosius and becoming sole Emperor. Respect is due to Maximus as both soldier and statesman.


* Outpost of Trebuan: I had no idea, then, back in those days when I was often away from home, that nearby there lived another young chap, who was destined to become one of Wales’ finest ever fly-halves – the dancing, side-stepping, talaria-shod Phil Bennett. (Phil is remembered, too, for his famous pre-game talk to the Welsh XV before playing England on March 5, 1977, which went: ‘Look at what these bastards have done to Wales. They’ve taken our coal. our water, our steel. They buy our homes and live in them for a fortnight every year. What have they given us? Absolutely nothing. We’ve been exploited, raped, controlled and punished by the English – and that’s who you’re playing this afternoon’. We beat them, of course. Well, we had to, after that!

A little vole once wandered into our house at Trebuan. We were able to capture him and keep him prisoner for a short while in a stout cardboard box before releasing him into the garden. But while we were temporarily occupied with something else, the little fellow’s rodent teeth had gnawed right through the box and he had made his own escape. Although in our company for such a short while, we had named him; he was christened ‘Felin’, naturally – ‘Felin Vole’ (a Welsh single ‘f’ is pronounced as a ‘v’).  ‘Velinvole’ incidentally, is the spelling the enumerator used for the village in the 1840 Census.


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Notes to Poem 9:

*   The Verse Perilous: The Siege Perilous – the seat at Arthur’s table upon which to sit would be instantaneous death for any but the pure knight, and eventually taken by Galahad, was a late introduction to the romances by Malory, followed by Tennyson. 

*   Silenusian: After Silenus, Roman god of beer who often appeared among those revellers in the retinue of the more well-known wine-god Bacchus, ‘Silenusian’ being the beery equivalent of ‘Bacchanalian’.

*   Touraine: The region of France which is the location of Honoré de Balzac’s very witty, very merry 1837 Contes Drolatiques  / ‘Droll Stories’.  Chinon in Touraine, too, was the birthplace of Rabelais, who will need no introduction.

*   Clemendy: Arthur Machen’s fictitious location of the Manor of Pwllcwrw / ‘Beerpool’ in the town of Usk, Gwent, Wales, featured in his 1886/1928 The Chronicle of Clemendy; another very witty, very merry collection of tales.

*   Cerevisian: ‘Is this a word? I wondered. And If it isn’t, it should be’. I used it anyway. Then later it occurred to me to take a long-neglected dip into ‘Clemendy’, and was pleased to find that Arthur Machen had been doing some similar word-coining and had come up with a noun-form, cervisage, which I then promptly decided to incorporate on the strength of its rather noble connotations into the principal sub-heading for this article, previously lacking the necessary richness. Best explained as ‘beery’ in the context in which it’s used above. It’s related to the words for beer among the Romance languages, which is a good place to begin – cerveza in modern Spanish and Portuguese, for example (and likely something almost identical in Catalan). The French northerners dropped their cervoise in favour of Germanic bier, but in Occitan, the French south, it should still be something like Latin cervisia, which was used in honour of Ceres, Roman goddess of the harvest. All stem from proto-Indo-European of course, and naturally history, long history, steps in along the line with the Roman goddess’ origins rooted in the much earlier Near Eastern Neolithic grain protectress whose name and importance, carried along with the vast Neolithic spread, reached the religions and languages of all Europe, not least the vast Celtic lands. So, according to ‘cerevisian’ linguistics, we have in these territories a string of related words for beer – curmi, koreu, cuirm, cerea, cervisia, cerevisia for instance, among them. In Welsh, it’s cwrw, often spoken of as cwrw da, ‘good beer’, which is likely an ancient reference to ‘real ale’ in the sense of properly brewed barley/wheat beer. So let’s not place too much reliance, as has been done, on the goddess Ceres for the dissemination of ‘Cerevisian’ vocabulary; beer was being brewed in northern Europe long, long before any Romans interfered up there and was already known by cognate names. We should remember too that the Romans were resolute wine drinkers who for a long time were hemmed in by a lot of not-so-friendly beer-drinking neighbor nations. Interestingly, a polished stone artifact from the Gallo-Roman period discovered in north-central France carries the inscription curmi da (I’ll say only little about it just now as I plan to deal with this and similar related artifacts in much more detail in a future post). Although  there is an alternative interpretation of da (earlier Gaulish daga) it would appear here to be a reference to this ‘real ale’ we are talking about, and an expression in vogue for who knows how long. The correspondence between curmi da and cwrw da, both in Celtic languages, is telling. In the Bollandist Acta Sanctorum  there is a reference to a 5th century CE proverb cited by St.Cynon: ‘Cwrw da yw allwed calon’ / ‘Good beer is the key to the heart’ (he seems not to have heard, bless him, of that good old song Mae’r Diawl yn y Casgen Cwrw / ‘There’s the Devil in a Keg of Beer’); then there is the later Latin form cervisa bona. So it seems like a very much fixed expression in continuous use from a very early date, and that the Romans eventually learned something from us beer-drinkers. 

*   Cabellian:  This refers to James Branch Cabell (1879-1958) who shot to great popularity when his 1919 book Jurgen was banned by the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, which took an all-too-serious view of his waggish innuendo. But Cabell was no faddish, popularity-seeking sensationalist, and after the great fuss died down this was realized by both readers and critics. He was recognized for what he is – a literary artist of the highest degree who wrote in a suave, elegant style whilst exhibiting a supreme natural wit. He was what might be termed the last Virginian gentleman, with a vast knowledge of European literature, history, and mythology, including the Welsh contribution, and an essayist in the best manner of the classical tradition. I’m keeping this short and introductory, as I‘d also like to discuss Cabell further in a forthcoming article. He is without the shadow of a doubt one of my most admired writers; I have twenty-four of his books on my shelves, together with a couple of literary biographies. For the literary addict, it’s best if Jurgen is not read independently as it’s part of the eight-volume core of his extended ‘eikosipentology’ as literary editor Lin Carter coined Cabell’s many-volumed ‘Biography of Manuel’. Should anyone be irresistibly attracted by what has been said so far, however, and cannot wait to rush off and order a copy hopefully in time for a New Year read, Jurgen, as well as a fair number of its sister volumes, is currently available in a nicely-printed paperback from The Wildside Press. I can advise anyone who wishes to read the core set – as there are so many others listed which are not novels but essays, poetry, reminiscences, etc. – of which titles to buy, if they care to just leave a comment on this present item in The Igam-Ogam Mabinogion.

*   Priapus:  Member of the Greek Pantheon.

*   Hwntw:   Person from the Welsh south.

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