Predestined was Gweir's captivity in Caer Sidi,
According to the tale of Pwyll and Pryderi.
None before him was sent into it,
Into the heavy blue chain which bound the youth.
From before the reeving of Annwfn he has groaned,
Until the ending of the world this prayer of poets:
Three shipburdens of Prydwen entered the Spiral City
Except seven, none returned from Caer Sidi.
Is not my song worthily to be heard
In the foursquare Caer, four times revolving!
I draw my knowledge from the famous cauldron,
The breath of nine maidens keeps it boiling.
Is not the Head of Annwfyn's cauldron so shaped:
Ridged with enamel, rimmed with pearl?
It will not boil the cowardly traitor's portion.
The sword of Lleawc flashed before it
And in the hand of Lleminawc was it wielded.
Before hell's gate the lights were lifted
When with Arthur we went to the harrowing.
Except seven none returned from Caer Feddwit.
Note from the Commentary:
Although Arthur voyages with three shiploads of men packed into his vessel, only seven return. This chorus of 'except seven' punctuates the poem, recalling earlier voyages and other survivors who have journeyed into Annwfn to bring the inspiration of the cauldron to this world. Arthur's voyage into the otherworld is entirely consistent with an older Celtic quest tradition, that of the immrama or voyage myths, in which heroes encounter various otherworldly islands and their inhabitants.
A Dynamic new translation of King Arthur's First Quest.
Clear Revelation of a pivotal British Mystery.
Profound Arthurian Art.
In this powerful new and full translation from the Welsh by renowned Celtic and Arthurian authors John and Caitlin Matthews, outlining the mystery at the heart of the poem, new and hitherto unknown perspectives are offered on both the origins and the earliest story of Arthur.
The 9th century Welsh poem Preiddeu Annfwyn or The Raid on the Underworld, ascribed to the 6th century poet and shaman Taliesin, is one of the oldest and most enigmatic documents relating to the mythic hero Arthur that we still possess. Extending to a mere 61 lines, it contains within it vital clues to the Celtic Mystery traditions of this and earlier times.
Describing the descent of Arthur and his men on the ship Prydwen into the region of Annwfn (literally 'the in-world' or underworld of Celto-British tradition, or Annwn in modern Welsh) in order to steal the wonder-working cauldron from the Lord of Annwfn, this poem hides many secrets within its shimmering lines.
The cauldron is one of the Thlysau or Treasures, hallowed otherworldly objects that are the source of illimitable power. Arthur's quest for the cauldron of the underworld is a precursor of many more famous quests, while the cauldron itself is the forerunner of the Grail.
Caitlin Matthews is the author of over fifty books, including Mabon and the Guardians of Celtic Britain; King Arthur and the Goddess of the Land; The Celtic Book of the Dead. She is internationally renowned for the depth and clarity of her research into the Celtic and ancestral traditions. Caitlin's CDs include Deep Well in the Wildwood and Earth's Own Heart, released 2009. She is a co-founder of The Foundation for Inspirational and Oracular Studies, dedicated to the oral and sacred arts. She teaches all over the world and has a shamanic practice in Oxford.
John Matthews is the author of many award-winning books, including Winter Solstice, The Song of Taliesin, The Secret Lives of Elves and Faeries and Pirates, and known primarily for his work on the Arthurian and Grail traditions, John has also been active in exploring the empowerment of myth on the popular imagination. He was the historical advisor on Jerry Bruckheimer's film, King Arthur (2004), and his book Pirates was at the top of the New York Times best seller lists for 22 weeks in 2007.
Meg Falconer is a painter who bases much of her work on Celtic Mythology and British Folklore. She has exhibited widely and has a permanent exhibition at the Coach House Gallery at Brantwood in Coniston, formally the home of the artist John Ruskin. Meg has lived in the English Lake District since 1980, finding in this environment of mountains, lakes and woods a rich resource for her work.
The knower kept the cauldron
Boiling without failure of flame;
It could make the dead alive,
A task most difficult.
- The Festival from Book of Taliesin.
The early Welsh poem known as the Preiddeu Annwfn remains one of the most enigmatic texts in British literature. It appears to tell the story of a raid, led by the hero Arthur on the Otherworld, to steal a magical cauldron from its guardians. This in itself is enough to make it an important work, which throws light on both the myths of Arthur and the later story of the Quest for the Grail undertaken by his knights. Yet the origin, authorship, date and above all the meaning of this poem have been the subject of scholarly debate since the middle of the 18th century, when its first editor, Sharon Turner, said of it that 'all connection with thought seems to have been studiously avoided.'
Turner's attempt at a translation seems quaint now, and is certainly one of the most inaccurate, but even here he seems to have felt its mysterious nature. The next scholar to tackle it, D.W. Nash, made little advance, and though his translation benefited from a steadily advancing scholarship in Celtic languages, it still fell far short of those that followed. In the twentieth century, a variety of experts brought their skills to bear on it: the great Welsh scholar Sir John Rees gave us a spirited rendition, and this was followed by the Arthurian scholar R. S. Loomis, who brought it firmly into the modern world - though still far from accurately or completely. More recent scholarly editions have appeared from the hands of Sarah Higley and John Carey, both of whom acknowledge the sterling work of Marged Haycock, whose critical edition stands as a beacon of clarity.
Less well equipped, but no less fascinating versions were penned by other enthusiasts, including the poet Robert Graves, who made The Preiddeu Annwfyn an important part of his seminal book on poetic myth, The White Goddess. It is this version that remains the best known to modern, non-academic audiences, though several more accurate versions have appeared since. Partly through Graves' book, and in part through other popular studies of Celtic myth and Arthurian legends, the Preiddeu Annwfyn has become at once well known and increasingly misunderstood. Just about everyone who has done any work on the text has characterised it as 'difficult', 'obscure', 'nonsensical', or just plain 'weird'. The reasons for this will be explored in the work that follows, in which is presented a new translation of the complete poem and the commentary by Caitlín Matthews.
The poem is in fact far less difficult than might at first seem to be the case. Though the language is not always easy, and the references encompass a wide variety of Celtic lore, some of the meanings of which have been lost to us, there is still sufficient information to be gleaned from the text to enable it to be both understood and better appreciated for what it is: an extraordinary work by an extraordinary author. That this author's name itself remains doubtful, though it has long been associated with the work, is part of the fascinating trail we set out to follow in this book.