»  The War-Song of Dinas Vawr

 

The War-Song of Dinas Vawr

by Thomas Love Peacock (1785-1866)

 

•  Background

Peacock is better known as a satirical novelist than as a poet. This poem is embedded in his 1829 novel The Misfortunes of Elphin, of which my 1942 edition of The Oxford Companion to English Literature gives the following account.

It is an entertaining parody of the Arthurian legends. Elphin is king of Caredigion in southern Wales, but the bulk of his territory has been engulfed by the sea, owing to the drunkenness of Price Seithenyn, who was charged with the duty of maintaining the embankment to keep out the waves. Elpjin himself, during the greater part of the story, is imprisoned by a more powerful neighbour for refusing to recognize that the latter's wife is more chaste and beautiful than his own. The young bard Taliesin effects his rescue by enlisting the aid of King Arthur. This he obtains by restoring to him Guinevere, who has been abducted by King Melvas. The book includes the celebrated "War-Song of Dinas Vawr."

Peacock had a keen interest in Welsh culture and mythology. He married a Welsh beauty: Jane Gryffydh, whom his friend the poet Shelley called "the White Snowdonian Antelope." I don't know whether Peacock had learned Welsh — he was himself perfectly English, the son of a London merchant — but his spelling of "Dinas Vawr" is eccentric. Nowadays it would be "Dinas Fawr," meaning "big fort." There is actually such a place in Wales; but whether it has any historical connection to the poem, I also do not know.

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•  Text of the poem

The War-Song of Dinas Vawr

by Thomas Love Peacock

The mountain sheep are sweeter,
But the valley sheep are fatter;
We therefore deem'd it meeter
To carry off the latter.
We made an expedition;
We met an host and quell'd it;
We forced a strong position
And kill'd the men who held it.

On Dyfed's richest valley,
Where herds of kine were browsing,
We made a mighty sally,
To furnish our carousing.
Fierce warriors rush'd to meet us;
We met them, and o'erthrew them:
They struggled hard to beat us,
But we conquer'd them, and slew them.

As we drove our prize at leisure,
The king march'd forth to catch us:
His rage surpass'd all measure,
But his people could not match us.
He fled to his hall-pillars;
And, ere our force we led off,
Some sack'd his house and cellars,
While others cut his head off.

We there, in strife bewildering,
Spilt blood enough to swim in:
We orphan'd many children
And widow'd many women.
The eagles and the ravens
We glutted with our foemen:
The heroes and the cravens,
The spearmen and the bowmen.

We brought away from battle,
And much their land bemoan'd them,
Two thousand head of cattle
And the head of him who own'd them:
Ednyfed, King of Dyfed,
His head was borne before us;
His wine and beasts supplied our feasts,
And his overthrow, our chorus.