Introduction Edited text Manuscripts Cymraeg

4. Mawl i Ddewi Sant

edited by Dafydd Johnston


This poem opens with the poet stating his wish to undertake a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the sake of his soul, and then recognizing that the journey would be too much for him due to his old age. He then finds a solution to his predicament in the belief that three pilgrimages to St Davids were equivalent to one to Jerusalem. St Davids is praised as the ‘paradise of Wales’, with particular emphasis on the music in the cathedral, and then David’s life is recounted in order to demonstrate the spiritual power of his sanctuary. Most of the content of this part of the poem corresponds to the Latin and Welsh Lives: the warning to Patrick to leave Mynyw thirty years before the birth of David, the miracles which accompanied David’s birth, his parents, his asceticism, the account of the synod at Llanddewibrefi and the hill rising up beneath David’s feet when he preached there, the blessing of the well at Bath, and his death on the first day of March. Some episodes are also included which are not found in the Lives, but which are referred to by other poets (see DewiGB, DewiIRh, DewiLGC1 and DewiLGC2); these involve permitting the Welsh to eat the fish known as gwynad during Lent, and miracles involving control over birds and stags. And there is one story here which is not attested anywhere else, about David releasing two sinners who had been turned into wolves. It is clear, therefore, that this poem draws on oral traditions about David, as well as on written sources. The poem concludes with a rhetorical topos expressing the impossibility of ever recounting all the saint’s miracles.

The poem is attributed to Iolo Goch in every surviving manuscript copy, including one from the fifteenth century. Nevertheless, Henry Lewis placed it in a section of poems of uncertain authorship, arguing that poems to saints were a genre characteristic of the fifteenth century, and that most were by poets from the locality of the saints’ cults (IGE1 lxvi–vii). But as argued in GIG 341–2, the idea of a journey to St Davids suggests that the author was not a local poet. The poem shows features typical of fourteenth-century cywyddau, with extended sentences (e.g. ll. 1–6, 27–32, 47–52, 73–82, 101–10), parenthetical phrases (e.g. ll. 9, 19, 50, 53), compound words (e.g. ll. 4, 26, 43, 59, 82) and a high proportion of cynghanedd sain, and therefore there does not seem to be any adequate reason to doubt the attribution of the manuscripts.

The last decades of Iolo Goch’s career, c.1380 × 1400.

Previous edition
GIG poem XXIX; IGP poem 29.

Metre and cynghanedd
Cywydd, 110 lines. Cynghanedd: croes 26% (29 l.), traws 29% (32 l.), sain 41% (45 l.), llusg 4% (4 l.).