Gwyn ap Nudd and The Mist

Below is a translation of the central part of Dafydd ap Gwilym’s poem ‘Y Niwl’ containing the ‘dyfalu’ or conceit around which the framing narrative tells of the poet’s wish to go into the woods for a love tryst, but of not being able to find his way because of the thickness of the mist.


To deceive us is its dark intent
Rising as a rough cloak over the earth
In troublesome high towers; one of the tribe
Of Gwyn*,  swathed by the wind
His two cheeks insidiously concealing the land
And the guiding signs with a blanket
Heavy and hideous like a darkness
Blinding the world to betray the bard.
It is as if some fine-spun fabric unravelled,
Threaded rope-like through the air,
A spider-web of fancy French stuff everywhere!
Up on the high point of the moorland
Gwyn* gathers the speckled smoke often seen
Rising like vapour from woodlands in May,
The breath of a bear in which barking dogs lurk,
Otherworld ointment from the witches of Annwn
Creepily anointing with a dew-like wetness:
A leaden coat worn by the cloud-capped land.


* ‘Gwyn’  is Gwyn ap Nudd who is often referred to in Dafydd ap Gwilym’s poetry, though incidentally rather than as a main subject, suggesting that he was too well-known to need explanation. Here he is associated with both wind and mist. In other poems the owl is said to be his particular bird and a bog pool is described as a place through which his otherworld spirits can find their way into our world. In the 14th century the Otherworld was regarded as a sinister place, but one which, though strange, was continually present just a side-step away from the paths we know.

3 thoughts on “Gwyn ap Nudd and The Mist

  1. Thanks for this new translation. I *love* the Welsh lines ‘Tylwyth Gwyn talaith y gwynt’. I particularly like the way you’ve translated lines 40-41 with Gwyn gathering the speckled smoke, which differs slightly to the Bromwich translation I have.

    I’ve found it interesting that Dafydd, as a poet, has an antagonistic relationship with Gwyn (and his owl in Y Dylluan). Maybe it’s because he’s a summer person and much keener on love and courtship and May than darkness and winter and death…

    1. Yes that line is brilliant, and typical of Dafydd’s wordplay, which is so difficult to replicate in English. Also with that line, an issue for translators is that ‘talaith’ can mean ‘province’ or ‘district’, but it can also mean ‘diadem’ or a headress of some sort. So do we translate it to say ‘the famliy of Gwyn and the province of the wind’ or do we take up the personification in the following line (‘cheeks’) and suggest that the wind wears the mist in some way as it carries it along? I tried to do both with ‘swathed’, though I’m aware that the suggestion ‘swathe of land’ may remain obscure.

      Rachel Bromwich accepted Thomas Parry’s interpretation of the original manuscripts. More recently these manuscripts have been re-examined using modern techniques of analysis and re-interpreted in some cases. So in line 43 in that passage where Gwyn makes the mist, ‘Anardd darth’, translated by Rachel B as ‘unsightly fog’ is now rendered as ‘Anadl arth’ (‘bear’s breath’) hence my translation. All of the new analyses, with translations and notes, are now online at http://dafyddapgwilym.net .

      Dafydd certainly seemed to have a problem with Gwyn as you say, and it is certainly true that he is a poet of Maytime and erotic assignments in the woods. So his frustration at being thwarted here. But the Otherworld does seem to be regarded increasingly from about Dafydd’s time onwards as having a sinister aspect, rather than a place to visit as with Taliesin and his bardic followers.

What do you think?