JUsT TWO LITTLE WORDs
Love, or what passes for it, hasn't changed that much over the centuries. Take for instance the work of the renowned Welsh poet and bard Dafydd ap Gwilym.
It is hundreds of years since he penned his well-known poetry and prose, but his work is apparently still very relevant today.
Let us examine two of his works that are concerned with love and romance, one of his very favourite subjects, and which were translated freshly from the original Welsh by the master of Celtic languages (Welsh, Irish & Scottish Gaelic, Cornish, Manx and Breton), Kenneth Hurlstone Jackson.
Dafydd ap Gwilym fancied himself a ladies' man, and if he were transplanted to contemporary times he would still be instantly recognizable today by nearly every woman on Earth.
We will examine some of Dafydd's prose, and while it often seems self-serving, we could perhaps say at least he was honest, in a round-about sort of way.
One of his pieces, 'The Girls of Llanbadarn', illustrates this point well:
'I am twisted with passion - plague on all the girls of the parish! since I suffered from trysts which went amiss, and could never win a single one of them, neither gentle hopeful maid, nor little lass, nor hag, nor wife. What fright is this, what mischief, what failure, that they'll have none of me?
What harm could it be for a fine-browed maiden to meet me in the thick dark wood? It would be no shame to her to see me in my leafy lair. There has never been a time when I did not fall in love with one or two in a single day; there was never a spell so persistent as this, not even on those as passionate as *Garwy. Yet for all that I was no nearer to winning one of them, than if she were my enemy.
There was never a Sunday at Llanbadarn but that I was there, while the others found fault with it, with my face turned to some dainty girl and the nape of my neck to holy God.
But after all my long staring past my hat's feather across the congregation, one fine sprightly maid would say to another one, fortunate and discreet, 'That pale boy with the wanton face and long hair like his sister's on his head, how lascivious is the sidelong glance of his looks! He knows sin well.' 'Is that how it is with him?' says the other at her side, 'he shall get no response while the world lasts - to the Devil with him, the silly thing.' The bright girl's curse bewildered me, a poor return for my giddy love! I must succeed in giving up these ways, these awful fantasies; I must be a man and turn hermit (O Villainous trade!). I have learned a sharp lesson; after much staring behind me, the image of frustration, I, the lover of mighty song, have cricked my neck and won no mate.'
Translated from the Welsh by Kenneth Hurlstone Jackson; Dafydd ap Gwilym, c. 1325-1380
* Garwy, or Gary as he might be named today, was a legendary lover of the times.
It is difficult to feel sorry for young Dafydd, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that he could not even hold a girl's attention somewhere so perennially boring as Sunday matins.
One knows from intuition and plain common sense that the feminine assessment of himself as being 'That pale boy with the wanton face and long hair like his sister's on his head, how lascivious is the sidelong glance of his looks! He knows sin well.' was inherently correct.
We've all met them.
The thought of him waiting anxiously in the 'thick, dark wood', and slightly worse, in his 'leafy lair' while he considers that no harm would come to a maiden visiting him there is in direct opposition to his admitting to falling in love as excessively often as two times a day.
Apart from the risks of STD's, which have always been prolific, a girl had her reputation to consider, and ap Gwilym's use of the word 'leafy lair', while not exactly sinister, brings to mind the possibilities of multiple Summer-time injuries caused by twigs, brambles, wasps or stinging nettles, and perhaps even badgers.
Possibly fortunately, it seems he usually sat in his lair all for nothing, with no maid willing to beard him in his den.
He is in fact so obsessed with young ladies that he considers he is under a spell and likens himself to a legendary lover named Garwy.
As it is customary to become a legend due more to one's fantastic performance as a lover rather than one's failed attempts, it is difficult to take Dafydd seriously.
We must leave him there twisted with wasted passions and a cricked neck, and move forward to yet another failed attempt of his at gaining some feminine attention.
As if this were not already enough, he was to write of his failures again and again. Indeed, it fast became a habit, and he chose to hold little back.
In the relating of this next misadventure, which certainly wouldn't be his last, we discover what dangers and griefs befell him when he spent:
'A Night at an Inn'
I came to a choice city with my handsome squire in my train, a place of liberal banqueting, a fine gay way of spending money, to find a public inn worthy enough, and I would have wine - I have been vain since childhood. I discovered a fair lissome maiden in the house, my sweet soul! and I set my heart wholly upon the slender, blessed girl like the sun in the east. I paid for a roast and expensive wine, not merely out of boastfulness, for myself and the fair girl yonder; and invited the modest maiden to my bench, a sport which young men love. I was bold and persistent, and whispered to her two words of magic , this is certain; and, no laggard lover, I made a pact to come to the sprightly girl, the black-browed maid, when the company should have gone to bed. When all were asleep but I and the lass I sought most skilfully to find my way to the girl's bed - it was a miserable journey and came to grief.'
Wotta Tripp was going to end the narration there, but instead decided to continue.
This is partly because at this point the ladies might indeed appreciate hearing about ap Gwilym's ensuing problems, even if they did take place almost 700 years ago.
But it is also because the average reader's attention span has suffered greatly over the centuries and people can apparently no longer read large blocks of text without copious gaps, usually placed in between pathetically short paragraphs, and with a lot of illustrations to help keep the mind from flitting constantly and aimlessly back and forth like a fruit bat experiencing the more advanced stages of dementia.
I find this most annoying but have had to change my writing style many times over my several centuries of experience advising the troubled and the feckless. Now we shall continue with Dafydd ap Gwilym's own narration of his ill-founded attempt to seduce a girl in a rather unpleasant inn. Note his lack of spaces in between sentences and also the paragraph length.
It is certain that nowadays people around the world still have very similar experiences, and frequently:
'I got a vexatious fall there, and made a clatter - not a good exploit; in such reckless mischief it is easier to get up awkwardly than very nimbly. I did not spring up unhurt; I struck my shin (oh, my shank!) above the ankle against the side of a silly squeaking stool, left there by the ostler. In rising where I was placed, unable to step freely but continually led astray in my frenzied struggles - my Welsh friends, it was a deplorable affair, too much eagerness is not lucky - I knocked my forehead against the end of a table, where a basin rolled freely for a while, and an echoing copper pan. The table, a bulky object, fell, and it's two trestles and all the utensils with it. The pan gave a clang behind me which was heard far away, and the basin yelled, and the dogs began to bark at me - I was a wretched man! Beside the big walls there lay three Englishmen in a stinking bed, fussing about their three packs, Hickin and Jenkin and Jack. One of these varlets muttered angry words to the other two, with his slobbering mouth: 'There's a Welshman prowling sneakily here, and some busy fraud is afoot. He's a thief, if we allow it; look out, and be on your guard against him.' The groom roused all the company together, and an ignominious affair began, they hunting about furiously to find me, and I, haggard and ghastly in my anguish, keeping mum in the darkness. I prayed, not fearlessly but hiding away like one terrified; and by dint of praying hard and from the heart, and by the grace of the true Jesus, I regained my former lodging in the grip of sleeplessness, and without the reward I had looked for. I escaped, for the saints stood by me; and I implore God for forgiveness.
Translated from the Welsh by Kenneth Hurlstone Jackson;
Dafydd ap Gwilym, c. 1325-1380
It is quite true that the Welsh have no reason whatsoever to love the English, but in this instance we are examining Dafydd ap Gwilym's conduct.
He may indeed have prayed for forgiveness, but by all accounts, and mainly his own, he did not sustain this mood of penitence for an overly long time.
As well, his use of the following words: 'without the reward I had looked for' leave one searching the charming old text for some indication that Dafydd had in fact done anything he deserved to be rewarded for, and finding none, we can imagine that his 'black-browed maid' perhaps had a lucky escape.
But this brings Dame Wotta Tripp to recall near the beginning of his slightly pathetic account that he felt he had a fine and well-tested trick up his possibly slightly worn velvet sleeve.
Note carefully his mention of the ' two words of magic' that are highlighted as a result of the deft intervention of Wotta Tripp in ap Gwilym's prose.
That is because everybody wonders "what could those 'two words of magic' have been?"
Cruder and more cynical scholars have concluded that they might have been 'two shillings', but Dame Wotta Tripp believes that this is incorrect and is confident that she can supply the missing words with a greater degree of accuracy, based not only upon her profound knowledge of history, but also upon her superior understanding of human nature.
It's really very simple. These two short words have been translated into every language and used in every country for thousands of years. They are still in common usage in modern times, possibly even millions of times a day.
The two words of magic are, quite simply:
Do not be nervous or become too alarmed or despondent, dear ladies. Things may change one day, if parents will only take care to stop bringing up boys and girls in the same strange and unpleasant ways that they have been habitually accustomed to applying for many hundreds of years, down to the present day.
It clearly doesn't work very well at all, with multiple errors, duds and failed attempts visible all over the place. Although sometimes temporary, attitudes, once properly installed and activated during childhood, are wont to last for an entire lifetime.
Humans can sometimes be quite sweet, and it is possible to feel some affection for them with practice (as Dame Wotta has verifed to her cost, giving tirelessly of her time to help the afflicted), but they are remarkably slow to alter their ingrained and foolish ways, even after many generations of constant slavish discontent.
Dafydd ap Gwilym is just one example from among millions. It's a great pity he didn't write for Wotta Tripp's Advice, rather than penning reams of self-pitying verse to leave for his ancestors to cringe over.