Poem of the month: The War-song of Dinas Vawr

Poem of the month: The War-song of Dinas Vawr

Shamed by my lack of poetry knowledge – especially compared to niall_gooch – I’ve decided to try learning a poem a month. Not sure how far I will get, but this month – and only because I read about it in Christopher Caldwell’s new book – I’m going for “The War-song of Dinas Vawr”.

The poem comes from The Misfortunes of Elphin, Thomas Love Peacock’s Victorian romance about sub-Roman Britain and the clash of warlords in Wales; it sounds like it would make a great Netflix series although admittedly I say that about everything history-related these days. Here it is, but don’t ask me to recite if you bump into me.


The mountain sheep are sweeter,
But the valley sheep are fatter;
We therefore deemed it meeter
To carry off the latter.
We made an expedition;
We met a host, and quelled it;
We forced a strong position,
And killed 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 rushed to meet us;
We met them, and o’erthrew them:
They struggled hard to beat us;
But we conquered them, and slew them.

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

We there, in strife bewild’ring,
Spilt blood enough to swim in:
We orphaned many children,
And widowed 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 bemoaned them,
Two thousand head of cattle,
And the head of him who owned them:
Ednyfed, king of Dyfed,
His head was borne before us;
His wine and beasts supplied our feasts,
And his overthrow, our chorus.



According to the Poetry by Heart website: “The somewhat comical description of murder and mayhem is sustained throughout the whole poem as children are orphaned, women widowed and a king decapitated. The lexis is relentlessly violent. The opposition is ‘killed’, ‘quelled’ and ‘conquered’. The ‘War Song’ can be enjoyed on a number of levels, including as a satire of some of the ‘historical’ poems inspired by the success of the novelist Walter Scott.”



What do you think?