Gerald of Wales 'Three stories from The Journey through Wales'.

Gerald of Wales (1145-1223)

My versions of three stories Gerald tells in ‘The Journey through Wales’. These are published in ‘A Presentment of Englishry’ (Shearsman 2019)

Gerald of Wales, or Gerald the Welshman (1145-1223), is one of the more fascinating characters of the twelfth century. A highly-educated, nobly born cleric, he made a career out of annoying people. He lectured Kings and Prelates undeterred by the fact they weren’t listening to him and he was witty, curious and an insatiable collector of stories. His ‘The Journey through Wales’, written in Latin Prose, can be read for pleasure, partly because Gerald takes breaks from telling the reader how brilliant he is, and how wrong everyone else is, to tell stories like these. 

The first ‘The scene of sorrows’ is a brutal miny tragedy, the second baffling, the third quietly humorous. They are curious artefacts from the past, to turn over and consider.

These poems first appeared as ‘Three Poems by Gerlad of Wales’ in a translation special edition of ‘The High Window’.

Anon: 'Dom Niperi Septoe' or 'The Dairy Maid'.

I first heard Seamus Ennis tell this on the LP ‘Forty Years of Irish Piping’ where it serves as an elaborate introduction to ‘The Smoky House’ reel. It’s a strange story. It could be going anywhere, including towards something nasty, but when it gets to its extraordinary ending, it feels as though it could not have gone anywhere else.

It also dictates its own pronunciation which is also strange.

It’s printed in Ciaran Carson’s magnificent ‘Last Night’s Fun’, which is a book riding the same immaginative currents Ennis was sailing on. It is the only book I’ve ever read that captures what it’s like to play traditional music.

The printed version has a tail that reads:

Now, I knew that little girl years later
said Seamus Ennis,
and whenever we’d be playing music
we’d have to be careful
not to play ‘The Smoky House’.
Becuase if we did, she’d run a mile.
So we never played it,
after we found out that she was allergic
to this reel.
He took up a whistle and he played a reel he called ‘The Smoky House’ or ‘Whatever you Please’.

Robert Service's 'The Shooting of Dan McGrew'.

This is from ‘Songs of a Sourdough’. Robert Service made his name writing poems about the Yukon Goldrush in the 1890s. ‘The shooting of Dan McGrew’ is best heard around a campfiire, or in a mini bus stuck in a snow storm. Best recited from memory.

Service was once very popular, especially with people who ‘didn’t like poetry’: these days he may be almost forgotten.