databas cerddi guto'r glyn

Ploughing and sowing

A farmer sowing his seeds to show the month of October in a calendar in the 'De Grey Book of Hours, NLW MS 15537C, f.10 (Digital Mirror).
Sowing in a calendar in the 'De Grey Book of Hours'
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Depending on the extent and character of his land, farmers grew a variety of crops, such as vegetables, fruit, beans, grain, rye, wheat, oats and barley, so as to provide the family with food and earn money. Some of the produce was sold in fairs and markets, and the rest would be stored for the kitchen, to bake bread, to brew beer, etc. Exceptional care in cultivating the land was crucial to obtain the best produce.

The poems to Abbot Dafydd ab Ieuan of Valle Crucis show that farming was an important part of an abbot's life in the Welsh abbeys during this period, and the abbot is praised especially as a good husbandman: Ni chad yn eglwys na chôr / Hwsmon well is maen allor ‘Below an altar stone no better husbandman / was found in a church or chancel' (poem 112.31-2). The way in which he ensures a plentiful supply of corn in his stores for three years is specifically praised:

I dri abad na phrior 
Nid oes dai na’i ŷd ystôr: 
Ŷd ar faes, a deuryw fedd, 
Ŷd o’r blaen o dair blynedd. 
No three abbots or priors
have such buildings as his nor his provision of corn:
corn in the field, and two kinds of mead,
corn [in store] in advance for three years.

(poem 112.37-40)

He could thus face a poor harvest without anxiety. Guto also refers to ploughing the lands of Abbot Dafydd ab Ieuan in poem 111.21, 'Steel would plough his lands', and again in poem 113:

 Deuryw ytir a dyr eto, 
 Draul o fawrIal drwy lafurio, 
 Dodi gwedd a gâr, dirio ŷd o’r âr, 
64Dri heiniar draw heno. 
He ploughs, what is more, two fields of corn,
sustenance from great Yale through ploughing the land;
he loves to set the yoke, to bring forth corn from the cultivated land,
three crops yonder tonight.

(poem 113.61-4)

Guto also praises Abbot Dafydd's good management of his forests. When the abbot used wood from the hill of Hyrddin, by the monastery, to create a fine ceiling for Valle Crucis abbey, he made sure that acorns be planted so that new trees would grow in their place. He is, therefore, a good manager of his forests, ensuring a supply of wood for the needs of the future:

Gwnaeth Dafydd (ni bydd heb win) 
Gaead hardd o goed Hyrddin. 
O’r mes a droes i’r maes draw 
Mae gwŷdd yn magu iddaw. 
Dafydd (he is never without wine) has made
a beautiful roof with timber from Hyrddin.
From the acorns which he scattered on the ground yonder
trees are growing for him.

(poem 112.33-6)

There is no need to presume that the abbot worked in the fields himself; rather, the purpose of these references are to stress the reliability and effectiveness of a patron in providing regular and sufficient support for his people by good management of his land. In eulogising Maredudd ab Ifan Fychan of Cedewain, Guto praises the fact that he is labouring the land of the locality (llafurio tir y fro) and he proceeds to suggest that there is not one furrow in Powys without corn (poem 39.16-18).
A farmhouse and a farmer ploughing in the background to a scene in 'The Battles of Alexander the Great', Peniarth MS 481D, f.8v (Digital Mirror).
Ploughing in 'The Battles of Alexander the Great'
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In another poem, Guto praises his patron, Sieffrai Cyffin, constable of Oswestry, for earning fame as a harvester, comparing him to Joseff, son of Jacob (poem 96). When he speaks of his patron piling up corn (tyrru ŷd), we are reminded of the verse in Genesis 41.48 ‘the food of the field, which was round about every city, laid he [Joseph] up in the [cities]’; see note on line 53 in poem 96.

The use of agricultural vocabulary in poems of eulogy and elegy was also characteristic of the poetry of the period.[1] A piece of land in a tilled field was called a grwn ‘a ridge in a field’ and that land would remain fallow for a period before being sowed. Guto used this image of the ploughed bare land which will then bare fruit to convey the nature of his relationship with his patron Dafydd ap Thomas of Blaen-tren (poem 13.31 and lines 32 and 35). In another poem, he use the image of the Rood altar in a church as a grwn and that the ridge is sown with tears of mourners grieving for Siôn ap Madog Pilstwn:

 llef oer y llafuriwn, 
Allawr y Grog yw lle’r grwn. 
Er bâr Duw a bwrw dial 
Y bu’r bedd a’r gaib a’r bâl. 
Cynnar y gwna’r ddaearen 
Cyflehau ieuanc, fal hen. 
I was tilling with sad lament,
the altar of the Rood is where the ridge in the field is.
God’s anger and the exacting of vengeance are the reason for
the grave and the pick and the spade.
Early does the earth
place the young in her, like the old.

(poem 72.37-42)

This shows how familiar was Guto'r Glyn with the use of agricultural imagery to describe various things. An obvious comparison is the famous poem to the laborer by the fourteenth-century poet, Iolo Goch.[2]


[1]: F.G. Payne, ‘Cwysi o Foliant Cyson’, Y Llenor, xxvi (1946-7), 3-24.
[2]: D. Johnston, Gwaith Iolo Goch (Caerdydd, 1988), poem no. XXVIII.
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