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Saturday, April 7, 2012

Great Gorsedd Of The Bards!

The Gorsedd of the Bards is a modern day group of Welsh poets, songwriters, and performers. Each year they join forces with the organizers of the National Eisteddfod of Wales, a festival of literature and music that draws as many as six thousand bards to battle it out over eight days of competition and performance (all done in Welsh). Yes, competitive poetry is alive and well in Wales.

And it's been a tradition for nearly a thousand years, beginning as early as 1176 when the first judged competition took place. In those days, bards were singers who exalted the bravery and good deeds of the warriors and nobles who paid for their services. They were also the keepers of the oral history, which is probably why Edward I, the English king who nearly choked the life out of the Welsh in the 13th century, didn't like them very much. He must have sensed they wouldn't say nice things about him.

Edward I is said to have ordered five hundred bards burned at the stake as part of his effort to dominate the people of Wales during his Iron Ring days. And it worked. The bardic tradition essentially ended (hard to keep it going when they're all dead). The deed was commemorated seven hundred years later by Hungarian poet, Janos Arany, in his rebel poem, The Bards of Wales. Check it out if you have time.

Bards play a small but important role in my current WIP (see blog title). That is because they are symbolic of a sort of passive resistance. Though Edward did put a stop to the bardic tradition at the time he did not suffocate it completely. The Welsh have stubbornly held on to their language and culture over the centuries, something I felt no shame in exploiting when shaping the world of my post-apocalyptic novels. Er, minus the green robes.

In 1792 the Eisteddfod festival was revived for the first time since Edward's days, and it's been going strong ever since. Held during August, it is host to over 150,000 visitors every year. I'd love to go back to Wales during August sometime and catch a glimpse of the gathering of the bards. What a sight!



(source)

**Late edit to post. I found this Antiques Roadshow UK video related to the Eisteddfod and thought I should add it. Neat stuff!





37 comments:

  1. Yikes. Sounds like they were the free press of their day.

    Very cool that they're honored in such fashion.

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  2. That's a really ancient festival.
    Killing all of those Bards was like destroying all computer networks - trying to erase the ability to record history and all information. But people still remember...

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  3. we do despise such oppressive moronic kings. It's funny how such evil people still exist in the form of US and UK presidents :( We haven't learnt a thing from history :(

    I always forget to ask you if you managed to learn Welsh spelling and writing. I swear I can never read their names and words :)

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  4. So cool! I can't believe how long that festival has gone on. Would be amazing to check out. I kind of dig the green robes. ;-)

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  5. MC - Yes! Control the media and control the message, right?

    Alex - Angry people remember the most. And sometimes they hold a grudge.

    Dezzy - Not just western leaders, Dez. They're everywhere *cough*northkorearussiasyria*cough*. And I have tried to learn Welsh, but it's just so illogical (to my brain). Did have fun trying to pronounce names of places with the gentlemen running the B & B I stayed at in Betws y Coed. He was good natured about it. :)

    Tracy - Red is more my color. :P But, wow, I'd love to see them all together, meeting in praise of prose.

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    1. can't really agree on the Russian leaders, dahling, it's not like Russia has ever invaded anyone in the recent times, nor did they lead wars against countries outside their borders.

      And Welsh names tend to have too many letters which aren't even pronounced :) Imagine how weird it is, since my own Serbian is a phonetical language, which means everything is read as it is written :)

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    2. I was thinking more about the unnaturally high number of Russian journalists who've turned up dead for speaking out against their government.

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  6. Most interesting and absorbing to read. I have been to Wales on numerous occasions and found it most enjoyable.

    Thank you for your visits and comments, much appreciated.
    HAPPY Easter,,
    Yvonne.

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  7. Fascinating stuff! And very cool that you've actually been to Wales. I think poetry is very important in Scotland, too, especially if the poet's name is Robert Burns. My grandfather and his brothers could all spout dramatic recitations of Burns' poetry, especially after they had a few pints in them.

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  8. I do not know Welsh, but now I really want to go see that competition whether I know what they're saying or not.

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  9. Yvonne - I could spend endless months in Wales I believe. :)

    Susan - A pint brings out the dramatics for sure. I visited the Writers Museum in Edinburgh that had a display on Burns. They're quite proud of their native son. :)

    Libby - I know! Competitive poetry, who knew?

    Theresa - There are a few North American Gorsedds. Not quite as authentic I don't think. ;)

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  10. I hadn't heard of this either, but how wonderful that it has found its way back after being extinguished.
    Karen

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  11. I'm amazed that a group of bards could last all the way from 1176! The poster for it is really beautiful. Thanks for sharing this with us all.

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  12. Poetry competition - love it! That would last here for two seconds.

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  13. Just yesterday I found out we have a Renaissance Fair over in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Muskogee? Yes, the same place where "we don't smoke marijuana" came from. For some reason I don't think it holds a candle to the Eisteddfod festival.

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  14. This is fascinating. I had no idea of this.

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  15. Your entries have been like a fascinating history lesson so far! Really enjoying them :-)

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  16. Karen - Talk about resilience, right?

    Catherine - Love that poster with the bearded guys and their robes. Actually, I think the Gorsedd is at least partially responsible for the revival of druidism. Good reason to pull the robes out of storage. :PP

    Tonja - I think there might be some local competitions, but no way you're getting six thousand poets show up!

    Rubye Jack - Ooh, Renaissance Fairs are fun though. :)

    Donna - I just like saying Great Gorsedd of the Bards! It's my new cuss phrase for when I stub my toe. :PP

    LindaK - Yay! I do love history. :)

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  17. Whoa, that sounds like great fun! I would love to go to that!!!!! I wish there were more photos of it, I'll have to Google it! Thanks for the post!

    Texas Playwright Chick

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  18. Interesting. You might be able to burn the guys who dream and have ideas but you cant kill the dreams and ideas. Will they ever learn? Probably not.

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  19. In Big Bang Theory, when Leonard took the boys to get the money that Kurt (Penny's former boyfriend and body-builder) owed her, Sheldon likened it to a David and Goliath type situation. At the end of the episode he said, "Leonard...bards will sing about you. There once was a brave lad named Leonard With a fi-fi fiddle dee-dee. He faced a fearsome giant. While Raj just wanted to pee..."

    I love bards! Sheldon would make a good one.

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  20. I didn't know that Edward I killed so many bards. See, that's why I love your blog. Educational and entertaining!

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  21. The green robes crack me up for some reason. Fascinating.

    Play off the Page

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  22. 500 Bards burned at the stake? Good Lord!

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  23. Edward's rule over Wales was horrifying . . .glad they celebrate the bardic traditions today!

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  24. i love this! rebel poets bard-style! get down with your bad selves green robed dudes and dudettes!

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  25. 'Edward I is said to have ordered five hundred bards burned at the stake as part of his effort to dominate the people of Wales during his Iron Ring days. And it worked.'

    That is frightening and tragic. I'm sitting here shaking my head.

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  26. I'm glad for stubborn resistance and tradition. Just think how boring our world would be if we lost these connections with out past.

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  27. TPC - Check out the links highlighted in red. Lots of pics on the websites. :)

    farawayeyes - beautiful and so true.

    Michael - And don't ever piss off the bards or not pay them or they'll tell terrible stories about you. LOL.

    Lara - Haha...I'll get back to more travelogue stuff on Monday and highlights of the trip so it doesn't feel like such a history lesson. :))

    Mary - Me too. There were some pictures of them parading down the street that just felt very Harry Potterish...like marching wizards or something. :)

    Lisa - Isn't that just brutal? Edward knew who had the power. It's the people who tell the stories/history.

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  28. Tyrean - I love it too. :)

    Vic - Hahahaha...bad dudes and dudettes in green robes.

    Suze - Tough times to be a storyteller, huh?

    Andrew - It is cool, though they could update the robes a little IMO. They're a little more rock star looking in my novels. :))

    Stephen - How right you are!

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  29. Well, some how I don't think bards used to wear those neon green things in that picture you have.

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  30. Singing bards rock! As did all your posts this week-nice work.

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  31. Andrew - Heh, green went out of fashion in 979 AD. Everyone knows that. :)

    Tim - Thanks! And right back at ya!

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  32. it's amazing that this tradition has lasted almost 1000 years and that you were able to research it in Wales! Julie

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  33. yikes, burning that many bards at the stake is a tad extreme...actually, burning one is extreme.

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