The Bard of Wales

by Webmaster, 6th January 2021

A poem set in Montgomery Castle lies behind a social media sensation in Hungary

The historic town of Montgomery in Powys has always been proud of its literary links with Hungary, which stem from Hungarian poet János Arany’s 160-year-old ballad The Bards of Wales. This allegorical poem is set in Montgomery Castle and most Hungarian children have been learning it at school for generations.
In acknowledgement of these proud links, members of Montgomery Town Council recently produced a video which has now attracted over 50,000 views across social media and has been the subject of national television and radio programmes in Hungary, where bizarrely the small Mid Walian town is better known than Cardiff!
“We’re overwhelmed by the response to our short film and are touched by all the messages we've received from Hungarians, “says Jill Kibble, member of Montgomery Town Council. “Montgomery has an intriguing connection with Hungary, and it’s wonderful to know that many generations of Hungarians have learnt the name of our little town at school.”
The Bards of Wales (Hungarian: A walesi bárdok) was written in 1857 and tells of the fate of 500 Welsh bards executed by Edward I for not singing his praises at a banquet held in Montgomery Castle.
Arany wrote the verses after refusing to write a poem celebrating the Emperor of Austria Franz Joseph following a failed revolution in 1848 against the empire. The poem was intended to indirectly criticise the tight Habsburg rule over Hungary, disguised as a story about Edward’s visit to Montgomery in order to bypass Austrian censors.

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by János Arany

King Edward scales the hills of Wales
Upon his stallion.
"Hear my decree! I want to see
My new dominion.

"Show me the yield of every field,
The grain, the grass, the wood!
Is all the land now moist and rich
With red rebellious blood?

"And are the Welsh, God's gift, the Welsh,
A peaceful, happy folk?
I want them pleased, just like the beast
They harness in the yoke."

"Sire, this jewel in your crown,
Your Wales, is fair and good:
Rich is the yield of every field
The grassland and the wood.

"And, Sire, the Welsh, God's gift, the Welsh,
So pleased they all behave!
Dark every hut, fearfully shut
And silent as the grave."

King Edward scales the hills of Wales
Upon his stallion.
And where he rides dead silence hides
In his dominion.

He calls at high Montgomery
To banquet and to rest;
It falls on Lord Montgomery
To entertain the guest:

With fish, the meat, and fruit so sweet,
To tease the tongue, the eyes,
A splendid spread for a king to be fed
A lordly enterprise.

The waiters file with the best this Isle
Can grow in drink and food,
And serve the fine Bordeaux and Rhine
In gracious plentitude.

"Now drink my health, you gentle sirs,
And you, my noble host! You Sirs...
Welsh Sirs... you filthy curs,
I want the loyal toast!

"The fish, the meat you served to eat
Was fine and ably done.
But deep inside it's hate you hide:
You loathe me, every one!

"Well, then, you sirs, you filthy curs,
Who will now toast your king?
I want a bard to praise my deeds,
A bard of Wales to sing!"

They look askance with a furtive glance,
The noblemen of Wales;
Their cheeks turn white in deadly fright,
As crimson anger pales.

Deep silence falls upon the halls,
And lo, before their eyes
They see an old man, white as snow,
An ancient bard to rise:

"I shall recite your glorious deeds
Just as you bid me, Sire."
And death rattles in grim battles
As he touches the lyre.

"Grim death rattles, the brave battles,
And blood bestains the sun,
Your deeds reek high, up to the sky:
You are the guilty one!

"Our dead are plenty as the corn
When harvest is begun,
And as we reap and glean, we weep:
You did this, guilty one!"

"Off to the stake!" the king commands,
"This was churlishly hard.
Sing us, you there, a softer air,
You, young and courtly bard!"

"A breeze so soft, does sweetly waft
Where Milford Haven lies,
With wailing woes of doomed widows
And mournful maidens' cries.

"Maiden, don't bear a slave! Mother,
Your babe must not be nursed!" ...
A royal nod. He reached the stake
Together with the first.

But boldly and without a call
A third one takes the floor;
Without salute he strikes the lute,
His song begins to soar:

"Our brave were killed, just as you willed,
Or languish in our gaols:
To hail your name or sing your fame
You find no bard in Wales!

"He may gone,' but his songs live on -
The toast is `King beware!'
You bear the curse - and even worse -
Of Welsh bards everywhere."

"I'll see to that!" thunders the King,
"You spiteful Welsh peasants!
The stake will toast your every bard
Who spurns my ordinance!"

His men went forth to search the North,
The West, the South, the East,
And so befell, the truth to tell,
In Wales the famous feast. -

King Edward fled, headlong he sped
Upon his stallion,
And in his wake a blazing stake:
The Welsh dominion.

Five hundred went singing to die,
Five hundred in the blaze,
But none would sing to cheer the king
The loyal toast to raise.

"My chamberlain, what is the din
In London's streets so late?
The Lord Mayor answers with his head
If it does not abate!"

Gone is the din; without, within
They all silently creep:
"Who breaks the spell, goes straight to hell!
The King can't fall asleep."

"Let drum and fife now come to life
And let the trumpets roar,
To rise above that fatal curse
That haunts me evermore!"

But over drums and piercing fifes,
Beyond the soldiers' hails,
They swell the song, five hundred strong,
Those martyred bards of Wales

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