Friday, 15 January 2010

Adding to The Western Canon

Dr Mark Williams writes:
The great literary critic Harold Bloom’s The Western Canon contains no work of Celtic literature in the huge ‘lifetime’s reading program’ at the back of the book. Not one, in any of the six possible languages. Accordingly, and feeling keenly this dreadful oversight on Bloom’s part, I have taken it upon myself to provide the necessary supplement.

Cornish and Manx are out. The Ordinalia, Beunans Meriasek, Beunans Ke and so on (Cornish medieval drama) have great charm, but we're following Bloom in taking 'great aesthetic interest' as the criterion for inclusion here. Similarly, there's little worth reading in Manx unless you are a specialist. As for Breton: well, the poet Anjela Duval
has much to recommend her, especially her passionate environmental consciousness. Here's one I like:

Ar stered o vervel
E damskleur digar ar revenn vintin
Mil astr a gren en Oabl disliv
Mil diamant a gren gant ar riv
Mil steredenn o vervel
Ha Priñs an Tan o sevel
Eus korn ar c’hoad pin.

In the half-light of the morning frost
A thousand stars tremble in the colourless Sky
A thousand diamonds tremble with the cold
A thousand stars dying
And the Prince of Fire rising
From the corner of the pine forest.

* * *
Anyway - here's my list, done in Bloom's style. I have omitted things that may be extremely important but which would be difficult for the general reader to appreciate without extensive commentary - thus no Irish Bardic Verse and little from the high medieval Welsh 'Poets of the Princes', and no Taliesin. I've been especially stingy with 18th and 19th century Welsh literature. Do write in with further suggestions, but you have to make the case for their inclusion! They must be amongst the very strongest in the language. In fact, to focus our minds, let's make it one in, one out. So if you think some work should be on the list that isn't, you must nominate the text your suggestion should replace.

Anjela Duval

Scottish Gaelic
Iain Crichton Smith
Sorley MacLean
O Choille gu Bearradh/From Wood to Ridge
Dàin do Eimhir/Poems to Eimhir

Early Irish Myths and Sagas, translated by Jeffrey Gantz
The Táin, translated by Ciarán Carson
The Wonder-Voyages (no easily accessible print translation, but go here
Tales of the Elders of Ireland (Acallam na Senórach), translated by Ann Dooley and Harry Roe
Brian Merriman
Cuirt an Mheadhon Oidhche/The Midnight Court, translated by Ciarán Carson
Máirtín Ó Cadhain
Cré na Cille/Churchyard Clay
Brian O'Nolan
An Béal Bocht/The Poor Mouth, translated by Power
Máire Mhac an tSaoi
Núala Ní Dhómhnaill
Rogha Dánta/Selected Poems (1990)
Cathal O Searcaigh

The Gododdin, translated by Thomas Clancy (in The Triumph Tree)
The Mabinogion, translated by Sioned Davies
Gruffudd ab yr Ynad Coch
Lament for Llywelyn the Last, translated by Tony Conran in Welsh Verse
Dafydd ap Gwilym
Poems, translated by Rachel Bromwich
Anne Griffiths
Saunders Lewis
Siwan and The Woman Made from Flowers
Kate Roberts
Bobi Jones
Waldo Williams

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