Shop Mobile More Submit  Join Login


Have you heard [1] of what the Elders say
About the city of Ys after it was flooded?
"Pa vo beuzet Paris,
Ec'h adsavo Ker Is". [2]
Well, I was there [3] when a diluvial torrent
[Came to] submerge the Proud and made crowds shriek [with terror].


Yes, they erected towers of glass and iron, [4]
And then stole and destroyed everything;
The sacred islands [5], the dancing woods, [6]
The worshipped stones [7] and the singing springs. [8]
But they regretted their past folly
When the uncontrollable river [9] swept everything away.


Only then did Dahud hear the city collapse
And knew at once that she could return.
"Great is the sea that saw me die and [come back to life], [10]
But greater still is my hate towards these traitors!
Gwenolé's sons must all die!
And I shall take back what was stolen [from me]!" [11]


Weep, weep although you were warned! [12]
Weep, for the sea has taken over!
I was there, I saw it all, and how frightening was
That ancient city which was once so brilliant!
There, the former Cornish [13] capital has returned! [14]
And this time druids will not be disappointed.


Cursed be she who did not fear the ocean! [15]
Cursed be the Proud Ones!
It has already been said: the sea is untameable
And it was said again: never will nature be mastered.
Now you shall have to pay her/its tribute of blood; [16]
Only then will you regret not to have thought of this earlier.
The image is not mine; it comes from a French forum on comics.

This is the English translation of a much better poem I wrote in French right here: [link]

I wrote this for :icon#Neo-Seiz-Breur:. The theme was "Ys rising again". Basically, that meant I had to write what would happen next, based on a local saying that says "Only when the city like Ys shall be submerged, will Ys rise again"- or something like that. Sorry, Breton's a tough language, guys :P
I thus grabbed my Barzazh Breizh and a good, thick anthology of Celtic myths and decided to start by studying the original song. That done, I cut the song into bits and noted down its major "plotline":

I. → Gwenolé makes a prophecy on the city's fate during a feast.
II. → Various dialogues concerning guests, king Gradlon and his daughter Dahud
III. → Dahud steals Gradlon's keys while he is asleep
IV. → People scream in terror as they watch the water rise
V. → Peasants, woodcutters and fishermen discuss what happen and curse Dahud.

Now this is what I did for my poem:

I. → The Elders' prophecies. First-person POV.
II. → The catastrophe's cause is explained
III. → Dahud's monologue
IV. → Ys rises from the ocean
V. → Conclusion, moral, and curse.

Now I will explain a few terms and references that you might not understand unless you know a few famous ancient Celtic songs or have never never read the original song, which is actually available here (though not translated perfectly):

1. Here, I actually copied the very first verse from the original song: "have you heard, have you heard what the holy man said...".

2. Now this is a very famous local saying in (Breton Cornwall, that is) which actually comes from an oral legend, not exactly the song. According to this saying which ends the tale, Ys would rise again from the ocean the moment "the city [like] it" would be submerged. However, a common misunderstanding states that this "city" is Paris, since the name and the Breton expression are spelled the same. This, however, is false. Paris has nothing to do with Ys considering it was named after the Parisii, a totally different Celtic tribe (most "Finisterians" were Venetii back then). However, I have to admit I did kind of refer to this misconception of the tale on the sixth verse of the second stanza.

3. Here, I couldn't help parodying Taliesin the bard (kindly, of course! He's my favourite poet of the time ^^), who always mentioned himself in his songs and was rather... let's say "proud"- though it is understandable, coming from a genius. Many other bards did the same thing later on, claiming to be direct actors or witnesses in their songs. For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, let me recommend you a few songs; first, the ever-so-famous "battle of the trees", or "cruel troop". I highly recommend that you read the poem he supposedly sang when introducing himself to king Maelgwn, according to the Book of Taliesin which is dedicated to him. Really, do so if you can, it's brilliant, and a perfect example of what druidic poetry was like at the time!

4. Another parody which involves our modern world this time. Let's just say there is a double- darn it, irony or sarcasm? Never mind. First, notice how we build sky-scrappers that are still not resistant enough against nature and man-made catastrophes- with lots of glass, a kind of fragile material. The second type of "irony" (or whatever) is that in Celtic myths, gods are said to live in palaces of crystal and silver. Playing with substitute materials like glass and iron sounds like an unreachable search for heaven on earth and reminds one of the tower of Babel...

5. Many islands which were once sacred are now profane: Sein and Avallon (in Great-Britain) are just two examples.

6. A double reference. The first one is a folk tale entitled "the tree that sings, the spring that dances and the bird of truth" while the second one is Taliesin's battle of the trees.

7. Now these "worshipped stones" have nothing to do with your common neolithic menhir. I was referring to the numerous stones the ancient Celts erected to mark their territory all over Britain, Gaul and Ireland. A very famous one in Scotland which was used when kings were crowned was once "stolen" and taken to London... Something the Celts would have taken as blasphemy :P

8. The "singing springs" are another double reference. It refers to the tale mentioned in note 6 and the water spirits worshipped by pagan populations.

9. The Seine, Thames, Danube... Anything you want; there are enough capitals built near big rivers! If you don't get this, please see note 2.

10. A tribute to two songs; the famous traditional Irish song called "the water is wide" and Heol Telwen's (a Breton metal band) Dahud. You will find both songs' lyrics right here:
Just so you know, "the water is wide" was translated in French and renamed "la mer est grande" (the sea is great/wide), hence the reference and pun that are only understandable in French. As for the song Dahud, there is an entire stanza in which the eponymous heroine has a similar monologue (though it is far more violent than mine).

11. Here, I used a peculiar type of syntax in French which I was unable to translate well into English. This type of grammar is recurrent throughout the Barzazh Breizh, though I have no idea whether that is because T. H de la Villemarqué had trouble translating that from Breton, or whether that is actually archaic French. In any case, this "reference" gets lost in English.

12. Once again, the song's POV goes back to the narrator, or "pseudo-bard". Such different types of dialogues and POVs are fairly common in Breton songs and poetry, though this considerably complicates things for readers.

13. Another tough "reference" which can't be translated; Ys was said to be the former capital before Quimper. Quimper is the Finisterian capital. However, a little part of Finistère (where I, T. H de la Villemarqué and a lot of these songs come from) is known as "Cornouaille" in French, and would thus be translated as "Cornwall"- though it must not be mistaken with British Cornwall!
Now there is actually an explanation behind this, but it may seem rather complicated. Nevertheless, I'll give it a try;
before the Romans came, Gaul was divided in tribal territories. After the Romans left, these territories had been united in different bits as "provinces" or such. Today's Brittany was known as "Armorica" back then. Armorica as a whole had never been united before. At one point, however, there was indeed a "kingdom of Brittany". However, that was much later, during Nevenoe's times.
In between these two eras, British refugees and princes who came to Brittany- or Armorica, as it was called back then- claimed lands and gave them their own names according to their own back on British soil. This is why Brittany's nickname used to be "little Britain" and why there is a region in Finistère called "Cornwall". To make a long story short, parts of Brittany were basically "Briton colonies/territories"- so to speak. Now I could go on for hours on how interesting both the island and the peninsula's cultures and history are or how they are related in many ways, but I won't.
Right now, that's all you need to know in order to understand the song.

14. OK, so perhaps I exaggerated the city's importance (on purpose- this was meant to be a sort of parody of popular Celtic songs, especially ever-so-tragic-and-fatalistic Breton Gwerzioù), but it was indeed said to have been powerful and prosper.

15. The first two verses of the last stanza are another reference to the original song found in the Barzazh Breizh as well as a similar Welsh poem sung by Gwyddno, a bard from the 5th century. In both versions, the narrator can't help cursing Dahud and the "Proud Ones" for being responsible for the city's fall.

16. Dahud had the nasty reputation of strangling her lovers after great orgies before sacrificing their dead bodies to the ocean. According to different, much more modern versions, she would have actually had a pact with the ocean so that it would protect and help the city and its citizens (by letting merchants' ships come in and out freely, providing a decent amount amount of fish for everyone, etc.). In return, she would have had to offer it a young man per sunrise. If she broke the deal, she would have to pay with her own own life and that of her citizens.
While ancient versions claim the young man she fell in love with and did not want to kill must have been the devil (to tempt her) or an angel (to punish her), these modern sources claim that it was actually Manawyddan, the god of the sea, who wanted to test her (and apparently, she failed :P).
In either cases, Dahud's return would certainly mean young people would have to be sacrificed again...

Now, all I have to do is look for a melody somewhere on the internet to turn this into a song! >< Needless to say I will also have to adapt the poem, considering I doubt there are lots of songs with such an odd layout (unless it was Breton, I guess :P).
And OK, I know it isn't perfect and sounds like I'm a neo-druidic ecologist but hey, it was late at night (3AM...) and I had just watched one of Yann Artus-Bertrand's documentaries- that should explain! XD
Oh well, ecology has always been a big thing here.

And it's understandable; Brittany is not the richest region in France and never was. It is still very rural (you don't have the internet everywhere :P), and the ground has always been very rocky and hard to cultivate. The weather is not always mild and changes several times in the same day, making it tough for out-door work. And as if that wasn't enough, the sea still takes its "bloody tribute", hence our region's predilection for the colour black (back in the days, there was always someone to mourn for; a cousin, brother, father, husband or friend or even child who had been lost at sea or had drowned by accident). It's a wild, tough place, and the only way to live on was to be optimistic and admire what one couldn't beat: this crazy nature that defined their way of life.

I think this is what makes inhabitants of poorer regions in the world much wiser when it comes to preserving nature; it is painful to them, but its violence or harshness is so "unique" it is their only richness (take deserts, mountains or other harsh places, for instance). They know they can't change it although they sometimes wished they could, and I think that's why they learnt to live with it and came to love it for what it was.
People were probably aware of this during the middle-ages. In fact, I even heard there might have been a similar type of "global warming" back then as the one that is occurring today (though their origins are probably very different). In that sense, people would have been even more frightened about such an odd weather and would not have known what to do or think of it. Songs like Ys' submersion would have probably warned them about the fact nature is stronger and far less tameable than men.

But that's just my personal hypothesis, based on sources I can't possibly quote ^^

PS: I wish people could critique the French piece. Please let me know if you are willing to do so. Thank you! :D
No comments have been added yet.

Add a Comment:

:iconallatwan: More from Allatwan

Featured in Collections

Je t'aim by erindepuy

More from DeviantArt


Submitted on
January 6, 2011
File Size
1.7 KB


12 (who?)