Into your chest, a sharp stone slides – slanted
down to split your sternum wide:
kneecaps shatter as hands try
to hold the spurting heart inside.
Notes on this poem
Little is known about Gwerful Mechain, daughter of Hywel Fychan from Mechain in Powys. We only know Gwerful from her erotic, defiant poems and exchanges with male poets like Dafydd Llwyd and Dafydd ap Gwilym. Her poems often challenge the shame that women feel about their bodies even today: they are witty, celebratory, outrageous, bold, dynamic, bawdy, shameless, playful, funny, and irreverent. In ‘Gwerful Watches Her Friend Take a Shit,’ the disgusting seems sensual and imbued with magic and humour. Gwerful is also extremely skilled with Welsh-language forms. The formal artistry and proto-feminist content unite perfectly in ‘Gwerful Curses a Man For Beating a Woman,’ which may be one of the first instances of a Welsh poet writing about domestic violence.
Apart from the sensuality and humour, there are also poems that admit the precariousness of things like ‘Gwerful Tells Dafydd Llwyd About the End of the World.’ These Medieval poems resonate astonishingly well with the doubt of the twenty-first century. For Gwerful, in the absence of certainty, the ecstasies of the body are an answer.
Past translations of Mechain tend to be very strict in replicating the original rhyming and formal patterns of the englyn, but my priority is capturing the spirit of what is said, seen through a modern lens of #metoo, violence against women and less privileged groups, ‘slut shaming’, and feminism. Still, as much as possible, the englyn’s rhymes or half-rhymes and cynghanedd-like chiming are employed.
– Zoe Brigley