Thursday, October 9, 2008

Men of Harlech, Lie Ye Dreaming?

Men of Harlech is a traditional Welsh song, which has many different versions of its lyrics. It tells the story of a Saxon invasion of Wales, and the Welsh defending their land and freedom. It's a rousing song to hear performed. If only the West still exhibited the spirit immortalized in this song. Unfortunately, we still lie dreaming.

In this Charlotte Church rendition, the first part is sung in Welsh, but it switches to English when the male choirs joins in. Here is the English portion of the lyrics:

Hark, I hear the foe advancing
Barbed steeds are proudly prancing
Helmets in the sunbeams glancing
Cymru fo am byth
Men of Harlech, lie ye dreaming
See ye not their falchions gleaming
While their pennons gaily streaming
Cymru fo am byth.
From the rocks resounding
Let the war cry sounding
Summon all at Cambria's call
The haughty foe surrounding
Men of Harlech, on to glory
See your banner famed in story
Waves these burning words before ye,
Cymru fo am byth!

That line in Welsh, Cymru fo am byth, means something like "Cambria ne'er can yield!"

And here are two other versions of the song, which I like even better. The first one, I think, has the best poetry. The second one is the best philosophically.

Men of Harlech, lyrics by John Oxenford

Men of Harlech! In the Hollow,
Do ye hear like rushing billow
Wave on wave that surging follow
Battle's distant sound?
Tis the tramp of Saxon foemen,
Saxon spearmen, Saxon bowmen,
Be they knights or hinds or yeomen,
They shall bite the ground!
Loose the folds asunder,
Flag we conquer under!
The placid sky now bright on high,
Shall launch its bolts in thunder!
Onward! 'tis the country needs us,
He is bravest, he who leads us
Honor's self now proudly heads us,
Freedom, God and Right!

Rocky Steeps and passes narrow,
Flash with spear and flight of arrow
Who would think of death or sorrow?
Death is glory now!
Hurl the reeling horsemen over,
Let the earth dead foemen cover
Fate of friend, of wife, of lover,
Trembles on a blow!
Strands of life are riven!
Blow for blow is given
In deadly lock, or battle shock,
And mercy shrieks to heaven!
Men of Harlech! young or hoary,
Would you win a name in story?
Strike for home, for life, for glory!
Freedom, God and Right!

Version 2

Men of Harlech, march to glory, Victory is hov'ring o'er ye,
Bright eyed freedom stands before ye, Hear ye not her call?
At your sloth she seems to wonder, Rend the sluggish bonds asunder,
Let the war cry's deaf'ning thunder, Ev'ry foe appal.

Echoes loudly waking, Hill and valley shaking;
'Till the sound spreads wide around, The Saxon's courage breaking;
Your foes on ev'ry side assailing, Forward press with heart unfailing,
Till invaders learn with quailing, Cambria ne'er can yield.

Thou who noble Cambria wrongest, Know that freedom's cause is strongest
Freedom's courage lasts the longest, Ending but with death!
Freedom countless hosts can scatter, Freedom stoutest mail can shatter,
Freedom thickest walls can batter, Fate is in her breath.

See they now are flying! Dead are heaped with dying!
Over might has triumphed right, Our land to foes denying;
Upon their soil we never sought them, Love of conquest hither brought them,
But this lesson we have taught them, Cambria ne'er can yield.


Charles T. said...

I love the line, "Wave these burning words before ye."

That really captures the power of passionate conviction about ideas.

Chuck said...

It seems like every version of this song has something excellent about it. It's a great subject to write about, so it seems to bring out the best in the songwriters.

I just wish I understood Welsh, so I could enjoy the Welsh versions, as well.

The line you mention is indeed one of the best. I also like the lines that use imagery, like "helmets in the sunbeams glancing," and those that combine rhythm, rhyme, and alliteration perfectly, like "tis the sound of Saxon foemen, Saxon spearmen, Saxon bowmen," etc. They are all very well written.

And the music, the rousing melody, is what underlies the emotional lift the song elicits from the listener. Perfect marriage of lyrics and music.

Charles T. said...

I hadn't taken notice of that particular line, "tis the sound of Saxon foemen, Saxon spearmen, Saxon bowmen," but you're right, that is fantastic. That's good in its own right, without music or melody, simply as poetry.

And on a side note, it's no wonder Church attained the fame she has, if that's how she was singing when she was, what, 13? Maybe 14 in that video? What a voice.

Chuck said...

I saw another video of her singing Men of Harlech, where they said she was 13. In this video, she looks younger, so I would guess 12 years old.