The Epiphany of Lleu Llaw Gyffes


I. The Oak


Tell me why
he has pierced us
with his spear


Tell me why
ooze drips from our
rancid wounds


Tell me why
we are filled with
rot and maggots


Tell me what
visions we must see
in these leaves


Tell me what
lessons we have
failed to learn

II. Lleu’s Lament

I am filled with bitterness:
black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, blood,
yet no theory of the humours
or anatomy of melancholy
explains my sad state

and no letting of blood
or application of leeches can
purge the badness within.

So I am here on this tree
telling the story of how I saw
the sun and it was Fool’s Gold.
My wife was made of flowers.
My armour turned to dust.
My fortress was rubble.

I have lost the meaning of my name.

I have come to doubt I even exist,
yet cannot close my eagle eyes.

Like the Eagle of Gwernabwy
I have watched civilisations rise and fall.
Like the Eagles of Pengwern and Eli
I have sunk my beak into flesh
and tasted rot and maggots.

I have seen the rotting corpses
on the battlefield at the end of the world,
the souls sparkling like iron pyrite
in the veins of the night skies.

I have looked into the abyss
and the bright lights do not console me.

I go with reluctance into Gwydion’s arms.

III. Lleu’s Resurrection

He does not want to live,
this putrid sack of dirty feathers,
bones, rotten flesh, stench,

still I clamp my mouth to his,

massage his reluctant heart
slippery and recalcitrant.

When this does not work
I call upon all the electricity
from Maentwrog Power Station,
take the paddles and recite

the words of a forbidden spell
stolen from the depths of Annwn
to bring life to the newly dead.


his body jerks like frog’s legs
or the monster of Frankenstein.

He breaks the leathery bonds,
shakes off his feathers and rises
like the sun from my stony table
leaving a black charred shape.

A haze of smoke surrounds him.

His eyes are burning his hair aflame!


IV. Dinas Lleu

Lleu will not return
to Dinas Lleu tonight

woodbine twines the walls
as if in search for a lover

an owl circles overhead
with a hoot is gone.

Lleu will not return
to Dinas Lleu tonight

thistles break into the hall
to find an empty hearth

the fire long gone out,
a pile of black char.

Lleu will not return
to Dinas Lleu tonight

in the ashes I scrawl
with a feather the outline

of a bird against the sun
unknowing if it is the end

or beginning of a myth.

*I wrote this sequence of poems in a single morning shortly after finding out I’d got an infection following my hernia repair operation. Thankfully it seems to have cleared up now.

5 thoughts on “The Epiphany of Lleu Llaw Gyffes

  1. Greg says:

    This contains echoes of so many things, absorbed, refigured, creatively embodied. So it is too an exploration, a discovery, as well as personalised emergence from sepsis. The beginning or the end of a myth? Or a recognition that myth has no beginning nor end, but is eternally present.

  2. Nimue Brown says:

    I tend to see Llew in the tree as embodying the entitled man feeling sorry for himself, unable to see his own role in what’s happened to him. He was after all, a neglectful and careless sort of husband…

    • lornasmithers says:

      Funny… I feel like that about many of the men in the Welsh myths (Culhwch being a prime example) but not about Lleu. He seems to have been a pawn played off by Gwydion against his mother. I don’t really get the sense he wanted a name, weapons, a wife, his own fort and place of rule, but it all just got thrust upon him. It’s arguable he didn’t make a very good husband, but Blodeueudd did not make a good wife either (although she had her reasons to rebel against her situation too!). A tragedy for all concerned. I personally feel quite a lot of pathos for Lleu-in-the-tree who is kind of pathetic in the story and maybe shouldn’t be if he’s the god, Lugus. Does this reveal that gods are not always strong and shining, but can weak and gullible and flawed? I’m not sure… but I do feel there is a deep and complex story behind all the bizarreness. The symbolism of the wounded Lleu is powerful and seems to echo Odin sacrificed to himself on Yggdrasil and Jesus on the Holy Rood.

      • Nimue Brown says:

        I can’t help but wonder if there’s an older story here, under the layers of patriarchal thinking, and I wonder a lot about what that story would have been. What happens to Lleu could be more of an initiation process, and if it is, everyone else is not as they seem….

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.