Posts Tagged ‘William Jordan’

The Pascon Agan Arluth and Other Classic Works of Cornish Literature

March 30, 2018

As this is Good Friday, I thought I write about one of treatments of Christ’s trial and crucifixion in one of the other languages of Britain, the Celtic language of Cornwall. The Pascon Agan Arluth translates as ‘The Passion of Our Lord’ I think it was originally written in 1637 in Middle Cornish. There is a bilingual edition of the text in both Cornish and English published in the 1980s by the Cornish language publishers Dyllansow Truran. Unfortunately, I can’t say much more about it nor show a picture, because I’m afraid I’ve mislaid my copy. Dam’. But like the English mystery plays in England, its a classic of literature for Cornish, regardless of whether you’re a Christian or not.

Dyllansow Truran have also published a number of other classic works of Cornish literature, which also date from the 17th century, and which are also on religious themes. These include

Gwryans an Bys: A Medieval Cornish Drama, William Jordan 1611, translated and amended by R. Morton Nance (Mordon) and A.S.D. Smith (Caradar), ed. by E.G. Retallack Hooper (Talek) (Redruth, Cornwall: Dyllansow Truran 1986).

It was written by William Jordan of Helston, and then translated into English by John Keigwin eight decades later in 1691, at the request of the Bishop of Exeter, Sir Jonathan Trelawney. This edition follows the translation and unified spelling of the two revivalists of the Cornish language, Nance and Smith. It’s a rough retelling of the story of Genesis from God’s creation of the world, the fall of Lucifer and the rebel angels, the temptation of Adam and Eve, Cain’s murder of Abel and his subsequent life, Enoch and his translation alive into heaven, and ends with Noah and God’s revelation to him of the Enochian laws. These are four simply laws that guarantee salvation to everyone, provided that they believe in one God. This is obviously one of them. I can’t remember the other two, but another is that people are not to eat meat cut from a living animal.

It begins with the lines from God the Father

Ego sum Alpha et Omega:
hep dalleth na dewethva
pur wyr my yu:
omma a-jy dhe’n clowdys
war fas an dowr, yn-certan,
Try Person yn un Deways,
ow kesregnya bya vyken
yn mur honor ha vertu.
My ha’w Map na’n Spyrys Sans
Try yth on yn un Substans,
comprehendys yn un Dew.
I am Alpha and Omega:
without beginning ore end
right truly am I:
here within the clouds
upon the face of the water, verily,
The Persons in one Godhead,
reigning together for ever
in great honour and power.
I and my son and the Holy Spirit
Three are we in one Substance,
Comprised in one God.

And ends with the epilogue

an keth jorna-ma y de –
deh’n Tas Dew re bo grassys:
why a welas, pup degree,
lyes mater gwaryes,
ha Creasyon oll a’n bys.
Ynweth oll why a welas
an keth bys-ma Consumyes
der lyvyow a dhowr pur vras.
Ny ve un mabden sparyas
ma’s Noy, y wrek, ha’y
fleghes.
Deugh avorow a dermyn:
why a wel maters pur vras
ha redempsyon grontys.

dre vercy a dhew on Tas
dhe sawya neb us Kellys.

Mynstrels, gwreugh heny pbyba
may hyllyn warbarth donsya,
del yu an vaner ha’n gys.

This same day is ended –
to the Father God be thanks:-
you have seen, every degree,
many matters acted,
and the creation of all the world.
Also you have seen, all of you,
this same world destroyed
by very great floods of water.
No one human being was spared
except Noah, his wife, and his children.
Come in time tomorrow:

you shall see very great matters,
and redemption granted
by the mercy of God the Father,
to save whoever is lost.

Minstrels, do you pipe for us
what we may dance together,
as is the manner and the fashion.

The play continued on a second day, but William Jordan didn’t write it down, and so it’s been lost.

The Camborne Play: A Verse Translation of the Beunans Meriasek by Myrna Combellach (Redruth: Dyllansow Truran 1988)

The play’s manuscript was written in 1504, though this is just the date the play was finally written down, and it may have been composed much earlier. The manuscript itself comprises there separate plays bound together in a logical sequence, with a cast of 120, and intended to be performed in the round, probably in a natural amphitheatre. Myrna Combellach’s version of the play was produced for a performance directed by Jerry Finch of for the Cornwall Drama Association at the Cornish Eisteddfod, 1986. It was rehearsed and performed at St. Paul’s Church, Truro, in February 1986, and the performers were a mixture of amateur, student and professional actors. The play is a treatment of the life of Camborne’s patron saint, Meriasek. Hence the title in Cornish Beunans Meriasek.

The blurb on the back cover reads

Vitality and joy of life are the keynotes of this new translation of the sixteenth century Cornish language play, Beunans Meriasek. In it, Camborne’s noble patron saint, Meriasek, is sent to school, refuses marriage and all world considerations, embarking instead on a priestly career of such piety that it ends in a bishopric of immense wealth and grandeur of the kind that he had studious worked to avoid all his life. Meanwhile, in Rome eight centuries earlier, the pagan emperor Constantine is stricken with leprosy, only to be cured by the outlawed Christian pope, Silvester, resulting in the Christian conversion of an empire. A black mass takes place, an evil worm of a dragon is slain, a forest is set on fire in Brittany, the Duke of Cornwall goes to war against paganism, and a third play on a completely different theme is added for good measure.

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