The Girl in Ogyrven’s Hall


According to the poem ‘Angar Kyfundawt’ in The Book of Taliesin the Awen is divided into “seven score ogyrven” with a further division of each of these twenty. Elsewhere in The Book of Taliesin, in the poem ‘Kadeir Teyrnon’ the Awen is simply asserted to be divided into three ogyrven, hence the three shafts of the Awen symbol as later interpreted. John Rhŷs asserted that

“three muses had emerged from Giant Ogyrven’s cauldron. But Ogyrven seems to be one of the names of the terrene god, so that Ogyrven’s cauldron should be no other probably than that which we have found ascribed to the Head of Hades”.

Celtic Heathendom pp 267-269

That Ogyrven is one of the names of the King of the Otherworld is also suggested in a poem by Hywel ab Owain Gwynedd (died 1170). Hywel was the son of Owain of Gwynedd by an Irish woman who lived in his court and was thus both within the privileged mainstream and to some extent marginalised and so was able to practise the art of poetry as the muse took him. At a time when the official court poets were mainly engaged in praise of military prowess or power he penned some delicate love lyrics, including one addressed to a girl “in Ogyrven’s Hall” who has captivated him though he cannot approach her as she stands – fair as the foam on the wave – watching seagulls glide around a hillside:

Unwilling to leave her (it would be my death)
My life-force is with her, my vitality ebbs
Like a legendary lover my desire undoes me
For a girl I can’t reach in Ogyrven’s Hall.

So here the Hall of Ogyrven is a place in the Otherworld (or the Otherworld itself) with a girl who has possessed the poet with unrealisable desire. Is she his muse? And if, as John Rhŷs asserts, Ogyrven is the God of the Otherworld or Netherworld, who is the girl  and how could a poet dare to fall in love with her? Hywel says he would go to her on a white horse but “she would not have me” and also that her fairness flows out of her realm towards us.

Ogyrven, then, seems to be many-faceted not just in the variability of the number of divisions of the Awen, but in the identity of the figure from whom it originates or the number of cauldrons, seething without fire, from which it may emanate according to ‘Angar Kyfundawt’ a poem whose title refers to a malign alliance of uninspired poets. Hywel, clearly, was not one of these. The delicacy of his poem in its original Welsh with its patterning of sound and imagery defies adequate translation not so much of its meaning as of its quietly inspired intensity. Here is no boasting Taliesin but a poet shaping inspired words out of his inability to fully realise his aspiration to fulfil his desire in the Otherworld.

And Ogyrfen? Whether a god, a place, a flow of inspiration streaming out into many further streams, elusive as the girl that Hywel desires or as the words that will adequately describe her, we may, perhaps, catch in a glimpse in one of these streams, some sense of what it is to be inspired and the many aspects of Annwfn as experienced in our world.

Author: Greg Hill

Awenydd/Poet, Cultural Critic

11 thoughts on “The Girl in Ogyrven’s Hall”

  1. This is really beautiful poetry. I’m really happy you shared it. I know what it’s like to have someone you love but can’t be with and how that yearning connects to the sources of life, the yearning for connection only a God or mystical monist or creative self expression Flow Consciousness can heal if you stay too hung up on the heart yearn for the human. It helped me see what I’ve been experiencing this year in your words.

    In Norse poetry a woman may be called “his Freyja” without her being the Goddess, the only reason we have the Norse mythology from Snorri was so poets could understand and use the kennings of the mythology. If we remove the Cartesian desire to categorise, separate and label everything, the poem makes sense as being whatever the reader/ listener needs. That’s often for me a sign of great art. It moves us in different ways due to emotional connections with the art. Tolkien said stories aren’t allegories but are applicable. The yearning in the poem could easily be about heroin. People have written about drugs in the same way.

    Drugs, the Divine, sex all allow a sense of losing self in mystical union. I think that’s why really good love poems can read like spiritual experiences because love is a spiritual emotional experience, as is any deep connection. Intoxication also is a common theme about love or the Divine.

    I like that we have no way to know factually what this is about. There’s no reason it can’t be “just” a love poem. The idea anyone can know what Awen is seems the opposite of awen, as Awenydd went into very visceral, uncontrollable trances without their logical separate minds in the way of receiving the message. I just as a psychic and mystic read the description of an Awenydd and said, yep, that’s what happens. Possession, channeling, loss of self and knowledge that you alone, separate, cannot know. I never understood why the three rays are associated with Awen. It’s so elusive until you surrender to it. But I understand Awenydd to be someone in that mystical state without self awareness telling someone what the person needs to hear from some thing the Awenydd connects to, sometimes it’s the asking person’s own self that the Awenydd connects the person to, but sometimes it’s a God or the dead or maybe wyrd….

    The poem has that similar power to connect to people how they need to hear it, a personal message maybe others would not hear, maybe not meant to be heard, probably few of them what the writer meant. That’s art. I like it.

    There’s so much connection between romantic love and the Divine. Gospel music and Rumi are obvious examples. When my lover told me my body was his church…. being in love is for many the only time they feel a connection with what they consider the Divine.

    I’m just really grateful to read this at this time. : )

    1. @Heather: Thanks for your appreciative response. I think you raise some very valid points about crossover of spiritual with emotional experiences. Language itself often misleads us here as words get to be used in particular contexts and people can’t see how spiritual and physical aren’t in entirely different categories of experience though we name them as such. Your comment about Freyja is particularly relevant here both for the general point you make and in the context of Hywel’s poem.

  2. I also love these beautifully crafted lines of Hwyel’s. Is there a full translation anywhere?

    Even though a lot of his work seems to be disputed now, I’ve found Rhys’ work to be full of massively interesting and packed with ideas and near-lost oral lore. That’s one fascinating link between the ‘the giant Ogyrven’ and the ‘Head of Hades’, which seems to run parallel to Diwrnarch the Giant possessing the same cauldron as the Chief of Annwn.

    Could the girl be related to the nine maidens? Or are we looking at some completely different traveller of Annwn altogether? I get the second sense and am most intrigued by ‘the girl’.

    I see the white horse has made another appearance!

    1. The whole poem is translated at :

      Yes Rhŷs was a great collector and, even if some of his conclusions need updating in the light of later research, also a great scholar. Finding these apparent connections requires intimate knowledge of the field and an imaginative sympathy with the material, both of which he had.

      I think the great beauty of the poem lies in the fact that the reader is as intrigued by the girl as is the poet.

      White horses always seem to know the way to or from the the Otherworld 😉

  3. I read the post and then following the link you provided Lorna read the whole poem.

    The post arrives for me at an important time of reordering and readjusting the threads of my life and untangling them so that the Awen may flow, in however many strands it may have for me.

    English is a language where the word for love can have many nuances and mean many things, in this sense the Greek is a bit better. We can say: ‘I love my spouse.’ and also ‘I love peanut butter.’ Clearly these are not the same kind of love. The same may well be true when speaking of love in this context.

    The whole poem is full of images and resonances.

  4. Do you think there is any connection between Ogyrven and Ogrfan Gawr, a giant and the father of one of the Gwenhwyfars? According to Bartrum there’s a Caer Ogrfan near Oswestry. In the entry for Melwas – Dafydd ap Gwilym – ‘A window like this through which Melwas formerly came at Caerlleon, from great love, without fear… near the house of the giant Ogrfan’s daughter (Gwenhwyfar)’

  5. Yes I think Ogyrfen seems to function like ‘Hades’ as both the place and the lord of the place jut as giants are often legendary remnants of gods or otherworld beings, and they often have beautiful daughters whom it is difficult or perilous to pursue (think of Culhwch and Olwen) but who also represent what is desired at the end of a quest. So that Arthur should have Gwenhwyvar for his queen may be a statement of the validation of his power (or his claim to such power) like the winning of an otherworld cauldron. For Hywel the desire is strong but he cannot claim its fulfilment.

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