minstrel: Your Assistance is requested, PLEASE!

Heather Rose Jones hrjones at uclink.berkeley.edu
Fri Dec 12 12:02:39 PST 1997

On Fri, 12 Dec 1997, Cadwynn MacDonald wrote:

> The lyrics (complete) and source documentation are what I am seeking, along
> with the real(?) title of the song, if it is not the name I have heard it
> under.
> Here is what little I know:
> "David of White Rock" - Title?  Composer unknown, Country of Origin unknown,
> Date of Composition unknown... sigh!
> 1st and 2nd verses, as I heard them:
> ==================================
> David the Bard on his bed of death lies-
> Pale of his features and dim are his eyes.
> Yet all around him his glance wildly roves
> 'Til it alights on the harp that he loves!
> Give me my harp, my companion so long-
> Let it once more add its voice to my song.
> Though my old fingers are palsied and weak,
> Still my good harp for its Master will speak!
> ===================================

These are English lyrics to a "traditional" (explanation of scare-quotes
below)  Welsh song entitled "Dafydd y Garreg Wen" (i.e., "David of the
White Rock").

The tune first appears in 1784 in "Musical and Poetical Relicks of the
Welsh Bards", collected by Edward Jones. [p.143 W.S. Gwynn Williams "Welsh
National Music and Dance". Llangollen: The Gwynn Publishing Co., 1975] It
was accompanied in this publication by the note that there was a tradition
"in Caernarvonshire that a Bard of this name lying on his deathbed called
for his harp and performed this plaintive tune, which he desired should be
repeated at his funeral." [p.13 W.S. Gwynn Williams "20 Alaw Gymreig".
Llangollen: The Gwynn Publishing Co., ?]

When the tune was reprinted in 1839 by John Parry ("Bardd Alaw") in the
collection "The Welsh Harper", Parry expanded the note to continue, "--
and it was accordingly plyed on the harp, at the Parish church of Ynys
Cynhaiarn; in which parish the house called 'Gareg-Wen' (Carnarvonshire)
is situated." [p.58 Brinley Richards "Songs of Wales". London: Boosey &
Co., Ltd., 1873]

The English lyrics you have were written by John Oxenford (date not given
in my sources, but these lyrics are given in Richards, so they were almost
certainly written before 1873, although likely not long before). 

The Welsh lyrics associated with the tune were written by John Hughes
1832-87, who used the bardic name "Ceiriog" ["The Dictionary of Welsh
Biography down to 1940." London: The Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion,
1959] and were first published in 1873 in the collection "Songs of Wales".
[p.13 W.S. Gwynn Williams "20 Welsh Melodies". Llangollen: The Gwynn
Publishing Co., date?] I realize as I type this that this is the Richards
collection mentioned above which, sure enough, has a note on the title
page (although not on the individual songs) "Welsh words by Ceiriog

The Welsh lyrics are as follows:

Cariwch medd Dafydd fy nhelyn i mi,
Ceisiaf cyn marw roi ton arni hi,
Codwch fy nwylaw i gyrhaedd y tant,
Duw a'ch bendithio fy ngweddw a'm plant.

Neithiwr mi glwyais lais angel fel hyn:
'Dafydd tyr'd adref a chwareu trwy'r glyn.'
Delyn fy mebyd! ffarwel i dy dant,
Duw a'ch bendithio, fy ngweddw a'm plant.

Which, literally translated (by me) go something like this:

'Bring,' said David, 'my harp to me,
'I will try, before death, to give a tune on her,
'Raise my hands to reach the strings,
'May God bless my widdow and my children.'

'Last night I heard the voice of an angel like this:
'"David, come home and play through the glen,
'O harp, my youth! Farewell to thy strings,
'May God bless my widdow and my children.'

It's worth noting that the history of this "traditional Welsh folk-song"
is extremely typical for the genre: a tune first recorded in the late 18th
century with lyrics composed by a professional literary poet in the
mid-19th century. In fact, going through the collection "Songs of Wales"
for which Ceiriog wrote all the Welsh lyrics, we find that the standard
Welsh lyrics to the following can all be attributed to him: All Through
the Night, (one common version of) The Ash Grove, Men of Harlech, Over the
Stone (and others few  are likely to recognize).

Tangwystyl verch Morgant Glasvryn
(ah, a little research gets the blood moving in the morning!)

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