THE dissolution of the religious houses in Wales during the reign of Henry VIII, and the dispersion of their libraries, led to many Welsh manuscripts passing into the hands of private individuals. Collections of Welsh manuscripts soon began to be formed by persons who took an interest in the history and literature of their country. In the early 1600's many of the manuscripts came into the possession of Robert Vaughan which he amassed at Hengwrt, his home, preserving many unique texts which might otherwise have been lost. Later these become known as the Hengwrt-Peniarth Collection (from the houses from which they were successively preserved). They then formed the nucleus of the National Library of Wales and are still in its care. This is William Skene's anthology of dark-age Welsh Bardic poetry sourced from this collection. Often cited, this book contains every remaining piece of Bardic poetry known. The poems are translated from four manuscripts: THE BLACK BOOK OF CAERMARTHEN, THE RED BOOK OF HERGEST (source of the Mabinogion), THE BOOK OF TALIESSIN and THE BOOK OF ANEURIN, all of which date from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries A.D. The poems themselves date from much earlier, probably from the sixth century by internal evidence. This volume is one of the treasures of world literature. It is also the only true source material for the study of Bardic lore, which reputedly preserved the impenetrable and arcane beliefs of the Druids. Much of the subject matter is related to mead-inspired battles, particularly the renowned Gododin cycle. However, the poetry rises above the gory combat to achieve an artistic height that would not be reached again for many centuries. The poems are infused throughout with mystic clarity, strange flashes of wisdom, and insight into humanity and nature.
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