The Bards of Wales

The Bards of Wales (Hungarian: A walesi bárdok) is a ballad by the Hungarian poet János Arany, written in 1857. Alongside the Toldi trilogy it is one of his most important works.


Arany was asked to write a poem of praise for the visit of Franz Joseph I of Austria, as were other Hungarian poets. Arany instead wrote about the tale of the 500 Welsh bards sent to the stake by Edward I of England for failing to sing his praises at a banquet in Montgomery Castle.

The poem was intended by analogy to criticise the tight Habsburg rule over Hungary since the Hungarian Revolution of 1848. It was a form of passive resistance to the repressive policies of Alexander von Bach in Hungary, and to the planned visit of the monarch himself.[1]

The poemEdit

The Bard, by John Martin (1789-1854), .

The poem was written "for the desk drawer" and first published six years later in 1863, disguised as a translation of an Old English ballad, as a way of evading the censorship that would cease only with the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867.

Arany wrote in his preface to the poem:

The historians doubt it, but it strongly stands in the legend that Edward I of England sent 500 Welsh bards to the stake after his victory over the Welsh (1277) to prevent them from arousing the country and destroying English rule by telling of the glorious past of their nation.[1]

The royal form of bardic tradition ended in the 13th century with the 1282 Edwardian conquest.[2] The legendary suicide of The Last Bard (in about 1283) was marked in the poem as encoded resistance to the Habsburg repression of that period.[1]

The best-known English translation was done by Canadian scholar Watson Kirkconnell in 1933.[1] In September 2007 an English copy of this poem, translated by Peter Zollman, was donated to the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth.[3]

Cultural significanceEdit

Album cover of The Bards Of Wales by Karl Jenkins (2012)

All Hungarian students in the sixth grade of elementary school learn "The Bards of Wales" by heart, in view of its literary importance and historical message.[1]

The poem was set to music by the Hungarian band Kaláka in 1989. Dalriada made a different setting in 2003, which was re-recorded and re-released in 2004 and in 2009, on an album with several other settings of Arany poems.

The Welsh composer Karl Jenkins wrote a cantata to the Zollman translation of the poem in 2011.[4][5]

In 2012 it was announced that a Hungarian version of the Welsh Gorsedd Circle would be set up in Hungary as a symbol of strengthening relationships between Wales and Hungary and in commemoration of "The Bards of Wales". The circle would consist of 13 stones, each representing a martyred bard.[3]

See alsoEdit

  • "Kurds'komu bratovi", a poem about the Kurds used as a symbol of Ukrainian resistance against the Soviet Union


  1. ^ a b c d e "The Bard of Wales" in the Hungarian Electronic Library Retrieved 11 August 2019.
  2. ^ "Tale of Welsh bards' massacre taught to generations... in Hungary". 2013.
  3. ^ a b Crump, Eryl (2012-08-07). "Strengthening the link between Wales and Hungary". WalesOnline. Retrieved 2012-08-07.
  4. ^ "The Bards of Wales". 2014.

Other sourcesEdit