Gwerful Mechain is the only Welsh female poet from the late middle ages whose poems have survived as a substantial body of work. One of the most immediately striking characteristics of her poetry is the easy coexistence in her oeuvre of devotional and erotic works. Even to those who may be familiar with the bawdiness of Chaucer or Boccaccio, Gwerful’s work is remarkably direct. Yet, as the introduction discusses, some sorts of coexistence of the erotic and the religious were not entirely untypical of medieval literary production in Wales; overall, indeed, one of the most important characteristics of Gwerful’s work is the degree to which it takes its place in the mainstream of medieval Welsh poetry. Her themes and techniques do not position her as a marginal or isolated figure, participating in some putative female sub-culture; on the contrary, she engages in poetic dialogues with her male contemporaries, using the same forms, tropes, and vocabulary as they do. Yet, she often speaks with a female voice and overtly sees things from a woman’s point of view, taking her peers to task for their male arrogance. She jousts with them verbally as their equal, confident in her own craft and opinions.
All of Gwerful’s known work is included here—as are several poems of uncertain authorship, and a number of other works that help to fill in the historical and literary context.
A unique feature of the volume is the provision, for each work of medieval Welsh poetry included, of two different translations. The first, a literal translation, is presented in facing page format opposite the original Welsh; a second, freer translation, with rhyme patterns approximating those of the original, follows.