St Dwynwen’s Day Poetry – the Welsh Valentine’s Day

[Cw: brief reference to sexual violence.]

So on Monday 25th January, I am taking part in a free online poetry reading for St Dwynwen’s Day, which some people call the Welsh Valentine’s Day. It’s a bit more complicated than that in fact. There are different versions of the story of St Dwynwen, but many of them are less about the saccharine aspects of love, and more about being a survivor.

Dwynwen lived during the 5th century and the most pleasant version of the story is about forbidden love. Dwynwen was supposed to be the prettiest of Brychan Brycheiniog’s 24 daughters, and her beloved was not the man her father wanted her to marry, but a prince called Maelon Dafodrill. Heartbroken, Dwynwen prayed for her memory of Maelon to be erased, and an angel visited her while she was sleeping. The angel brought a potion to erase memory of Maelon and turn him into a block of ice (poor Maelon!). She was however granted three wishes, and her first wish was for Maelon to be thawed. The second was for God to bless the dreams of lovers, and the third was that she should never marry. (I can’t help thinking of this story.) Dwynwen set up a nunnery on Anglesy in thanks.

There are darker versions of the story, however. In one version, Maelon rapes Dwynwen, and her grief is the trauma of that rather than not being allowed to marry him. This version is more problematic in many ways because it plays on some of the old tropes – like that survivors can never recover from experiencing violence, can never love again, and also that they must forgive their attackers. But I wonder too if the story could be reclaimed and retold in a way that would foreground healing and regaining power and autonomy.

Anyway, I’m looking to read poems about love that might be radical and ethical on the 25th, along with Carrie Etter, Alycia Pirmohamed, and Marvin Thompson. Sign up for free. (There’s a really interesting article here about how stories about Dwynwen were circulated and became significant through poems and narratives passed down.)