Awen: historical note

Three ninth-century survivals illuminate the history of the border between Powys and Mercia, in what we now call Wales and and England: Offa’s Dyke, a monumental 150-mile earthwork defining the border between Powys and Mercia; a weathered inscription on Elise’s Pillar, a memorial cross in Powys; and a fragmentary poetry cycle of 113 surviving stanzas, Canu Heledd or The Heledd Poetry.

An unknown poet around the ninth century composed Canu Heledd, a poetry cycle that we now call The Heledd Poetry, that must have rocked audiences back on their heels. It claims to narrate historical events, but no one can trace the history in question. And shockingly, it speaks in the voice of a young woman who has lost her family and her country. 

The ancient landscape of Powys even today captures the imagination: sweeping hills and valleys, hard moorland and forest yielding to pasture and cropland, alive with wild creatures, netted in clear upland streams, scattered with towns among the folded hills.

In a Powys valley strategically near the Mercian border, at the meeting of regional boundaries and major east-east routes, the memorial cross still stands.

In this five-part historical note and the author’s note from my novel Awen, set in eighth-century Britain and Europe, I talk about the underlying history and literature and my experience of writing about it.

To read more on this, see the remaining four parts: