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Rationale - Re-telling - Translation - Activities - Reflection

Country: Wales
Language:  Welsh (Also published in English)
Title: Cantre'r Gwaelod (Cities in the Sea)
Author: Lewis S. & Morris J.
Publisher: Gomer/Pont (1966)
ISBN: 1-85902-342-8
Chosen by: Gwen Davies,
The Arts Council of Wales, Museum Place, Cardiff, CF1 3NX.

Rationale for choosing the book:
This book has been chosen because it is beautifully written/illustrated and tells of a well-loved Welsh story which has echoes in other cultures. For example, the Breton cathédral engloutie myth evoked through Ceri Richard's paintings.

A young boy, looking over the cliffs on the edge of the walled town of Cantr'er Gwaelod, tells King Gwyddno of his vision of a city under the sea. The King is confused because all he can see in the distance is his own prospering city. But he feels that the boy has something poetic about him, so he invites him to dine with his nobleman and subjects. Reluctantly, the boy agrees but still has this foreboding and hears the sound of the sea constantly during the preparations for the great feast at which he is to perform. As they begin to eat, he is told by Mereid that the King has the sea under control because the sluice gates to the city will be closed later that night. Half way through the meal, the boy discovers that his feet are getting wet, and he and Mereid realise that the sluice gates must have been left open. The King, however, is too proud to listen to them and prefers to stay with his guests, as his city falls under the control of the sea.

'Of Cantre'r Gwaelod and its people there was nothing left except the tolling of a bell beneath the waves, and the echoes of a poem as yet unwritten:

Mereid's cry overwhelms me tonight
And it brings me no gladness
Pride often comes before a fall.'

Translation (pages 2-5):
A boy stood on the Western cliff-top with the echo of a cry in his ears. He did not hear King Gwyddno ride towards him. The king reined his horse and watched him with a smile. No wonder the boy stood spellbound. Many a grey traveller before him had marvelled at the golden cities of Cantre'r Gwaelod that stretched below the cliffs as far as the eye could see.
'Boy,' called the king at last. 'What brings you here?'
'A cry,' said the boy. 'A cry that roused me from my bed.'
'I heard no cry,' said the king. 'Tell me, why do you stand so silently on the cliff-top? What wonders can you see?'
The boy drew his hands across his eyes.
'I can see golden sands,' he said.
The king exclaimed in surprise.
'I see the gleam of oyster shells.'
'And?' said the king. 'And,' the boy said dreamily, 'I see bright fish swimming in the sea.'
The king looked, too, and saw only the riches of Cantre'r Gwaelod. He laughed.
'Boy,' he said. 'I know what you are. You are a poet. Poets can pluck visions from the air. Shall I tell you now what you really see?'

The king dismounted and braced himself against the Western wind. Proudly he swept his arm over the golden cities that reached across the lowlands to the horizon.
'Down below us lies my land of Cantre'r Gwaelod, the richest land in all of Britain.
Look closely.
The golden sands you saw are fields of waving corn.
The gleaming oyster shells are shining roofs and towers.
The brightly coloured fish are my people in their fine clothes laughing and dancing in the streets. Now.' The king covered the boy's eyes with his hands. 'Forget your dreams,' he said.
'No one has need of dreams in Cantre'r Gwaelod.'
'But I hear the sea,' the child said in a puzzled voice. 'Even though your arms are around me, I can hear it hiss. 'That's the hiss of the fountains in the courtyards,' replied the king.
'I hear it froth,' the child said.
'That's the froth of good wine in the cellars.'
'I hear it groan,' said the child.

'That's the groan of our carts,' the king replied, taking his hands away.
'Can you see them lumbering like seed-bearing ants from North and South and East?
They are groaning beneath the weight of the food for our feast tonight.' The king looked down into the boy's thin face. 'Come to the feast,' he said kindly. 'You shall be my guest. A feast can always do with an extra poet.'

He swung the boy onto the back of the bay horse and sprang into the saddle. At once the horse moved away from the swirling cliff-top and cantered joyfully along the downward path to Cantre'r Gwaelod.

Taken from the English Translation, published by Pont Books, Llandsul, Dyfed, Wales.

Activities for use in school:
1. Discuss dreams. What are they? What do they mean? Let the children share some of their own. What was the young boy's dream in this story? What did it mean? Why do they think he had this dream? How did this affect the other characters in the story? Did they believe him? The children could create a written dialogue, to extend the story, between the boy and the King.

2. The illustrations in Cantre'r Gwaelod are very atmospheric and reminiscent of much Celtic art. Get the children to investigate Welsh mythology and art, perhaps investigating which countries, other than Wales, share a similar cultural heritage (ie Brittany, Cornwall, Wales, Scotland, & Ireland). An information booklet could be made from this.

3. 'Pride often comes before a fall' - discuss this saying which is included in the poem on the final page of the book. Focus on which characters in the story were proud. Why was this? What was the reason for their 'fall'? You might like to discuss characters in other stories who are proud and whose down fall is due to pride. The Fat King, in 'War and Peas', Northern Ireland's chosen book, is a possible example. Your class could use their knowledge of descriptive language to create a number of 'opening paragraphs' which introduce 'proud' characters into a story.

4. See for more books and ideas

Reflection: Consider personal pride.

NB Further literature and language-based activities can be found in
Picture Books sans Frontières
available from or

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ncrcl April 2003