Tuesday, November 12, 2002

While going through my e-mail archives to find "Cad Goddeu" per U-l-a-n's request, I found this essay I wrote on June 25, 2002. I figured I'd post it here.....


Duel of the Fates, the theme from "Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace" is one of the most memorable of the themes from the Star Wars saga. John Williams composed the music, and conducted veteran Star Wars musicians, the London Symphony Orchestra, and London Voices to create a powerful theme for the fourth installment of George Lucas's cinematic masterpiece. The theme brings to life the climactic battle pitting the Jedi Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice, Obi-Wan Kenobi against the Sith, Darth Maul. The battle ranks as one of the best lightsaber fights in the saga, and it is made even better by Williams' brilliant score.

But WHAT EXACTLY IS THE CHORUS SINGING IN "DUEL OF THE FATES"? Isn't it amazing how, even if you don't really understand the words, the whole theme just sends shivers up your spine, and you feel like you are actually witnessing the battle all over again just listening to it?

John Williams got the inspiration for Duel of the Fates from a Celtic poem entitled "Cad Goddeu" or "Battle of the Trees". The English translation of the poem can be found in the book "The White Goddess" by Robert Graves. Williams had the poem translated into several languages, but he chose Sanskrit for use in the theme because he liked the way it sounded.

According to The John Williams Web Pages, the composer specifically used two lines from Graves' version and had it translated. He didn't use all the words in the lines, just a few of them. Those lines were: "Under the tongue root a fight most dread, and another raging, behind, in the head".

Following is the Sanskrit transliteration of those words, which are the exact lyrics to the theme sung by London Voices:

Korah Matah Korah Rahtahmah
Korah Rahtamah Yoodhah Korah
Korah Syahdho Rahtahmah Daanyah
Korah Keelah Daanyah
Nyohah Keelah Korah Rahtahmah
Syadho Keelah Korah Rahtahmah
Korah Daanyah Korah Rahtahmah
Korah Daanyah Korah Rahtahmah
Nyohah Keelah Korah Rahtahmah
Syadho Keelah Korah Rahtahmah
Korah Matah Korah Rahtahmah
Korah Daanyah Korah Rahtahmah
Nyohah Keelah Korah Rahtahmah
Syadho Keelah Korah Rahtahmah

The website adds that for the funeral sequence, Williams added words of his own ("Death's long sweet sleep") and had those translated into Sanskrit as well:

Madhurah swehpna, go rahdomah swehpna,
Madhurah swehpna, go rahdomah swehpna,
Mooritioo, madhurah swehpna.

More intriguing is the story behind the original poem, "Cad Goddeu". According to www.novareinna.com, the poem is: "an early Celtic work of great antiquity also known as "The Battle of the Trees," was originally composed by Gwion and is found in the Book of Taliesin, a Thirteenth Century Welsh manuscript. The work documents a battle between Arawn, King of Annwfn and a ploughman named Amaethon. The hostilities ostensibly arose through an act of theft committed by Amaethon. The crux of the poem centers on the use of a magical staff which transforms trees into fighting men and is believed to be the recordation of the powers ascribed to the trees at that time."

A full text of Graves' English translation follows:

The Battle of the Trees

translated by Robert Graves

The tops of the beech tree have sprouted of late,
are changed and renewed from their withered state.

When the beech prospers, though spells and litanies
the oak tops entangle, there is hope for trees.

I have plundered the fern, through all secrets I spy,
Old Math ap Mathonwy knew no more than I.

For with nine sorts of faculty God has gifted me,
I am fruit of fruits gathered from nine sorts of tree -

Plum, quince, whortle, mulberry, respberry, pear,
black cherry and white, with the sorb in me share.

From my seat at Fefynedd, a city that is strong,
I watched the trees and green things hastening along.

Retreating from happiness they would fein be set
in forms of the chief letters of the alphabet.

Wayfarers wandered, warriors were dismayed
at renewal of conflicts such as Gwydion made;

Under the tongue root a fight most dread,
and another raging, behind, in the head.

The alders in the front line began the affray.
Willow and rowan-tree were tardy in array.

The holly, dark green, made a resolute stand;
he is armed with many spear-points wounding the hand.

With foot-beat of the swift oak heaven and earth rung;
"Stout Guardian of the Door", his name in every

Great was the gorse in battle, and the ivy at his
the hazel was arbiter and this charmed time.

Uncouth and savage was the fir, cruel the ash tree -
turns not aside a foot-breadth, straight at the heart
runs he.

The birch, though very noble, armed himself but late:
a sign not of cowardice but of high estate.

The heath gave consolation to the toil-spent folk,
the long-enduring poplars in battle much broke.

Some of them were cast away on the field of fight
because of holes torn in them by the enemy's might.

Very wrathful was the vine whose henchmen are the
I exalt him mightily to rulers of realms.

Strong chieftains were the blackthorn with his ill
the unbeloved whitethorn who wears the same suit.

The swift-pursuing reed, the broom with his brood,
and the furse but ill-behaved until he is subdued.

The dower-scattering yew stood glum at the fight's
with the elder slow to burn amid fires that singe.

And the blessed wild apple laughing in pride
from the Gorchan of Maeldrew, by the rock side.

In shelter linger privet and woodbine,
inexperienced in warfare, and the courtly pine.

But I, although slighted because I was not big,
Fought, trees, in your array on the field of Goddeu


It was an epic battle, Dark against Light, much like that sequence in "The Phantom Menace" associated with Duel of the Fates. After reading through the poem, and probably listening to "Fates" again, can you help marvelling at just how creative John Williams actually is? It's touches like this that make him one of the best soundtrack composers ever, and his music, the perfect accompaniment to every Star Wars episode. :o)


Footnote: "Battle of the Trees" also sounds like the March of the Ents from LotR. Cool! :)

:: padméskywalker told this story at 11/12/2002 12:02:47 PM   #
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