WELCOME to Gorgeous Ladies of Historical Comedy. According to the annual Presidential Proclamation, March is Women’s History Month. To celebrate, over the next five weeks, G.L.O.C. NICOLE DRESPEL will shine spotlight on a few of her favorite funny women from the olden days. This week: a blue comedian for the ages, 15th century poet GWERFUL MECHAIN.
Gwerful was noble by birth, assertive by temperament, and took on the patriarchy long before we knew to call it that. She wrote in Welsh, which is a language made up exclusively of the letters “y”, “w” and “f.” Before I lead you astray, not all of her work is laugh-out-loud comedy. A lot of it addresses dark topics with a kind of empowering aggressive anger or a bitingly superior tone.
And then she wrote an “Ode to Pubic Hair.”
“An Ode to Pubic Hair” is less interestingly referred to as “Sour Grove” or “The Female Genitals” or “Cywydd y Cedor.” It has a lot of names because it’s great. (Also because translation is complicated.) In it, Gwerful skewers her male contemporaries for the way they praise women. Basically, she calls them out for talking about everything except the good stuff. But the humor comes from the fact that she’s writing in the same meter they’d use on their own poems. Same tune, different lyrics. Like Weird Al. You get it.
Okay. Here’s some excerpts:
Every foolish drunken poet,
boorish vanity without ceasing,
Let’s not waste time: Hey 15th century dudepoet, Gwerful thinks you’re an idiot. And now, to prove it, she’s going to mock the way you’d come up with a completely inane list of things to talk about:
praising the hair, gown of fine love,
and every such living girl,
and lower down praising merrily
the brows above the eyes;
Then with his finest wizardry
before night he did sing,
he pays homage to God’s greatness,
fruitless eulogy with his tongue:
leaving the middle without praise
I’m pretty sure that’s an oral sex joke.
and the place where children are conceived,
and the warm quim, clear excellence,
A “quim” is a vagina. I didn’t know that word but now I’m glad I do, because I felt like we didn’t have enough gross ways to describe the female anatomy.
tender and fat, bright fervent broken circle,
where I loved, in perfect health,
the quim below the smock.
You are a body of boundless strength,
a faultless court of fat’s plumage.
I declare, the quim is fair,
circle of broad-edged lips,
it is a valley longer than a spoon or a hand,
You boys are too lame to talk about grown-up parts? Then Gwerful is going to school you by pretending she hasn’t even noticed how vulgar she’s being.
a ditch to hold a penis two hands long;
Hold on. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this. Can a historian please get in touch with me and explain what “two hands long” means? How are we measuring? I can’t tell if I’m supposed to be all “You go, girl!” or “Ow ow ow ow.” In either case, she’s calling their dicks small.
cunt there by the swelling arse
Aaaand now we get really NSFW. I’m going to cut off the poem here because immediately after this, Gwerful proves her point by describing the “quim” in the same totally exquisite detail that her lame-ass contemporaries use to describe like, eyebrows. [Ed. note: How can you not want to read the whole thing with a description like that?]
Gwerful has a pretty substantial body of work which you can find in translation. (I used Dafydd Johnston from Original Welsh in the 15th Century). You should go look her up, because I got squeamish and definitely cut out the best parts. However, I will leave you with the last line of her poem:
lovely bush, God save it.
Nicole is a writer, performer, storyteller and nerd. Check her out at nicoledrespel.com.