Songs for the apocalypse: Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci “Un Hogyn Trist, Un Hogan Drist”

Right well this is a real wildcard but start the new year as we mean to go on. Gorky’s were not only my favourite band to come out of Wales but one of my favourite bands period, particularly when they evolved into to their more folkie americana leanings such as the sublime ‘How I Long to Feel that Summer in My Heart’. The song which I loved the most though was a little known b-side to their ‘Sweet Johnny’ single from 1998 which translated into English via Google apparently means ‘One Sad Man, One Sad Hogan’ – not sure what a hogan is. Can any Welsh speaking readers help?

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James Anderson

Hi there. I’m a year late in replying to your question, but I just stumbled onto it. You see, I’m a huge GZM fan as well — a big enough fan that I started to teach myself Welsh many years ago — just so I could understand what Euros Childs was singing about! I fell in love with the language, and though my “studies” have been haphazard and without outside help (just me and some grammar books), I have a very basic grounding in its written form (can’t speak it worth a damn). I set about translating Gorky songs years ago, when the songs were just coming out, and this is one that I took a stab at. The lyrics are fairly simple, so it wasn’t overly difficult, except for one line that doesn’t really make sense to me — so I may be mishearing it, for all I know.

“Hogyn” is a northern Welsh word for “boy” or “lad.” In the south, they’d use “bachgen” instead. “Hogan” is simply the feminine form, meaning “girl” or “lass.” (In the south, it’s “merch.”) GZM are from the south, so I’m not sure why they are using the northern term, but I suspect they mean to give some “old-fashioned” sense to the words, as if it were a fairy tale, rather than a straightforward narrative.

So I translate the title as “One Sad Lad, One Sad Lass.” (The Welsh don’t use “un” to mean “a” — it always means “one.” If they just meant “a sad lad,” they’d simply say “hogyn trist” because Welsh does not have indefinite articles like “a” or “an.”)

I take the song to be a simple, sad tale of a couple who are too young for the burden of a new baby they have brought into the world. Curiously, the body of the song reverses the “lad” and “lass” from the order given in the title (at least I hear it that way). Here are the lyrics (as I understand them) and my translation:

Un Hogyn Trist, Un Hogan Drist

Roedd ’na un hogan drist, a un hogyn trist
Dim ond yn aros, nes iddyn nhw cwrdd —
Y teimlad o amser yn rhedeg mas:
Rhaid ymuno yn y ras —
Un hogan drist, a un hogyn trist

Gwr a gwraig, a’u baban tlws,
Canol haf tu fas i’r drws
Ond fe ddaw gaeaf, o mae’n siwr,
Brenhines welw pell fas twr —
Un hogan drist, a un hogyn trist

Mami drist, a dadi trist

One Sad Lad, One Sad Lass

There was one sad lass, and one sad lad
Just waiting, until they met —
The feeling of time running out:
You have to join in the race —
One sad lass, one sad lad

A husband and wife, and their pretty baby,
Midsummer outside the door
But the winter will surely come,
A pale queen far outside a tower* —
One sad lass, one sad lad

A sad mummy, and a sad daddy

*This is the line I don’t quite understand. “Brenhines welw” definitely means “pale queen,” but I’m not totally sure about the second half of the line, although it does have the sound of something Euros would likely write. I take it that the pale queen is wintertime — tough times are ahead for our sad lad and lass.

Note that the words “gwr” (“husband”) and “twr” (“tower”) should have circumflex accents on the “w.” That’s the accent that looks like this — ˆ, but most English font sets don’t have it for the letter W. The Welsh call this accent a “to bach,” meaning “little roof!”

I’ve got other translations of Gorky’s songs, if you’re interested. Toss me a title and I’ll look through my past work. It’s interesting to see Euros Childs’ writing style in Welsh, and surprising how many times he mentions Jesus or the church!