minstrel: Welsh Poetry?
Heather Rose Jones
hrjones at uclink.berkeley.edu
Wed Feb 12 18:15:38 PST 1997
> From: "J. Michael Shew" <jshewkc at pei.edu>
> On the real home-front: I need a good short course on Welsh
> poetry, particularly the romantic kind from about 1000 c.e.
> Any takers? Hey I know Norse, but the Welsh are a little
[from the Welsh Bardic Grammars] "One praises a maiden for her form and
beauty and wisdom and nobility and brightness of manner and habits and
generosity and chastity and praiseworthiness and noble birth and modesty
and kindness, and to her belong passion and love."
For the most part, "romantic" poetry fits badly into the "official" themes
of the Welsh poets. And yet, what this means is that the early romantic
poetry tended to be done by the more stylistically daring poets, and thus
is often far more interesting than the more socially-sanctioned themes.
The _Hengerdd_ ("old verse", i.e. Aneirin, Taliessin, etc.) scarcely
mentions women at all, except as props for the discussion of warriors.
(One conventional phrase is to describe even the most heroic warrior as
"bashful before a maiden".) One of the earliest poems we have that treats
the subject of romantic love directly is by Hywel ab Owain Gwynedd, whose
royal birth freed him from the need to direct his composition along
traditional paths. Here follows a poem he wrote on various of his female
acquaintances. (Both texts are from the "Oxford Book of Welsh Verse", the
Welsh and English versions.) The opening follows the meter called "short
cyhydedd", which consists of eight-syllable lines with a final rhyme --
usually long sequences with the same rhyme. Then each girl gets an englyn
-- the particular variety is called "straight, one-rhymed". There are four
lines with syllable counts 10:6:7:7. The main rhyme comes at the end of
the last three lines, and 2-4 syllables before the end of the first line.
The bit _after_ the main rhyme in the first line must either rhyme or have
cynghanedd (repeated sequences of consonants) with something in the
beginning of the second line.
Cyfarchaf ddewin gwerthefin, I salute the most high lord,
Gwerthfawr wrth ei fod yn frenin. the most worthy one, because he's
Cysylltu canu cysefin, I compose a poem in the first
Cerdd foliant fal y cant Myrddin a song of praise like Merlin sang
I'r gwragedd a'i medd fy marddrin, my skill in verse to the women who
Pennaf oll yn y gollewin the best in all the west country
O byrth Caer hyd Borth Ysgewin. from Chester's gates to Port
Un yw'r fun a fydd gysefin foliant, One is a girl who must be chiefly
Gwenllian lliew hafin. Gwenllian, summer-weather-hued,
Ail yw'r llall o'r pall, pell fy min the second is the one in the
mantle and gold collar;
I wrthi, i am orthorch eurin, my lips ar far from her.
Gweirful deg, fy rheg, fy rhin, ni gefais, Fair Gweirfyl, my gift, my
mystery, I never had,
Ni gafas neb o'm llin; whom not one of my kin won;
Er fyn lladd a llafnau deufin though I be killed with
Rhy'm gwalaeth gwraig brawdfaeth brenin. it grieves me for the wife of a
A Gwladus weddus, wyl febin fabwraig, For seemly Gwladus, shy,
childish young woman,
Gofynaig ei gwerin beloved of the people,
A chenaf uchenaid gyfrin, I'll compose a secret sigh,
Mi a'i mawl, a melyn eithin. I'll praise her with the yellow of
Moch welwyf am nwyf yn eddein i wrthaw Soon may I see, with my vigor far
removed from his,
Ac i'm llaw fy llain and my sword in hand
Lleucu glaer, fy chwaer, yn chwerthin; bright Lleucu, my love, laughing;
Ac ni chwardd ei gwr rhag gorddin. her husband won't laugh before the
Gorddin mawr a'm dawr, a'm daerawd, I am involved in the strife that
has come to me
A hiraeth ysywaeth y sy nawd and longing, alas, is natural,
Am Nest deg debyg afallflawd, for pretty Nest, like apple
Am Berweur, berfedd fy mhechawd. for Perweur, in the midst of my
Am Enerys wyry, ni warawd im hoen, For the virgin Generys who does
not relieve my passion;
Ni orpo ddiweirdawd; may she not insist on chastity;
Am Hunydd, ddefnydd hyd ddyddbrawd; For Hunydd there's use till
Am Hawis, fy newis ddefawd. For Hawis my chosen ritual.
Cefais fun dduun ddiwrnawd;
Cefais ddwy, handid mwy eu molawd;
Cefais dair a phedair a ffawd;
Cefais bump o rai gwymp eu gwyngnawd;
Cefais chwech heb odech pechawd;
Gwenglaer uwch gwengaer ydd y'm daerawd;
Cefais saith, ac ef gwaith gorddygnawd;
Cefais wyth yn nhal pwyth; peth o'r wawd
yr gaint; Ys da daint rhag tafawd.
I had a girl of the same mind one day;
I had two, their praise be the greater;
I had three and four and fortune;
I had five, splendid in their white flesh;
I had six without concealing sin;
a bright girl from above the white fort came to me;
I had seven and an arduous business it was;
I had eight, repaying some of the praise I sang;
teeth are good to keep the tongue quiet.
Ok, I lied about three things. There isn't a separate englyn for each
girl. I changed some things in the translation that I disagreed with
(how's that for self-importance?). And there's a closing section that's
sort of in the short cyhydedd meter, except it seems to alternate 8 and 9
syllable lines. Oh, and the date for this poem is the mid-12th century.
Now for romantic poetry we pretty much skip ahead to the mid-14th century
and Dafydd ap Gwilym, who is pretty much synonymous with the topic. But
Dafydd, again, was going against the conventions of the time, both in
praising women with an enthusiastic earthiness, and in using the
cywydd meter, rather than the more traditional forms. The cywydd has
several variations, but the basic structure is the couplet of two
seven-syllable lines, with a final rhyme, but in one line it must be
stressed and in the other unstressed. (Since Welsh virtually always
stresses the penultimate, what this means in practical terms is that one
line has the rhyme in a monosyllable and the other in a polysyllabic
word.) Long sequences of these couplets will be used (but not, normally,
with the same rhyme -- usually the rhyme changes with every couplet).
Additionally, various forms of cynghanedd and line-internal rhyme are used
freely. (Dafydd usually sticks in an absolutely stunning bit of cynghaned
in his final couplet.) Dafydd's poems are all a bit long to quote in full,
but here's a section of one to Morfudd (text from "Dafydd ap Gwilym" ed.
Rachel Bromwith). Note the additional technique of starting all the lines
with the same letter. (This does not continue in the rest of the poem.)
Gorllwyn ydd wyf ddyn geirllaes,
Gorlliw eiry man marian maes,
Gwyl Duw y mae golau dyn,
Goleuach nog ael ewyn.
Goleudon lafarfron liw,
Goleuder haul, gwyl ydyw.
Gwyr obryn serchgerdd o'm pen,
Goreubryd haul ger wybren.
Gwawr y bobl, gwiwra bebyll,
Gwyr hi gwatwaru gwr hyll.
Gwiw Forfudd, gwae oferfardd
Gwan a'i car, gwen hwyrwar hardd.
Gwe o aur, llun dyn, gwae ef
Gwiw ei ddelw yn gwaeddolef.
I woo a softly-spoken girl,
pale as fine snow on the field's edge;
God sees that she is radiant
and brighter than the crest of foam,
white as the glistening garrulous wave's edge,
with the Sun's splendour; gracious is she.
She knows the way to win a love-song from my lips --
the Sun's excelling glory near a cloud.
The peoples' princess, in cloak of fine fur
(she knows how to derived her ugly husband).
Lovely Morfudd, woe to the weak idle poet
who loves her -- handsome, gracious, gentle girl --
a web of gold -- alas for anyone in shape of man,
comely of form, who cries out in his woe.
One of the running gags of Dafydd's poetry is that he Never Gets The Girl.
This is not, however, an obligatory trope of medieval Welsh love poetry.
One common type of romantic poem is the "llatai", where the poet addresses
a messenger -- perhaps a person, but more often an animal or object (such
as a star, or the wind) -- to whom he entrusts his praise of his love and
gives a message to take to her.
Anyway, there's a brief introduction to the subject.
Tangwystyl verch Morgant Glasvryn
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