Welsh Bardic Verse Lesson 1

Welsh Bardic Verse

by Gruffydd Hirwallt

Lesson 1

Introduction and Cynghanedd

This is the first in a series of English language essays on Welsh bardic verse.  Using these traditional techniques allows the bard to unlock a vast storehouse of poetic practices reaching down to the dawn of time.  Individual expression, channeled through the shared practices of the bard, assume a center of gravity they would otherwise lack.   The discipline required to master the curriculum vastly strengthens the resulting verse.  A series of essays is needed because of the complexity of the topic.  It is easier, by far, to approach the rich fields of bardic tradition one step at a time.  Subsequent essays will cover all twenty-four required verse structures. (Look for Roman numerals by the left margin.)  Needless to say, Welsh literary history is a required topic.   The end of the series features information about becoming a bard.  A glossary defines the inevitable Welsh vocabulary.

Poetry from any Celtic tradition is instantly recognizable by a driving, rhythmic wordplay.  When declaimed by a trained speaker, bardic verse may swell toward incandescent oration.  The most imaginative flights are sometimes called “mouth music”.   I am most familiar with the Welsh bardic tradition, but all along the northwest Celtic fringe, the same characteristics seem to apply.

In Wales, the poetic techniques used to infuse verse with that “bardic” quality, are collectively called cynghanedd.  (Welsh for harmony.)  There are also, as mentioned, some two dozen poetic forms, or types of verse, to master.

I would like to provide English language samples of the three basic types of cynghanedd.  These all come from my book Harp Strings: The Bardic Verse of Gruffydd Hirwallt (2016, East Point West Press).  Some poetic forms require a bard to use cynghanedd in every line!  That may be extreme, but there is no doubt that with judicious use, they add punch to a poem!

1)  Cynghanedd groes (“Crossing alliteration”).

“New Bell Toll a Noble Tale”

Note the consonants:  N B L T…N B L T

         (Harp Strings, p. 1.)

2)  Cynghanedd lusg (The middle of the line rhymes with the penultimate syllable of the line.)

“My wordy gift, so well bestowed!”

Let SO and beSTOWed ring to hear cynghanedd “sing-out”.

         (Harp Strings, p. 3.)

3)  Cynghanedd sain (Internal rhyme followed by alliteration.)

Ddraig on flag and fresh wind flies!” 

 Ddraig is, of course Y Ddraig Goch, the Red Dragon of Wales

         (Harp Strings, p. 16.)


I have not described every form of cynghanedd here.  There are many rhythmic details which make use of rising and falling accents.  Each variation has its own name.  I draw your attention to the “Sources” section at the end of my book Harp Strings (pp. 69-70).


No matter what skill we are talking about, practice helps.  Bardic techniques are no different; so, practice!  I encourage you to construct individual lines as well as whole poems.  Emphasize the playful part of word-play.   Perhaps, for now, allow yourself to make up nonsense, as long as it “sounds right”.  Once you have learned how to build a line, it will add power to your verse.