Welsh Bardic Verse Lesson 3

Lesson 3

Englyn Unodl Union

 It is time to introduce a series of Welsh poetic forms called englynion. (Englynion is plural.  The single form of the noun is englyn.)  There are eight separate types of englynion, but one, the englyn unodl union (straight, one rhyme englyn) is more popular than all of the other forms put together.  If one doesn't specify which type of englyn is under discussion, it is assumed to be an unodl union.

If you know me, you know I love englynion.   I write them often and talk about them all of the time.  I would like to introduce the form here because it is short, although it can be used with other meters to create longer poems.  The englyn also requires cynghanedd, so it is a good use of a skill which I hope you have been practicing.

This four-line stanza has thirty syllables.  All four lines rhyme. There are ten syllables in line one, followed in subsequent lines by six, seven and seven syllables.  The cyrch, or “attack” places the first rhyme one, two or three syllables before the end of the first line.  Use a dash to separate this “tag” from the rest of the line.  Cynghanedd connects the end of line one to the beginning of line two.


(I)        Englyn Unodl Union

10 syllables _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ (rhyme A) __ (cynghanedd)

       6 syllables (cynghanedd) _ _ _ _ _ _ (rhyme A)

  7 syllables _ _ _ _ _ _ _ (rhyme A)

  7 syllables _ _ _ _ _ _ _ (rhyme A)


 Here is an englyn unodl union of mine:


       Forget-Me-Nots and Fir Trees

Two seeds underneath the soil both twist – roots!

       Right as rain in the mist,

  Race for equal grace and grist.

  The long and short coexist!

       (Harp Strings, p. 16.)

Please note that Welsh poetry always scans on the syllable, not on stresses in the line

The englyn is so fundamental to Welsh bardic verse that students often make a parlor game out of it.  One poet will call out the first two lines of an original englyn.  This is known as the cyrch or “attack” as in launching a paladr, an arrow.  A second poet completes the poem with two final lines.  This is known as the esgyll the “feather,” “fletching,” or “wings,” again as on an arrow.  As the game shows, there are two parts to the verse.  The attack develops dramatic tension and the wings resolve it. 

The englyn unodl union is fundamental to Welsh bardic tradition.  Syllabic scansion, enjambment, required rhyme and cynghanedd are all elements a bard must master, so begin here.  Whether you launch an arrow shaft into a gathering of poets to see if someone else can fletch it, or craft a complete poem on your own, the englyn unodl union is a poetic form you’ll be glad to have in your bardic tool kit.