Welsh Bardic Verse Lesson 4

Lesson 4

Englyn Penfyr and Englyn Milwr

The perennially popular englyn unodl union, discussed in the last lesson, is ancient, having been regularized in the 13th century by master bard Einion Offeriad.  Nonetheless, there are two types of englynion that are even older.  The englyn penfyr and the englyn milwr.  Both are to be found in the 9th century Juvencus Manuscript.  This document, now in the Cambridge University Library, is widely considered to contain the oldest sample of written Welsh poetry in existence.

(II)     Englynion Penfyr or “short headed englynion” are sometimes referred to as englynion hen or old-style englynion.  As might be expected of such an old form, it is simpler than the englyn unodl union.  The old style is a three-line verse, of ten, seven and seven syllables.  All three lines carry the same rhyme.  As in the unodl union, line one uses enjambment.  The rhyme falls one, two or three syllables before a dash breaks the line.  The form is so old that the rules of cynghanedd had not yet been formalized, but modern bards almost always adorn it with a touch of alliteration.

Here is an example of mine:

       Serendipitous Serenade

Oh purling, neat, pure, long note – varied thrush

      Verdant hush, by beauty smote,

       Birdsong no one else can quote!

       (Harp Strings, p. 48)


(III)     Englynion Milwr or “soldier’s englynion” are triplets of seven syllable lines.  Their name may come from the fact that they were used in an ancient military poem called Y Gododdin.  The englynion milwr, widely used by the ancients, had fallen out of fashion by the 12th century.  Nonetheless students may still be required to use the form to make rhyming lists of three examples of a phenomenon.

  Here is one of mine:

  Three Songs of the Harp

Tickle joyful feet to dance,

Touch a heart with sorrow’s trance,

Send in sleep’s inheritance.

(Harp Strings, p. 48)

Try to use the seven-syllable triplet englyn milwr to list three of a kind:  Three joys, three sorrows, three heroes, three villains, three birds, three fish, three, three, three…