Welsh Bardic Verse Lesson 7

Lesson 7



I have been waiting to write about this metical family, the cywydd.  It contains some of my favorite forms of Welsh Bardic verse.  The cywydd has a long and fascinating history.  After centuries, it retains near preeminent popularity.  Pronounced with an aggressive “kuh-with” and made plural as “cywyddau” (kuh-with-i) this is a great word.  First, for our use here, it is a type of verse, typically, seven syllable couplets.  But the word means so much more.  Cywydd also means thought, order, consistency, brightness, somehow, even song and sin!  It is a word that captures something essential about what could be called the Welsh bardic outlook.

(IX) Cywydd Deuair Hirion:  A specific type of cywydd, the cywydd deuair hirion, was extensively used by the most famous of Welsh poets in Wales, Dafydd ap Gwilym.  Dafydd was a formally trained master bard in the fourteenth century.  He embarked on a career as a court poet at the exact moment in history when the native Welsh nobility was replaced by English overlords.  He lost his patronage.  More will be said of Dafydd in the lessons on Welsh literary history.  For now, suffice it to say that he took his ability to craft cywyddau and fled to the woods, where he documented the wildlife he found there, particularly, the life of wild women.

This cywydd deuair hirion form is a seven syllable couplet, but there are a couple of other requirements.  First, as a bardic meter, it must employ masculine and feminine rhyme. Masculine rhyme ends with a stress (u/).  Think “Come down in renown.”  Feminine rhyme ends with a penultimate accent (/u).  Think “Walking wile dreaming.”  Now, Dafydd ap Gwilym was all about the mating of masculine and feminine.  Follow him and do so with your rhyming pairs.  Also, as a master court poet, Dafydd used cynghanedd in at least every other line.  He never permitted himself two lines in a row without it.  That is your second rule to apply to cywydd couplets.  The poem may be any length.  Some are quite long.  Here is a shorter example of mine:

  Trillium: Time’s Beauty

After spring’s equinox, come

Truly amazing Trillium;

Then, in two short weeks, I fear

Despite love, you’ll disappear.

But world spin around sun

This way to compensation:

Each year, flower raise your head

Bouquet, anticipated

From ground that seems to lay bare

(Fame to declaim and declare)

Next year, for you and for me,

Renew, be true, time’s beauty.

  (Harp Strings, p. 65)