Welsh Bardic Verse Lesson 9

Lesson 9

Awdl Measures


It is time to discuss the awdl measures.  There are a dozen of them.  They comprise the final twelve required verse structures.   As such, they are the meat on the bone of the Welsh bardic curriculum.  A candidate demonstrating knowledge of them is well on the way to technical mastery.  The Welsh word awdl, meaning a long poem, sounds so much like the English word “ode” that the two have been accepted as translations of each other.  Maybe.  Words mean what people want them to mean, but awdl shares its origin with the Welsh word for rhyme, odl.  Awdl is made plural by adding au:  awdlau.


Awdlau are very old, going back at least to the antique text of Y Gododdin.  They are always long poems.  They can be narratives, and yes, they can be odes.  Praise poems and eulogies are awdlau. So too may be genealogical lists and ballads of national mythologizing.


(XIII) Cyhydedd Naw Ban: Let’s start with the oldest and simplest awdlau, the cyhydedd naw ban. The cyhydedd naw ban, or “equal lines of nine” is simply a nine syllable couplet.   These couplets may be employed to form a complete poem.  Later, as we move through the awdl curriculum, the cyhydedd naw ban will combine with other meters to create complex patterns.  For now, it is best to practice the old art of simple couplets.


It is worth mentioning that factors of three are symbolic in all Celtic traditions.  Welsh is no exception.  Nine syllables, three threes, was not chosen by accident.


Here is a cyhydedd naw ban example of mine:


  Rages of Ages


Night to look forward, night to look back,

Night of the deepest blackest of black,

Night of the new year, night of the old,

Night of bonfire chasing off cold.

Night of the solstice – one king must die;

Dawn of a new sun lightening the sky.


  (Harp Strings p. 13)


The cyhydedd naw ban should come as naturally to a Welsh bard as heroic couplets of iambic pentameter do to an English poet.  Practice them until they flow.