The 24 Official Meters of Welsh Poetry
As far back as Welsh history can record, poetry has been an integral part of the culture. The ancient Welsh poets held a sacred position in the courts and there is a murky line between priest, magician and poet. The word “bard” comes from the Welsh “bardd”, (poet) dating back to 100 BC. In ancient times the poets were supported by their kings, their lords, and their communities. Through their poetry they praised and advised their lords, in politics, love, nature, and war.
Much of the early verse survived through oral tradition until it could be collected and recorded in the 12th century. In some instances only the name of the poet survived which demonstrates how important the poets themselves were. The 6th century Welsh poet Myrddin is thought by some to be Merlin of the Arthur legend. His collected poems, including the earliest reference in literature to the legendary King Arthur are recorded in the 12th century, Black Book of Carmarthen.
In 6th century BC, a penkerdd (master or chief bard) won his position and was expected to train apprentices in a school of poetic arts. “Ry dysgas disgywen veirtyon” Cynddelw, (“I have taught splendid poets.”). Welsh bards formed their own society and held competitions. Gatherings and competitions are still held in Wales today Eisteddfod, the largest and most important of which includes the selection every 3 years of an honorary “chief bard”.
Before the 14th century there were three grades of poets, the chief poets, the house poets and minstrel-jongleurs (probably not free men). Every noble house had a poet or bardd teulu, who were often of the nobility itself. In 1562, English law was imposed upon Wales; the transition influenced not just political life but all aspects of Welsh life, including the poets. It was then that the English King Edward I, understanding the power of the Welsh poets, abolished the official position of the chief poet in an attempt to dilute their influence. From that decree the distinction between the poets became blurred and poets of all stations were no longer supported by just one patron but had to move around seeking support. By the 16th century the gentleman poet emerged, here is the first evidence of occasional poems and satire in Welsh poetry. In whatever status, the Welsh poet remains respected even into modern times. Almost every Welsh community, no matter how small, boasts of several poets. They are recognized and honored, no matter if he or she is a professional writer or a farmer who writes verse.
From this history the 24 “Official Meters” were born. These were codified in the 14th century by Einion Offeiriad and edited by Dafydd Ddu Athro. The meters are divided into 3 classes, the Englynion (short poems of praise or satire), the Cywydds (most popular of the forms) and the Awlds (rhymed speech). The Welsh were very proud of these complicated and rigid patterns. . “As gytant yn dysc yn digyblon” Cynddelw, (“And our disciples know our teaching.”).
Welsh Meters are among the strictest patterns in the known world of literature. The rich content of the poetry is matched only by its meticulous execution of the craft.
• Englynion or Englyn, are short poems often used in praise or satire of an important person. In ancient times these verse forms were most often written by the minstrel-jongleur poets and sometimes lesser house poets. The verse forms are stanzaic, written in any number of stanzas. These are the simplest of the meters.
#1. Englyn penfyr or short ended englyn in the old style
#2. Englyn milwr or the soldier’s englyn
#3. Englyn unodl union or straight one rhyme englyn
#4. Englyn unodl crwca or crooked short one rhyme englyn
#5 Englyn cyrch or two rhyme englyn
#6. Englyn proest dalgron or half rhymed englyn
#7. Englyn lleddfbroest or half rhymed diphthong englyn
#8. Englyn proest gadwynog or chain of half rhyme englyn
• Cywydd Meters, ców-idd have no accurate translation in English, but the cywydd meters have been the most popular of the Welsh “meters.” The main feature in the Cywydd is the elaboration and regularization of cynghanedd (harmony in sound ) which consists of controlled variations of multiple alliteration, with occasional internal rhyme. Although the form may not specify the use of alliteration, the cywydd meters usually include some alliteration within the lines. Feminine rhyme is not uncommon in cywydd meters and Welsh poets often rhyme stressed syllables with unstressed syllables in this category specifically. The forms are stanzaic and any number of stanzas may be written.
The cywydd meters were originally only used by the lesser poets, minstrels and some lesser house poets, but by the 14th century more house poets and even some chief poets were utilizing the patterns. Dafydd ap Gwilym (1320 -1383), a Welsh nobleman, not a professional bard, is considered by some to be the greatest of the Welsh poets. He helped popularize and wrote almost exclusively in the cywydd meters, especially the #10 cywydd deuair hirion. His poems were mostly about the delights of love and one of his poems speaks of going to church strictly to ogle women (I would say humor was also a part of Welsh poetry). A whole group of 14th-century poets became known as the cywyddwyr or cywydd-men.
#9 Awdl gywydd
#10. Cywydd deuair hirion
#11. Cywydd deuair fyrion
#12. Cywydd llosgyrnog
• Awdl Meters (meaning “ode” or “lay”), are the most challenging and complicated classification of the Welsh meters. In ancient times the Awdls were the territory of the chief or master bard. Awdls often combine englyn and cywydd meters and there are more awdls than the other two classifications combined. Several were extremely rare, even in ancient times. Though a description of any of the awdls may not specify use of alliteration, assonance or consonance, the elaboration of cynghanedd (harmony in sound), encourages their use throughout. The meters are, like the Englyns and Cwydedds, stanzaic and any number of stanzas may be written.
#13. Rhupunt (See Rhupunt hir)
#14. Cyhydedd fer
#15 Byr a thoddaid
#17. Cyhydedd Naw Ban
#18. Cyhydedd Hir
#21 Gwawdodyn hir
#22 Hir a thoddaid
#23 The Cyrch a chwta
#24 Tawddgyrch cadwynog
Pasted from http://www.poetrymagnumopus.com/index.php?/topic/990-the-24-official-welsh-meters/
My thanks to Judi Van Gorder for years of work on this fine PMO resource.