March 07, 2007

JP Ward on Cynghanedd


[T]he Welsh forms have their own strange fascination, analogously to the haiku, sonnet or villanelle. If the English reader thinks Hopkins and Dylan Thomas have a power deriving from their very pronounced assonantal usages, what is that power? It is wholly wrong to think as Matthew Arnold did, that it is a matter of ornamentation. The tight form, used successfully, seems to be insisting that the poet emphasize a certain feeling very deeply by making all the words he chooses practice a certain self-denial in reinforcing that feeling. It is almost as though – and this does not at all deny the tremendous facility with which some poets do this – the words are forced into position against their will, and this, paradoxically, makes the strain like bent mental, giving them great tension and power. It makes each different line or phrase seem to belong to and be contained by some over-all hidden idea binding it. Wheras the effect of Swinburne for example is open-endedly mellifluous , and the late mediaeval alliterative revival in English, as in its masterpiece the Gawain poem, seems physically to encrust the poem’s characters and harsh natural environment with the power of the detail of those things. The tighter those prescribed Welsh forms, the more is the poet precipitated into the expression of a particular psychology the mode seems to enable whereas the quite different voices of [3] Edward Thomas, Hardy, Wordsworth himself, seem more direct emanations of the mind itself in an era in which the question of what mind itself actually is, is the most pressing ontological question. (3-4)

Ward, JP. Editorial (on cynghanedd). Poetry Wales. Vol. 14.1 (Summer 1978). 3-4

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