March 06, 2007

Praise Poetry in the Welsh Tradition


A.M. Allchin’s study, Praise Above All, is a fascinating study of spirituality and poetry in the Welsh literary tradition. Interestingly Allchin sees poetry as, ‘ultimately a religious act, a sacred act’ (4). For him the roles of priest and poet overlap since: ‘Both are called, in different ways to bless; and to bless (bendicere) in its original meaning is to speak good things, to declare the goodness which is latent in the world around us’ (6). Allchin quotes Les Murray at this point and he agrees with Murray’s suggestion that the creation of art is radiant.

The study focuses on a number of poets significant to Welsh literary history. It discusses Dafydd ap Gwilym (1320 – 70) and his poetry in praise of nature. Allchin notes also that Dafydd ap Gwilym, ‘holds together within the same poem the language of praise and satire’ (18). Allchin also analyses poems by Edward Prys (1543/4 – 1623), a poet influenced by Welsh and English poetic traditions. According to Allchin, the achievements of these earlier poets were carried forward by religious writers of Wales, such as a leader of Welsh Calvinistic Methodism, Thomas Jones of Denbigh (1756 – 1820). Writers like Jones carried on the complicated metrical forms used by Dafydd ap Gwilym and others.

The twentieth century brought new Welsh religious poets such as Saunders Lewis (1893 – 1985), Waldo Williams(1904 – 1971), Gwenallt (1899 – 1968) and Euros Bowen (1904-89).. Allchin associates these poets with the Welsh word synhwyrus which he goes on to explain in detail:

It is an adjective which means ‘perceived by the senses’. It is not sensitive, for that has a gentle almost feeble sound to it in English, and synhwyrus is strong and active.

A.M. Allchin. Praise Above All: Discovering the Welsh Tradition. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1991.

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