March 06, 2007

Cywydd and Cynghanedd

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In this chapter, Allchin considers the strict traditional Welsh metres. He mentions in oarticular the cywydd, ‘the vehicle of much of the finest writing of the golden age of Welsh poetry’ (1350 – 1500) used by poets like Dafydd ap Gwilym (143). Allchin describes it as, ‘ a new metre, free from the heroic associations of older forms used by the poets of the princes before the fall of the last Welsh prince of Wales in 1282’ (143). The content of the cywydd was preoccupied with, ‘lighter and more personal themes, the vicissitudes of love, the celebration of nature, petitions to a patron, elegies for the departed’ (143). Allchin adds: ‘One of the qualities which marls the whole Welsh tradition is a desire for a kind of epigrammatic terseness, a desire to say much in little’ (143). This is intensified in the cywydd due to its short lines (7 syllables) and its use of cynghanedd. Allchin here quotes J.P. Ward commenting on cynghanedd:

The tight form used successfully, seems to be insisting that the poet emphasise 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. (qtd. in Allchin, 143-144)

Allchin sees comparisons between the cywydd and the icon, since the painter of an icon, ‘forces his lines to practice a certain self denial , so that the whole picture may become the vehicle of some “overall hidden idea binding it” ’ (144). Of course, the cywydd is not always used to represent religious content, but Allchin is aware that, ‘[t]he liturgical function is there is the background, and the whole way in which the poet’s work is understood in Wales to this day, as a public, as well as personal act, as being in some sense a service to a whole people, has an unmistakably liturgical flavour to it’ (145).

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


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