A very, very short introduction to traditional Welsh poetry


Traditional Welsh poetry is an extremely complex subject. If you're new to it, this page aims to give you a very basic feel for what makes this kind of poetry unique. Any experts on the subject who happen to read this page will see straight away that almost all the technicalities have been deliberately left out and some things have been made to sound a lot simpler than they really are. If you want to delve deeper, you should read 'Singing In Chains' by Mererid Hopwood, published by Gomer Press. (Look out for the explanation in English on their home page of how to change to the English version of the site).

The hallmark of traditional Welsh poetry is that each line of each poem has to have within it some kind of sound pattern, constructed according to very strict and complex rules. The two most important types of sound pattern that a poet can choose to use are:

The Partridge in a Pear Tree pattern

The Hickory Dickory Dock pattern

(The Welsh themselves don't call them that, of course!)

In the Partridge in a Pear Tree pattern, a string of consonants (P-R-T-R in this case) is repeated in the two halves of the line:

a P-a-RTR-idge in a P-ea-R TR-ee

In the Hickory Dickory Dock pattern, there are three main words in the line. The first and second words rhyme (h-ICKORY d-ICKORY), the second and third words begin with the same letter (D-ickory D-ock).

Here are examples of these patterns in two lines taken from Mererid Hopwood's poem 'Yn Sempringham':

1) Tua'r lle y tyr ei llais

Pronounced, very roughly, "tee arrath lay a tirrith lice". (That's as close as English spelling can get. The second "a" in "arrath" has to be said so quickly that it almost isn't there. The "ll", of course, isn't really "thl", nor is it anything like so hard to say as people make out).

Word-for-word meaning: "Towards the place that breaks-out her voice".

Sound pattern: T-ua'-R LL-e y T-y-R ei LL-ais (Partridge in a Pear Tree, T-R-LL)

2) Dyma pam mae'r fam na fu

Pronounced, very roughly, "dumma pam myra vam nah vee". (The "a" in "myra" has to be said so quickly that it almost isn't there.)

Word-for-word meaning: "Here-is why is the mother who-not was".

Sound pattern: dyma p-AM mae'r F-AM na F-u (Hickory Dickory Dock, -AM and F-)

The reason why the pronunciations are given here is so that you can say the lines aloud (alone or in suitably sympathetic company, of course!) and see if you can hear the sound patterns. Traditional Welsh poetry is designed to be listened to rather than read silently.

This tradition is hundreds of years old but still alive and well today. It has produced, and still produces, stunning masterpieces. It's well worth learning Welsh just in order to read them! Translation can't even begin to do them justice.


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