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The following summary of the laws of Welsh versification is offered to the notice of those who may wish, when reading Welsh poetry, to understand the broad principles of its structure. More it does not pretend to be. At the same time the writer, while generalising as far as he saw practicable the confusing multiplicity of definitions given by almost all writers on the subject (all in Welsh, so far as he knows), has attempted to embrace all really salient points.
The word verse in the following pages is used to designate one metrical line only.
1. The structure of verses is, in Welsh, founded on assonance (cynghanedd), rhyme (odli), and the number of syllables in each verse (cyhydedd).
2. Sometimes short pieces of poetry have also each verse beginning with the same word (cymmeriad geiriol), or with the same letter (cymmeriad llythyrenol). In the latter are included all successions of verses which begin with a vowel. This characteristic, though formerly much used, is now but rarely employed, and needs, therefore, no illustration.
3. Assonance (cynghanedd) consists in the recurrence, in one part of a verse, of one or more consonants (cynghanedd groes) or syllables (cynghanedd sain), which also occur in a preceding part of the same verse.
Such recurring letters are here termed the assonants of those which precede, and to which they answer.
4. A consonantal assonance (cynghanedd groes) consists of one or more consonants in the latter part of a verse recurring in the same order as the same consonants in the first part, but affected by different vowels. No intruding consonant is allowed between any two assonants.
4TH SER., VOL. VIII.
In the first verse of this couplet there are but two assonants, while in the second there are four.
(a) It is not necessary that all the consonants in the first part should have assonants in the second. Even one will suffice, the other intervening consonants, if there be any, being simply passed over unnoticed, as in the first verse of the above couplet.
(6) In this assonance, the first consonant in the verse, except n, which may
may or may not have its assonant, must have an assonant in the second part.
(c) The most perfect form of the consonantal assonance is that in which the two parts of the verse can be interchanged without violating either sense or
2 3 4
1 2 3 4 5
“ Diwres dwyrain dros deirawr''; Or “Dros deirawr diwres dwyrain." 5. A syllabic assonance (cynghanedd sain) consists in the rhyming of any syllable except the last in the second part, with a syllable in the first part of a verse.
E. g., (a) “Wylo wrth rodio yr ydwyf.”
Diffaith a fu'ch gwaith i gyd.” In addition to the syllabic assonance there are also in the verse generally one or more consonantal assonances, which are not, however, subject to the same restrictions as a proper consonantal assonance.
(C) “Gwynfyd i'r diwyd a'r da." 6. (a) The letter h, when it stands alone, is sometimes regarded as a simple aspirate. It does not then necessarily interfere with or take part
(6) One consonant can be an assonant to two like consonants, or vice versa, when the latter immediately follow one another.
“Er cof fyth o'r cyfreithwyr."
Lle i nodi truth lluniedydd.”
(c) The consonants b, d, dd, f, g, I, when they come next to p, t, th, ff (ph) c, ll respectively, are, as it were, absorbed into the latter, which alone rule the assonance.
“A’th ddawn yn ffrwd o’th enau."
“Ond teg addef hyn i ti.” See also the fifth verse in $ (12.)
(d) The tenues c, p, t, sometimes have their mediae g, b, d for their respective assonants.
ei fedd gwyn ei fyd."
Hộn ac uwch oedd nag ach Iau.”
"Gnwd tew, eginhad daear." (e) Commonly, though not always, the letter w at the end of such words as galw, hoyw, etc., and sometimes also in the middle of compound words is elided, as in the following hepta-syllabic verses :
“Canaf ei chlod hoywglod hi."
Pen isel ddelw dduddel ddig." 7. The number of syllables admissible in a verse (cyhydedd) may be any number from four to ten, according to the arrangement of Simwnt Fychan.
8. In some metres we have the following peculiarity. At the end of a deca-syllabic verse, and forming a part of it, one or more words, which must not, however, contain more than four syllables, are used as a passing link (geiriau cyrch) to connect it with the following verse, which must consist of six, nine, or ten syllables. When written or printed, such link-words are separated by a hyphen from those which precede. The syllable
next to the link-word must rhyme with the adjacent
(a) When the decasyllabic verse is followed by one of six syllables, there must be in the beginning of the latter one or more assonants to a letter or letters in the link-word. “Dy eiriau, Ion clau, clywais—yn addo
Noddi pawb a'th ymgais." (6) In either of the other two cases the last syllable of the link-word must rhyme with a syllable in the middle of the following verse :
“Troi esgarant traws a gwrol-a wnaeth
Yn nawdd a phenaeth iawn ddiffynol."
Ymae, wŷr, ynoch emau o rinwedd.” 9. There is also another and a peculiar method of rhyming (proestio) made use of in some metres. The last letter in each verse is the same; but in each it is affected by a different vowel sound.
“ Yn iach oll awen a chân
Un naws a dail einioes dyn.” 10. These laws apply only to the stricter Welsh metres, commonly known as “the Four-and-twenty”. Besides these, there are, as in other languages, looser metres in which the strict laws of assonance are entirely or in part discarded, such as those used in psalmody and hymnody, in ballads and songs, etc.
11. The Four-and-twenty metres are different combinations of the seven admissible verses spoken of in § (7), each combination having of course its own peculiar laws. If the assonances, rhymes, and link-words be carefully attended to, there will be but little difficulty in perceiving the broad scheme of each metre.
From A.D. 1451 to 1819, all competitors for the chief
bardic prize at the National Eistedfodd were compelled to make use of all these metres in each poem, as they were arranged by Dafydd ap Edmwnd. In the latter year the restriction was withdrawn. Only two of them are here presented to the reader; but they are the two most commonly used—viz., the Cywydd and Englyn.
12. Cywydd. There are three kinds of this metre. The first consists of a couplet of rhyming verses of four syllables each, one of which ends with a monosyllable, and the other with a word of two or more syllables. One of the verses also consists of two dis-syllabic words. The second kind is made up of couplets of hepta-syllabic verses, which are subject to the same laws as the first. The third kind is also hepta-syllabic, but has the last syllable of the first verse rhyming with a syllable in the middle of the second. The kind here described as second is that most commonly used, and poems written in this metre are subject to no restriction as to length. E. g., (a) “Mae bro mwy bri Or, “Ni bu neb wr Eto iti.”
Heb Fôn, er na thôn ma thanh,
Na byw hwy, oni bai hon."
Dy ogoniant, deg wiwner.” This metre, in one or other of its forms, enters largely into the structure of the rest.
13. Englyn. There are several kinds also of this metre. That most commonly used is the following :
“Awenawg wr o Wynedd-a yrwyd
O hiraeth i'r llygredd,
Dyma fan fechan ei fedd.” Each stanza consists of two couplets. The first verse has ten and the second six syllables, as described in $ (8) (a). The second couplet is hepta-syllabic, and is