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Grace O’Malley discusses the Awdl Gywydd

Writing.ie | Guest Bloggers | Poetic Licence

Kate Dempsey

There are twenty-four traditional poetic formats attributed to Welsh literature. This one from Grace O’Malley is the Awdl Gywydd.

I hadn’t come across this particular Welsh poetic form but here’s a primer from Grace O’Malley on herblog Imaginary Garden with Real Toads.

There are twenty-four traditional poetic formats attributed to Welsh literature, and there were even more before our current list was compiled in the Late Middle Ages, when some formats were omitted. Bardic tradition claims that the great court poets began to die out when Welsh knights began to move into the English court, as the poets depended upon the wealthy knights’ patronage. One such gentleman, known as Grufydd Phylip of Ardudwy, was said to be the last professional poet, and on his death in 1666, the art was left to amateurs. Let’s revive some traditions this week as we discuss our first format,

An awdl (“owdl”) is a long-format poem similar to the ode, and the awdl gywydd (“owdl gow-widd”)  is a short piece in the “cywydd” category of meters, which were purportedly the most popular of the formats. This basic stanza is an excellent format with which to get warmed up for a longer piece. It’s another building block, and can be written to any length. Each stanza is made up of seven-syllable quatrains and an interlaced rhyme scheme, with the second and fourth lines making a perfect rhyme. Sound a little complicated? Here’s a four-stanza example from John Litzenberg of Radical Druid, named “On Her Sleeping Form“. It has one minor variation–see if you can spot it!

She’s sleeping there on the chaise,
on her face a gentle look;
dreaming no doubt of flowers,
and quiet hours with a book.

Her eyes are closed, her heart eased,
and I am pleased that she rests;
May her dreams be sweet and kind,
and may she find peaceful hours.

When she wakes in the morning
may the day bring her gladness
filled with laughter and sunshine
and a decline in sadness.

I listen to her soft snore,
wanting no more than her joy;
she fills where I am nothing,
and brings happiness sublime.

First we see each line is seven syllables. Next, note that there is a rhyme at the midpoint of the second and fourth lines, as well as the perfect rhyme at the end. This interlaced rhyme can be a half-rhyme, consonance, or assonance, and can even be moved around, placing it in the third, fourth, or fifth syllable of each of those lines.

******A
**a***B
******C
**c***B

For brevity’s sake, I have placed the example midpoint rhyme on the third syllable. You are free to place it in the same general area or move it around a bit! The strictest part of this exercise, for me, is to keep each line at seven syllables.

While scouring the net for some examples of this format, I ran across a gentleman named Gary Kent Spain, who made a list of awdl gywyddau under the name “venicebard” for AllPoetry.com. This one stood out as my clear favorite, and it is titled “Ode to Alexandria (Awdl Gywydd)”:

Alexandria, what tones
and intense groans you evoke
from man’s memory, proud nest
of the best that ancients spoke

concerning science, the gods,
how fate plods: what you preserved
of the past’s glory that now
into the sand’s brow has swerved,

lost for all time! Had you stood,
Serapeum, would our schools
not still be teaching the scrolls
that lined your walls? would not fools

who thought the ancient world lacked
any ear for fact be seen
for the emptiness they are?
But your star has lost its sheen—

quite literally, since sight
no more sees light from the isle
Pharos with its beacon tall
whose beam’s call announced with style

that here stood Ptolemy’s gem,
pliant stem of writing’s bloom,
swaying with those winds of thought
it had wrought to rend man’s gloom.

Please check the links for several more of his entries!

Wales has an intriguing and ancient literary tradition, full of bards and poet’s guilds, even the first recorded literary work from a Northern European woman! They’re also known for some of the most strict formats in existence. I look forward to exploring these with you, because I believe that the merit in these exercises grows with the difficulty of the attempt.

For a much more concise and pleasingly written summary of Welsh poetic format, visit Poetry Magnum Opus.

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