anonymous asked:

Hey, so, I saw your post on mutations and poetry in Welsh, and I wondered if you wouldn't mind explaining the poetry?

Ha. Oh god. Oh lordy that post has become more trouble than it’s worth. Right, I will give this a go, but it’s really fucking hard so don’t take this as gospel, let’s see…

So the word is “cynghanedd”, pronounced “kung-HAN-eth” (the ‘th’ is like it is in the English word ‘them’.) That’s the name for this poetry. The short answer is, there are four forms, each of which uses a different system of internal assonance and alliteration (hence the mutations). The long answer…

Well. Okay.

Type 1 - Cynghanedd Lusg

Paint goldfish on the dishes.

Now, this one is the simplest form of cynghanedd, so I’m starting easy. The rule is, the penultimate syllable - in this case, ‘dish’ - must rhyme with any preceding syllable - here, ‘fish’. Nice and easy! Good start!

Many bards these days will add some extra flourishes into a line of Llusg (note the mutation without the ‘cynghanedd’) because it feels too easy without. Alliteration, usually. And fun stuff with scansion, but we’ll come to that.

Type 2 - Cynghanedd Sain

Make fish the dish of the day

My favourite! I love Sain. Split the line into three:

Make fish// the dish// of the day

The first two must rhyme, the second two must alliterate. Wonderful! Brillopads! I love it. Also relatively simple, still. Which is good, because we’re about to get… hard.

Type 3 - Cynghanedd Draws

Wet t-shirt competition

Ha. Right. 

In a minute, I’m going to have to talk about scansion and stresses and stuff because the final fourth type of cynghanedd is literally impossible in English, but you can just about get away with it with Traws (note mutation), so let’s stave off the inevitable.

Cut the line into two:

Wet t-shirt// competition

The idea is, with the exception of the consonants in the fist syllable of the second half line (here, that’s ‘c-mp’), you repeat the consonants in the same order on each side of the line. 

Wet t-shirt// competition

You also ignore the final consonants here because they’re after the final stress. Bugger. We did need to talk stress a bit. Anyway. Yeah - the ‘t’…’sh’ pattern is repeated both sides. Do that.

Type 4 - Cynghanedd Groes


Um. It’s literally functionally impossible in English. Believe me - poets have tried and tried. Sometimes you can come very close. Sometimes you can basically manage it, but only if you also wave goodbye to the line actually meaning anything, and just shove random words together.

Like, for example, this attempt that I threw together and can only apologise for:

Done dishonoured on day sunny


Okay, so. Split the line in half again, except the split is… oddly placed:

Done dishonour//ed on day sunny

The reason for this is them stresses. So, in Welsh, the stress of a word is always on the penultimate syllable, a nifty feature that helped us to create this devil system. When you split a line, therefore, the split goes after the right stresses, but a word can thusly be itself split in half and used both sides.

Here’s an actually functional Welsh example:

Rhowch dynerwch dan eira

Rhowch dyne//rwch dan eira

R       ch d n //r   ch d n     r

Particularly clever, because the middle ‘r’ works on both sides of the line. Well fucking done that bard.

So my version (which, by the way, because of stress placements is still not a perfect example of cynghanedd in English), runs thusly:

Done dishonour//ed on day sunny

D n    d s  n      //  d  n   d     s  n


All the rest of the Stuff

So, scansion is then big and complex, and when you put these into rhyme forms, there are then rules. A verse is kind of a block of four lines, but each couplet has to be formed of a line that ends on a stressed syllable, and a line that ends on an unstressed syllable. However, that’s not true of every measure. There’s the awdl; there are many different types of awdl, which ask for different numbers of syllables for each line and different rhyme placements for each, but you’re looking at anywhere between 1-6 lines with different rules. The englyn is simpler, since each form of it wants either 3 or 4 lines, but again, the rules and requirements change. 

And then… there’s the cywydd. 

At it’s heart, the cywydd is another short form, 2-4 lines, whatevs. But, the Cywydd is the name awarded to the long-form poem that bards write and submit to the Eisteddfod each year, in the hopes of winning the Chair. It has to be something like 100-300 lines long, contain all four cynghanedd forms, adhere to a strict metre of stressed and unstressed endings, and, on top of everything else, no line can contain anything other than seven syllables. Just to make it easy.

On the plus side, though, if you manage it, you become a druid and get given the title Prifardd to use with your bardic name OR your real name and they give you a fuck-off throne. 


Knack with dare/ knock the door Novice and mix air/ once and more Like so boldy/ walk as blind End farm share / a wind from shore

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“Cynghanedd” is the Welsh poetic form that has been used since at least the ninth century. The line is divided a line in half and then the two sides must “mirror”: stress, and what is best translated as “consonant chime” – the clangy word-starting consonants repeat in one of four different ways, all named and with their own “feel.” Mererid Hopwood is not only a great poet whose use of cynghanedd won her an Eisteddfod Chair, but in this book she lucidly explains the technique in English – no small feat. The accompanying CD will cause you to fall in love. With Welsh! Celtic languages take to this form in a way that the language itself has evolved to be more useful to cynghanedd, a poetic form unique in all the world….