The Syllabics of Courtship

A Poetic Profile

AS a Welsh expatriate looking across the Atlantic to my homeland in these turbulent times, my thought is taken back to an earlier period of this century when, against a bleak background of slag heaps and slate-roofed cottages, the frequent interplay between warmth and respect in my people was most noticeable.

This Celtic poising - almost on the threshold of caricature - continues to be found in the poetry of Wales. In Welsh verse, with its roots in a remarkable tradition, lyricism and restraint join hands. Especially in the cywydd (pronounced "cow-ith") - a poetic measure that owes its origin to 14th-century poet, Dafydd ap Gwilym. The constraints of the intricate metrical scheme of the cywydd - far from repressing the poem's lyrical intent - succeed paradoxically in refining it, and often through an underlyi ng situational humor that is part of Welsh character.

In this unit of the cywydd we are looking at, there are seven syllabled lines in which the last syllable in the first line of each quatrain cross-rhymes (or half-rhymes) with a word in the middle of the second line (usually with the third syllable). The second and fourth lines of the stanza must end-rhyme.

In sharp contrast to the collapse of public and private morality about us today, the following scenario is designed to capture (in English!) the clean, if subdued tone, of rural Welsh living in the first two decades of this century. I am seeking to do this through the tight syllabics of the cywydd, characterized by a diction typical of the Anglo-Welsh of that period. The scenario is one in which the chuckle and the tear are not too far apart....

The Bid

Idris farmer finds her, see,

with her scissors and her twine

in the toll-house. "Hear it's for

auction you are, Marged Ann."

"Who's the bidder, bach1, then? Quick."

she asks like she didn't know.

"Farmer-well-to-do, it is."

Marged lets her fingers sew.

"Did you hear the bid at all?"

Idris grins: "Annwyl2, ai. Look,

dresser, coffer, tables, chairs,

forty acres, and livestock!"

"So," she says, "That's all? Well, now

Man with no bed needs no wife."

Idris coughs. "Forget I did.

Bed there is, fach3." ... On the roof

a black-cap calls all the while

Idris walks back up the hill.

1 little one

2 beloved

3 dear one

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