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644
[WELSH LITERATURE
CELT

kind of assonance in which in some cases the final vowels agreed alternately in each quatrain, and in others each line ended in a different vowel, in both cases with alliteration and consonance of final consonants or full rhyme. Llygad Gŵr is known by an ode in five parts to Llywelyn ab Gruffydd, written about the year 1270, which is a good type of the conventional flattery of a family bard. Howel Voel, who was of Irish extraction, possessed some poetical merit; his remonstrance to Llywelyn against the imprisonment of his brother Owain is a pleasing variety upon the conventional eulogy. It has many lines beginning with the same word, e.g. gŵr, man. The poems of Bleddyn Vardd, or Bleddyn the Bard, which have come down to us are all short eulogies and elegies. One of the latter on Llywelyn ab Gruffydd is a good example of the elaborate and artificial nature of Welsh versification.

The most illustrious name among the poets of this century is Gruffydd ab yr Ynad Coch, “Gruffydd, son of the Red Justice,” who wrote many religious poems of great merit. His greatest work, however, is the elegy to Llywelyn ab Gruffydd, the last prince of Wales. It is easily first among all the elegies written in the Welsh language. We do not find in it that artficial grief which is too evident in the Marwnadau of the Welsh poets; it re-echoes an intense personal grief, and throughout the whole piece the poet feels that he stands at the end of all things,—the end of his own ideals, the extinction of all Cymric hopes. So poignant is his grief, and in so universal a manner does the catastrophe of Llywelyn’s death present itself to him, that he imagines that all the natural features of the Welsh fatherland know that the last great Welshman is dead; the winds howl over the mountains, the rain-clouds gather thick, the waves rage with grief against the Welsh coasts, and far away on the hills the giant oak-trees beat against each other in the fury of their passion. Sadly, in this manner, closes the second period of Welsh literature.

4. The Golden Age of the Cywydd, 1340-1440.—Just as, after the loss of the North, the Welsh muse was hushed, so after the final subjugation of Wales in 1282, hardly a note was heard for many a long year. The ancient patrons of literature were dead, and the country had not yet settled down to the steady rule of England. Indeed, the conquest of Wales effectively put an end to the older Welsh poetry of that type which we noticed in the last period. These older bards were without exception subjects of the princes of North Wales, where the old heroic poetry was still popular, and when the power of these princes came to an end the old poetry too ceased. When the Welsh muse emerges again from the darkness of this interval she is no longer of the North; the new poets are drawn from the Welshmen of the South, a land which had practically ceased to be a part of an independent Wales shortly after the Norman conquest of England. We find, too, that the poetry which poured forth from the Welsh bards of the south is of an altogether different type, it is modern in all its essentials, in diction, in language, and, comparatively speaking, in sentiment. Indeed, there is an infinitely greater difference between Dafydd ab Gwilym and Gruffydd ab yr Ynad Coch than there is between him and any poet writing in the alliterative metres in the 19th century. So that we must suppose that at the time when the poets of North Wales still sang of war and mead-drinking in a style and diction that was an inheritance from the times of the Gododin, the poets of the South, unharassed by wars, were developing a new poetry of their own, a poetry that had relinquished for ever the Old Welsh models and was at last in line with the great poetical movements of Europe. And, judging from the fact that the earliest of these poets whose works are accessible to us are in the full zenith of their poetical development, we must believe that their work is the consummation of a period, that is to say, that they must have had a long line of predecessors whose works were lost during the period intervening between the loss of Welsh independence and the rise of Dafydd ab Gwilym. These men wrote, as we have already said, in South Wales, a country which was then under the rule of the Norman lords, who, with the lapse of years and the rise of new systems, were fast becoming Welsh. It is no wonder, then, that the poets who wrote under their patronage should show unmistakable traces of Norman influence. Most of the barons still spoke French, and it was only natural that they should be well versed in French poetry. The poets followed the lead of their patrons, and their work was modelled to a very great extent on French and Provençal poetry. Nor does this account altogether for the wonderful similarity between Welsh cywyddau and other poems of this period and the French lays; we must remember that the Welsh poets lived under conditions similar to those under which the troubadours and the trouvères lived, and it was natural that the same environments should produce the same kind of work. The Provençal alba and the French aube, the serenade and other forms, became well known in South Wales and were of course read by the Welsh poets. We find continual references in the poets to “books of love” under the name of llyfr Ofydd, or the “book of Ovid,” and a reference in one of Dafydd ab Gwilym’s poems shows conclusively that one particular llyfr Ofydd was a work of the French poet Chrestien de Troyes. Indeed, one of the commonest names among the poets of this period—the llatai,[1] or love-messenger—may be a Romance word borrowed through the Norman-French from the Italian Galeotto, originally the name of the book of the loves of Galahaad, but afterwards the ordinary word for a go-between. This book of Galeotto, by the way, was the book which taught Paolo and Francesca da Rimini, in Dante’s Divina Commedia, the tragic secret of love.

Another movement also was favourable to the rise of the new Welsh poetry. The iron hand of the church, which had been the censor of poetry for so many centuries, was slowly relaxing its grasp, and the men who a few years before would have sung religious hymns to the Virgin, now laid their tributes at the feet of divine womanhood as they saw it in the Welsh maidens and matrons living among them. The pale queen of heaven no longer held hearts captive; they had transferred their allegiance to the “brow that was as the snow of yesternight,” and “the cheeks that were like the passion-flower.” The Iolo MSS. assert that some time between January 1327 and November 1330 there were held, under the patronage of Ivor Hael, Dafydd ab Gwilym’s patron, and others, the three Eisteddfodau Dadeni, or the Eisteddfods of the Revival of the Muse, to reorganize the bards, and to set in order all matters pertaining to Welsh poetry. The most important bards who are reported as present at some or all of these meetings were Dafydd ab Gwilym, Sion Cent, Rhys Goch of Eryri, and Iolo Goch. It is now, however, generally agreed that this account is a fabrication and that the date of all the poets is later.

Dafydd ab Gwilym is certainly the most distinguished of all the Welsh poets, and were it not for the absolute impossibility of adequately translating his cywyddau he would rank amongst the greatest poets of medieval times. By Dafydd ab Gwilym. far the greater part of his poetry is written in the metre called cywydd, with heptasyllabic lines rhyming in couplets. It was he who imparted so much lustre to this metre that it became the vehicle of all the most important poetry from his time to the 19th century, and he is generally referred to by his contemporaries as the special poet of the cywydd—Dafydd gywydd gwin, “Dafydd of the wine-sweet cywydd.” Most of his poems deal with love in the spirit of the medieval writers of France and of Provence, but with this very important difference, that the French writers must base their reputation on their treatment of love as a theme, whereas Dafydd’s claim to fame is based on his treatment of nature and of out-door life. In many cases, indeed, love is only a conventional peg whereon he may hang his observations on nature, and Welsh literature may claim the distinction of having had its Wordsworth in the 14th century. His treatment of nature is not merely realistic and objective, it has a certain quaint and elusive symbolism and a subjectiveness which come as a revelation to those who are acquainted with the medieval poetry of other nations. Many

  1. Another derivation of this word is from llad, “profit” + hai, a suffix denoting the agent. Others derive it from or connect it with the Irish slad-.