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646
[WELSH LITERATURE
CELT

poetry is not necessarily a striving after the uncommon as it too often is in English.

There are some poets included in this period who belong more properly to the last, but even these show signs of the attempt at correctness and distinction which was supplanting the old simplicity. Ieuan ap Rhydderch ab Ieuan Llwyd, who is supposed to be a brother of the Llio Rhydderch of Dafydd Nanmor’s poem, is the author of some cywyddau and other poems addressed to the Virgin, the structure of which shows great skill accompanied by force and clearness. He flourished about 1425. Dafydd ab Meredydd ap Tudur, who flourished about 1420, is the author of a cywydd “to Our Saviour.” About the same time lived Rhys Nanmor, Ieuan Gethin ab Ieuan, and Ieuan Llwyd ab Gwilym. Among the earliest of the poets who belong properly to this period is Meredydd ap Rhys, whose cywyddau are a fair specimen of the generality of poems written in these years. Among the most famous of his works is a cywydd “begging for a fishing-net,” and another giving thanks for the same. We shall find that many of his contemporaries were able to write long and interesting poems on such seemingly dry and uninteresting subjects, but it is vain to look for anything beyond good verse in such compositions. Of poetry, as generally understood, there is none.

The commanding figure in this period is, of course, Dafydd ab Edmwnd, who was a disciple of Meredydd ap Rhys. He bears somewhat the same relation to his contemporaries as Dafydd ab Gwilym does to his, and to strain an Dafydd ab Edmwnd analogy, we might say that as Dryden was to Milton, so Dafydd ab Edmwnd was to Dafydd ab Gwilym. He was regarded by his contemporaries as the greatest poet that North Wales had ever produced, and some would set him up as a rival even to Dafydd ab Gwilym himself. He would probably have produced much greater poetry had he understood that the cywydd and the other metres were strait and shackled enough without the cymeriadau and other devices which he introduced, or at least sanctioned and made popular. He begins many of his cywyddau and odes with the same letter; he is the chief among Welsh formalists, but in spite of his self-imposed restrictions he is a great poet also. His most famous poems are three Cywyddau Merch or “Poems to a Lady,” and his Cywydd i Wallt Merch, “cywydd to a lady’s hair.” He is the author of the lines already quoted: “thy brow,” he sings, “is as the snow of yesternight, and thy cheeks like a shower of roses.” He died about 1480. Dafydd ab Edmwnd’s disciples were Gutyn Owain and Tudur Aled, who was also his nephew. Gutyn Owain lived between 1420 and 1500, and was one of the men appointed by the king’s commissioners to trace, or perhaps to manufacture, the Welsh pedigree of Henry VII. He belonged entirely to the school inaugurated by Dafydd ab Edmwnd, and though he was by no means wanting in imagination, the highest distinction of his verse is its intricacy of form and very often the felicity of his couplets.

Just as the rise of Owen Glyndwr in the beginning of the century had given a new impulse and a new interest to poetry, so in 1485, when Henry VII.—the “little bull” as he is called by the poets—ascended the throne of England, a particular kind of poetry called brud, half history and half prophecy, became popular, and we have in the manuscripts much writing of this description, a good deal of it worthless as poetry. Occasionally, however, some of these “bruts” may claim to be called poetry, especially the compositions of Robin Ddu o Fon, who wrote poems in praise of the Tudors and hailed them as the deliverers of the nation, even before Henry VII. had landed in England, and Dafydd Llwyd ab Llywelyn, whose works deserve to be much better known than they are at present. One of the best cywyddau among his works is the “Address to the Raven,” to whom he promises a right royal feast when the hero whom all Wales is expecting has met his royal enemy. Tudur Aled, too, was a zealous partisan of Henry VII. and wrote many cywyddau in praise of Sir Rhys ap Thomas, the great champion of Henry’s cause in South Wales. He is also famous as having supplemented and made a new recension of Dafydd ab Edmwnd’s rules of poetry in the eisteddfod held at Caerwys in 1524. Tudur Aled has always been more widely known in Wales than almost any other of the earlier poets except Dafydd ab Gwilym. This is perhaps due to the quotability and sententiousness of his couplets. There is a certain refreshing dryness about his poetry which partly makes up for his want of imagination. One of the most interesting poets of this century is Lewis Glyn Cothi, who lived between 1410 and 1490. During the Wars of the Roses he was a zealous Lancastrian, and his bitterest enemies were the men of Chester, who had treated him scurvily while he was there in hiding, and his awdl, satirizing the men of that city, is one of the most vigorous compositions in the language. Indeed, among so many cywyddau of this period in conventional praise of different patrons, it is most refreshing to find such an outburst of sincere personal feeling, boldly and fiercely expressed. He wrote an awdl also rejoicing in the victory of Henry VII. Most of his work, however, consists of cywyddau mawl—praise of patrons—containing weary and unpoetical pedigrees. Gruffydd Hiraethog, who flourished about 1540, was a disciple of Tudur Aled. A fierce poetical dispute raged between him and Sion Brwynog of Anglesey, who was a contemporary of his. About this time there were many poets in Wales who were imitators of Dafydd ab Gwilym, and who did not follow implicitly the lead of Dafydd ab Edmwnd, like those whom we have mentioned. Much of their poetry is feeble, but Bedo Brwynllysg especially stands out from among the rest, and his poetry, though highly imitative and often over fanciful, is of a much higher order than the genealogical poems of Lewis Glyn Cothi and others. In the same way the only poem of any merit of Ieuan Denlwyn printed in the Gorchestion is written in this imitative strain. Other poets of the middle of this period are Deio ap Ieuan Du, Iorwerth Fynglwyd, Lewys Morganwg, Ieuan Brydydd Hir, and Tudur Penllyn, who wrote a superb cywydd to Dafydd ab Siencyn, the outlaw.

Towards the end of the period we begin to breathe a literary atmosphere that is gradually but surely changing,—it is the change from the misty Wales of Roman Catholic times to the modern Wales after the Reformation. The poetical incoherencies of the old metres and the tricks of fancy of the old stylists occasionally form a somewhat incongruous dress for the thoughts of later poets. The old spirit and the glamour were gradually wearing away, only to be momentarily revived in the poetry of Goronwy Owen, nearly two centuries later. Two or three figures, indeed, stand out prominently during these years, among whom are some of the bards ordained penceirddiaid (master-poets) in the second Caerwys Eisteddfod held in 1568, viz. William Llýn, William Cynwal, Sion Tudur, and Sion Phylip. William Llýn (1530?-1580) was a pupil of Gruffydd Hiraethog. His complicated awdlau are marvels of ingenuity, but many of them are on that very account almost unintelligible. He was, however, a complete master of the cywydd, in which he sometimes displays a sense of style and a sweetness of imagery allied to a melodiousness of language unequalled by the other poets of the period. His best-known work is the famous marwnad to his master, Gruffydd Hiraethog. Sion Tudur (d. 1602), also a disciple of G. Hiraethog, was connected in some capacity or other with the cathedral at St Asaph. He is a realist, and delights in giving vivid word pictures in a less fanciful strain than his predecessors. Sion Phylip (1543-1620) wrote a famous marwnad to his father and a cywydd “to a sea-gull,” which is a superb piece of nature-painting in the style of Dafydd ab Gwilym. While dealing with this second Eisteddfod at Caerwys, we may note that Simwnt Fychan’s “Laws of Poetry” were accepted at this festival.

Two poets of this period, whom an English writer describes as “the two filthy Welshmen who first smoked publicly in the streets,” were captains in Queen Elizabeth’s navy, viz. Thomas Prys (d. 1634) of Plas Iolyn, and William Myddleton (1556-1621), called in Welsh Gwilym Canoldref. The former wrote, among other things, humorous cywyddau descriptive of life in London and in the English navy of those days, in a style which was afterwards attempted by Lewys Morys. The work of