Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Croeso i Gymru!

Hello, everyone!  Grace here.  I promised you we'd step away from those French formats, so we're heading north to the lovely and tricky regions of Wales. We'll be spending some time here, much like our little French leave of the previous challenges, so go ahead and get settled in.

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, the Awdl Gywydd.

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.
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.

Now, with this sort of inspiration, what are you going to link up this week?


Mary Ann Potter said...

This is quite a challenge, and I look forward to trying it! There is a uniquely beautiful rhythm to these samples.

Kerry O'Connor said...

Definitely not something to rattle off in one day...not for me at any rate. I'll have to give this some thought.

Kay L. Davies said...

A definite challenge, and with all those ancient Welsh ancestors watching!
The wonderful musical, lyrical Welshmen — damn their internal rhyme schemes! LOL
Yes, this is going to require some thinking, probably some studying. Thanks for the links, Grace.

Kay, Alberta, Canada
An Unfittie’s Guide to Adventurous Travel

Anonymous said...

Ok, with a name like that I just had to try the format. I did have a little thing with the half-rhymes, which seemed to want to huddle nearer the beginning than the middle of some lines. End rhymes aren't exactly what I'd call perfect either... But, I had fun. Thanks for the challenge!

Grace O'Malley said...

I've posted my first attempt at this, only two stanzas long. I will be revisiting this form all week, I think I'm falling in love with it. Wretched, convoluted love.

Mrs.Trellis said...

My kinder side rose to the top, and I allowed Trellissimo to add his poetic attempt to the post I'd just written. He does elbow his way in everywhere...But then, he is a bit of a toad, to tell the truth...

Mary Ann Potter said...

Done with one version! A nifty challenge and a form that I'll use in a longer poem next time; my first effort is only four lines. I'm still having trouble with connecting and linking; my poem along with others is on the page called "Magpie Tales and Starcatcher Poetry" --- click on the link under my blog header. 8-)

Mike Patrick said...

Not as easy as it looked, but still fun.

Grace O'Malley said...

It's NEVER as easy as it looks. I blame the seven syllable limit, ugh.

Marian said...

okay, this was hard to get my brain to settle on, but now? i think i love it, too. damn you pirate grace! oops, i mean xoxo pirate grace!

Ella said...

Grace, when my head cold is a bit better, I am going to give this a try. It is a tough challenge~

Liz Rice-Sosne said...

This is way to difficult for me to even contemplate ... just working freeform on The Ball at Willow Manor took me a better part of the day!

Though I must say I have read a number of these as products of the prompt and they are quite beautiful.

Grace O'Malley said...

Dear number 8, Lillian Thomas? Your blog appears to require permissions...

Meaning, you've linked but not everyone can read. Can you adjust your parameters for this link, please?

Jinksy said...

This has been haunting me since I first read the post, so I thought this morning I'd better have a go!

Peter Goulding said...

Sorry, very late. I kept trying to find a rhythm in the seven syllables but it only has rhythm if the first syllable is a strong one (not 'as' or 'the')

Emerging Writer said...

Hi Grace, this is a new one on me. Would you be willing to let me re-publish this as a guest post on writing.ie? With links and all that. Thanks

Grace O'Malley said...

I'd be grateful if you did! Especially if it drew even more poets into the challenge's web. Plus, I think the Welsh formats are strict and beautiful and not often messed with these days...

Emerging Writer said...

Great. Thanks for that. It's schedule for 15th.

Grace O'Malley said...

Here's attempt number two, if anyone is still reading! I've had a lot of fun with this format.

Marian said...

i wrote another one. someone stop me!

Kerry O'Connor said...

Yes, I'm still reading, and still working on mine. Should be ready next week sometime.

Kerry O'Connor said...

Better late than never.. linked to the Wednesday challenge too.