Englyn Form

First up a photo of the snowdrops in my garden. This really ought to have accompanied my last post ‘Spring Englyn’ which you can view here but I hadn’t taken the photo then!


Since writing ‘Spring Englyn’ I have done some more research about the form and it seems I had only discovered the simplified form. What I have written is. I believe, called an Englyn Penfyr where Penfyr means ‘brief ending’. This form was used in verses attributed to a Welsh noblewoman, Heledd, in the 7th Century, in which she lamented the death of her brothers in a battle against the Saxons at Pangwern (modern Shrewsbury).

I came across another website (www.volecentral.co.uk/vf/englyn.htm) which tells me that the Englyn is a Welsh verse form that is very difficult to write. As well as syllable counts there are rhymes to contend with, as demonstrated in my little poem, but they can also have more lines than the three each stanza that I have used. The four line stanza version has syllable counts of 10, 6, 7 and 7 (with the AAAA rhyme pattern). As I mentioned in my previous post the rhyming syllable is before the end of the first line. The information on this web site stipulates that is the 6th syllable. And then there’s the cynghanedd…

“The what?” you ask. Yes, my sentiments exactly. The cynghanedd is a concept apparently peculiar to Celtic poetry and is very difficult to do in English. It is an attribute of a line of poetry. There are several forms of cynghanedd, of which four are relevant to the Englyn. “Each is a tightly specified structural requirement involving rhyme or alliteration, or both”, which may or may not be used in particular positions in the Englyn. (Clear as mud isn’t it.) There is no specific explanation given as to exactly what cynghanedd is so the best I can do is to quote the given example from the above mentioned Vole Central website, with the request that you respect the copyright of the original poet Bob Newman:

In flight, the butterfly knows utter bliss.
Sun today, soon to die,
Full of joy, life on the fly
Scales the void, the scombroid sky.

We are told this example uses all four kinds of cynghanedd although this is not necessary. The first line uses ‘cynghanedd lusg’, the second uses ‘cynghanedd groes’, the third ‘cynghanedd draws’ and the last ‘cynghanedd sain’. As I cannot at this time offer any better explanation on the nature of these variations I suggest anyone interested in having a go at this form studies the rhymes/slant rhymes in the quoted example. Or you could, of course, be content to have a go at the apparently simplified version of the Englyn Penfyr (which should strictly also contain cynghanedd), following the rules given with my Spring Englyn post.

If it is of any comfort the Canadian poet Robert Skelton, who died in 1997, gave examples in his now out of print book ‘The Shapes of Our Singing’ (still available on Amazon) but he does not use strict cynghanedd on the basis that it just doesn’t work as well in English as it does in Welsh. I’m not sure I will attempt the far more complicated rules I have tried to explain here but if you wish to have a go all I can say is Good Luck!


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jules
    Jan 29, 2018 @ 15:53:21

    OK then… I’ve copied the additions for the shorter verse but I think I just can’t wrap around that last bit. Good luck to you if you try.

    Love the snowdrops… none here yet. 🙂


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