Dafydd, Gwilym ap
Dafydd ap Gwilym c. 1320-c. 1380
Medieval Welsh poet.
The following entry provides criticism on Dafydd's poetry from 1978 through 1995.
Dafydd ap Gwilym is recognized as one of the most innovative European poets of the Middle Ages. His refined and erudite verse introduced a unique brand of poetry into the turbulent society of Wales during the aftermath of its loss of independence. While drawing on the contemporary elements of bardic poetry, his themes of love and nature embedded in original metric forms was a revolutionary technique. Though his work is relatively obscure outside of Wales today, largely due to difficulties in translation, Dafydd is still recognized as a radical poet of great significance in his era.
Much of the information known regarding the life of Dafydd ap Gwilym has been inferred from his own poetic writings and those of his contemporaries. Verifiable historical data is scarce from this period, but it is estimated that Dafydd was born circa 1320 at Brogynin in Wales. A few years later, he and his parents moved to nearby Llanbadarn Fawr, Aberystwyth. His father, Gwilym Gam ap Gwilym, traced his ancestry to Gwynfardd Dyfed, who is reputed to have sired numerous families in southwest Wales. Dafydd came from a family of fair wealth that included several high government officials under the English crown. As such, he was a self-described member of the “clêr,” or peripatetic intellectuals of affluent families, never possessing nor needing a steady occupation. He appears to have traveled extensively throughout Wales and Anglesey visiting friends throughout his life; however, only one poem, centered in Chester, indicates he ever journeyed beyond the borders of the country. Much of his work suggests he generally remained near Aberystwyth for the greater part of his life, very close to where he spent his childhood. Dafydd was known to have been closely acquainted with contemporary poets Gruffudd ab Adda, Madog Benfras, and Gruffudd Gryg, among others. However it was his uncle, Llywelyn ap Gwilym, who is credited as having the greatest influence on Dafydd's development as a writer. The constable of Newcastle Emlyn, Llywelyn was responsible for his early education as well as his introduction to traditional bardic work and romantic Anglo-Norman poetry—the amalgamation of which comprised Dafydd's later work and gained him his infamy. Dafydd died around 1380 and was buried at Strata Florida monastery, near Pontrhydfendigaid. Though the building itself is now in ruins, a slate memorial remains there, dedicated to the native poet.
Dafydd ap Gwilym is best known for his utilization of cywydd, or a contemporaneous form of metric poetry consisting of couplets of seven-syllabled lines, rhyming asymmetrically. As one of the greatest proponents of what was a newly-developed style, he played a vital role in its rapid evolution into a popular and accepted form of praise-poetry, gaining timeless esteem. Dafydd generally tailored his own cywyddau to thirty to sixty lines, almost always focusing on his two passions: love and nature. These themes have become synonymous with his work, appearing most often together in scenarios of romantic affairs taking place in idealistic woodland settings. His characteristic plot entails his building a shelter of leaves or branches to which he retreats with his lover—generally the golden-haired Morfudd or the dark-haired Dyddgu—as a haven from the conventions of society. In these poems, it is very difficult to distinguish to what extent Dafydd is speaking of reality or his imagination, as it is believed that much of his work was fantasies on his own love life. However, ultimately it is the forest setting itself which is his true focus. Dafydd often invented “love-messengers” in the form of various woodland animals or natural forces, in which he incorporated the stylistic technique of dyfalu, or a protracted depiction of an entity through an extended string of similes or comparisons, also closely linked to the development of cywydd. Through these heralds, Dafydd was able to fully convey his ardor for nature and exploit his creative imagery. In one of his most famous poems, “The Wind,” thirty of the poem's thirty-five lines are devoted to the personification of the title “character” while persuading it to fly faster to the poet's mistress. Dafydd's contribution to cywydd and dyfalu was a true revolution in fourteenth-century Welsh poetry, inspiring contemporaneous poets to rise to a new level of imagination and style.
Dafydd's critical reception in his own time may only be deduced from elegies composed for him by his contemporaries, such as Gruffudd Gryg, Iolo Goch, and Madog Benfras. His work was initially condemned for its departure from traditional verse and its introduction of irrelevant and inappropriate personal sentiments. However, following a lengthy heated written debate among his contemporaries, Dafydd was finally recognized as the master of a new love poetry, deemed an “architect of words” and an “architect of song.” Today, Dafydd's work has not been widely acclaimed outside of Wales primarily due to difficulty in translation. Alteration of the metric flow of the poetry as well as loss of meaning through inexact phrasing has caused the English version to dull the brilliance of the original text, written over six centuries ago. However, those modern critics who have successfully analyzed Dafydd's writing have extolled it for its considerable ingenuity and comparative importance in the historical development of European poetry, especially in the areas of love poetry, informal addresses to fellow poets, and objective verse.
Barddoniaeth Dafydd ab Gwilym (edited by Owen Jones, William Owen, and Edward Williams) 1789
Cywyddau Dafydd ap Gwilym a'i Gyfoeswyr (edited by Ifor Williams and Thomas Roberts) 1914; revised edition 1935
Gwaith Dafydd ap Gwilym (edited by Thomas Parry) 1952; revised edition 1979
The Oxford Book of Welsh Verse [contributor] (edited by Thomas Parry) 1962
Fifty Poems (translated by H. I. Bell and David Bell) 1942
A Celtic Miscellany [contributor] (translated by K. Jackson) 1951
The Burning Tree (translated by Gwyn Williams) 1956
Medieval Welsh Lyrics [contributor] (translated by J. P. Clancy) 1965
The Penguin Book of Welsh Verse [contributor] (translated by A. Conran) 1967
The Oxford Book of Welsh Verse in English [contributor] (edited by Gwyn Jones) 1977
Twenty-five Poems by Dafydd ap Gwilym (translated by Nigel Heseltine) 1982
Dafydd ap Gwilym: A Selection of Poems (translated by Rachel Bromwich) 1985
House of Leaves (translated by Rachel Bromwich) 1993
Dafydd ap Gwilym: His Poems (translated by Gwyn Thomas) 2001
(The entire section is 144 words.)
SOURCE: Fulton, Helen. “The Love Poetry of Dafydd ap Gwilym.” Aumla, no. 49 (May 1978): 22-37.
[In the following essay, Fulton compares and contrasts the poetry of Dafydd ap Gwilym to that of Chaucer, suggesting that while both are creative yet traditionalist, Dafydd distinguishes himself with his unique praise-poetry of love and nature.]
In retrospect, the literary scene in fourteenth century Britain seems dominated by the figure of Chaucer. His poetry marked a new phase in the native tradition, reviving it with new blood from France, and establishing the English language finally as a major literary medium. But in another part of Britain, a poet writing in a different language was simultaneously making a vital contribution to the poetic tradition of his own people. He was the Welsh poet Dafydd ap Gwilym.1
Just as Chaucer was both conservative and innovatory in his contribution to English poetry, so Dafydd continued and yet modified the existing poetic models of Wales. Unlike Chaucer, however, he inherited a centuries-old tradition of formal praise-poetry, composed by a socially important class of professional bards writing for royal and aristocratic patrons.2 Conservative and backward-looking by nature, the bards continued to use the same metres and themes as their predecessors even after the fall of the royal families and the loss of Welsh independence. By the...
(The entire section is 6106 words.)
SOURCE: Bromwich, Rachel. “The Earlier Cywyddwyr: Poets Contemporary with Dafydd ap Gwilym.” In A Guide to Welsh Literature, pp. 144-60. Wales: Christopher Davies Ltd., 1979.
[In the following excerpt, Bromwich analyzes the metre of the works of Dafydd and his contemporaries, and its societal and artistic implications.]
The following lively fragment describing a horse is quoted in each of the four early versions of the Bardic Grammar as an example of the metre cywydd deuair hirion, which was to become the increasingly favoured medium of fourteenth-century poets:...
|Breichffyrf, archgrwn, byr ei flew,||Strong of foreleg, round-chested, short-haired,|
|Llyfn, llygadrwth, pedreindew,||Sleek, keen-eyed, thick-haunched,|
|Cyflwydd coflaid, cyrch amcaff,||Victorious darling, greedy for oats,|
|Cyflym, cefnfyr, carn geugraff,||Swift, short-backed, firm and hollow-hoofed,|
|Cyflawn o galon a chig,||Fulfilled in spirit and in flesh,|
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SOURCE: Knight, Stephen. “Welsh Poetic's Well-Shaped Art.” Journal of European Studies 11, no. 41 (March 1981): 18-28.
[In the following essay, Knight highlights the key attributes of Dafydd's work within the context of various translations and their ensuing repercussions.]
This paper discusses problems and possibilities in translating a poem by Dafydd ap Gwilym, widely regarded as the greatest Welsh poet. The wit and beauty of Dafydd's themes and the subtlety of his poetic form make his work both fascinating and difficult to translate—impossible to translate, in the opinion of some Welsh poets and critics. Various attempts have been made in the past, however, and I believe they can be improved upon in a number of ways.
Dafydd ap Gwilym was writing in the fourteenth century; 1320-80 is usually accepted as an estimate of his life span. He came from a fairly noble family, closely connected with the Anglo-French administration of South Wales; his father's name Gwilym, the Welsh form of Guillaume, goes back a good way in his pedigree and may imply some French blood. Poetry was also in the family; Dafydd's uncle Llywelyn ap Gwilym was constable of the castle at Castellnewydd Emlyn and also, according to Dafydd, a fine and learned poet.1 It was presumably he who educated Dafydd in the themes and forms of Welsh versification, which reached back in unbroken, self-conscious...
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SOURCE: Johnston, David. “The Serenade and the Image of the House in the Poems of Dafydd ap Gwilym.” Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies no. 5 (summer 1983): 1-19.
[In the following essay, Johnston comments on the significance of the house and its prominence in Dafydd's narrative serenades.]
A serenade is a poem addressed by a lover to his beloved as he stands outside her house begging to be let in. Dafydd ap Gwilym's work contains only one example of the genre, “Dan y Bargod” (89).1 There are however a number of poems describing Dafydd's nocturnal visits to the girl's house in the past tense, which might be called narrative serenades. I shall discuss the following poems: “Amnaid” (40), “Y Ffenestr” (64), “Tri Phorthor Eiddig” (80), “Dan y Bargod” (89), “Y Rhew” (91), and “Caru yn y Gaeaf” (145).2 The house itself is of central significance in all these poems. On no occasion does Dafydd succeed in entering it. Its role is an ambiguous one, ranging from that of hostile fortification to that of potentially sheltering sanctuary. This ambiguity is closely connected with the wide variety of tone which is to be found both within the serenade group as a whole and, particularly in the case of “Caru yn y Gaeaf,” within the individual poem. Broadly speaking, the tone is at its most humorous when the girl is welcoming and the house acts as a hindrance...
(The entire section is 8171 words.)
SOURCE: Loesch, Katharine T. “Welsh Bardic Poetry and Performance in the Middle Ages.” In Performance of Literature in Historical Perspectives, pp. 185-90. Maryland: University Press of America, Inc., 1983.
[In the following excerpt, Loesch provides a rough background of Dafydd and illustrates some of his most famous verses.]
Dafydd ap Gwilym still stands as the greatest poet that ever wrote in Welsh and as one of the greatest of medieval poets. He lived from about 1320 to about 1380 and is said to be buried under the great spreading yew that still grows among the ruins of Strata Florida, the Cistercian Abbey where many of the princes and nobles of the south of Wales are buried and where many manuscripts were copied. He belongs to a period in Welsh history and medieval history generally which is both exciting and elusive.
Dafydd ap Gwilym was entirely a strict meter poet; the innovations in his poetry were in content rather than form. The innovations had mainly to do with love and with nature, often together. They may have been influenced by a lower stratum of non-bardic poets in Wales, or by the Provençal troubadours via Anglo-Norman, or perhaps by earlier occasional ventures of the Gogynfeirdd. Dafydd viewed love naturally, not romantically as in the courtly troubadour sense, and often even in a comic perspective, especially in winter settings where physical obstructions...
(The entire section is 1728 words.)
SOURCE: Fulton, Helen. “Living the Good Life: A Medieval Fantasy.” The Anglo-Welsh Review 80 (1985): 76-85.
[In the following essay, Fulton correlates Dafydd with Colin Muset, a thirteenth-century French poet and musician, citing similarities in their themes of the “good life” and their functionality in addressing social inequalities.]
Dafydd ap Gwilym and Colin Muset are two poets distanced in place and time. Colin Muset was singing in eastern France in the first half of the thirteenth century, while Dafydd was a Welsh bard composing in the second half of the fourteenth century.
The work of the two poets is comparable, however, in two ways—because of their similar status as entertainers, and because of their social contexts. Colin Muset was a professional jongleur, dependent on noble patrons for a living, and moving from court to town to entertain audiences. Little is known of Colin's life, but he addressed his poems primarily to the ranks of the urban nobility, rather than to the feudal aristocracy.
The uchelwyr class of which Dafydd was a member represented a similar social rank. The old native aristocracy of Wales had steadily declined since the conquest of Wales in 1284, and the new aristocracy comprised English and Norman overlords subject to the English crown. The uchelwyr were the educated Welsh upper class who administered the...
(The entire section is 3268 words.)
SOURCE: Fulton, Helen. “Dafydd ap Gwilym and Intertextuality.” Leeds Studies in English 20 (1989): 65-86.
[In the following essay, Fulton explores the concept of intertextuality, or the idea that writings refer only to each other and not directly to reality, and how it operates in Dafydd's work.]
One of the unique aspects of Early English Literature and Language studies at the University of Sydney under the professorship of Leslie Rogers has been the promotion of modern English courses—including grammar and semiotics—alongside more traditional courses in Old and Middle English.1 Such a combination has encouraged the practice of looking at medieval texts from the point of view of modern literary theory, rather than simply as philological curiosities or as ‘words on the page’ in need of close textual analysis. While acknowledging that the poems of Dafydd ap Gwilym amply reward a close reading, I would also suggest that a consideration of their wider social and literary context significantly expands the range of possible meanings available to us. The aim of this paper, then, is to examine the relationships between Dafydd's poems, other medieval literature, and contemporary Welsh society.
It is one of the central principles of current literary theory that texts construct their own reality.2 This constructed reality refers only to other texts and not to the...
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SOURCE: Davies, Morgan T. “‘Aed i'r coed i dorri cof’: Dafydd ap Gwilym and the Metaphorics of Carpentry.” Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies, no. 30 (1995): 67-86.
[In the following essay, Davies traces the use of carpentry as a metaphor in various genres of literature, centering his argument around the way Dafydd ap Gwilym may have been influenced to use such a metaphor in his own works.]
In the first cywydd of his ymryson with Gruffudd Gryg, Dafydd ap Gwilym responds to Gruffudd's opening attack with various countercharges of his own. Among the more substantive of these is his accusation that Gruffudd is derivative, a plagiarist, a poet who can only repeat poems composed by other bards. Thus, near the end of the poem, Dafydd terms his opponent ‘craig lefair beirdd’1—‘the echo-stone of poets’—a metaphor that suggests not only the passively imitative character of Gruffudd's poetry but also the inert, insentient character of the poet himself. But it is some twenty lines earlier, in a trope developed at much greater length and in much greater detail, that Dafydd levels this charge in the most interesting and far-reaching way:
Ni chân bardd yma i hardd hin Gywydd gyda'i ddeg ewin, Na chano Gruffudd, brudd braw, Gwedd erthwch, gywydd wrthaw. Pawb a wnâi adail pybyr O chaid gwydd a iechyd gwyr; Haws yw cael, lle bo gwael gwydd, Siwrnai dwfn, saer...
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Bromwich, Rachel. “Dafydd ap Gwilym.” In A Guide to Welsh Literature, edited by A. O. H. Jarman and Gwilym Rees Hughes, pp. 112-43. Wales: Christopher Davies Ltd., 1979.
Provides a lengthy background on Dafydd's life and work.
Breeze, Andrew. “‘Bear the Bell’ in Dafydd ap Gwilym and Troilus and Criseyde.” Notes and Queries 237, no. 4 (December 1992): 441-43.
Discusses the metaphor “Bear the Bell,” found in both Troilus and Criseyde and Dafydd's work.
———. “Dafydd ap Gwilym's ‘The Clock’ and Foliot ‘Decoy Bird’ in The Owl and the Nightingale.” Notes and Queries 238, no. 4 (December 1993): 439-40.
Analyzes the term “foliot” and its usage in “The Clock” and The Owl and the Nightingale.
———. “Chaucer's ‘Malkin’ and Dafydd ap Gwilym's ‘Mald y Cwd.’” Notes and Queries 240, no. 2 (June 1995): 159-60.
Comments on the origins of the character names of “Malkin” and “Mald y Cwd.”
Bromwich, Rachel. “Tradition and Innovation in the Poetry of Dafydd ap Gwilym.” In Aspects of the Poetry of Dafydd ap Gwilym, pp. 57-88. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1986.
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