DAFYDD AP GWILYM c.1315/20?1350


Dafydd ap Gwilym


Dafydd ap Gwilym is without a doubt the most famous and most accomplished author connected with our area, and it is no suprise that he is acknowledged internationally as one of the finest poets in medieval Europe. Dafydd Llwyd son of Gwilym Gam was almost certainly born in Brogynin near Penrhyn-coch, but the family?s roots were in the cantref of Cemaes in north Pembrokeshire. He may have inherited part of his gift from his poet forebears, Gwynfardd Dyfed and Cuhelyn Fardd (11-12 cent.). Dafydd?s cultured uncle, Llywelyn ap Gwilym, the Constable of Castell-newydd Emlyn, had a hand in his upbringing and education, and it is possible that at some stage Dafydd, like many other of the lesser nobility, received education preparing him for one of the minor ecclesiastical orders. Unfortunately, documentary evidence for his career and means of support is sparse; there is also uncertainty whether he was buried in Strata Florida or in the abbey of Talyllychau. His poems suggest that he received patronage for singing the praises of noblemen: Ifor Hael of Basaleg in Gwent was a key patron, portrayed as an intimate friend. He addressed the literary churchman, Hywel ap Goronwy, Dean of Bangor, and composed elegies for Ieuan Llwyd ab Ieuan Fwyaf of Genau?r Glyn, and members of the family of another Ieuan Llwyd, in the Aeron Valley. There, in Ieuan?s house, was kept the famous anthology known as Llawysgrif Hendregadredd (now in the National Library of Wales), and Daniel Huws has suggested that Dafydd?s own hand is to be seen in that manuscript.

It is clear that Dafydd travelled throughout Wales, and that he was in contact with some of his poetic contemporaries: for example, he exchanged a series of lively debate poems with Gruffudd Gryg. It is perhaps in his love poetry that we feel we come to know him best, as we share the highs and lows of his long relationship with Morfudd, the passionate ?glowing ember? who became the wife of Cynfrig Cynin, known also as Y Bwa Bach ?the Little Bowed Man? (or, according to David Jenkins, the nickname may have referred to his involvement with the production of bows). We also hear of the dark-haired aristocratic Dyddgu from Tywyn near Cardigan, and many other unnamed girls with whom he desires to share the pleasures of love in the outdoor antiworld, the ?house of leaves?. He is at his most entertaining when he portrays himself as the bungler who is always thwarted on his missions of love ? whether by geese, by a jealous husband, or by the alarm raised by the English hucksters in his most famous poem, ?Trafferth mewn Tafarn? (?Trouble in the Tavern?). But an underlying unease is evident in many of his poems, as he reflects on old age, and the transience of life and its pleasures. It is not known for certain whether Dafydd survived the Black Death which ravaged Ceredigion for the first time in 1349.

Dafydd ap Gwilym?s poems are prized for their lexical richness. In addition to the poetic vocabulary inherited from his predecessors who sang in the royal courts, he exploited a huge range of modern words, often technical, which were recent borrowings from French and English. These new words facilitated the correspondences required by the cynghanedd system, and they were often given a spin and used in vivid metaphors, especially in descriptions of the natural world. It was Dafydd who was the main pioneer of the cywydd form (rhyming couplets of seven syllables), developing too the device of the sangiad (or ?aside?) which enabled him to weave together a multiplicity of takes on his subject. He also took up some of the sub-literary or popular themes and forms of his day including imported genres such as the pastourelle and the serenade. There is no doubt that his fresh and sophisticated works had a great appeal for the cultured, multilingual nobility; it is also clear that poets contemporary with him, and those of the following centuries, acknowledged him as a groundbreaking figure.

Texts of his poems (some 167), with Modern Welsh translations and much background information, can be found at Dafydd ap Gwilym's website.

English translations are being added to the website. Meanwhile, the most recent English translations can be found in Gwyn Thomas, Dafydd ap Gwilym: His Poems (Cardiff, 2001). Of special interest to readers in our area are the poems numbered on the dafyddapgwilym.net as 7 (Elegy for Ieuan Llwyd ab Ieuan Fwyaf of Genau?r Glyn), 51 (?The Wave on the River Dyfi?), 92 (?Morfudd and Dyddgu?), 96 (?A Journey to Woo?, a cywydd which mentions many local place-names), 115 (?The Sullying of the Girl?s Countenance?), 116 (?On Desiring to Kill the Jealous Husband?), 120 (?Choosing One Girl out of Four?, a poem describing Morfudd ?the star of Nantyseri?, Dyddgu, Elen the wife of Robin Nordd who ran a wool business in Aberystwyth, and an unnamed woman), 137 (?The Girls of Llanbadarn?), and 143 (?A Reluctant Girl?).