This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Nuts and Bolts: cynghanedd.

So what is this poetry thing, anyway?

As far as I'm concerned, poetry is the stuff that doesn't get as far as the right-hand margin. Having to start new lines all the time means that you read more slowly, and it also gives a bit of a thump to the beginning of the line. This means you can make the rest of the stuff sound quite jiggy.

If that sounds simple, well, perhaps English poetry is. French poetry works rather differently, and so do Japanese haiku; but the cleverest and most complicated way of making poetry in the world is said (and by no less an authority than the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics) to be Welsh poetry of the sort called  cynghanedd.

Cynghanedd was first written in the 1300s and is still practised today. Some English-language poets have had a go at it, too.

Cynghanedd is mind-boggling stuff. For instance, in one form of cynghanedd all the consonants surrounding the main stressed vowel in the first half of a line must be repeated in the second half. But, on the other hand, the final consonants of each half of the line must be different.

In another form each line is divided into three. The first two bits rhyme, and the third repeats the consonants of the second.

In yet another form (there are quite a few) the last syllable of the first half of the line rhymes with the last but one syllable of the second half.

Cynghanedd is to be found in poems at the National Eisteddfod. I'm completely amazed at the cleverness needed to write the stuff.

It's solved one problem, though: I realise now that the reason their great poets wear sheets on their heads:

Duke and Duchess of York, dressed in the robes of the 'Gorsedd of the Bards' at the National Eisteddfod of Wales in 1931

is because no one makes hats big enough.

Thing to marvel at today: cynghanedd. This word is the Welsh for harmony.



  1. "Poetry is the stuff that doesn't get as far as the right-hand margin" is absolutely brilliant, and I will try to remember it.

    Jamie Oliver made a good point about school dinners, but of more fundamental importance is the need for young kids to have poetry explained to them by a fun teacher who uses words like 'jiggy.'

    Especially welsh kids. This post explains a lot about that strange little British peninsula.


    1. Oh, Clueless, that's so kind. Thank you.
      Actually, though...I think a teacher might get struck off for using the word jiggy, don't you?

    2. I suppose, unless Will Smith was the headmaster. How cool would that school be? Jamie in the kitchen, Will at the helm, Sally teaching English and I'm sure we could coerce Stallone to take on P.E.

    3. Will Smith?
      The only trouble is that I doubt I'd be able to do more than make a noise like a tele-printer. That wouldn't stop me applying for the job, though.