Welsh - Dafydd ap Gwilym - Offeren y Llwyn

‘The Woodland Mass’: summary

Dafydd ap Gwilym is regarded as one of the greatest of all the Welsh poets. Although we know very little about him, he was probably born ca. 1320 inland from Aberystwyth. He is famous for the outstanding quality of his verse which was mainly composed in cywydd-metre (thus he belongs to a large group of poets known as cywyddwyr ‘men of the cywydd’). The cywydd was a form of verse which emerges in Wales in the early fourteenth century of which he was one of the most illustrious practitioners. The verse has the form of a rhyming-couplet, each of two seven-syllable lines in which the final words rhyme — but the rhyme has to be between a one-syllable and a two-syllable word. In addition, each line has a complex pattern of repeating pattern of consonantal alliteration. Taking the fourth couplet of our poem:

  1. Pellennig, pwyll ei annwyd,
  2. Pell ei siwrnai’r llatai llwyd.

We see that, in addition to the end-rhyme between annwyd and llwyd, there is a repetition of the consonantal structure of pellennig in pwyll ei annwyd. The beginning of the line is then echoed in the pell of the next line, and then in the second line there is internal rhyme between siwrnai and llatai and alliteration between llatai and llwyd. Dafydd ap Gwilym’s poetry ranges across many subjects. Often at their core are love and nature. In this particular poem, Morfudd, one of the women with whom he is constantly in love, has sent a thrush as a love-messenger (Welsh llatai). This is a common device — to send a bird or some other feature of the natural world to take a message to one’s beloved. The thrush with the help of a nightingale then celebrates Mass in the forest. Although at first sight it may seem parodic, Dafydd turns the ornithological Mass into a hymn of praise for the Creator. Further discussion and some images of the manuscripts of the poem can be found at: daffyddapgwilym.net (poem 39).