25 January 2020 – St Dwynwen's Day

There’s an embarrassment of riches today for folklore, even before you factor in my friends John and Marc both holding their birthday parties tonight (sadly too far between to go to both). Warshaver would be having a field day with his three levels. Today is Burns Night (may all your hurdies be like distant hills), and Chinese New Year (go Rats!), and the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul (hate to say it but it’s been foggy) and St Dwynwen’s Day. 

St Dwynwen, the Welsh equivalent of St Valentine, had a soft spot for true love (despite not having the best of times herself). So, as Everyday Lore is a writing project as well as a folklore one, I thought to myself, why not write a short love poem using Welsh bardic form? I mean how difficult can it be? This is me obviously forgetting how terrible I am at understanding how poetry works, let alone how bad I am when I actually write it. I’m thinking that my burnt clarity-labelled bay leaf from yesterday is yet to start working.

So I begin to research Welsh poetry form. I can’t find any reference in my academic poetry books, so I go online. Let’s just say there are far too many poetry websites written in comic sans. 

I settle on attempting an englyn cyrch, a four line stanza made up from two cywydd couplets – a cywydd deuair hirion and an awdl gywydd, thinking I can do some sort of romantic greeting card poem. Englyn cyrchs are a bit haiku-ish in that they have a strict syllable count. They also have a particular stress and rhyme scheme too. In this particular englyn variation, the scheme looks like this with 7 syllables per line:

xxxxxxA (stressed)
xxxxxXa (unstressed)
xxxxxxB
xxBxxxA

At this point, despite reading some very complicated examples, I am still undaunted. I’m giving myself an hour to write this poem as I have Other Life that needs attending to. I start my timer. And then go on Twitter for five minutes. And then spend another five minutes trying to find the perfect poetry writing music. And then, as I finally stare at the blank page in my notebook, I remember, I’m not in the least bit romantic. I’ve never been good at the gushy stuff. And now I’m writing a poem about the gushy stuff. With a syllable count. I go on Twitter a bit more. Then look up a recipe for mapo tofu in case it’s not too late to swap to doing something for Chinese New Year, before falling down a delightful rabbit hole full of CNY myths. 

But eventually, given that St Dwynwen is also the patron saint of sick animals, I write a paean to the fat old scratch who lives under my desk and defiles my carpet on a regular basis. It’s bad, don’t be expecting anything else, but it’s all I could think of:

I don’t love your stinky face
Gammy eyes I can’t erase
Leaky arse and needle claws
But I pause and can’t replace

Not sure if St Dwynwen would approve. And despite my ridiculous procrastination tactics and my lack of aptitude, I did find writing the englyn rather fun. I will probably try it again at some point, just not have the poem love themed. Happy St Dwynwen’s Day!

Ps. When I wasn’t doing poetry today, I was in a windmill. Didn’t see any mice wearing clogs, but I’m still hopeful…


Resources

Cooper, Q. and Sullivan, P. (1994) Maypoles, Martyrs & Mayhem: 366 Days of British Myths, Customs & Eccentricities, London, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

Evans, G. and Fulton, H. (eds) (2019) The Cambridge History of Welsh Literature, Cambridge University Press

Roud, S. (2006) The English Year: A Month-By-Month Guide To The Nation’s Customs and Festivals, From May Day to Mischief Night, London, Penguin Books

https://museum.wales/articles/2014-06-14/St-Dwynwens-Day/

https://www.visitwales.com/info/history-heritage-and-traditions/st-dwynwens-day

https://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/zoebrigley/entry/the_measures_of_1/

https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2009/nov/27/poster-poems-englynion

http://www.medievalchester.ac.uk/texts/welshmetre.html

https://www.scotland.org/events/burns-night

https://chinesenewyear.net

https://www.theguardian.com/food/2018/oct/27/mushroom-mapo-tofu-recipe-meera-sodha

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