Exercise - Cynghanedd (Inner Harmony)

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Exercise - Cynghanedd (Inner Harmony)

Post by Amadeus » Tue Jan 05, 2010 8:38 pm

I thought I'd post an introduction into the world of Cynghanedd, which is a form of Welsh poetry, and within the Welsh literature community, is regarded as the highest form, and the most difficult to master. National Eistoddfodau (literature competitions) devote entire section to just this form.

Some English writers have attempted to use this form in their writing, most famously Gerard Manley Hopkins, William Barnes, Katherine Bryant, and Dylan Thomas (who although being Welsh, was not a Welsh speaker). The problem with writing Cynhanedd in English is that it can often be awkward to complete the line of cynghanedd properly, or freely, in that the Welsh language tends to lend itself better to the form. However, as an exercise it can be interesting to try and focus more on harmonising lines of poetry within themselves, and not just with a subsequent line.

For the purposes of this exercise, I will try and explain it with both English and Welsh writings. Assuming that the majority of posters don't speak Welsh, it doesn't necessarily matter if the meaning of what is written is not understood, as its the way in which it's written is important.

There are four forms of Cynghanedd - Groes (cross-harmony), draws (also cross-harmony, but with a slight difference), sain (sound) and lusg (drag). Masters of cynghanedd often float between all four during the course of one of their poems.

Cynghanedd Groes (Cross Harmony)

Cross harmony is acheived by having all the consonants surrounding the main stressed vowel before the caesura being repeated after it in the exactly the same order, but the final consonants of the final words of each half of the line, and also the main stressed vowel of each half being different.

A mi'n glaf er mwyn gloywferch,
- Huw Arwystyl - 'I'r bad neu'r cwrogl'

This line is a perfect example in Welsh of cynghanedd groes. to see how it is achieved, pick out every consonant in the line, and see the order that they follow.

A mi'n glaf er / mwyn gloywferch

*Note - the vowell/consonants of English don't completely correspond with the Welsh language, and hence why w and y are not highlighted as consonants, as they are in fact Welsh vowels.*

Hopkins gives a good example of Groes in his poem 'The Wreck of the Deutschland'

Of the Yore-flood, of the year's fall

Again, if pick out the consonants and note their order.

Of the Yore-floo(d), / of the year'(s) fall

The consonants are presented in the first half of the line with the order f, t, h, y, y, f, and l, and repeated after the caesura in exactly the same order. Note that d and s are bracetted. This is because they are irregular to the form. According to W.H. Gardner, there are no absolutely perfect examples of Cynghanedd in Hopkins' work.

Cynghanedd Draws (also Cross-Harmony)
Cynghanedd draws works on a similar principle to groes, in that the sequence of consonants are repeated in the second half of the line. There can be any number of unanswered consonants in the second part of the line, as long as the initial sequence of consonants and accent is repeated.

Rhowch wedd wen dan orchudd iâ
- R. Williams Parry

Rhowch wedd / wen dan orchudd

Note the additional consonants in the line, and that the order of the initial sequence is repeated in the second half.

Again Hopkins gives an example:

Warm-laid grave of a / womb-life grey

Cynghanedd Sain - Sound Harmony

Cynghanedd sain is split into three sections with two caesurae. The first and second halves of the line rhyme, and the second and third are linked by groes or draws.

Ac egin gwin a gwenith

If we split this into three sections, we can see sain in action

Ac egin / gwin / a gwenith

The first two parts rhyme by [-in], and the last two parts make cynghanedd groes by consonants [g, n].

Hopkins wrote:

The down-dugged ground-hugged grey

[ ... -dugged / gr ... -hugged / gr ... ]

Cynghanedd Lusg - Drag Harmony

In cynghanedd lusg, the final syllable of the first half of the line rhymes with the penultimate syllable of the main stressed symbol of the second half.

duw er ei radd a'i addef
- Gwerful Mechain - Cywydd y Cedor

duw er ei radd / a'i addef


And frightful a nightfall / folded rueful a day

Cynghanedd is a big field of study, and one that still mashes my head even after years of browsing over it. However, as writers it can be interesting for us to find new ways in which to write a line. Personally I would find it incredibly difficult to write an entire English language poem in cynhanedd. But, for particular line, or short haiku or even imagism poetry, the form lends itself very well.

How about posting a line of cynghanedd of your own on these boards, and seeing how you can harmonise your lines?

Below, I have included some links that make interesting reading:


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Re: Exercise - Cynghanedd (Inner Harmony)

Post by Ros » Thu Jan 07, 2010 9:45 pm

I think this is fascinating stuff, Amadeus. It's not a form of poetry I had come across before. The cross harmony part reminds me of anglo-saxon poetry. I'll have a go when I have time to study it properly. Thanks for posting the info.

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Re: Exercise - Cynghanedd (Inner Harmony)

Post by k-j » Sun Jan 10, 2010 8:48 am

I think I first learned about cynghanedd here on PG from you, Amadeus. It's a fascinating, daunting and slightly mind-boggling form that I would love to have a go at - but it's just so hard!

It's like chess with words. At least in English it is. I can imagine that if you get it right it sounds perfect, effortless, and so euphonious, but is it even possible to get it right in English? I'm not sure Hopkins did (nice tries, though).

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