Welsh literature: The Fourteenth to the Seventeenth Centuries

The 14th cent. was a golden age in South Wales. Dafydd ap Gwilym, considered by many to be the greatest Welsh poet, broke the classical eulogistic traditions of the bards and established new horizons. Dafydd was influenced by Provençal poetry, but his verse was more informal and spontaneous. With a simpler, more personal diction and a fuller cognizance of nature than had been present in Welsh verse, he elevated love poetry over the eulogistic variety.

Dafydd influenced Welsh poetry for 200 years, inaugurating the Cywyddwyr period named after the cywydd meter (a 7-syllable rhymed couplet with alternating endings in masculine and feminine genders), which he introduced. This poetry achieved perfection in the 15th cent. and declined after the mid-16th. The bards overlaid the cywydd with an excessively formal, alliterative style, as they did with the more natural, spontaneous English poetry that began to be popular in the 16th cent.

After the 16th cent., social and political changes in Wales had marked effects, especially the anglicization of the Welsh gentry and the gradual decline of patronage for the native language. Influence from religious sources grew. Early modern Welsh prose standards were partly set by Bishop William Morgan's translation of the Bible (1583). Welsh humanist prose of the 16th and 17th cent., although not much published in the original tongue, was polished and musical.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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