Dafydd ap Gwilym

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Dafydd ap Gwilym (c. 1315/1320 – c. 1350/1370), is regarded as one of the leading Welsh poets and amongst the great poets of Europe in the Middle Ages. (Dafydd ap Gwilym scholar R. Geraint Gruffydd suggests ca.1315-ca.1350 as his dates; other scholars place him a little later, ca.1320-ca.1370.)

Contents

Life

Tradition has it that he was born at Brogynin, Penrhyn-coch (at the time Llanbadarn Fawr parish), Ceredigion. His father, Gwilym Gam, and mother, Ardudfyl, were both from noble families. As one of noble birth it seems Dafydd did not belong to the guild of professional poets in medieval Wales, and yet the poetic tradition had been strong in his family for generations.

According to R. Geraint Gruffydd he died in 1350, a possible victim of the Black Death. Tradition says that he was buried within the precinct of the Cistercian Strata Florida Abbey, Ceredigion.

Poetry

It is believed that about one hundred and seventy of his poems have survived, though many others have been attributed to him over the centuries. His main themes were love and nature. The influence of wider European ideas of courtly love, as exemplified in the troubadour poetry of Provençal, is seen as a significant influence on Dafydd's poetry.

He was an innovative poet who was responsible for popularising the metre known as the "cywydd" and first to use it for praise. But perhaps his greatest innovation was to make himself the main focus of his poetry. By its very nature, most of the work of the traditional Welsh court poets kept their own personalities far from their poetry. Dafydd's work is full of his own feelings and experiences. His main theme is love, and many of his poems are addressed to women, but particularly to two of them, Morfudd and Dyddgu. He is also recognised as very fine nature poet. His best-known works include the following poems:

  • Morfudd fel yr haul (Morfudd like the sun), a poem to the wife of an Aberystwyth merchant who seems to have had a long affair with Dafydd, and whom he addressed in many poems;
  • Merched Llanbadarn (The girls of Llanbadarn), in which he speaks of going to church on Sunday purely in order to ogle the local women;
  • Trafferth mewn tafarn (Trouble in a tavern), in which he recounts an incident in a tavern that would be worthy of any slapstick film;
  • Y Rhugl Groen (The Rattle Bag), in which Dafydd's intercourse with a young girl is cruelly interrupted; and
  • Cywydd y gal (A poem in praise of the penis), a risqué piece of pure medieval erotica. Until recently not anthologised as Dafydd's for reason of editorial squeamishness.

According to Charles Johnston's explanatory notes on the Astrée / Naïve CD 'Beethoven: Irish, Welsh & Scottish Songs' (2001), the words to WoO155 '26 wallisische Lieder', Nr.14 'Der Traum' (1810), were "translated from the Welsh of Dafydd ap Gwilym". This would be Dafydd's dream-vision poem 'Y Breuddwyd'.

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