Here’s what the Byr a Thoddaid poetry form is:
Byr a Thoddaid is a traditional Welsh form consisting of rhymed quatrains.
The form utilizes one symmetrical couplet with eight syllables on each line and one asymmetrical couplet with ten and six syllables, though the order that which the two couplets can appear may differ.
So if you want to learn all about the Byr a Thoddaid poetry type, then you’ve come to the right place.
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Forms of Poetry: Byr a Thoddaid
Byr a Thoddaid is one of the many traditional Welsh forms that feature quatrains and rhyme.
True Welsh poetry actually has an entire code of conduct baked into it based on sound quality, and trailing consonance is expected in the original form.
But we’ll be going over the standards that a modern poet is likely to be most comfortable with.
The traditional Welsh forms are difficult to describe in a modern English context to the fullest extent, as they were designed for a different time and culture.
However, many of the qualities of the poem do carry over comfortably.
One notable point about Welsh poetry is that many of its forms predate written poetry and were carried on by an oral tradition, thus the emphasis on rhyme and sound.
Basic Properties of Byr a Thoddaid
|Welsh oral traditions
|Mostly native to Wales; rarely explored in English
How Is Byr a Thoddaid Structured?
As with many Welsh forms, Byr a Thoddaid consists entirely of quatrains and can be as long as the poet wills it to be, simply by expanding the number of quatrains in the poem.
Each quatrain in the poem consists of two combined couplets.
One couplet contains 8 syllables per line and the two lines share an end rhyme.
The second couplet consists of a 10-syllable line, followed by a 6-syllable line.
While the 6-syllable line does feature an end sound used for a rhyme, the rhyme is actually contained internally in the 10-syllable line, near but not at the end.
The longest and shortest line also have a connecting sound (often referred to as a “link” by English sources) that pairs the end syllable of the longest line to a point early in the shortest line.
This link can be the repetition of a sound or an entire syllable.
The couplets can appear in alternating orders.
This means that the 8/8 couplet can either be at the top or bottom of the quatrain, with the 10/6 couplet filling the remaining space.
As a result, the structure can be similar to either of the below:
In the above structures, capital letters represent the rhyme sounds while the lowercase letter (not x) represents the link sound between the longest and shortest line.
Note that this link will not necessarily occur in the second syllable of the shortest line exactly, but this is around the recommended placement.
Note that the rhyme sound in the 10-syllable line can be on the 7th, 8th, or 9th syllable.
It usually won’t be earlier in the line than that.
You can use this wiggle room to make the wording of the poem sound more natural in your writing if desired.
As with many Welsh forms, there is technically no meter required, despite the particular syllable counts.
How meter is measured varies wildly from culture to culture, but in traditional Welsh poetry, the concern is mostly with harmonic sounds (via alliteration, rhyme, etc.) and actual syllable counts.
The couplets used in Byr a Thoddaid actually have proper names of their own, for further reading.
The 8/8 couplet is called a Toddaid byr while the 10/6 is called the cyhydedd fer.
This is mostly trivia but may be useful if you’d like to do the necessary research to make your own Byr a Thoddaid as accurate to the original Welsh form as possible.
Example of a Byr a Thoddaid
Where there grows greenest grass I live,
enamored by all nature gives.
These are places to help survive the toil,
the toll we pay to thrive.
I do not begrudge hardened days,
for I can smile again, always,
as long as green grass will await my feet,
to treat a cozy fate.
The above example starts with the 8/8 couplet, with the expected AA rhyme scheme.
It then transitions into the 10/6 couplet, which in this case features a rhyme on the 8th sound of the longest line and the final line of the shortest.
The “link” sounds featured here are the consonance of “toil” and “toll” in the first quatrain, and the rhyme of “feet” and “treat” in the second quatrain.
There are multiple examples of consonance scattered throughout the poem, but rather haphazardly.
It should be noted that this poem was certainly not penned by a masterful ancient Welshman, so it should not be treated as the gospel’s truest state of the form.
This is just a quick example of how the form can be converted into something that is comfortably doable in English.
Tips for Writing Byr a Thoddaid
The 8/8 couplet is relatively easy to write. If you’ve ever written in tetrameter, then you’ll find the relative ease downright charming.
Since the quatrains are only concerned with their internal rhyme scheme and don’t need to repeat an end sound more than twice, you don’t necessarily need to choose especially easy end sounds, as long as you can make it work once.
This simple couplet can be a great place to practice other techniques such as imagery, consonance, and alliteration.
Compared to more tightly formal verse, only having to adhere to an unmetered syllable count is a freeing experience for intermediate students of poetry.
If you’re new to syllable counts, just remember that adverbs and adjectives are your friends.
It’s easier to purposely write a line slightly shorter than eight syllables and then find space to add two words than it is to write a line that goes over eight syllables and look for words to cut.
For that reason, favor underwriting versus overwriting.
The 10/6 couplet is significantly more challenging.
While a 10-syllable line is normally a very comfortable amount of space to work with, the additional challenge of linking it to the shorter line in two places actually gives you quite a lot to consider.
Personally, I would recommend choosing a specific syllable within the longest line that you intend to place the rhyme sound at, then trying to keep it consistent across each new quatrain.
This gives the poem a stronger feeling of intentionality, something that’s always appealing to your readers, especially those at advanced levels (like critics and scholars).
For similar reasons, sticking to a certain syllable for the link in the 6-syllable line also helps with consistency.
Do remember that putting one-half of the link at the end of the 10-syllable line and a rhyme sound at the end of the 6-syllable line is mandatory.
These elements are not flexible.
Writing your first Byr a Thoddaid poem can be daunting, so don’t be too embarrassed to keep diagrams or reference materials of the structure on hand or open in another tab while you work.
Many writers double-check structures several times before they even start writing.
Your readers will only see the finished work, not the process you take to get there.
The history of Welsh poetry is rich and deep and needs more documentation.
Yet oral traditions, including old but gold poem forms such as Welsh poetry, that are being passed down from generation to generation make it all the more exciting.
Who else needs a “formal documentation” when all we really need are stories of the past deeply carved in cultural literature?
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