Here’s what the Englyn poetry form is:
An Englyn is one of several types of short poems from Wales.
They feature combinations of a ten-syllable line, a short line (five or six syllables), and one or more seven-syllable lines, along with rhymes.
Sometimes the entire poem is isosyllabic, featuring only seven-syllable lines.
So if you want to learn all about the Englyn poetry type, then you’ve come to the right place.
Let’s get into it!
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- Toddaid Poetry Form: Drape Emotions in Lines
- Cyhydedd Hir Poetry Form: Master Versatile Lines
- Cyhydedd Fer Poetry Form: Tune Your Insight
- Byr a Thoddaid Poetry Form: Set Your Pen Ablaze
Types of Poems: Englyn
An Englyn (plural: Englynion) is a type of short poem originating from Wales, though it would ultimately be more accurate to call this a small family of forms.
Eight members of this family are also members of the 24 codified Welsh meters, comprising the first group within that set, but the distinctions between the Englyn forms are small enough to comfortably discuss here.
Each type of Englyn is structured differently.
Topics vary from one poem to the next, even within a set type of Englyn.
They range from religious meditations to small fragments of larger stories that were lost to history.
As a disclaimer, this article will be more prone to errors than articles about more popular and widespread forms.
This is a type of poem that never strayed far from its homeland and very, very few English writers have ever tried to adapt the form to English.
Add to that the shortage of sources from the appropriate historical era and you have a recipe for some very shaky ground.
Basic Properties of Englynion
|Strict; some specifically use half-rhymes
|Most popular in the Welsh Middle Ages
How Is an Englyn Structured?
While the many types of Englyn are functionally different forms, they do share the common principle of cynghanedd prized in Welsh poetry.
This concept, which loosely translates to harmony, refers to the prominent use of phonetic techniques (especially repetitions) such as alliteration and rhyme.
Old Irish poetry features a similar sounding term (cywddydd) with a similar meaning, if it sounds familiar.
It should be noted that there is some scholarly debate over how some Englyn forms are meant to be structured.
So many of these poems have been lost to time that our sources on them are relatively scarce.
While examples will be provided, it’s important to recognize that modern English adaptations of such old Welsh forms are fundamentally not as accurate to the original intent as examples of Englynion from around the time of their inception.
But I felt that most English-speaking readers would likely prefer an example they can actually understand over examples that are purely historical.
There are typically either three or four lines, depending on which sub-form of Englyn is employed.
They will either be isosyllabic (and seven syllables each) or they will feature one or two seven-syllable lines, one ten-syllable line, and one shorter line (five or six syllables) in various arrangements.
The sub-forms are as follows:
This sub-form, along with the Englyn Milwyr, are among the oldest and can be traced back to some of the oldest surviving Welsh poems from the Y Cynfeirdd era around the end of the 11th century.
Also known as the “short-ended Englyn.”
This form is always three lines.
The first line is ten syllables, split into two five-syllable sections, while the second line is either five or six syllables.
The last line is consistently seven syllables.
The rhyme of the Englyn Penfyr is introduced near the end of the first line (but not on the last syllable), then repeated at the end of the second and third lines.
An English version; like this if you please
may give a little bliss,
like a poet’s gentle kiss.
In the above example I used a hard pause in the form of a semi-colon to forcibly split the opening line in half, but it’s worth noting that authentic Welsh versions do not generally rely on punctuation like this, instead using sound and the inherent syntax of the sentence to communicate the grouping.
This Englyn is similar to its sibling form, the Englyn Penfyr, in terms of length and rhyme scheme but it values consistency.
Instead of having three lines of different lengths, this form has three isosyllabic lines (lines of the same length).
Each line is seven syllables and all three lines feature end-rhymes.
Also known as the “soldier’s Englyn.”
March and amass in the fields,
show the vast power we wield.
Do not despair. Do not yield.
To be honest, I was surprised to see a form this simple in Welsh history.
Welsh poetry is notoriously complex in most cases, so this cute little isosyllabic triplet stands out like a sore thumb.
Englyn Unodl Union
Despite the very different name, this one is just an Englyn Penfyr with an additional seven-syllable line at the end.
Just like the second and third lines, it rhymes with a sound near the end of the first line.
As a result, the poem just happens to end in an isosyllabic couplet.
Also known as the “straight one-rhymed Englyn.”
Give me a flower to know you by name,
else your love is nay true.
The pinkest petals will do,
and I’ll truly love you, too.
Personally, I like this one better than the form it derives from.
The extra line makes it feel more complete, in my opinion.
Note that I did not use a semi-colon this time, but the fifth syllable is still the end of an emphasized noun in this case.
If the Englyn Unodl Union is the evolved form of the Englyn Penfyr, then the Englyn Gwastad is the evolved form of the Englyn Milwr.
As before, we simply add one seven-syllable line that rhymes with the rest.
Thus we get a pleasantly symmetrical poem.
Also known as the “even Englyn.”
This particular Englyn is more common in the Middle Ages and fell out of favor afterward.
Make sure these rhymes here are loud.
Only true rhyme is allowed,
so stand up high, tall, and proud,
as you recite for the crowd.
If you’re wondering why this example emphasizes the importance of true rhymes (aka perfect rhymes) then you’ll understand later.
Suffice to say there is a very similar form to this one coming up soon.
With this one we return to isosyllabic seven-syllable lines.
This particular form is almost identical to the Englyn Gwastad, but the third line rhymes with a middle syllable of the final line instead of being incorporated into a monorhyme.
Also known as the “two-rhyme Englyn.”
Interestingly, this form is included in the codified Welsh meters while the Englyn Gwastad, despite being very similar, is not.
Perhaps this one just got to the party first?
So much like all the others
but then again they’re brothers
so of course they step and hike
all just like one another.
If it wasn’t already obvious, the cross-rhyme here is between “hike” and “like.”
But as you can plainly see, this one really is almost an Englyn Gwastad.
It’s amazing how many of these sub-forms are just one element apart from each other.
Englyn Proest Dalgron
If the previous sub-form wasn’t the reason that the Englyn Gwastad is overlooked, then this one certainly might be.
The Englyn Proest Dalgron is literally the same as the Englyn Gwastad, except that the rhymes are half-rhymes.
In Welsh examples this usually involves consonance, but I’ll be using an English understanding of slant rhyme for the example.
Also known as the “half-rhymed Englyn.”
Evenly spaced little lines.
Nothing simpler shall you find.
Short like all its other kinds,
but it’s still well worth the time.
Welsh poetry tends to be more accepting of half-rhymes than English poetry, so it’s interesting that a form featuring exclusively half-rhymes is differentiated from one featuring true rhymes like this.
Well-crafted slants can make the monorhyme easier to handle this one in English, though, since English suffixes are relatively complex and varied compared to other languages.
This is functionally an Englyn Proest Dalgron, except that the rhymes must feature the ae, ei, oe, and wy diphthongs.
Also known as the “half-rhymed diphthong Englyn.”
In addition to being one of the funniest sounding words in any language, diphthong also means a combination of two back-to-back vowel sounds.
For better or for worse, English is much less inclined to use diphthongs than Celtic languages, so this one doesn’t translate very well.
I enjoy the specificity that it must utilize those specific diphthongs, though.
Starting to think that whoever divided up the Englynion was very, very petty.
Englyn Proest Cadwynog
Remember how the Englyn Galwad and the Englyn Proest Dalgron were only different sub-forms because of the difference between true rhyme and half-rhyme?
Brace yourself because we’re back on that nonsense.
This time the second and fourth lines are half-rhymes while the first and third lines share a true rhyme with each other.
Also known as the “chain half-rhyme Englyn.”
Are you weary of these yet?
Do they echo in your head?
You’ll not quite recall, I bet,
since the scope leans toward heft.
For the record, I’ve covered poem forms ranging from Ireland to Spain to France to Japan and only in this specific family of Welsh forms do I remember ever seeing poem sub-forms that can only be distinguished by how many half-rhymes they use.
I can’t decide if these divisions are impressively thorough or comically unnecessary.
Englyn Byr Crwca
This interesting take on the Englyn is essentially a shuffled Englyn Penfyr.
The same three line lengths and structures are here, but this time the seven-syllable line is first, the ten-syllable line is second, and the shortest line (five or six syllables) is last.
Also known as the “short crooked Englyn.”
Shuffle it up, make it new.
So much to go see and do on the way.
Hooray for me and you.
There are surviving examples where the second line does not participate in the rhyme scheme at all, but I opted to have my example function like the Englyn Penfyr, using “do” near the end of the line as a match with the other lines.
Englyn Unodl Crwca
You may have already guessed, but the Englyn Byr Crwca also has its own four-line variant.
The Englyn Unodl Crwca is essentially an Englyn Byr Crwca with an extra seven-syllable line, though it’s added to the beginning of the form this time.
Also known as the “crooked one-line Englyn.”
(Yes, the names do all start to blend together, unfortunately.)
Longer now than what came last
but we’ll go over it fast
and arrive again at the vast new ground
we found there as we passed.
If you haven’t already realized it, these forms are largely a host of different ways to organize the lines used in the Englyn Penfyr and Englyn Milwr, which is why I covered them first.
The four-line Englynion tend to be expanded versions of existing forms, with an extra seven-syllable line added.
Englyn Proest Cyfnewidiog
We have officially reached the Englynion that are only barely worth mentioning now.
This one is yet another isosyllabic four-line poem with seven syllables each.
Like the Englyn Proest Dalgron, this one features half-rhymes on every line.
The only distinction I’ve been able to find is that this sub-form features “more instances of cynghanedd” supposedly, but that’s an incredibly vague measurement.
This sub-form didn’t make it into the codified Welsh meters, and frankly it’s easy to guess why.
Because every Welsh form has to be combined with a Toddaid at some point, we now have the combination form made when you combine an Englyn with a Toddaid couplet.
The first half of the form seems to come from the first two lines of the Englyn Penfyr (ten syllables followed by a five or six syllable line), while the latter half of the form is a Toddaid couplet.
While this one didn’t make it into the codified Welsh meters either, the reality is that this particular Englyn didn’t emerge until after those 24 meters had been decided upon, keeping in mind that the list hasn’t been updated in centuries.
This one isn’t well-documented in English but from what I can tell it appears to be an Englyn Penfyr with a much shorter third line.
Instead of the usual seven-syllable line at the end, we end up with a line of one, two, or three syllables.
As with the last few entries, this one didn’t make the cut for the 24 codified meters.
At long last we’re done, or for now at least,
and we’ll end this list now
with a bow.
This one is actually quite challenging since the third line is still expected to rhyme with the second, meaning you have only a few syllables to spare.
Think ahead before coming up with the sound you use!
Which Englynion Are in the 24 Codified Welsh Meters?
Englynion comprise the entire first category of the codified Welsh meters.
The second and third categories, Cywydd and Awdl meters, tend to be more elaborate.
The eight Englynion listed among these codified meters are:
- Englyn Penfyr (Short-ended Englyn)
- Englyn Milwr (Soldier’s Englyn)
- Englyn Unodl Union (Straight one-rhyme Englyn)
- Englyn Unodl Crwca (Crooked short one-rhyme Englyn)
- Englyn Cyrch (Two-rhyme Englyn)
- Englyn Proest Dalgron (Half-rhymed Englyn)
- Englyn Lleddfbroest (Half-rhymed diphthong Englyn)
- Englyn Proest Gadwynog (Chain half-rhymed Englyn)
This means that the Englyn Gwastad, Englyn Proest Cyfnewidiog, Englyn Toddaid, and Englyn Cil-Dwrn are notably excluded from the codified Welsh meters despite there being an entire section dedicated to Englynion.
Tips for Writing Englynion
If you want the authentic Englyn-writing experience then you may want to learn Welsh first so that you can pore over reputable firsthand sources.
Englynion, and the codified Welsh meters, aren’t especially popular topics in English sources, so I wouldn’t be surprised if a real Welshman could point out a few flaws in my explanation that no foreigner would notice.
Nonetheless, I do think there’s value in trying to adapt forms to English that don’t see use in it currently.
If you agree with that notion, then start by mastering rhyme, since these short poems live and die by their rhyme schemes.
As with any short form, you have to be laser-focused on whatever topic you choose.
An Englyn isn’t a good place to tell your life story or to explain the entirety of a religious text in excruciating detail.
You need a single image in your head.
That one snapshot moment is the poem, period.
The awkward line lengths of the forms based on the Englyn Penfyr may make those poems especially challenging, but honestly I think the challenge is half the fun of writing them.
While the isosyllabic versions are much easier to work with, they don’t have the same natural eccentricity as their lopsided counterparts.
I initially considered dedicating an entire article to each of the Englyn forms and I do think that could have been a valid approach.
Unfortunately anyone actually reading the articles one after another would find them incredibly redundant and there would have been less opportunities to mention all the ways that the Englynion are similar to each other.
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