For more details of Welsh metrical practice, see Morris-Jones (1925); Rowlands (1976), pp. xx-xlix; Conran (1986), pp. 310-334.

There are three main types of metre in Welsh poetry, the awdl, englyn and cywydd. Each of these words names the poem as well as the metre (compare the English word ‘sonnet’). These are not single metres but rather a group of metres or sub-types based on similar principles. Tony Conran has said: ‘Whereas the awdl proceeds line by line, and the englyn stanza by stanza, the cywydd proceeds couplet by couplet’ (Conran, 1986: 323) and this is a useful rule of thumb.

Awdl (plu. awdlau)

The awdl is a family of metres based on the same basic principles. Each awdl is essentially a non-stanzaic poem based on groups of lines with a single end-rhyme. The awdl may be set out on the page as a number of sections, with the division corresponding to a change of end-rhyme, but these sections are not strictly stanzas and are often not punctuated as such in the manuscripts. Each line may be of different lengths, with eight to ten syllables being average, though many are longer or shorter. The different sub-types of awdl are based on patterns of long and short lines, and on subtleties of end-rhyme where, for example, the main end-rhyme recurs half-way through the next line. Here is an example of awdl toddaid from Tudur Penllyn’s poem to Rheinallt. The rhyming syllables are in italics:

Camlan, wrth y tân, tynion—fu’u pennau,
Crimogau, trwynau fal uwd rhynion;
Curo’r llu yno â llinon—wewyr,
Y rhain, fy eryr, a’u rhoi’n feirwon.

Note the modern editorial practice of using a dash after the end-rhyme in a longer line: this has an entirely metrical function and does not relate to the semantics of the line. Each awdl can combine a number of the different awdl metres within the whole poem, creating variety in the line structure and rhyme patterns. Many awdlau also incorporate verses of englynion. The awdl was the favoured metre of the ‘poets of the princes’, composing between 1100 and 1300, and is particularly associated with formal traditional bardic genres such as praise-poetry, elegy and religious verse.

Englyn (plu. englynion)

The englyn is a stanzaic form with four main sub-types. Essentially the englyn is a three- or four-line verse with a single end-rhyme. An englyn might occur on its own, as a short, witty stanza (rather like a limerick), or a number of englynion might be combined into a longer poem, often as part of an awdl. Three-line englynion have either three lines of seven syllables each, or three lines of 10, 6 and 7 syllables, with the main rhyme occurring two or three syllables before the end of the longer first line. The most common type of englyn in the later Middle Ages is the englyn unodl union, a four-line stanza comprising lines of 10, 6, 7 and 7 syllables. The first two lines are basically lines of awdl, while the second two lines are in the cywydd metre. Tudur Penllyn’s poem to Rheinallt combines stanzas of englyn unodl union with englyn proest (using a specific rhyming technique) along with awdl toddaid. The englyn on its own is associated with concise, intense, often pithy, expressions of an idea or an emotion.

Cywydd (plu. cywyddau)

The cywydd is a non-stanzaic form based on seven-syllable lines in rhyming couplets. In each couplet, a stressed syllable must rhyme with an unstressed syllable. The rhyme can be continued through any number of lines, or can be changed with each couplet. Though the cywydd is one of the twenty-four traditional metres of bardic verse, it was seldom recorded among traditional court poetry before the Edwardian conquest of Wales in 1284. From early in the fourteenth century it emerged as the most popular metre among the ‘poets of the gentry’ and is used for all kinds of genres ranging from formal praise-poetry and religious poetry to popular and comic types of verse.


This is the name given to the specific type of ornamentation found in most types of medieval Welsh poetry. It is particularly associated with the cywydd metres, where it seems to have been more or less obligatory, but it also occurs less systematically in awdlau and englynion. Cynghanedd is based on patterns of rhyme and alliteration within each line. Alliterating consonants occur in the same order in both half-lines, as in: ar bren croes / i brynu Cred (with the sequence b, r, n, c, r repeated in each half-line). Instead of alliteration, or as well as alliteration, a particular kind of internal rhyme may occur. There are four main types of cynghanedd, utilising various combinations of rhyme and alliteration. Here is an example of a cywydd couplet taken from the Poem to the Cross at Chester by Maredudd ap Rhys. The first line has cynghanedd sain, the second has cynghanedd draws. Alliterating letters are in bold, rhyming syllables in italics:

Llawenydd i’r d ydd a’r d on
A’i llywiodd i Gaerlleon.