Popular Verse

In Wales, during the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, two arts flourished side by side: cerdd dafod (the craft of the tongue, poetical craft) and cerdd dant (the craft of string music). The poets and musicians were part of an all-embracing bardic system. The poets wrote verse of an occasional nature, praising the exploits and virtues of their patrons: the Welsh nobility and high-ranking clergy. They also provided elegies, devotional poetry, commemorated the generous acts of their patrons and satirised certain people in verses which might have the intensity of curses. Much of the art of poetry was learned aurally, i.e. examples were learned by heart and exercises given as spoken instruction though most of the poets could probably read and write. Part of the poet or musician’s craft was the ability to remember the important work of previous generations. One of the spurs to the active and generous patronage of poets must have been the prospect that one’s name and deeds would live forever.

In descending social order came: poet, harper, crwth player and the specialised singer of bardic verse, datgeiniad. The crafts of poetry and instrumental music were interdependent and the performance of a new poem, at its most splendid, probably required the services of the datgeiniad, harpist and/or crwth player; no doubt superintended by the poet. Between the beginning of the 14th century and the end of the 16th century Welsh poetical forms were brought to an extreme pitch of elaboration.