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WELSH PENNILLION, POETICAL BLOSSOMS,
Or, EPIGRAMMATIC STANZAS7, and PASTORALS.
"On themes alternate no-rv the Sixains recite;
'HESE have been transmitted to us by oral tradition from time immemorial, and still are the domestic
The memorial verses, which in the time of Cæsar * were never committed to writing, and which the Druidical Disciples employed so many years in learning, were PenniUion, conveyed in that most ancient metre called Englyn Milwr.
When the Bards had brought to a very artificial system their numerous and favourite metres, those which they rejected 9 were left for the dress of the Rustic Muse, the Awen of the multitude. When Wales became an English province, Poetry had been generally diffused among the lower classes of the people. From that period they forgot their former favourite subjects of war and terror,-and were confined to love, and the passions which are nearly allied to it, of pity and of sorrow; so these sort of PenniUion were naturally retained, and admired, on account of the tender beauties contained in them.
At length, towards the reign of Queen Elizabeth, the constitutional system of the Bards became almost extinct in Wales10; and the only Poetry that survived was poured forth in unpremeditated PenniUion around the hearths of husbandmen, and in the cots of shepherds. What contributed to keep alive, under every discouragement of foreign oppression, the poetical vein of the Welsli peasantry, was their primitive spirit of hospitality 11 and iocial mirth; which assembled them to drink mead, and sing, and dance, around the harmony of the Harp, Crwth, and Pipes; and what has preserved from very distant times many of
i The word Pcnnill is derived from Pen, a Head: because these stanzas flowed eztempoie from, and were treasured in, the Head, without being committed to paper. Pennill may also ii<;nify a brief head, or littleJubjefl. . * SeeCæsar's Commentaries: Ue Hello Gallico, lib. VI. cap. 13.
9 " Y t hai hynny fy i roddi trftun i'r Beirdd i ganu arno, naill ai meiun Englynion, Unodl union, Cywydd, neu ryw un o'r pednuar Mffurarhugain, ac nid meivn Dyri', Carol, neu tyiv ivael gerddi, y thai ni 1'u ivi-uugany piiv 'veirdd gynt gymmaint ai crybivyll: 0 htr-ivyJd nod oes Rheolau perthynafol iddynt." Statud Gruttudd ab Cynan, ynghylch cadw Eisteddvod. And fee pp. 28. and 30.
This proves that PenniUion were then frequently composed and admired.
10 There have been meetings of the Raids held in different parts of Wales, since the re;gn of Elizabeth, although, perhaps, not by royal pioclamation. One Eifteddvod was held at Caermarthen about the year 1460. Another Eisieddvodd was held in 1573, under tlisi auspices of William Herbert, Karl of Pembroke, Another was held at IUa .pre Castle, in South Wales, in 1681, under thu authority ot Sir RichardBajfet. Another was held at Machynllaith, in Aloutgemojjbire, about the year 1700; and an account of it was wntu ii I y Ligo ab Demi. Another meeting was lidd at YJlrad Twain, in Glamorganjhire, about 1 he year 1730, under he sanction ot thu late Lo, d Chancellor Tall/ot. Aud, about six years
ago, I revived this ancient custom of the congress of the Bards: I gave a medal to the belt Poet; a medal to the best Singer <with the Harp; and ano'her for the best collection of PenniUion; which meeting was held at Conccn, in Meirionethjhirc, Since that time it has been continued annually at different (owns in North Wales: viz. at Bala, Dolgelley, St. J/ash, Latrrwst, and at Denbigh. These meetings have lince been judiciously patronized by the Guyneddigion Society; and by some few of the gentry of Wales. Likewise, we held a Gorsedd, Tribunal-meeting, or Supreme Congress of the Bards of the IJle of Britain, according to tne ancient lorm of a Druidical Assembly, for the lake of recovering Druidical Mytholoty, and ctardic Learning. This meeting was held on Primrose-hill, near London, September 22, 17^2. Ar.d the chief Druid, Bards, and Oiydd, were Mr. Edward Williams-, Mr. D. Samwell, Mr. Wiliiaai Owen, and myself. The meeting is to be continued. See some account of it in the Gentleman's Magazine, vol. LXII. p. 956. See also pp. 38. 46. of this w 01 k.
""Among this people there is no beggar to be found: the houses of ail a-e open tor the welco ne reception of all comers. Munificence they esteem beyond ad virtues \ and the genius of hospitality js so well uuderllood, tint the ceremony of offering entertainment to strangers, atid of alk'.ng it, is here unknown." Git.ildui Cambtcnfis.
these these little sonnets, is their singular mei it, and the affection with which they are remembered. Some of the old English songs, which have been a thousand times repeated, still continue to please; while the lullaby of the day is echoed for a time, and is then consigned to everlasting oblivion. The metres of these stanzas are various; a stanza containing from three to nine verses •, and a verse consisting of a certain number of syllables, from two to eight. One of these metres is the Triban, or Triplets another the Awdl Gywydd, or Hen ganidd, The memorial Ode of the ancient strain, another, what in English Poetry would be called the Anapæstic. There are several kinds of Pennill metres, that may be adapted and fung to most of the following tunes; and some part of a tune being occasionally converted into a symphony. One set of words is not, like an English song, confined to one tune, but commonly fung to several.
The se.il 1 of the pennill-singers in this is admirable. According to the metres of their penillion, they strike into the tune in the proper place, and conduct it with wonderful exactness to the symphony, or the close. While the Harp to which they sing is perhaps wandering in little variations and embellishments, their singing is not embarrassed, but true to the fundamental tune. This account explains the state of our Music and Poetry, described by Giraldus as they existed in his time; when the Welsh were a nation of Musicians and Poets j when Cor's, or Musical Bands, were frequent among them; and when their children learnt from their infancy to sing in concert
In his time it was usual for companies of young men, who knew no profession but that of arms, to enter without distinction every house they came to. There they enjoyed the free conversation of the young women, joined their voices to the harmony of the Harp, and consumed the day in the most animated festivity2; "Even at this day some vein of the ancient minstrelsy survives amongst our mountains. Numbers of persons of both sexes assemble and sit around the Harp, singing alternately Pennillion, or stanzas, of ancient or modern compositions."
"With charming symphony they introduce
"The young people usually begin the night with dancing; and, when they are tired, assume this species of relaxation. They alternately sing, dance, and drink, not by hours, but by days and weeks; and measure time only by the continuance of their mirth and pleasure. Often, like the modern Improvifatori of Italy, they sing extempore verses; and a person, conversant in this art, readily produces a Pennill opposite to the last that was fung." Many have their memories stored with several hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Pennillion3, some of which they have always ready for answers to every subject that can be proposed •, or, if their recollection should ever fail them, they have invention to compose something pertinent and proper for the occasion. The subjects afford a great deal of mirth: some of these are jocular, others satirical, but most of them amorous, which, from the nature of the subject, are best preserved. They continue singing without intermission, never repeating the same stanza, (for, that would forfeit the honour of being held first of the song) and, like nightingales, support the contest through the night. The audience usually call for the tune: sometimes a few only sing to it, and sometimes the whole company. But, when a party of capital singers assemble, they rarely call for the tune; for, it is indifferent to them what tune the Harper plays. Parishes are often opposed to parissies; even counties contend with counties; and every hill is vocal with the chorus4." •." -In these rural usages, which are best preserved in the mountainous counties of Meirionydb and Caernarvon, . we have a distant pleasing glimpse of ancient innocence, and the manners of a golden age, enjoying themselves with Metre, Music, and Mead.
Mannau mwyn dm win a medd, i "See golden days, fruitful of golden deeds,
Tannau miwsig ton maswedd! | "With joy and love triumphing, and fair truth."
Whoever considers the unaffected sense and unadulterated passions conveyed in these fine little pieces of antiquity—sentiments which all would hope, but few are able, to imitate—together with the sweet and soothing air of our musical compositions, which are mostly in the Lydian measures, will not wonder that,
* Cambria Descriptio, cap. u, and 13. See also pp. 29. and History informs us, that " Solomon's wisdom excelled all the wis3;. of this work. dom of the East, &c. he spake 3000 Proverbs; and his Songs
I See Lord Lytleltons History of Henry II. vol. II. p. 6cj. were a aces." First Book of Kings, chap. 4. 'This custom appears to have been very early; for Sacred * See PawanCs Journey to Snowdo*.
like our national proverbs, they have been so long preserved by tradition, that the same stanzas are remembered in all the counties of Wales, and that the natives are so enamoured with them as to be constantly chanting them whenever they meet with a Harp, or a Crwtb. Nor will he blame my presumption, when, for an effusion of tender simplicity, I place them in competition with the affecting tales of the Scots Ballads, and the delicate atpiteux of the Greek Epigrams.
"From words so sweet new grace the notes receive;
* Every language has peculiar beauties. The thoughts and words of these Pennillhn are so uncommonly simple and expreflire. that I do not presume to offer the annexed English stanzas as an adequate translation, but merely (for the lake of the Engnlh reader) as an imperfect sketch and idea of them. At the same time, I mutt not omit my grateful acknowledgements to the Rev. James Lambert, and the Rev. R. Williams, of Vron, for their poetical assistance in several of the following English verses.
Few have been so happy in the concise style of writing as try countryman Mr. Jtbn Owen, of Plat Du, Llanarmon, near PizlV'd't Caernarvonshire, the noted Epigrammatist, and Poet Laureat to Queen Elizabeth; who died A. D. 1622, and was buried in itPaul's Cathedral, London: he wrote several books of Latin Epigrams, which are much admired for their brevity, and sterling wit
"How does the little Epigram delight,
*' And charm us with its miniature ot wit!
"While tedious authors give the reader pain,
"Weary his thoughts, and make him toil in vain;
"When in less volumes we more pleasure find;
"And what diverts, mil best informs the mind." VaUcx,