Dafydd ap Gwilym

Dafydd ap Gwilym (ca.1315/1320-ca.1350/1370), is generally regarded as the greatest Welsh poet of all time and amongst the great poets of Europe in the Middle Ages. (Dafydd ap Gwilym scholar R. Geraint Gruffydd suggests ca.1315-ca.1350 as his dates, other scholars place him a little later, ca.1320-ca.1370.)

Tradition has it that he was born at Brogynin, Penrhyn-coch (at the time Llanbadarn Fawr parish), Ceredigion. His father, Gwilym Gam, and mother, Ardudfyl, were both from noble families. As one of noble birth it seems Dafydd did not belong to the guild of professional poets in medieval Wales, and yet the poetic tradition had been strong in his family for generations.

According to R. Geraint Gruffydd he died in 1350, a possible victim of the Black Death. Tradition says that he was buried within the precinct of the Cistercian Strata Florida Abbey, Ceredigion.

It is believed that about one hundred and fifty of his poems have survived, though many others have been attributed to him over the centuries. His main themes were love and nature. The influence of wider European ideas of courtly love, as exemplified in the troubador poetry of Provençal, is seen as a significant influence on Dafydd’s poetry.

He was an innovative poet who was responsible for popularising the metre known as “cywydd” and first to use it for praise. But perhaps his greatest innovation was to make himself the main focus of his poetry. The traditional Welsh poets kept their own personalities far from their poetry. Dafydd’s work is full of his own feelings and experiences. His main theme is love, and many of his poems are addressed to women, but particularly to two of them, Morfudd and Dyddgu. He is also recognised as very fine nature poet. His best-known works include the following poems:

  • Morfudd fel yr haul (=Morfudd like the sun), a poem to the wife of an Aberystwyth            merchant that seems to have had a long affair with Dafydd, and whom he                      addressed in many poems;
  • Merched Llanbadarn (=The girls of Llanbadarn), in which he speaks of going to            church on Sunday purely in order to ogle the local women;
  • Trafferth mewn tafarn (=Trouble in a tavern), in which he recounts an incident in a          tavern that would be worthy of any slapstick film; and
  • Cywydd y gal (=A poem in praise of the penis), a risqué piece of pure medieval             erotica.
Statue of Dafydd ap Gwilym by WW Wagstaff in the Marble Hall of Cardiff City Hall

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