By Elizabeth Spencer Spragins

Poetry has been an integral component of Welsh culture for centuries. Indeed, the Welsh word “bardd” (poet) has been traced back to 100 B.C. Depending on their skills, Welsh poets held one of three official ranks, and earning the designation of “chief poet” was a high honor. Every noble house in Wales boasted its own resident bard until the English legal system was imposed on the country in the 16th century. Although English law abolished the position of “chief poet,” the passion for poetry persisted.

Welsh poets demonstrated their skills through competitions with strict structural requirements (forerunners of the modern Welsh Eisteddfod). In the 14th century these poetic forms were codified into 24 official meters with three classes: the englynion, the cywydd meters, and the awdl (ode) meters (which include the rhupunt).

The rhupunt (pronounced hree’-pint), like other members of the awdl class, is stanzaic. Each stanza may have three, four, or five lines, and each line has four syllables. Within each stanza, all lines, with the exception of the last, share a single end rhyme. All of the last lines share a secondary end rhyme. Thus, a rhupunt with four-line stanzas would have the following rhyme scheme:

xxxa
xxxa
xxxa
xxxb

xxxc
xxxc
xxxc
xxxb

xxxd
xxxd
xxxd
xxxb

And so on.

In a variation known as the long rhupunt, each stanza is written as a single line, and the lines are paired in couplets. This format allows greater flexibility with the end rhyme, as illustrated below:

xxxaxxxaxxxaxxxb
xxxcxxxcxxxcxxxb

xxxdxxxdxxxdxxxe
xxxfxxxfxxxfxxxe

When written in the Welsh language, the awdl meters usually adhere to cynhanedd (rules of harmony governing consonance or alliteration). Although a rhupunt written in English does not necessarily follow this tradition, using such techniques to echo sounds within the lines can enhance the musicality of the poem.

My poem “Sedona” illustrates the structure of a rhupunt with four-line stanzas.

 

Sedona

A Rhupunt

By Elizabeth Spencer Spragins

Deep shadows fade
Red rock cascade
To purpled jade—
Sun sparks ignite.

Stone sentries stare
Sightless through air
At treadless stair
Spanning the height.

No mortals dare
Enter the lair
Or linger where
Spirit meets sprite.

This shrine of stone
And bleached white bone
Hides secrets shown
In the moonlight.

 

Post your rhupunt in the comments section below.

 

Elizabeth Spencer Spragins is a linguist, writer, poet, and editor who taught in North Carolina community colleges for more than a decade. Her tanka and bardic verse in the Celtic style have been published in England, Scotland, Canada, Indonesia, and the United States. Recent work has appeared in the Quarterday Review, Skylark, Atlas Poetica, Halcyon Days, and Peacock Journal. She lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

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7 Responses

  1. Kathy Figueroa

    Thank you for sharing this info about various Welsh poem structures. This has prompted me to try my hand at writing a “rhupunt,” which I’m including below.

    JUNEAU CITY

    Juneau city
    Sights are pretty
    Streets are gritty
    Tramps want spare change

    Ravens chatter
    Footsteps patter
    Small things matter
    Some things are strange

    A port of call
    For one and all
    With mountains tall
    A snow-capped range

    A kind greeting
    Pleasant meeting
    Make time fleeting
    At gold rock grange

    ~Kathy Figueroa

    Reply
  2. Kathy Figueroa

    I’ve revised the above-posted rhupunt, slightly. Because it was written and posted very quickly, it wasn’t as polished as it could’ve been.

    Here’s the revised version:

    JUNEAU CITY

    Juneau city
    Views are pretty
    Streets are gritty
    Tramps want spare change

    Ravens chatter
    Footsteps patter
    Workmen clatter
    Some sights are strange

    A port of call
    For one and all
    With mountains tall
    A snow-capped range

    A kind greeting
    Pleasant meeting
    Make time fleeting
    At gold rock grange

    ~Kathy Figueroa

    Reply
    • Ruth

      Well done for writing a rhupunt! With such short lines and close rhymes it must be difficult. (I confess I’ve not done it myself yet… I’m hoping to do so soon.) Your images, including sounds, create a lively impression of Juneau!
      One point of poetic technicality / sensibility: it is best to have the accent / stressed beat in lines of poetry fall on syllables which would naturally be pronounced with emphasis. In this metre, read in English, there is a natural accent on the last syllable of the line. (Elizabeth Spraggins – please correct me here if I am wrong). In lines 1, 2, and 3 of stanzas 1, 2 and 4 of your piece, that accent falls where it would not, naturally – on the sounds citY, prettY, grittY, chattER, pattER, clattER etc. I don’t know where the emphasis naturally comes in Welsh, but it strikes me that for this poetic form to work well in English, you need to look for words with an accent on the last syllable – which usually means single-syllable words – for your rhymes at the ends of lines.

      Reply
      • Ruth

        The comment above was addressed to Kathy – somehow I missed the first few words in copying and pasting.

  3. Ruth

    I decided on the subject of my first attempt below, because the beat to which it is danced is similar to the natural rhythm produced in reading a rhupunt poem.

    Polka

    Up-beat, quick pace,
    with sprightly grace,
    pairs face to face,
    the dancers turn.

    That champagne taste;
    his hand, her waist,
    their fingers laced,
    and flushed cheeks burn.

    Forget your pomp!
    With music, romp!
    Bright eyed, smile, stomp
    round and return.

    Breathe in, breathe out;
    those stiff or stout
    are falling out –
    time to adjourn!

    Reply
  4. Ruth

    Night Walk

    Through shadows – go!
    I must not slow…
    you never know
    what stalkers prowl.

    From darkness, white!
    swoops from a height:
    the silent flight
    of broad-winged owl.

    So quiet, so still.
    Then – flute-like thrill!
    high, rippling trill:
    unseen night-fowl.

    Stand. Do not lose
    rare notes, deep hues:
    the subtle muse.
    I doff my cowl.

    Reply
  5. Kathy Figueroa

    Hi Ruth! Thanks for your comments! I really enjoyed reading your two “rhupunts,” particularly the one about the polka, which I could relate to. 🙂

    Reply

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