The englyn is found in the work of the earliest attested Welsh poets (the cynfeirdd), where the main types are the three-line englyn milwr and englyn penfyr. It is the only set stanzaic metre found in the early Welsh poetic corpus, and explanations for its origins have tended to focus on stanzaic Latin poetry and hymns; however, it is as likely to be a development within the Brittonic poetic tradition. Whereas the metrical rules of later englynion are clear (and are based on counting syllables), the precise metre of the early englynion is debated and could have involved stress-counting. The earliest englynion are found as marginalia written in a tenth-century hand in the so-called Juvencus Manuscript. Many early englynion form poems which seem to represent moments of characters' emotional reflection in stories now lost: Canu Llywarch Hen, Canu Urien, Canu Heledd. Others survey heroic tradition, for example the Englynion y Beddau or Geraint son of Erbin, and others again are lyric, religious meditations and laments such as the famous Claf Abercuawg and Kyntaw geir.
There are a number of types of englynion. Details of their structures are as follows; however not all of these are included in the Traditional Welsh poetic metres.
Also known as the short-ended englyn. It consists of a verse of three lines. The first line has ten syllables and the other two have seven each. The seventh, eighth or ninth syllable of the first line introduces the rhyme and this is repeated on the last syllable of the other two lines. The fourth syllable of the second line echoes the final syllable of the first through either rhyme or consonance.
The soldier's englyn. This consists of three seven-syllable lines. All three lines rhyme.
The straight one-rhymed englyn. This consists of four lines of ten, six, seven and seven syllables. The seventh, eighth or ninth syllable of the first line introduces the rhyme and this is repeated on the last syllable of the other three lines. The part of the first line after the rhyme alliterates with the first part of the second line.
This is an englyn unodl union:
Ym Mhorth oer y Merthyron – y merthyr
Mwya'i werth o ddigon
A hir-fawrha y fro hon
Wr dewr o Aberdaron
The crooked one-rhyme englyn. This englyn is made up of four lines of seven, seven, ten and six syllables. The last syllables of the first, second and last lines and the seventh, eighth or ninth syllable of the third line all rhyme.
This version has four lines of seven syllables each. The final syllables of the first second and last line rhyme. The last syllable of the third line rhymes with the second, third or fourth syllable of the last line.
In this englyn, there are four seven-syllable lines that half-rhyme with each other (half-rhyme means that the final consonants agree).
This is identical to the englyn proest dalgron except that the half rhymes must use the ae, oe, wy, and ei diphthongs.
The chain half-rhyme englyn. In this version there are four lines of seven syllables. The first and third lines rhyme and the second and fourth half rhyme on the same vowel sound as the full rhyme syllables.
The reciprocal half-rhyme englyn. This has four lines of seven syllables. All four lines half-rhyme, and there is additional cynghanedd.
This is a hybrid between an englyn and a toddaid. The first two lines are as for an englyn, and there follow two more lines of ten syllables each.
After the first two lines there is just one more line of three syllables or fewer, which follows the rhyme of the first two lines.
The novelist Robertson Davies once said that englynion were an old enthusiasm of his. He said that the form was derived by the Welsh from the inscriptions on Roman tombs in Wales. According to him, englynion must have four lines, the first one having ten syllables, then six, then the last two having seven syllables each. In the first line there must be a break after the seventh, eighth, or ninth syllable, and the rhyme with the second line comes at this break; but the tenth syllable of the first line must either rhyme or be in assonance with the middle of the second line. The last two lines must rhyme with the first rhyme in the first line, but the third or fourth line must rhyme on a weak syllable.
Source: Davies, "Haiku and Englyn", _Toronto Daily Star_, 4 April 1959, in _The Enthusiasms of Robertson Davies_, 1990.
Here are two englynion by the 12th century Welsh poet Cynddelw Brydydd Mawr:
Balch ei fugunawr ban nafawr ei lef
pan ganer cyrn cydawr;
corn Llyelyn llyw lluydfawr
bon chang blaen hang bloed fawr.
Corn wedi llad corn llawen
corn llugynor Llywlyn
corn gwyd gwr hydr ai can
corn meinell yn ol gellgwn
Here is an English language englyn by novelist Robertson Davies.
The Old Journalist
He types his laboured column--weary drudge!
Senile, fudge and solemn;
Spare, editor, to condemn
These dry leaves of his autumn.
Grace in the form of an englyn (with cynghanedd shown).O Dad, yn deulu dedwydd - Y deuwn
(Dad & dedwydd, d<accent>d repeated)
A diolch o'r newydd
, (deuwn & diolch, d<accent> repeated)
Cans o'th law y daw bob dydd
(law & daw rhyming, daw & dydd, d<accent> repeated, cynghanedd sain)
Ein lluniaeth a'n llawenydd.
(ein lluniaeth & a'n llawenydd, ll<accent>n repeated)
"O Father, as a happy family - we shall come
And give thanks anew
For Thy hand giveth each day
Our sustenance and our joy."
A poem by W.D.Williams