Goronwy Owen's Cywydd Hiraeth

Reference: NLW MS 11568B

Goronwy Owen (1723-1769) was one of Wales's most important poets of the eighteenth century and a master of the cynghanedd (described in the University of Wales dictionary as 'a system of consonance or alliteration in a line of Welsh poetry in strict metre'). NLW MS 11568B includes a draft copy of his cywydd 'Hiraeth' in the hand of another of the century's leading figures, Lewis Morris (1701-1765).

Goronwy Owen was born in 1723 to a poor family in the parish of Llanfair Mathafarn Eithaf, Anglesey. His mother, Siân Parry, had been a maid at Pentre-eiriannell, the home of the famous Morris family. His father, Owen Gronw, was an artisan who could compose cynghanedd to some extent. Goronwy attended Friars school, Bangor where he learnt Latin and Greek to a high standard. He also took a special interest in poetry, and by the age of seventeen, according to his own testimony, he could compete against much older poets. His development as a poet was encouraged by Lewis Morris.

Following a short period at Jesus College, Oxford, he was an assistant teacher at Pwllheli and Denbigh. He went on to Llanfair Mathafarn as a curate, but had to leave. He moved on to Oswestry where he married for the first time in 1747. He left in order to escape debt collectors and moved to Donnington near Shrewsbury where he composed many of his most famous poems. From there he moved to Walton and then to Northolt, London but by now his lifestyle was becoming increasingly profligate and Lewis Morris was worried that he might lose his position as a curate. In 1757 he accepted a position as a teacher at a grammar school in Williamsburgh, Virginia. His wife and one of his children died on the journey. He re-married in America but his second wife died within a few months. He lost his position in the school as a consequence of his excessive drinking and spent his final years as a parish parson in St. Andrew's, Brunswick County where he married for the third time.

Goronwy attempted to revive Welsh poetry from its decline following the Anglicisation of the traditional patrons of the poets, the native Welsh gentry. He believed that he could re-interpret the traditional strict metre poetry for his own age. Instead of cywyddau praising the houses of various members of the gentry, there are poems dealing with subjects such as longing and contemplations on the Christian life. Amongst his best poems are 'Cywydd yn ateb Huw'r Bardd Coch o Fôn' and 'Awdl Gofuned'.

The cywydd 'Hiraeth' that appears in incomplete draft form in this manuscript is usually referred to by its full title of 'Cywydd ateb i annerch Huw ap Huw'r bardd o Lwydiarth Esgob, ym Môn' or by its shorter title of 'Cywydd molawd Môn ('Cywydd in praise of Anglesey'). This cywydd was composed about 1756 when Goronwy lived at Northolt in London.

Further reading

  • Alan Llwyd. Gronwy ddiafael, Gronwy Ddu : cofiant Goronwy Owen 1723-1769, Llandybïe : Cyhoeddiadau Barddas, 1997.
  • Branwen Jarvis. Goronwy Owen, University of Wales Press, 1986.

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