Friday, June 24, 2022

Poetry Friday: Welsh Tales and Byr a Thoddaid Poems

Lloyd Alexander

June's challenge was to explore a Welsh poetic form, the Byr a Thoddaid, which pre-dates written tradition, and thus has an oral bias towards sound, syllable and rhyme. It's also of unlimited length, allowing the poet (or bard, as I imagine him/her) to string together a series of quatrains to tell an extended story---which immediately put me in mind of writing about my favorite quintet of books based on Welch mythology, The Prydain Chronicles.  

As a kid, I lived and breathed those stories more than any other, finding myself in its yearning hero, who was not just a pig-keeper, but an even lowlier assistant pig-keeper.  But, oh, how he hoped he was more---a long-lost prince, or a secretly chosen one. Don't we all? 

What I didn't know as a kid was how the author, Lloyd Alexander, struggled. He thought war adventure might serve him better than college but according to this article, "he was too clumsy with artillery to be sent to the front, and the sight of blood made him faint, making him unfit to work as a medic."  He later trained in intelligence, but after the Army, he was jobless, and took work as his sister's potter apprentice.  Reading his life story, you can see how many times he was uncalled, unchosen, and quite often, unprepared. He was (despite his later awards) a non-hero, a life-long apprentice who learned how to write the long, hard, assistant pig-keeper way. And I deeply admire him for it. 

A few points about the Byr a Thoddaid: 

The form is defined by 4 lines (quatrains) of 8 syllables/8 syllables plus 10 syllables/6 syllables.  You can  put the  8/8 couplets before or after the 10/6 lines. You can even alternate between the two orders, as I've done with mine below. 

The 8 syllable couplets end-rhyme. The 6 syllable line's end word, however, finds its rhyme with a word towards the end (but not the end) of the 10 syllable line. 

There's also a subtle link between the absolute end word of the 10 line and a word near the beginning of the 6 line (such as alliteration or slant rhyme)  

If that sounds complicated, it was to me, too---at first. Once I tried a few stanzas, it got easier. Here's a fuller explanation of the form's rules and traditions.  And here's my tribute to assistant pig keepers everywhere: 


I gobbled it, the lore of Wales

the names, the history, the tales

of a pig-keeper far from fairy blessed 

his blood ordinary

not called to battle by horn, or by rite

to fight pale cauldron-born;

by bard’s harp, his shameful truth sung:

not lost prince but boy of pig dung.

He furious loved fair Eilonwy

craved sword of buried destiny 

but weaving witches tangle-told his fate:

his father: none; nor gold.

Deep-enchanted, I trotted by his side,

each stride word-besotted;

not anointed, not sent, 

a tale for those who also went.

----Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

My poetry sisters poems are found here:





Mary Lee



Poetry Friday  is hosted today by Reading to the Core


  1. How perfect that this Welsh form sent you straight to Lloyd Alexander! I didn't know all you told us about his path to writing, but like you, I love him more for his "assistant pig keeper" path. It's probably time to reread the series. My favorite is TARAN WANDERER. Did you read the Dealing With Dragons trilogy by Patricia Wrede? I loved their strong female character.

    But your poem!! Wowser! And that last stanza...the power of reading. Yes!

  2. Oh, wow -- the final stanza, a child trotting by the side of the storyteller, celebrating those who "also went" is just gorgeous. I don't think I love this form, but I love this poem, and Lloyd Alexander is the perfect guy for it. You ought to submit this one somewhere.

  3. What a story you've told! I haven't read The Prydain Chronicles since I was in high school, but you've enticed me to return to it. I love the word choices, particularly deep-enchanted and word-besotted.

  4. Wow. That ending packs a punch! And I love that when I looked for the various elements to see which order you'd done what in, I had to really search. They're so seamlessly woven in that it just feels like natural language, yet somehow older, bolder, more elegant. This is really lovely, Sara.

  5. You are the Mary Poppins of poetry...practically perfect in every way. I love how you took a challenging form and didn't stop at making sure you followed the rules but added story! Fabulous response to this challenge. And, I'm going to now add "pig-keeper" to my list of characters.

  6. Sara,your poem flows beautifully in a story tale fashion. Clearly, you not only followed the form but added beautiful word choice. You created a great ending. I shied away from this month's challenge. There was so much to accomplish and no time to really dig deep.

  7. Well, I just learned SO MUCH from this, and I'm charmed as heck -- by the assistant pig keeper, by Alexander the non-hero, and by wonderful, poetic YOU!

    1. I don't know why I was anonymous. That was me :)


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