Peniarth Manuscript 49 114r (from collection of John Davies, Mallwyd - 16th cent)
Text of 'Merch yr Edliw ei Lyfrdra' by Dafydd ap Gwilym (1320-1370)
Think of a language which uses compound phrases and the one that will probably come to mind is German. But compounds have often been used in Welsh, particularly by poets wanting to build up densely-packed images. Take the following example from Dafydd ap Gwilym:
Y wawr dlós-ferch ry dlýsfain
Wrm ael a wisg aur a main.
First here’s my attempt at a translation:
Dawn-fair girl so delicately slender
Dusky-browed, wearing gold and gemstones.
Now a look at the compounds:
There is only one obviously hyphenated compound – dlós-ferch (pretty girl). Normally this would not need to be a compound and the adjective would follow the noun rather than preceding it: merch dlos. Here the obvious compound is linked more loosely to another implied compound: gwawr-dlos (dawn-beautiful) to give the multiple compound ‘dawn-fair-girl’. The word ‘dlýsfain’ at the end of the line is also a compound of ‘tlos’ and ‘main’ (pretty-slender). Preceded by ‘rhy’ it makes another triple compound which is necessary for the accentuation of the line which requires these sounds to be run together. In the second line ‘gwrm’ and ‘ael’ together form a loose possessive compound: ‘[of the] dusky brow’. There are some variations from the sources for the first line. Another uses the compound adlaesferch ( ‘adlaes’ = fair or edlaes = ‘modest’, in either case the word is marked as ”archaic” in Y Geiriadur Mawr).
The above example is cited by John Morris Jones in his A Welsh Grammar where he also remarks that only double compounds (of nouns or adjectives) are formed in Welsh, but the further comment that any element in a compound may also be a compound qualifies the original statement to the point that it is questionable. Certainly the two lines of verse above are compounded so densely that they can scarcely be prised apart. And that’s without even beginning to consider the linkages formed by the cynghanedd ….