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Dán Díreach Verse Forms

Once upon a time, in the same period of prosperity that produced troubadour songs in the Languedoc,
a bunch of Irish poets came up with a new school of poetry. (Or maybe it was the bards who came
up with it first, and the poets who followed suit.) Like the troubadours, the dán díreach poets loved
complexity, elaborate kennings, complaining about unsuitable rewards and celebrating generosity, and
showing off the beauty of the language. Unlike the troubadours, they tended to wax more eloquent
about male lords than female ones (at least in the majority of surviving poems). But then again, there
were troubadours who loved best to sing of war and swords clashing (not to mention putting in lots of
political maneuvering to be later condemned by Dante). It's quintessentially Irish yet very much a part of larger European culture; and I love this kind of stuff.  Too bad none of the harpers' tunes survived,
so we can't find out if there was any musical crosspollination going on.

The rules for the forms below must be followed strictly to be considered dán díreach. Else, the work is brúilingeacht (a style which used the same forms but simpler rhymes) or óglachas ('apprentice work', a less formal style often used by amateurs).

A poem should begin and end on the same sound: the same syllable, the same word, or the same line. This is called dúnadh ("conclusion). Dán díreach, óglachas, and brúilingeacht all usually follow this rule; but there are a good many dán díreach poems which don't follow it & apparently never did. Keep in mind that dán díreach poems are often many ranns (quatrains or stanzas) long, so there are plenty of lines before the poet comes to the first syllable again. Also, some poems tacked the dúnadh on almost as a refrain, and sometimes repeated it twice at the end of a poem. At any rate, it is very period and a nifty poetic device.

In dán díreach, when 2 or more words in a line rhyme with words in a line preceding or following that line, no non-rhyming _stressed_ words should come in between the rhyming words. (Again, you don't need to do this if you're writing brúilingeacht or óglachas.)

This section is based on what I've gleaned from An Introduction to Irish Syllabic Poetry of the Period 1200-1600, by Eleanor Knott; the introduction to Volume I of Aithdioghluim Dána, edited by Lambert McKenna, S.J.; Early Celtic Versecraft; and Early Irish Metrics by Gerard Murphy. The last book is the most complete by far; it lists 79 or so different forms and a multitude of interesting poetic terms. With footnotes galore. Since the only time I found this book I had an hour and no Canadian change for photocopying, I didn't manage to copy everything; but I copied enough to improve this article a lot. Basically, it seems that the Irish and Scottish filidh and bards would take a basic pattern and name each variation of syllables per line and syllables per last word in a line. Or at least the most useful ones.

echraid -- This form uses alliteration within the stanza but rhymes the final lines of each one.

Bairre breó bithbuadach
buaid betha brethadbuil
rithen réil rathamra
ruithniges Ébermag
lia luagmar lainnerda
ní luad nach liúin.

Eó órda ilchrothach
uaisliu cach caín chumdach
aire ard ollairbrech
ernes cach n-olladhaic
do buidnic balc Banba
barr Brogha Briúin.

Modern scholars divide dán díreach verse forms into four families:
ochtfochlach, debide, draignech, and rannaigecht.

These families are used in many Indo-European languages even today. Dán díreach poetry elaborated on these simpler forms, but did not make them obsolete.

rann : quatrain, 4-line stanza (Earliest tracts use 'rann' for line, though.)

leathrann: ('half-rann') couplet

ceathramhain: line

Poems in Old Irish survive that 'break the rules': stanzas without rhyme with uniform syllable count, poems with lots of rhyme and no uniform stresses, rhyme schemes that change from stanza to stanza and so forth. Genealogical poems, usually found in paragraphs of alliterative accentual verse, sometimes use stanzas which share the irregular characteristics above. Throughout period times, óglachas (apprentice poetry) was allowed all sorts of liberties; and the work of amateurs was always regarded as óglachas. So don't be afraid.

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