So Rudyard Kipling in ‘Puck’s Song’ from Puck of Pooks Hill. ‘Gramarye’ is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as meaning both ‘grammar’ and also ‘occult learning, magic’. Another form of the word is ‘glamour’ in the sense of ‘enchantment’. Where does ‘grammar’ merge into ‘glamour’ to make magic? Consider that the earliest books of instruction for welsh bards, based on the even earlier purely oral methods of instruction, are known as ‘Gramadegau’r Penceirddiaid’ (Grammars of the Chief Bards). Grammar, in the Middle Ages, was regarded as the ‘mother of the arts’. The secrets of the bards of Ynys Prydain were revealed alongside grammatical instruction in these handbooks. Versification and the structure of language were seen as one and the same study: the keys to the mysteries.

We are talking here of a time when literacy was possessed by only a few, and fewer still who were not using it more or less exclusively for ecclesiastical purposes in Latin. These select few were the holders of a skill which enabled them to give shape to a developing tradition to which only they had access. So to manipulate its history, and the ability to pass it on to the future, was an act of power involving both ‘occult knowledge’ and the skill to use it.

But, as the bardic grammars also make clear, both cynghanedd (the music of the language) and the traditional verse forms (the artistic shape of the language) are held within language itself, part of its hidden grammar which the bards had the power to reveal. As one modern theorist of cynghanedd puts it, the bards were instructed to “dathla yr anweledig yn weledig” {*} (celebrate the invisible into visibility). The same theorist also asserts that language has developed not simply as a denotive medium for naming and describing things in the everyday world, but also carries a deeper structure of meaning which may be hidden in its everyday use but which has the power to reveal otherness and, from that revelation, to create articulations of a hidden world. The welsh bards were special in that they produced an institutionalisation of this idea in the bardic grammars.

So grammar becomes glamour or enchantment, glossed as ‘gramarye’ in English in spite of there being no tradition of arcane handbooks of bardic practice in that language. But any inspired poet, or awenydd, in any language, will wish to fulfil the instinct to carry meaning from the hidden realms into the cultural sphere of common conversation and, by doing so, to infuse the world we know with hidden meaning. This is the only grammar that counts.

{*}  R. M. Jones  Meddwl y Gynghanedd  (Barddas, 2005)

Author: Greg Hill

Awenydd/Poet, Cultural Critic

One thought on “Gramarye”

  1. Interesting thoughts. I’m also being drawn back into the realms of the occult at the moment. I took a quick look at the etymology of ‘grammar’ – Late Middle English: from Old French gramaire, via Latin from Greek grammatikē (tekhnē) ‘(art) of letters’, from gramma, grammat- ‘letter of the alphabet, thing written’. So it was imported into English and Welsh from Greek, Latin, French… Yes, fascinating that grammar was seen as the key to the mysteries in Wales and the Welsh bards managed to find magical uses for it that the English did not… obviously because of the differences in the languages. I think some of this comes through in the Taliesin poems in particular, but is not an area I’m knowledgeable about. I’ll look forward to your further research in this area.

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