John Ceiriog Hughes

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John Ceiriog Hughes

John Ceiriog Hughes (25 September 1832 – 23 April 1887), was a Welsh poet and a well-known collector of Welsh folk tunes.[1] He was sometimes referred to as the "Robert Burns of Wales". Ceiriog was born at Penybryn Farm, overlooking the village of Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog in the Ceiriog Valley of north-east Wales, then in Denbighshire and now part of Wrexham County Borough. His mother, Phoebe, was a midwife and an expert in herbal medicine. He was one of eight children, and a favourite of his mother's.

Life[edit]

At 18, Hughes left the village to live in Manchester, where he worked as a grocer. He opened his own shop in 1854. He met and was much influenced by William Williams (Creuddynfab), a station master in the Pennines, who befriended him and gave him a job on the railway. Williams had been appointed as first secretary of the National Eisteddfod Society. Hughes decided to sell his shop and concentrate on writing poetry, but he also started to drink heavily.

He returned to Wales in 1865 after being appointed as station master at Llanidloes. From 1868, he held the post of a station master and manager of the Van Railway at Caersws railway station.[2] He died in poverty in 1887 at the age of 54, having continued to drink heavily.

Poetry[edit]

Hughes made his first attempts at poetry while a pupil at Nant y Glôg School, after his father had given him a book on Welsh grammar, including a section on cynghanedd.

Ceirog's desire to restore simplicity of diction and emotional sincerity to Welsh poetry did for it what Wordsworth and Coleridge did for English poetry. His work is noted for its attempt to create a new Welsh culture and raise the status of the Welsh people, after the publication of the notorious Blue Books on education in Wales. His lyric poetry was based on traditional folk song. It earned national attention when he won the Llangollen Eisteddfod in 1858 with a love poem, "Myfanwy Fychan o Gastell Dinas Brân" (Little Myfanwy from Castell Dinas Brân).

Ceirog's first collection of poetry was published in 1860 as Oriau'r Hwyr (Evening Hours). He also wrote many light-hearted lyrics, which he adapted to old Welsh tunes or to original music by various composers. His song lyrics include "Dafydd y Garreg Wen" (David of the White Rock) and "Ar Hyd y Nos" (All Through the Night). He also wrote the Welsh lyrics for the song "God Bless the Prince of Wales" and for the Charles Dibdin song, "The Bells of Aberdovey", which he translated as "Clychau Aberdyfi". A Welsh-language version of the song "The Ash Grove" is putatively attributed to Ceiriog Hughes as well. Another source attributes to him the Welsh words of the song "Men of Harlech", first published in 1890, remarking that the English words did not follow until 1893.[3]

Like many Welsh poets, Ceiriog adopted a bardic name – "Ceiriog", from the Ceiriog Valley where he was born. In his home village, the public hall contains a memorial inscription to him.

Musicologist[edit]

Ceirog's fascination with Welsh folk music led him to investigate its history of the music, particularly that of the harpists who would often accompany songs. This led to a grand project to publish four volumes of Welsh airs, of which only the first appeared in print, in 1863: Cant O Ganeuon (A Hundred Songs).

References[edit]

  1. ^ The National Library of Wales :: Dictionary of Welsh Biography
  2. ^ C P Gasquoine (1973). The Story of the Cambrian. Christopher Davies Ltd. 
  3. ^ Fuld, James J, The Book of World-Famous Music: Classical, Popular, and Folk, Dover, 5th ed., 2000, p. 394.

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