A tradition of storytelling

We Welsh love to talk, so it’s not surprising our literature all stems from the storytelling tradition.

We have a real love of language and a thriving literary culture, in both the Welsh language and in English (called Anglo-Welsh literature).

To make sure we celebrate our literature, we’re home to the world’s most famous literary festival - Hay-on-Wye. It attracts high profile names from the literary world from all over the world each year.

  • Poetry

    Welsh Poetry

    Our oldest surviving poetry dates from the sixth century – predating all European literature except Greek and Latin. Welsh poetry developed as an oral art. This led to cynghanedd (harmony), a very complicated system of alliteration and internal rhyme, still rewarded today at the National Eisteddfod.

    In mediaeval times Welsh bards or poets played a social role; their job was to praise their lords and masters, often the Welsh princes. This tradition lasted from the 6th to the 16th century. Dafydd ap Gwilym - a 14th Century poet – was a bit different from the rest. He wrote on everyday themes and in common language. He is considered a true revolutionary and still holds his own among the great European poets.

     

  • The Thomases

    Dylan Thomas

    Probably our two most famous Anglo-Welsh poets are Thomases.

    The most famous – or maybe infamous - literary figure to come from Wales is Dylan Thomas. His poems and short stories, and in particular his ‘play for voices’ Under Milk Wood, work best when read out loud, taking us back to our oral traditions. He had no illusions or romanticism about Wales, calling his home town of Swansea an ‘ugly, lovely town’.

    RS Thomas is perhaps not as well-known, but many believe he has been more influential. He died at the age of 87, in 2000. He wrote over 30 volumes of poetry, was translated into many languages, and was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996.

  • Modern times

    Hay Festival

    More recent writers to come from Wales include the children’s favourite Roald Dahl, who died in 1990, and who was born in Cardiff to Norwegian parents.

    Sarah Waters, shortlisted for both the Booker and the Orange prize for her novel ‘Fingersmith’, is probably our most critically-acclaimed novelist writing today. Other popular novelists include Niall Griffiths, Jasper Fforde, Malcolm Pryce and Rachel Trezise, whilst English language poet Owen Sheers is making a name for himself internationally.

    Welsh language poetry continues to thrive too, with the success of poets like Menna Elfyn, who is translated widely, and Twm Morys, son of the celebrated travel writer Jan Morris. Popular Welsh language novelists include Caryl Lewis and Bethan Gwanas.

  • The Mabinogion

    The Mabinogion

    These medieval Welsh folk tales are considered Wales’ greatest contribution to European literature.

    They came to prominence in the mid 19th century, when Lady Charlotte Guest published her translation under the title The Mabinogion.

    But the tales are themselves much older than that. It is believed that some were written as early as the second half of the 11th century, and that some might be even older.

    The tales themselves are set in a magical Wales full of heroic men and beautiful women, and feature tales of King Arthur and Merlin.