Monday, 31 July 2017

Remembering Pacifist Poet Hedd Wyn ( 13/1/1887 – 31/7/1917)

One hundred years has passed since the death of First World War,Welsh language poet/ pacifist Ellis Humphrey Evans, better known by his bardic pen name Hedd Wyn. (Blessed Peace).
The eldest son of 11 children of Evan and Mary Evans, of Yr Ysgwrn farm, Trawsfynydd.he began writing Welsh-language poetry aged just 11, mastering the hardest form of Welsh poetry (the cynghanedd) at 12, and continued to write after leaving school to work on the farm when he was 14. By 19 he was a regular competitor in eisteddfodau and won the first of his  chairs at Bala Eisteddfod in 1907. Others followed at Llanuwchllyn, Pwllheli and Pontardawe (the latter in 1915 with the First World War underway).In 1916, he won second place at the at the Aberystwyth National Eisteddfod with Ystrad Fflur, an awdl written in honour of Strata Florida, the medieval Cistercian abbey ruins in Ceredigion. He vowed to win first place the following year.
Wynn had initially sat out the war for three years as a sheep farmer, a Christian pacifist, Hedd Wyn hadn’t enlisted, but when conscription began in 1916, the Evans family were required to send one of their sons to war. To spare his younger brother, Robert, Ellis volunteered. Following a spell of training in March at Litherland in Liverpool Private Evans was despatched for active service in Flanders and found himself stationed with his regiment at the notorious Pilckem Ridge immediately prior to the opening of the Passchendale offensive (3rd Ypres).
Previously while on leave at the farm, he wrote his romantic poem, Yr Arwr (The Hero), for submission to the judges of the National Eisteddfod. The work was inspired by Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Prometheus Unbound. He didn't want  to go back but the military police came for him in June. He left the poem Yr Arwr, (The Hero) on the kitchen table and re wrote it from memory en route to France. Here is a link to  more  on this poem from the People's Collection Wales / Casgliad Y Werin Cymru :-
However the reluctant soldier from the Yr Ysgwrn farm near Trawsfynydd was tragically killed on the first day of the Battle of Passchendaele in Belgium on July 31, 1917. He was one of 9,300 British troops who were slaughtered in the first three days of the Battle of Passchendaele.Soon after being wounded he was carried to a first-aid post and still conscious he asked the doctor "Do you think I will live?" although he had little chance of surviving. Mr Wyn died at around 11am. 
Some weeks after his death on 6 September 1917  when the ceremony at Birkenhead Park took place, the adjudicators announced that the winning entry had been submitted under the pseudonym Fleur de Lys. At the award ceremony the archdruid rose to summon the poet, in the traditional fashion, to come to take the chair, calling him three times to make himself known. But it then had to be revealed, to the consternation of the gathering, which included the prime minister, David Lloyd George, that Hedd Wyn had fallen while fighting with the Royal Welch Fusiliers “somewhere in France.” The empty chair was draped with a black shroud, and the festival of that year has ever since been called Eisteddfod y Gadair Ddu (The Eisteddfod of the Black) and the Archdruid spoke of ‘the festival in tears and the poet in his grave’ The shockwaves at the time were palpable. “No words can adequately describe the wave of emotion that swept over the vast audience when Wyn’s bardic chair was draped with the symbols of mourning,"  the Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard newspaper reported at the time.. Wyn’s absence that day was emblematic of a lost generation of men who would never return home.
A  memorable, though slightly romanticised Welsh-language film based on HeddWyn's life  has also helped bring his story and verse to a wider audience and was produced in 1992, Hedd Wynn,.which I  fortunate to watch last night on S4C. It is available to purchase on DVD
Aberystwyth’s National Library of Wales hosts the original manuscript of the ode ‘Yr Arwr’,Hedd Wyn’s final draft of the poem which won him the chair at the 1917 Birkenhead Eisteddfod. The collection also includes a number of personal notes and items and notes of the bard.
The library is also hosting a special exhibition ‘The Fallen Poets’ until 9th September, 2017, commemorating both Hedd Wyn and Edward Thomas, who both died in battle in 1917.  Celebrating their lives and their legacy, the exhibition will also look at ways in which the two have since inspired writers, poets and filmmakers.
In 1918 the decision was made that Ellis' poems should gave a wider audience, and they were published in a collection called "Cerdi'r Budail" (Shepherd's Songs). The money raised by the sale of the book paid for the statue by L.S. Merrifield which the villagers of Trawfynydd pass every day. He is portrayed not as a soldier but as the shepherd they knew. The cross which  marked his grave at Boesinghe is now displayed at his former school, which was renamed "Ysgol Hedd Wyn" in his honour, and there is a memorial plaque at St George's Church at Ypres which has become a place of pilgrimage for Welsh men and women.
One of his most powerful  poems that I have  found translated  is “Y Rhyfel” (War), which I post below.

/War-  Hedd Wyn (Translated by Gillian Clarke)

Gwae fi fy myw mewn oes mor ddreng,
A Duw ar drai ar orwel pell;
O'i ôl mae dyn, yn deyrn a gwreng,
Yn codi ei awdurdod hell.
Pan deimlodd fyned ymaith Dduw
Cyfododd gledd i ladd ei frawd;
Mae swn yr ymladd ar ein clyw,
A'i gysgod ar fythynnod tlawd.
Mae'r hen delynau genid gynt,
Ynghrog ar gangau'r helyg draw,
A gwaedd y bechgyn lond y gwynt,
A'u gwaed yn gymysg efo'r glaw
Bitter to live in times like these.
While God declines beyond the seas;
Instead, man, king or peasantry,
Raises his gross authority.
When he thinks God has gone away
Man takes up his sword to slay
His brother; we can hear death's roar.
It shadows the hovels of the poor.
Like the old songs they left behind,
We hung our harps in the willows again.
Ballads of boys blow on the wind,
Their blood is mingled with the rain.

Today Hedd Wyn is regarded as one of Wale's foremost poets. The bardic chair that Wyn was never able to claim in 1917  has since been preserved at Wynn’s family home, now a museum, as a poignant reminder of those Wales lost in the war. This poet/Bardd continues to represent a lost generation that could have further enriched our literature and national life had they been spared.

I will end this post with the following poem by Hedd Wynn, translated by the poet  Alan Llwyd who incidentally wrote the script for the film mentioned previously.

Y Blotyn Du

Nid oes gennym hawl ar y sêr,
Na'r lleuad hiraethus chwaith,
Na'r cwmwl o aur a ymylch
Yng nghanol y glesni maith.

Nid oes gennym hawl ar ddim byd
Ond ar yr hen ddaear wyw;
A honno syn anhrefn i gyd
Yng nghanol gogoniant Duw.

The Black Spot

We have no claim to the stars
Nor the sad-faced cloud that immerses
Itself in celestial light.

We only have the right to exist
On earth in its vast devastation,
And it's only man' strife that destroys
The glory of God's creation.

The Poet's Grave in France reads Hedd Wyn Chief Bardd

Statue of Hedd Wyn , Trawsfynnyd

Gwladd Beirdd - Hedd Wyn ; English subtitles

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