Ellis Evans, known by his bardic name, Hedd Wyn, is our featured poet today. Hedd Wyn (Welsh for “Blessed Peace”) was a highly accomplished poet whose career was cut short by World War I. He was killed in action in 1917 at the Battle of Passchendaele. Six weeks after his death, he was posthumously awarded the Chair of the Bard—the highest honor at the National Eisteddfod of Wales—winning with his poem Yr Arwr (The Hero), which he had written while on leave from the front earlier that year. Most of his poetry was inspired by Romantic poetry, but he is also known for his several war poems. Hedd Wyn was a reluctant soldier, having joined the army to spare his family any embarrassment about not doing their part. His poem, Rhyfel (War) clearly conveys his feelings and the reality of war. The last two lines of the poem stand out in stark contrast to the romantic image of harps hung willow branches.
The Welsh text is from the Oxford Book of Welsh Verse. The English is my translation.
Gwae fi fy myw mewn oes mor ddreng
A Duw ar drai ar orwel pell;
O'i ol 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 helg draw,
A gwaedd y bechgyn lond y gwynt,
A'u gwaed yn gymysg efo'r glaw.
Woe that I live in such a morose age
God is ebbing on the far horizon;
After Him, Man, both king and commoner,
Is raising his ugly authority.
When he felt God going away,
He raised a sword to kill his brother,
The sound of battle is in our ears,
And its shadow on poor cottages.
The old harps formerly borne,
Are hung on yon willow branches,
And the screams of boys fill the wind
And their blood mixes with the rain.