We commence the first week of Reading Wales 2022 with a poem written by the Welsh-language poet Hedd Wyn
To mark Saint David’s Day and the start of Dewithon 2022, I share the moving poem Rhyfel (War) in both English and Welsh. It is one of Hedd Wyn’s best known and most frequently quoted works in which he interweaves ideas about faith, music, class and conflict in a lament for the brutality and devastation caused by the First World War.
‘Hedd Wyn’ (Welsh for ‘blessed peace’) was the Bardic name of Private Ellis Humphrey Evans (1887-1917), a title bestowed on him by the bard Bryfdir at a poets’ meeting in Blaenau Ffestiniog in 1910. He wrote much of his early poetry while working as a shepherd on his family’s farm and was greatly influenced by the romantic style. The young Evans was well-known in the Trawsfynydd area for his lyrical talents, winning many local competitions and eisteddfodau – indeed, he received his first Cadair y Bardd in Bala at the age of twenty. He was posthumously awarded the bard’s chair (the highest honour bestowed to Welsh language poets) at the 1917 National Eisteddfod – a traditional festival celebrating the poetry and music of Wales.
As a Christian pacifist Evans did not initially enlist to fight but was inspired by war to produce some of his finest work. However, in June 1917 he joined the 15th Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers at Fléchin, in France. He was killed on the first day of the Battle of Passchendaele.
War (Rhyfel) by Hedd Wyn
English translation by Gillian Clarke
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.
Original Welsh poem by Hedd Wyn
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 sŵn 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.
Categories: Reading Wales