A Poem by Hedd Wyn

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

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31 replies

  1. Thank you. And Happy St.David’s Day to you.

  2. Dydd Gŵyl Dewi hapus, Paula, and thank for sharing this: I thought Gillian Clarke’s translation particularly affecting and sympathetic.

  3. The poem is tragically apposite as more than a century later war rages and ravages parts of Europe.

  4. Wonderful. I saw a program on TV – I think it might have been Michael Portillo – that they draped the bardic chair in black for the posthumous award. Very moving.

  5. And here is a link to the brilliant Welsh language film “Hedd Wyn” 1992:

  6. What a poignant piece. And it’s both tragic and frightening to think how it can well apply to all that’s going on today.

  7. Really moving Paula, thank you for sharing.

  8. Happy St David’s Day Paula, and thank you for sharing this – still so relevant alas…. 🙁

  9. Hope it was good day for you, Paula. No sunshine here! Daffs yes. It’s a very affecting poem in translation. I can follow it a bit in Welsh. Sadly the underlying truth is all too near …

    • It was a lovely day in Conwy, thank you – the sun shone throughout – but it was also a bit crazy in the new house. Today is dull and damp, I’m afraid. You do well to follow any part of the poem in Welsh. You are making great strides, Maria. Keep up the excellent work! 😀

      Yes, far too near… There is yet more terrible news coming from Ukraine this morning. I feel dread in my heart for those poor people but they are so bravely standing up to the Russian soldiers. I think Putin must have lost all sense of reason, which is a terrifying thought.

  10. An amazing and poignant poem right now, thank you for sharing it. Your first St David’s Day in your new house!

  11. A beautiful and poignant poem. I’ve cried reading Brittle With Relics before I got to p. 8, but that’s because it’s a wonderful and poignant read!

  12. Timeless. Unfortunately. Fitting to read, just as I was watching the crowds in Prague, listening to Zelenskyy’s speech.


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