There were gods of music and resolve,
of youthful vigor and verve for all spirit;
yet there were also unhappy men in paradise—
neither there for evil, joy, nor penance
~ Hedd Wyn, The Hero: the ascension (I) stanza 13
Great thread title, right. Got your attention? Good I wanted this to be another Rate-a-Poet poll thread like the ones I've done for Fernando Pessoa, Robert Frost, and Idris Davies, but then I realised not many people on this forum would know who this thread was about. Even if they did, I'm pretty sure a language barrier would prevent from having an opinion. Instead, I'm going to tell the story of the poet in short, offer some translations and undertake a massive commitment at the end of it .
Ellis Humphrey Evans, born 13th January 1887, was a man of peace, a poet, and one of the many casualties of Flanders fields. He was a simple farmer's son who left school at 14 to tend the sheep. He attended church every Sunday and took bible lessons. He discovered at a very young age that he had a penchant for poetry and began submitting work in his teens to local and national poetry contests. [A word on poetry contests in Wales. The Eisteddfodau are not a continuation of ancient tradition, but a revival of a bardic tradition celebrating art, music and literature in which poetry is the ultimate fusion. The contests are presided over by the circle of druids and the winner is announced during a ritual known as 'the chairing of the bard' in which the winning poet quite literally wins a chair, is seated and accepted into the circle of druids or bardic council.] As he got older and more competent, he began to rank and place 2nd or 3rd in many Eisteddfodau. He was granted the bardic name of 'Hedd Wyn' (blessed peace) and became known as the 'Shepherd Poet'.
Then... 1914. War in Europe. To start with, not all men were required to head out to the front; some, mainly farmers and the elderly, were needed to keep the country afloat. During this time, Evans continued to write poetry--he was also a pacifist and staunch non-conformist; this period saw a change in his poetry (until now primarily pastoral), and a rise in a new voice that questioned the morals of the world, the futility of aggression and pondered the sanctity and continuation of rural life. One of his most famous poems of this time is 'War', my personal favourite is 'The Black Dot'.
~ Hedd Wyn / Translation: Kieran Borsden
Cursed to live in such bitter days
where God declines beyond the seas;
in his place, man, king, or slave
rise forth in gross authority.
When he thought God was gone at last,
man put his brother to the sword.
Now in our ears death's roar blasts;
it shadows the hovels of the poor.
Just like the songs we put out of mind,
we hung our harps in the willows again.
Boys bawl their ballads on the wind;
their blood is blended with the rain.
~ 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 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.
The Black Dot
~ Hedd Wyn / Translation: Kieran Borsden
We have no claim upon the stars,
nor on the moon in hindsight's view,
nor on the clouds embroidered in gold
adrift in the unending blue.
We have no claim on anything—but
this age-worn earth's neglected face,
and the things which chaos pulls apart
amid the glory of God's grace.
Y Blotyn Du
~ Hedd Wyn
Nid oes gennym hawl ar y ser,
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 sy'n anhrefn i gyd
yng nghanol gogoniant Duw.
In 1916, all families were required to draft one of their sons; Evans put himself forward to spare his younger sibling the draft... he spent several months in training before being granted 7 weeks leave to spend with his family before heading out to war. He used most of this time to write his poem 'Yr Arwr' (The Hero), and stayed 7 days longer than intended. He was collected by the police and forced onto the train, leaving behind his handwritten poem. He re-wrote the entire poem from memory during the course of his journey to Belgium. He signed it Fleur-de-lys and had it smuggled on a homeward journey with a wounded friend. Evans died in the battle of Passchendaele on the 31st of July 1917.
Six weeks later the Poem 'Yr Arwr' by Fleur-de-Lys was proclaimed the winner of the national Eisteddfod at Birkenhead. The trumpets sounded, but no one claimed it. What must have seemed an age passed before a whisper from the crowd reached the circle of druids. Fleur-de-Lys was Hedd Wyn, and he was dead. The chair was dressed in his honour with a black veil and became known as the Black Chair. It is still on display at Evan's family home of 'Yr Ysgwrn'.
The poem is considered a masterpiece, constructed from 4 parts and telling the tale of 'the Hero' and the 'Daughter of the Tempests'. Over the next few months, I'll try my hand at a full translation to be posted in this thread.