Rhyfel / War


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.

Pam 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
Yng nghrog ar gangau’r helyg draw,
A gwaedd y bechgyn lond y gwynt,
A’u gwaed yn gymysg efo’r glaw.


Woe is my life in such a bitter age,
As God fades on the horizon’s canopy;
As He goes, man, both lord and liege,
Sets up his own ugly hegemony.

When he saw his God disappear
He drew a sword to kill his brothers;
The din of battle fills the ear,
And covers the cabins of poor mothers.

The old harps that were played in a time of joys
Hang from the branches of that willow wood,
The wind fills up with the screams of boys,
And the falling rain with their blood.

This is one of many poems in Welsh by Ellis Humphrey Evans, better known by his bardic name, ‘Hedd Wyn’ (1887 – 1917). There is no way that I could reproduce the subtle poetic style of the most quotable poem by one of the most famous poets of Wales this century.

Born on a farm near Trawsfynydd in Meirionydd, North Wales, Ellis Evans was a pacifist who hated war. However, because he was a skilled worker on his parents’ farm he was able to avoid the call to arms until early in 1917. Then his parents were told that one of their two sons would have to join the forces. He enlisted at once to prevent his eager younger brother from doing so. He was killed in July that year.

While in the army he sent a poem in Welsh to the organisers of the Royal National Eisteddfod of Wales, held that year in Liverpool, under the pseudonym ‘Hedd Wyn’ (‘Blessed Peace’). His poem won but no one answered when the chief bard called on ‘Hedd Wyn’ to stand. When it was discovered that the victorious poet was already dead his bardic chair was draped in a black shroud and sent home to his parents in their remote farmhouse. The rest, as they say, is history.

Translation ©: Barry Tobin, 1999.

The classic film, Hedd Wyn, 1992.

Gaeilge / Gwyddeleg / Irish.

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