Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Remembering a Veteran: Welsh Poet Hedd Wyn, 38th Division, British Army

Hedd Wyn, born Ellis Humphrey Evans  (1887–1917), was the shepherd poet who became the symbol of a generation lost during the First World War. Better known by his bardic name Hedd Wyn ("Blessed Peace"), was killed on the first day of the Battle of Passchendaele.  Born in the village of Trawsfynydd, Wales, he wrote much of his poetry while working as a shepherd on his family's hill farm. His style, which was influenced by Romantic poetry, was dominated by themes of nature and religion. He also wrote several war poems following the outbreak of war on the Western Front in 1914.

Hedd Wyn was a Christian pacifist and did not enlist for the war initially, feeling he could never kill anyone. In 1916 the Evans family were required to send one of their sons to join the British Army. The 29-year-old Ellis enlisted, rather than his younger brother Robert. In March 1917 the government called for farm workers to help with ploughing, and many soldiers were temporarily released. Hedd Wyn was given seven weeks' leave. He spent most of this leave completing his epic poem The Hero (Yr Arwr).  As it was such a wet year, he overstayed his leave for another seven days. This extra seven days made him a deserter, so the military police came to fetch him from the hay field and took him to the jail at Blaenau. From there he traveled to the war in Belgium, where he went over the top on 31 July 1917, was soon wounded, and died later that morning.  He is buried at the Artillery Wood Cemetery, north of Ypres. Among the many fatalities that day was the Irish war poet, Francis Ledwidge, who was "blown to bits" while drinking tea in a shell hole

Weeks after his death, his poem The Hero won the 1917 Eisteddfod Bardic Chair (the highest honor bestowed to Welsh-language poets). When the tragedy was revealed during the ceremony, a black cloth was dramatically draped across the chair. Remarkably, the “Black Chair,” as it is now known, was carved by Eugeen Vanfleteren, a war refugee from Flanders. The original chair is on display in Hedd Wyn’s former home Yr Ysgwrn, now a center run by Snowdonia National Park Authority.  Hedd Wyn is the title of a well-regarded 1992 Academy Award-nominated biopic that's only available on YouTube.

Here's his best-known war poem:

WAR (Rhyfel)

Why must I live in this grim age

When, to a far horizon, God

Has ebbed away, and man, with rage

Now wields the sceptre and the rod?

Man raised his sword, once God had gone,

To slay his brother, and the roar

Of battlefields now casts upon

Our homes the shadow of the war.

The harps to which we sang are hung

On willow boughs, and their refrain

Drowned by the anguish of the young

Whose blood is mingled with the rain.

— Hedd Wyn

Translation by Alan Llwyd

Sources:; Wales Museum; Wikipedia


  1. It is interesting that going to school in England I was taught about the English poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, but I have only barely heard of this Welsh poet.

  2. Thank you so much for referring the movie to us on the blog earlier. I've just watched it and found it extremely moving and beautiful. I wish I knew the Welsh language! Hedd Wyn belongs in the pantheon of great Welsh poets of WWI along with David Jones.