May 02, 2008

Poetry Friday: Farmer, Poet, Soldier

The Black Spot
by Ellis Evans (Hedd Wyn), 1887 - 1917

We have no right to the stars,
Nor the homesick moon,
Nor the clouds edged with gold
In the centre of the long blueness.

We have no right to anything
But the old and withered earth
That is all in chaos
At the centre of God's glory.

(English translation by Jim Finnis, found here.) Original Welsh below:

Y Blotyn Du

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.

Hedd Wyn (the "dd" is pronounced like the hard "th" in "this"), meaning "white peace," was the bardic name of Ellis Humphrey Evans, the winner of the 1917 Welsh National Eisteddfod. He was also known as the Armageddon Poet, perhaps because of his often spare, unflinching use of the reality of war as a subject for his poetry; but perhaps also because he was awarded his prize posthumously--he had died in the trenches in Ypres six weeks prior. The event is now referred to as the "black chair Eisteddfod" because the chair he would have won was displayed draped in black.

More info about Hedd Wyn is available here, and you can read another translated poem here. There is also an Oscar-nominated (and horribly depressing) film about his life from 1992, in Welsh with English subtitles. I highly recommend seeing it even if just to hear the sound of the poems read in the original Welsh. Many of them are written in a strict metrical form called cynghanedd (brief description here), a challenging poetry form of incredible beauty. Dylan Thomas, though he composed poems in English, used some echoes of this form--but I'll save that for another Friday!

Find more Poetry Friday below and on Big A little a.


tanita✿davis said...

Trying to tie in the title -- we're the black spot at the center of light? What a cool thought -- in a weird way, we're important, even as we're sort of a blot on things. This is very vivid.

Mary Lee said...

I agree with the chaos. But I also agree with the centre of God's (or even gods') glory. It's a weird mix down here (or in the black spot, if TadMack's got it right) but I wouldn't have it any other way!