Sunday, August 05, 2007

The Black Chair 2. To the passive witness

How many shepherds must be
Plucked from our hills,
So that the shallow graves gouged out
By deceivers may be filled?
How long before the unchecked lust for oil
Subsides, its quota of innocents fulfilled?
As much as he who coldly strikes in rage,
They, who stand by silent, also kill.
It’s not enough to rant and rave,
As precious ink across my blank page spills
Or with eyes downcast like common slaves
Tamely surrender up our very wills.
To write a different end in perfect peace,
Rise up! Rise up! There’s time to do it still!

Hedd Wyn was the bardic name given to Ellis Evans,
a shepherd poet from Merioneth. Literally it means
‘white peace’, but a better translation, I feel, is ‘perfect
peace’. Evans was called up for military service in 1917,
but before going to the front, he had time to complete
his entry for the National Eisteddfod held in
Birkenhead that year and somehow send it in spite of
military censorship. ‘Yr Arwr’ – ‘The Hero’ was
announced as the winner and the author was called three
times to stand. There was no response, because
Evans had been killed in the first assault at
Passchendaele. As this was announced, the bardic chair
was shrouded in black cloth, and was known from
that moment as ‘The Black Chair’.

The more I read about Evans, the more ideas force
their way into the open and I find myself constructing
a cycle of poems around them. You are getting them
as they are written and it is already evident that the final
order of the poems will have to be re-jigged when I am done.

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