Reference: NLW MS 4628C
Here we have a manuscript of the ode ‘Yr Arwr’ (The Hero) in the hand of the bard Hedd Wyn (Ellis Humphrey Evans, 1887-1917) which won him the chair at the Birkenhead National Eisteddfod following his death in 1917. This manuscript is one of the final drafts he created of the ode. The original is part of the National Eisteddfod collection which is held here at the National Library. Hedd Wyn is considered one of Wales’ most prominent bards, and his ode ‘Yr Arwr’ is considered to be his greatest work.
Ellis Humphrey Evans was born in Trawsfynydd, north Wales on 13 January 1887, the eldest son to Evan and Mary Evans. Having left school aged 14 he then worked as a shepherd on his parents farm, Yr Ysgwrn, Trawsfynydd. In his youth he composed many different poems and competed in many local Eisteddfodau under the nom-de-plume ‘Hedd Wyn’, and it is through these that he developed his talent as a poet.
He won the first of his 6 chairs at the Bala Eisteddfod, 1907, for his ode ‘Y Dyffryn’ (The Valley), and came very close to taking his first National Eisteddfod chair at Aberystwyth in 1916. With the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 the tone of Hedd Wyn’s works changed to discuss the horror of the war, and he wrote many poems in memory of friends who had died on the battlefields. During October 1916 Hedd Wyn started work on composing his ode ‘Yr Arwr’, before he was forced due to the Military Service Act of 1916 to join the 15th Battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, and in June 1917 he sailed to France.
The manuscript contains 25 pages with corrections in pencil. On the back of the manuscript it can be seen that the original nom-de-plume he chose was ‘Y Palm Bell’, but according to William Morris’ book on Hedd Wyn, he changed his nom-de-plume from ‘Y Palm Bell’ to ‘Fleur-de-lis’ just before posting the ode from the village of Fléchin in northern France in July 1917.
The ode has been divided into 4 parts and contains 2 main characters, ‘Merch y Drycinoedd’ and the ‘Arwr’. There has been much disagreement in the past regarding the meaning of the ode. It can be said with certainty that Hedd Wyn (like his favourite poet Shelley) longed for a perfect humanity and a perfect world during a time of great instability in the shadow of the First World War.
It is believed that ‘Merch y Drycinoedd’ is a symbol of love, the beauty of nature and creativity. It is believed that ‘Yr Arwr’ is a symbol of goodness, fairness, freedom and justice, and that it is through his sacrifice, and his union with ‘Merch y Drycinoedd’ at the end of the ode that a better age will come.
On 31 July 1917, Hedd Wyn was killed on the battlefields of Flanders in the battle of Pilkem Ridge, near Ieper (Ypres). When ‘Fleur-de-lis’ was called on to accept his award at the Birkenhead National Eisteddfod no one rose, and the Archdruid Dyfed had to inform the crowd of the bard’s death on the battlefield. The chair was covered with a black sheet and from that moment onwards the Birkenhead Eisteddfod would become known as the Eisteddfod of the Black Chair.
The manuscript was presented to the National Library by J R Jones, a head teacher from Llwyncelyn, Trawsfynydd in March 1934. The ode is only one part of the manuscript. The manuscript also contains other items in the bard’s hand, as well as photographs of Hedd Wyn, and a note book full of the bard’s works in the hand of J R Jones himself. J R Jones was one of the main founders of a local committee created by Hedd Wyn’s friends and contemporaries in Trawsfynydd in 1917 to commemorate the bard. The committee was responsible for collecting together Hedd Wyn’s works and publishing them under the title Cerddi’r Bugail (The Shepherd’s Poems) in August 1918, under the editorship of J J Williams. Donations collected by the committee went towards creating a memorial for the bard which was unveiled at Trawsfynydd in August 1923.