Episodes

First
Broadcast
Comments
20170713

The story of the Welsh poet Hedd Wyn, killed at Passchendaele in 1917.

Photograph of The Black Chair, copyright Yr Ysgwrn

Wales' experience of the First World War is often distilled down to one stand-out image: an empty chair draped in black. Intricately carved from oak, a new chair is created every year and presented as a prize to one poet at the National Eisteddfod. In September 1917, in a ceremony whose power and emotion still resonates in Wales a century later, a remarkably beautiful chair, crafted by a Belgian refugee, was awarded to Hedd Wyn for his winning poem 'Yr Arwr' (The Hero). Before being conscripted into the army, he had been a shepherd, who had attended school for only nine years.

To win the chair, the poems have to be written in the ancient strict metre form, cynghanedd, and submitted under a pseudonym so the author is not known to the judges. At the 1917 Eisteddfod when the winning entry was announced, the trumpets were sounded for the author to identify himself. After three summons, it was announced to a stunned audience that the poet was absent because he had been killed in action, weeks earlier. In the presence of the Prime Minister Lloyd George, the empty chair was draped in a black sheet, and sent on to Hedd Wyn's parents. The event is referred to as the Eisteddfod of the Black Chair, and is the focal point for Wales' commemorations of the First World War.

Poet Mab Jones visits Hedd Wyn's family farm in Snowdonia to explore the landscape and culture he came from, to see the 1917 chair which remains there intact, and she talks to chair winners Twm Morys and Mererid Hopwood, and historian Aled Eirug, to find out why the event still holds such significance in Wales.

Wales' experience of the First World War is often distilled down to one stand-out image: an empty chair draped in black. Intricately carved from oak, a new chair is created every year and presented as a prize to one poet at the National Eisteddfod. In September 1917, in a ceremony whose power and emotion still resonates in Wales a century later, a remarkably beautiful chair, crafted by a Belgian refugee, was awarded to Hedd Wyn for his winning poem 'Yr Arwr' (The Hero). Before being conscripted into the army, he had been a shepherd, who had attended school for only nine years.

At the 1917 Eisteddfod when the winning entry was announced, the trumpets were sounded for the author to identify himself. After three summons, it was announced to a stunned audience that the winning poet was absent because he had been killed in action at Passchendaele, weeks earlier. The empty chair was draped in a black sheet, "the Festival in tears and the poet in his grave", and sent on to his parents. The event is still referred to as the Eisteddfod of the Black Chair, and is the focal point for Wales' commemorations of the First World War.

Poet Mab Jones visits Hedd Wyn's family farm in Snowdonia to explore the landscape and culture he came from, see the 1917 Chair, which remains there intact, and find out why the event still holds such significance in Wales. She discovers that the 1917 ceremony, which has now taken on a quality of legend, may have been intended at the time to have quite a different impact on the audience. Prime Minister Lloyd George was present, and had given a speech calling for yet more Welsh men to enlist. When the absence of the winning poet was revealed, the dramatic flourish of draping the chair in black might have been expected to boost resentment of Germany, and renew patriotic fervour. But in a nation already weary of the war, instead it came to symbolise the other empty chairs in homes all over Wales, and to represent the full cost of the War in lives and loss of potential.

20170713

The story of the Welsh poet Hedd Wyn, killed at Passchendaele in 1917.

Wales' experience of the First World War is often distilled down to one stand-out image: an empty chair draped in black. Intricately carved from oak, a new chair is created every year and presented as a prize to one poet at the National Eisteddfod. In September 1917, in a ceremony whose power and emotion still resonates in Wales a century later, a remarkably beautiful chair, crafted by a Belgian refugee, was awarded to Hedd Wyn for his winning poem 'Yr Arwr' (The Hero). Before being conscripted into the army, he had been a shepherd, who had attended school for only nine years.

At the 1917 Eisteddfod when the winning entry was announced, the trumpets were sounded for the author to identify himself. After three summons, it was announced to a stunned audience that the winning poet was absent because he had been killed in action at Passchendaele, weeks earlier. The empty chair was draped in a black sheet, "the Festival in tears and the poet in his grave", and sent on to his parents. The event is still referred to as the Eisteddfod of the Black Chair, and is the focal point for Wales' commemorations of the First World War.

Poet Mab Jones visits Hedd Wyn's family farm in Snowdonia to explore the landscape and culture he came from, see the 1917 Chair, which remains there intact, and find out why the event still holds such significance in Wales. She discovers that the 1917 ceremony, which has now taken on a quality of legend, may have been intended at the time to have quite a different impact on the audience. Prime Minister Lloyd George was present, and had given a speech calling for yet more Welsh men to enlist. When the absence of the winning poet was revealed, the dramatic flourish of draping the chair in black might have been expected to boost resentment of Germany, and renew patriotic fervour. But in a nation already weary of the war, instead it came to symbolise the other empty chairs in homes all over Wales, and to represent the full cost of the War in lives and loss of potential.

Photograph of The Black Chair, copyright Yr Ysgwrn

Wales' experience of the First World War is often distilled down to one stand-out image: an empty chair draped in black. Intricately carved from oak, a new chair is created every year and presented as a prize to one poet at the National Eisteddfod. In September 1917, in a ceremony whose power and emotion still resonates in Wales a century later, a remarkably beautiful chair, crafted by a Belgian refugee, was awarded to Hedd Wyn for his winning poem 'Yr Arwr' (The Hero). Before being conscripted into the army, he had been a shepherd, who had attended school for only nine years.

To win the chair, the poems have to be written in the ancient strict metre form, cynghanedd, and submitted under a pseudonym so the author is not known to the judges. At the 1917 Eisteddfod when the winning entry was announced, the trumpets were sounded for the author to identify himself. After three summons, it was announced to a stunned audience that the poet was absent because he had been killed in action, weeks earlier. In the presence of the Prime Minister Lloyd George, the empty chair was draped in a black sheet, and sent on to Hedd Wyn's parents. The event is referred to as the Eisteddfod of the Black Chair, and is the focal point for Wales' commemorations of the First World War.

Poet Mab Jones visits Hedd Wyn's family farm in Snowdonia to explore the landscape and culture he came from, to see the 1917 chair which remains there intact, and she talks to chair winners Twm Morys and Mererid Hopwood, and historian Aled Eirug, to find out why the event still holds such significance in Wales.