Eisteddfod of the Black Chair – a poem by Gillian Clarke

Published Mon 31 Jul 2017 - By Gillian Clarke
Gillian Clarke, Image by Marian Delyth

Eisteddfod of the Black Chair

for Hedd Wyn, 1887-1917


Robert Graves met him once,

in the hills above Harlech,

the shepherd poet,

the awdl and the englyn in his blood

like the heft of the mountain

in the breeding of his flock.


In a letter from France, he writes

of poplars whispering, the sun going down

among the foliage like an angel of fire.

and flowers half hidden in leaves

growing in a spent shell.

‘Beauty is stronger than war.’


Yet he heard sorrow in the wind, foretold

blood in the rain reddening the fields

under the shadow of crows,

till he fell to his knees at Passchendaele,

grasping two fists-full of earth, a shell to the stomach

opening its scarlet blossom.


At the Eisteddfod they called his name three times,

his audience waiting to rise, thrilled,

to crown him, chair him,

to sing the hymn of peace,

not ‘the festival in tears and the poet in his grave’,

a black sheet placed across the empty chair.



Poetry Remembers

October 2013

Gillian Clarke is the former National Poet of Wales (2008-2016). Her ninth Carcanet poetry collection, Zoology, is published this August.