Howell Elfed Lewis
Coffa Elfed / Elfed Museum
THE POET AND LITTERATEUR
Elfed won his first National Eisteddfod competition when only 20 years of age at Caernarfon for a series of ‘englynion’ on the topic ‘Seven Ages of Man’. At the London National Eisteddfod in 1887 he wrote a winning essay on ‘Welsh Poetry in the Eighteenth Century’.
Wrexham National Eisteddfod in 1888 proved immensely successful for Elfed. He won the Crown for a poem in free metres on the set subject of ‘The Welsh Sunday’ as well as composing the winning poem on the set subject of ‘The Maidens Lake’ and an essay on ‘The Genius of John Ceiriog Hughes’.
The following year at Brecon he again won the Crown this time for a heroic poem on the set subject of ‘Llywelyn the Last’ and at Caernarfon in1894 he won the Chair for an ode entitled ‘Self-sacrifice’.
During his period as Archdruid between 1923 and 1927 he welcomed the Duke and Duchess of York, the future George VI and his wife, as members of the Gorsedd.
As a poet Elfed appeared to be heavily influenced by the Romanticism of Islwyn and John Morris-Jones as well as the English Romantics. Several volumes of his poetry were published in both languages. His two volumes entitled Caniadau published in 1895 and 1901 were regarded as being representative of his muse at its best. They were re-published in one volume in 1909 such was their popularity.
His lyrical poems on the beauty of nature were extremely popular especially such poems as ‘Gwyn ap Nudd’ and ‘Pan Ddaw’r Nos’ (When Night Falls). The Bishop of Llandaf, Thomas Rees, as well as Brynach, the renowned bardic tutor, on the Carmarthenshire / Pembrokeshire border, would reputedly recite from memory the long poem ‘Gorsedd Gras’. This particular poem, about the throne of grace, won Elfed the Chair at the Barmouth Easter Eisteddfod in 1887.
At one period he would regularly contribute articles on literary topics to a magazine entitled Y Genhinen (The Leek) in the tradition of Charles Ashton and Thomas Stephens. Elfed had immense admiration for the poems of Ceiriog and a volume entitled Athrylith John Ceiriog Hughes (The Genius of John Ceiriog Hughes) was published in 1899. Welsh Catholic Poetry of the Fifteenth Century was published in 1912.
He was editor of Y Dysgedydd (The Luminary), one of the publications of the Welsh Independents, for a while. Several of his contributions throw a light on the social life of his native parish during his childhood as he mentions such customs as the Mari Lwyd (The Grey Mare) and various characters (please see the Recollections page).
Among his recommended English volumes are My Christ and Other Poems (1891), Israel and Other Poems (1930) and Songs of Assisi (1938).
Professor Thomas Parry in his volume Hanes Llenyddiaeth Cymru (The History of Welsh Literature), published in 1944, pronounces that Elfed led the way as the poet of free verse and proved to be the stepping-stone that enabled other poets to free themselves from the ‘morass of the nineteenth century’.