Taliesin (or Taliessin; c. 534 – c. 599) is the earliest poet in any Brittonic language whose work has survived. Although he probably composed in Cumbric, since the songs most surely attributed to him are praise poems to Urien Rheged, a warrior monarch of the Old North, these poems survive in Middle Welsh in the so-called Book of Taliesin, written down around the 13th century, along with about forty more of more dubious attribution. His name means "Radiant Brow" (tal iesin in Welsh). The book was translated by Robert Williams and published in The Four Ancient Books of Wales (1858) by W. F. Skene. These translations are notoriously unreliable, but few better have since appeared, due to the obscurity and compression of the verse.
Book of Taliesin (c. 1275?)
- Llyfr Taliesin, written down in the 13th or 14th century, many of these poems are thought to have originated with Taliesin, though later additions to them are thought likely. The Book of Taliesin in Welsh and English
- Translated from the facsimile manuscript with reference to the English versions of Williams, Haycock and Koch:
- I adore the sovereign lord of the royal land -
May his dominion extend over the reaches of the cosmos!
- Perfect was Gweir's prison in the Faery Fort.
Due to the ministry of Pwyll and Pryderi
none before him had entered therein.
In the heavy blue chain a faithful servant kept him
and for the Spoils of Annwfn keenly he chanted
and unto Doom shall continue in bard-orison.
Three fulnesses of Prydwen we entered in:
Save for seven none came up from Fort Faery.
- Composed for renown am I, a verse heard
four times over in the four-quartered fort
in the song of the cauldron when first it gave voice,
warmed by the breath of nine maidens.
The Chief of Annwn's cauldron, who finished
the rim around its edge with pearl,
swore never should it cook a coward's food?
A bright flashing sword was raised to it
and it was left in the hand of Llenlleawc
and lanterns shone before Hell's mouth's door
and when we went in with Arthur trouble glittered:
Save for seven none came up from Fort Mead-mad.
- Composed for renown am I, a verse heard
on the stone-doored isle in the four-quartered fort.
Tranquillity and obscurity mingled
shiny wine their drink before their retinue.
Three fulnesses of Prydwen we went upon the main,
Save for seven none came up from Castle Rigor.
- I am not meet for petty men, the book a boss:
They saw not Arthur's virtue beyond the Fort of Glasses.
Three score centuries of men stationed on the wall:
to speak with its sentinel was not easy.
Three fulnesses of Prydwen we went with Arthur,
Save for seven none came up from Fort Hindrance.
- I am not meet for petty men, slack their habit:
They know not, they, on what day who was made,
what hour of the fine day was born to whom,
who made him who went not to the dale of Tefwy.
They know not, they, the great Speckled Ox in headgear
with seven-score links in its collar-chain.
And when we went with Arthur, a sorry visit,
Save for seven none came up from Fort Divine Height.
- I am not meet for petty men, slack their spirit:
They know not, they, what day the Chief was made,
what hour of the fine day was born the owner,
what a beast they keep with its silver head.
When we went with Arthur, a sorry strife,
Save for seven none came up from Fort Hoar-side.
- Monks throng like a kennel of pups
from disputing with the masters who instruct them
whether the run of the wind is one, or one the ocean's waters
or one the spark of fire - an illimitable clamour.
- Monks mass like a pack of wolves
from disputing with the masters who instruct them -
They know not when deep dark and dawn divorce
nor who sends the wind, nor who moves it,
where it disappears to, what land it strikes.
- A hallowed grave in dying, with the grave an altar:
I adore the sovereign lord, the great,
That I be not sad, Christ grant me.
The First Address of Taliesin
- Which was first, is it darkness, is it light?
Or Adam, when he existed, on what day was he created?
Or under the earth’s surface, what the foundation?
He who is a legionary will receive no instruction.
- Let them make their war.
Whence come night and day?
Whence will the eagle become gray?
Whence is it that night is dark?
Whence is it that the linnet is green?
The ebullition of the sea,
How is it not seen?
- There are three fountains
In the mountain of roses,
There is a Caer of defence
Under the ocean’s wave.
What is the porter’s name?
- Who was confessor
To the gracious Son of Mary?
What was the most beneficial measure
Which Adam accomplished?
- Whence come night and flood?
How they disappear?
Whither flies night from day;
And how is it not seen?
- Excellent in every way around the glens
The two skilful ones make inquiries
- The Cymry will be lamenting
While their souls will be tried
Before a horde of ravagers.
The Cymry, chief wicked ones,
On account of the loss of holy wafers.
- I am old. I am young. I am Gwion,
I am universal, I am possessed of penetrating wit.
- A tradition about Taliesin states that he was once a boy named "Gwion".
- I am a bard; I will not disclose secrets to slaves;
I am a guide: I am expert in contests.
If he would sow, he would plough; he would plough, he would not reap.
If a brother among brothers,
Didactic Bards with swelling breasts will arise
Who will meet around mead-vessels,
And sing wrong poetry
And seek rewards that will not be,
Without law, without regulation, without gifts.
And afterwards will become angry.
- There will be commotions and turbulent times,
Seek no peace — it will not accrue to thee.
The Ruler of Heaven knows thy prayer.
From his ardent wrath thy praise has propitiated him
The Sovereign King of Glory addresses me with wisdom
Hast thou seen the dominus fortis?
Knowest thou the profound prediction domini?
- Dominus virtutum
Has gathered together those that were in slavery,
And before I existed He had perceived me.
May I be ardently devoted to God!
And before I desire the end of existence,
And before the broken foam shall come upon my lips,
And before I become connected with wooden boards,
May there be festivals to my soul!
- Book-learning scarcely tells me
Of severe afflictions after death-bed;
And such as have heard my bardic books
They shall obtain the region of heaven, the best of all abodes.
The Elegy of the Thousand Sons
- I will offer a prayer to the Trinity,
May the Eternal grant me to praise thee!
In the present course, dangerous
Our work; destruction is a slight impulse of wrath.
They reckon of the saints a tribe,
King of heaven, may I be eloquent about thee!
Before the separation of my soul from my flesh.
- Heroic numberer of languages,
A conspicuous sea-shoal of goodly increase.
A number that God will watch with extreme love.
In heaven, in earth, at the end,
In straits, in expanse, in form,
In body, in soul, in habit,
Prudence far from the presence of kings.
I adore thee, Ruler of the land of peace.
Let my soul be in a condition of life;
For ever in court;
A servant of heaven, he will not refuse me.
- The number of saints in scores,
Valiant men, golden their party.
Before kings a career of praise,
Warriors, no one was before them in demanding.
In straits, in expanse, in every need,
May they be a city to our body and our soul!
- And entreating his exalted weight,
Under the stars, saints he planted.
- Multitudes, of beautiful works,
Believed, served with us.
- The number of saints, a synod without desire,
From God the divine prophesy.
In every tongue they compose,
About the earth they were,
And so many wisely prophesied
Christ, and before he was, they were.
- Seven scores, seven scores, seven hundreds of saints,
And seven thousands and seven ten scores,
November a number implored,
Though martyrs good they came.
- Twelve thousand in the convention
Believed through the voice of John.
They worship, they deserve a portion,
In heaven they will not be angry.
- The number that have been, and will be,
Above heaven, below heaven, how many there are.
And as many as have believed in revelation,
Believed through the will of the Lord.
As many as are on wrath through the circles,
Have mercy, God, on thy kindred.
May I be meek, the turbulent Ruler,
May I not endure, before I am without motion.
Grievously complaineth every lost one,
Hastily claimeth every needy one.
- I will declare when I am in the gravel,
From the maintenance of gifts,
From being numbered, from going to be a martyr
In the reckoning of Saint Segerno.
From a word when sin may be to me,
Let there be no sigh from those that hear me.
The Fold of the Bards
- Meditating were my thoughts
On the vain poetry of the bards of Brython.
Making the best of themselves in the chief convention.
Enough, the care of the smith’s sledge-hammer.
I am in want of a stick, straitened in song,
The fold of the bards, who knows it not?
- I am a harmonious one; I am a clear singer.
I am steel; I am a druid.
I am an artificer; I am a scientific one.
I am a serpent; I am love; I will indulge in feasting.
I am not a confused bard drivelling,
When songsters sing a song by memory,
They will not make wonderful cries;
May I be receiving them.
Like receiving clothes without a hand,
Like sinking in a lake without swimming
The stream boldly rises tumultuously in degree.
- The rock wave-surrounded, by great arrangement,
Will convey for us a defence, a protection from the enemy.
The rock of the chief proprietor, the head of tranquillity.
The intoxication of meads will cause us to speak.
I am a cell, I am a cleft, I am a restoration,
I am the depository of song; I am a literary man;
I love the high trees, that afford a protection above,
And a bard that composes, without earning anger;
I love not him that causes contention;
He that speaks ill of the skilful shall not possess mead.
- It is a fit time to go to the drinking,
With the skilful men, about art,
And a hundred knots, the custom of the country,
The shepherd of the districts, support of gates,
Like going without a foot to battle.
- He would not journey without a foot.
He would not breed nuts without trees,
Like seeking for ants in the heath.
Like an instrument of foolish spoil,
Like the retinue of an army without a head,
Like feeding the unsheltered on lichen.
The Pleasant Things of Taliesin
- A pleasant virtue, extreme penance to an extreme course;
Also pleasant, when God is delivering me.
Pleasant, the carousal that hinders not mental exertion;
Also pleasant, to drink together about horns.
- Pleasant, berries in the time of harvest;
Also pleasant, wheat upon the stalk.
Pleasant the sun moving in the firmament;
Also pleasant the retaliators of outcries.
- Pleasant, a steed with a thick mane in a tangle;
Also pleasant, crackling fuel.
Pleasant, desire, and silver fringes;
Also pleasant, the conjugal ring.
- Pleasant, the eagle on the shore of the sea when it flows;
Also pleasant, sea-gulls playing.
Pleasant, a horse with gold-enamelled trappings;
Also pleasant to be honest in a breach.
- Pleasant, liquors of the mead-brewer to the multitude;
Also pleasant, a songster generous, amiable.
Pleasant, the open field to cuckoos and the nightingale;
Also pleasant when the weather is serene.
- Pleasant to bring back the divisions of a parish;
Also pleasant to us the time of paradise.
Pleasant, the moon, a luminary in the heavens;
Also pleasant where there is a good rememberer.
- Pleasant, summer, and slow long day;
Also pleasant to pass out of chastisement
Pleasant, the blossoms on the tops of the pear-trees;
Also pleasant, friendship with the Creator.
- Pleasant, a steed in a leather halter;
Also pleasant, alliance with a king.
Pleasant, the hero that destroys not the yielding;
Also pleasant, the splendid Cymraec language.
- Pleasant, the heath when it is green;
Also pleasant, the salt marsh for cattle.
Pleasant, the time when calves draw milk;
Also pleasant, foamy horsemanship.
- And what is pleasant to me is no worse.
And the paternal horn by mead-nourished payment.
Pleasant, the directing of fish in the pond;
Also pleasant, calling about to play.
- Pleasant, the word that utters the Trinity;
Also pleasant, extreme penance for sin.
Pleasant, the summer of pleasantness;
Communion with the Lord, in the day of judgment.
Oh God, the God of Formation
- O God, the God of formation,
Ruler, strengthener of blood.
Christ Jesus, that guards.
Princes loud-proclaiming go their course
For a decaying acquisition.
- The praising thy mercy.
There hath not been here;
O supreme Ruler;
There hath not been; there will not be,
One so good as the Lord.
There hath not been born in the day of the people
Any one equal to God.
And no one will acknowledge
Any one equal to him.
Above heaven, below heaven,
There is no Ruler but he.
Above sea, below sea,
He created us.
- When God comes
A great noise will pierce us,
The day of judgment terribly.
Messengers from the door,
Wind, and sea, and fire.
lightning and thunder
A number without flattery.
The people of the world groaning
Will be concealed.
- Kings will shudder [that] day,
Woe awaits them!
When the recompenser shall appear,
Let the heaven appear below.
A ruddy wind will be brought
Out to the cinder,
Until the world is as desolate
As when created.
- The love-diffusing [Lord] will separate us.
The land of worldly weather,
A wind will melt the trees:
There will pass away every tranquillity
When the mountains are burnt.
There will be again inhabitants
With horns before kings;
The mighty One will send them,
Sea, and land, and lake.
There will be again a trembling terror,
And a moving of the earth,
And above every field,
And ashes the rocks will be;
With violent exertion, concealment,
And burning of lake.
- A wave do ye displace,
A shield do ye extend
To the travelling woe,
And violent exertion through grief.
And inflaming through fury
Between heaven and earth.
- Songs and minstrels.
And the hymns of angels,
Will raise from the graves,
They will entreat from the beginning.
They will entreat together publicly,
On so great a destiny.
Those whom the sea has destroyed
Will make a great shout,
At the time when cometh
He, that will separate them.
- Do not thy passions counteract
What thy lips utter?
Thy going in thy course into valleys,
Dark without lights.
And mine were his words.
And mine were his languages.
- I have not been without battle.
Bitter affliction was frequent
Between me and my cousins.
Frequent trials fell
Between me and my fellow-countrymen.
There was frequent contention
Between me and the wretched.
- Those that placed me on the cross
I knew when young.
That drove me on the tree,
My head hung down.
Stretched were my two feet,
So sad their destiny.
Stretched with extreme pain
The bones of my feet.
Stretched were my two arms,
Their burden will not be.
Stretched were my two shoulders,
So diligently it was done.
Stretched were the nails,
Within my heart.
Stretched was the spiking,
Between my two eyes.
Thick are the holes
Of the crown of thorns in my head.
The lance was struck
And my side was pierced.
It will be struck to you also,
As your right hand (struck me).
To you there will be no forgiveness,
For piercing me with spears.
And the Ruler we knew not
When thou wert hung.
- Ruler of heaven, Ruler of every people!
We knew not, O Christ! that it was thou.
If we had known thee,
Christ, we should have refrained from thee.
- Ye have committed wickedness
Against the Creator.
A hundred thousand angels
Are to me witnesses,
Who came to conduct me
After my hanging,
When hanging cruelly,
Myself to deliver me
In heaven there was trembling
When I had been hung.
When I cried out Eli!
- Do not the brave know
The greatness of their progeny?
A country present will meet thee,
And while it may possibly be yours,
Three hundred thousand years save one,
A short hour of the day of everlasting life.
The Battle of the Trees
- Cad Goddeu or Kat Godeu adapted from the translations in The Four Ancient Books of Wales (1858) by W. F. Skene
- I have been in a multitude of shapes,
Before I assumed a consistent form.
I have been a sword, narrow, variegated,
I will believe when it is apparent.
I have been a tear in the air,
I have been the dullest of stars.
I have been a word among letters,
I have been a book in the origin.
I have been the light of lanterns,
A year and a half.
I have been a continuing bridge,
Over three score river mouths.
- I have been a course, I have been an eagle.
I have been a coracle in the seas:
I have been compliant in the banquet.
I have been a drop in a shower;
I have been a sword in the grasp of the hand
I have been a shield in battle.
I have been a string in a harp,
Disguised for nine years,
in water, in foam.
I have been sponge in the fire,
I have been wood in the covert
- There was a calling on the Creator,
Upon Christ for causes,
Until when the Eternal
Should deliver those whom he had made.
The Lord answered them,
Through language and elements:
Take the forms of the principal trees,
Arranging yourselves in battle array,
And restraining the public.
- When the trees were enchanted,
In the expectation of not being trees,
The trees uttered their voices
From strings of harmony,
The disputes ceased.
Let us cut short heavy days,
A female restrained the din.
She came forth altogether lovely.
The head of the line, the head was a female.
The advantage of a sleepless cow
Would not make us give way.
The blood of men up to our thighs,
The greatest of importunate mental exertions
Sported in the world.
And one has ended
From considering the deluge,
And Christ crucified
And the day of judgement near at hand.
- The heath was victorious, keeping off on all sides.
The common people were charmed,
During time proceeding of the men.
The oak, quickly moving,
Before him, tremble heaven and earth.
A valiant door-keeper against an enemy,
his name is considered.
The blue-bells combined,
And caused a consternation.
In rejecting, were rejected,
Others, that were perforated
Englynion Cad Goddau
- Fragments from Cad Goddeu in Y Myvyrian Archaiology as translated by Lady Charlotte Guest, in her notes on The Mabinogion.
- Sure-hoofed is my steed impelled by the spur;
The high sprigs of alder are on thy shield;
Bran art thou called, of the glittering branches.
- Sure-hoofed is my steed in the day of battle:
The high sprigs of alder are on thy hand:
Bran by the branch thou bearest
Has Amathaon the good prevailed.
The Song of the Horses
- It broke out with matchless fury.
The rapid vehement fire.
Him we praise above the earth,
Fire, the fiery meteor of the dawn.
Above the high gale,
Higher than every cloud.
Great his animal.
- The dawn smiles, repelling gloom,
At the dawn with violence,
At every meet season,
At the meet season of his turnings,
At the four stages of his course,
I will extol him that judges violence,
Of the strong din, deep his wrath.
I am not a man, cowardly, gray,
A scum near the wattle.
- Thrice three protections,
Returning to the old places,
With a steed used to the field.
- I have been a sow, I have been a buck,
I have been a sage, I have been a snout,
I have been a horn, I have been a wild sow,
I have been a shout in battle.
I have been a torrent on the slope,
I have been a wave on the extended shore.
I have been the light sprinkling of a deluge,
I have been a cat with a speckled head on three trees.
I have been a circumference, I have been a head.
A goat on an elder-tree.
I have been a crane well filled, a sight to behold.
Very ardent the animals of Morial,
They kept a good stock.
Of what is below the air, say the hateful men,
Too many do not live, of those that know me.
The Spoils of Taliesin, a Song to Urien
- In manliness he will greet my trouble,
Should I be bled, I should evidently get better;
Truly I saw no one before, who saw not in me
Every indisposition, he will cultivate his business.
- I saw a feeding about a lion for plants,
I saw leaves of luxuriant growth.
I saw a branch with equal blossoms.
Did I not see a prince? most liberal his customs,
I saw the ruler of Cathraeth beyond the plains
Be my oak the gleaming spirit of the Cymry.
- The value of my cry great will be its advantage to degrees.
The chief of men, shield of warriors.
The extensive booty of the ashen shaft is my fair Awen.
A shield before a prince, bright his smile,
Heroic, aspiring, the most heroic is Urien
- Eagle of the land, extensive thy glance.
I would have requested an active courser
Of vigorous trot, the price of the spoil of Taliesin.
One is the violent course on the bottom and the summit,
One is the gift of a baron to a lord.
One is the herd of stags in their fight.
One is the wolf not covetous of broom,
One is the country where a son is born,
And of one form and one sound is the battle-place of warriors.
The Death-song of Uther Pendragon
- A song about Uther Pendragon, legendary father of the legendary King Arthur, Marwnat Vthyr Pen as in W. F. Skene (1858)
- Am I not with hosts making a din?
I would not cease, between two hosts, without gore.
Am I not he that is called Gorlassar?
My belt was a rainbow to my foe.
- I shared my shelter,
a ninth share in Arthur's valour.
I broke a hundred forts.
I slew a hundred stewards.
I bestowed a hundred mantles.
I cut off a hundred heads.
I gave to an old chief
very great swords of protection.
- To my deprivation, to my sorrow, sinew was brave.
The world would not be if not for my offspring.
I am a bard to be praised. The unskilful
May he be possessed by the ravens and eagle and bird of wrath.
- Abiding in heaven was he, my desire,
Against the eagle, against the fear of the unskilful.
I am a bard, and I am a harper,
I am a piper, and I am a crowder.
Of seven score musicians the very great enchanter.
- May the countenance of Prydain be bright for my guidance.
Sovereign of heaven, let my messages not be rejected.
The Tale of Taleisin
- Poetry attributed to Taliesin as adapted in "The Tale of Taliesin" by Jennifer Cochrane, at Encyclopedia Mythica
- Fair Elphin, cease your lament!
Swearing profits no-one.
It is not evil to hope
Nor does any man see what supports him,
Not an empty treasure is the prayer of Cynllo,
Nor does God break his promise.
- Fair Elphin, dry your cheeks!
Such sorrow does not become you,
Although you consider yourself cheated
Excessive sorrow gains nothing,
Nor will doubting God's miracles.
- Although I am small, I am skilful.
From the sea and the mountain,
From the river's depth
God gives His gifts to the blessed.
- You must not grieve so heavily.
Better are good than evil omens.
though I am weak and small,
Spumed with Dylan's wave,
I shall be better for you
Than three hundred shares of salmon.
- Elphin of noble generosity,
Do not sorrow at your catch.
Though I am weak on the floor of my basket,
There are wonders on my tongue.
- While I am watching over you,
no great need will overcome you.
be mindful of the name of the Trinity
And none shall overcome you.
- While I was held prisoner, sweet inspiration educated me
and laws were imparted to me in a speech which had no words...
- I have fled in the shape of a raven of prophetic speech,
in the shape of a satirizing fox,
in the shape of a sure swift,
in the shape of a squirrel vainly hiding.
I have fled in the shape of a red deer,
in the shape of iron in a fierce fire,
in the shape of a sword sowing death and disaster,
in the shape of a bull, relentlessly struggling.
- I have come to salvage Elphin's honor and his freedom. Taliesin am I, primary chief bard to Elphin.
Primary chief poet
Am I to Elphin.
And my native country
Is the place of the Summer Stars.
John the Divine
Called me Merlin,
But all future kings
Shall call me Taliesin.
- I was nine full months
In the womb of Ceridwen.
Before that I was Gwion,
But now I am Taliesin.
- I was with my king
In the heavens
When Lucifer fell
Into the deepest hell.
I carried the banner
I know the names of the stars
From the North to the South.
- I was in the canon
When Absalom was slain.
I was in Llys Don
Before the birth of Gwydion.
- I was in Africa
Before the building of Rome.
I came here
To the remnant of Troy.
- I was with the Lord
In the manger of the ass.
I upheld Moses
Through the water of Jordan.
- I was at the Cross
With Mary Magdalene.
I received the muse
From Ceridwen's cauldron.
- I was instructor
To the whole universe.
I shall be until the judgement
On the face of the Earth.
- I have sat in the perilous seat
Above Caer sidi.
I shall continue to revolve
Between the three elements.
Quotes about Taliesin
- The Cauldron of Wisdom and Inspiration must be kept boiling for a year and a day, and then the first three drops from it would impart ultimate knowledge to the one who drank them. But the rest of the liquid would be deadly poison.
Long labored Ceridwen, roaming far to find the rare and exotic herbs she required, and so it chanced that she fell asleep on the last day of the spell. The boy Gwion was stirring the brew when three drops flew out onto his thumb, and they were scalding hot, so that he thrust it into his mouth to stop the burning. Instantly, he had the wisdom and inspiration of ages, and the first thing that occurred to him was that Ceridwen would be very angry.
- This is part of the folk tradition of how the boy Gwion became Taliesin, from "The Tale of Taliesin" as told by Jennifer Cochrane at Encyclopedia Mythica.
- Hear from the grave, great Taliessin, hear;
They breathe a soul to animate thy clay.
Bright Rapture calls, and soaring, as she sings,
Waves in the eye of Heav'n her many-colour'd wings.
- Thomas Gray, in The Bard (1757)
- I have been all men known to history,
Wondering at the world and at time passing;
I have seen evil, and the light blessing
Innocent love under a spring sky.
- "Taliesin" by R. S. Thomas
- I have been Merlin wandering in the woods
Of a far country, where the winds waken
Unnatural voices, my mind broken
By a sudden acquaintance with man’s rage.
- "Taliesin" by R. S. Thomas
- I have known exile and a wild passion
Of longing changing to a cold ache.
King, beggar and fool, I have been all by turns,
Knowing the body’s sweetness, the mind’s treason;
Taliesin still, I show you a new world, risen,
Stubborn with beauty, out of the heart’s need.
- "Taliesin" by R. S. Thomas