Taliesin the Bard - Sarah Woodbury

Taliesin the Bard

Whence come night and flood?
How they disappear?
Whither flies night from day;
And how is it not seen?

These lines are taken from a poem by Taliesin, a Welsh poet who lived roughly between 534 and 599 AD.  His poetry has survived in the medieval Red Book of the Hergest, and The Book of Taliesin, found here: http://www.llgc.org.uk/index.php?id=bookoftaliesinpeniarthms2.

“It is this manuscript which preserves the texts of famous poems such as ‘Armes Prydein Fawr’, ‘Preiddeu Annwfn’ (which refers to Arthur and his warriors sailing across the sea to win a spear and a cauldron), and elegies to Cunedda and Dylan eil Ton, as well as the earliest mention in any western vernacular of the feats of Hercules and Alexander. The manuscript is incomplete, having lost a number of its original leaves, including the first.”

He is associated with Arthur, in part because he wrote so much about him, but that he was a court poet dates to the 11th century Welsh work, Culhwch and Olwen.

Scholars are divided as to how many poems are attributable to Taliesin. Of the 57 poems in the Red Book, those that are addressed to rulers of Wales at the time are confirmed as his. The rest are on mythological and religious topics. Some scholars imply that these are thus of a later date, and that wouldn’t be unusual, in that it was not uncommon when transcribing a book to attribute later works to the original source.

The open-source translations of Taliesin’s poetry are not necessarly the best, most poetic, or most accurate, but here is the source: http://www.maryjones.us/ctexts/llyfrtaliesin.html

Taliesin as myth is another person entirely. Within the Welsh mythology, and then later the Arthurian legend, Taliesin becomes a prophet-bard. A good summary of the mythology is found here: http://www.timelessmyths.com/celtic/mabinogion.html#Taliesin

4 Replies to “Taliesin the Bard”

  1. The name ‘Dylan Eil Ton’ mentioned in this article is Irish written phonetically. The Irish words are Díleann Aill Tonn, and they mean “Ocean’s Cliff of Waves”. Son of Arianrhod and Gwydion, this wonder-boy could swim like a fish and no wave ever broke beneath him.
    Further, a medieval Welsh poem places Taliesin in a GOLDEN CHAIR in Caer Sidi. This place has recently been identified as the prehistoric royal palace labelled ‘Regia Altera’ in Ptolemy’s map of Hibernia. The recent discovery of the origins of the Mabinogi legends and the identification of the topography of the composer of ‘Preiddeu Annwn’ undermines any presumption that there ever existed a Welsh poet called ‘Taliesin’. But fiction has no bounds. [cf. G. Beggan, “Regia Altera and the Landscape of the Mabinogi”, eBooks, 2019.]

    1. Thanks for commenting! Given that all the sources for Taliesin are Welsh, it doesn’t seem credible to me that he was Irish, nor that a Ptolemaic map would be helpful in this instance, but congratulations on the publication of your book.

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