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Taliesin Poems by Taliesin
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Taliesin Poems

by Taliesin, Meirion Pennar (Translator)

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A short book, and shorter than it appears: The poems selected are presented in facsimile medieval Welsh, typeset medieval Welsh and English. Of course, if you can read the Welsh version (I can't) then you'll get more out of it.

Pennar's introduction gives essential information on Taliesin, the kingdoms of 6th-century north Wales and England and historical and cultural context for the poems.

The poems themselves give a fascinating insight into a sparsely documented era, and one which was the foundation for later Arthurian legends. It's not likely you're going to be quoting any of these lines, though it might be fun to try to work:
And until I am old and ailing
in the dire necessity of death
I shall not be in my element
if I don't praise Urien

into a conversation.

Update: On my third reading, I was struck more by the power of Taliesin's verse. Although I didn't find it much more quotable, given that I'm rarely preparing for hand-to-hand combat with the villagers up the road, I seldom rustle cattle these days, nor am I often needing to praise a king for his battle prowess, there is something stirring in Taliesin's declamations of King Urien's might, pre-eminance and generous openhandedness. By contrast, the poem, What if Urien were Dead, is quiet, imbued with the poet's anxiety for the safety of the king, whose extended absence on campaign seems to me to speak of a deeper friendship and companionliness than simply that of a an artist for his patron, or of a subject for his ruler.

I think that's what brings the poems alive - Taliesin speaks directly, often in the first person, of the things he's seen and heard, tells of his own observations and feelings. He's immediate and, despite the hyperbolic agrandisment of his subject, there's an honesty to what he says. I get the strong feeling of a deep affection and friendship, not without its fallings-out and reconciliations (the latter, Pennar says, becoming a particular type of Welsh poetry, copied by later bards from Taliesin's example) between the two men.
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  Michael.Rimmer | Mar 30, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Taliesinprimary authorall editionscalculated
Pennar, MeirionTranslatormain authorall editionsconfirmed
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Book description
The poetry of Taliesin is of enduring interest. Taliesin is best-known for a number of poems reflecting the ancient lore and belief of the Cymric Celts; but he did not write them. Here we present the poems of the real Taliesin, a sixth-century bard who sang the praises of a number of kings from Wales to the North of England, and Scotland.

He probably originated from the Welsh kingdom of Powys, but then went North and found there a king fitting to his dynamic muse, Urien of Rheged. Dunragit on the Solway Firth may still retain the ancient name of Urien's kingdom, of which Carlisle was the centre.

Taliesin happens to be the first to have written in primitive Welsh. His poems have an energy and an integrity unsurpassed in the entire history of Welsh praise poetry.

Meirion Pennar is a lecturer in Welsh at Saint David's University College, Lampeter. He is also a poet, and the author of a number of articles on Welsh literature.
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