The Great Myths #43 Sacred Language & the Story of Gwion Bach & Taliesin (Welsh)

One of the longer myths I’ll post here, the following story is well worth it, and is indeed a master-class in mythology and folklore. Containing shape-changes, chase scenes, mysterious births, borrowed identities, and competitions of all kinds, it is in the best sense a holy mess, including its sudden and (to us) perhaps unsatisfying ending. The story also bears all the hallmarks of being a combination of many tales and poems, including a later overlay of Christian commentary and detail. It is also a wonderful example of how strange the greatest myths are, and how titanic being in the presence of great poetry (and great poets) can be. Enjoy.

The Tale of Gwion Bach

In the days when Arthur began to rule, there was a nobleman living in the land now called Penllyn. His name was Tegid Foel, and his patrimony – according to the story – was the body of water that is known today as Llyn Tegid.

And the story says that he had a wife, and that she was named Ceridwen. She was a magician, says the text, and learned in the three arts: magic, enchantment, and divination. The text also says that Tegid and Ceridwen had a son whose looks, shape and carriage were extraordinarily odious. They named him Morfran, “Great-crow,” but in the end they called him Afagddu, “Utter darkness,” on account of his gloomy appearance. Because of his wretched looks his mother grew very sad in her heart, for she saw clearly that there was neither manner nor means for her son to win acceptance amongst the nobility unless he possessed qualities different from his looks. And so to encompass this matter, she turned her thoughts to contemplation of her arts to see how best she could make him full of the spirit of prophecy and a great prognosticator of the world to come.

After laboring long in her arts, she discovered that there was a way of achieving such knowledge by the special properties of the earth’s herbs and by human effort and cunning. This was the method: choose and gather certain kinds of the earth’s herbs on certain days and hours, put them all in a cauldron of water, and set the cauldron on the fire. It had to be kindled continually in order to boil the cauldron day and night for a year and a day. In that time, she would see ultimately that three drops containing all the virtues of the multitude of herbs would spring forth; on whatever man those three drops fell, she would see that he would be extraordinarily learned in various arts and full of the spirit of prophecy. Furthermore, she would see that all the juice of those herbs except the three aforementioned drops would be as powerful a poison as there could be in the world, and that it would shatter the cauldron and spill the poison across the land.
(Indeed, this tale is illogical and contrary to faith and piety; but as before:) the text of the story shows clearly that she collected great numbers of the earth’s herbs, that she put them into a cauldron of water, and put it on the fire. The story says that she engaged an old blind man to stir the cauldron and tend it, but it says nothing of his name any more than it says who the author of this tale was. However, it does name the lad who was leading this man: Gwion Bach, whom Ceridwen set to stoke the fire under the cauldron. In this way, each kept to his own job, kindling the fire, tending the cauldron, and stirring it, with Ceridwen keeping it full of water and herbs till the end of a year and a day. At that time Ceridwen took hold of Morfran, her son, and stationed him close to the cauldron to receive the drops when their hour to spring forth from the pot arrived. Then Ceridwen set her haunches down to rest.

She was asleep at the moment the three marvellous drops sprung from the cauldron, and they fell upon Gwion Bach, who had shoved Morfran out of the way. Thereupon the cauldron uttered a cry and, from the strength of the poison, shattered. Then Ceridwen woke from her sleep, like one crazed, and saw Gwion. He was filled with wisdom, and could perceive that her mood was so poisonous that she would utterly destroy him as soon as she discovered how he had deprived her son of the marvellous drops. So he took to his heels and fled. But as soon as Ceridwen recovered from her madness, she examined her son, who told her the full account of how Gwion drove him away from where she had stationed him.

She rushed out of the house in a frenzy in pursuit of Gwion Bach, and the story says that she saw him fleeing swiftly in the form of a hare. She turned herself into a black greyhound and pursued him from one place to another. Finally, after a long pursuit in various shapes, she pressed him so hard that he was forced to flee into a barn where there was a pile of winnowed wheat. There he turned himself into one of the grain; what Ceridwen did then was to change herself into a tufted black hen, and the story says that in this form she swallowed Gwion into her belly.

She carried him there for nine months, at which time she got deliverance of him. But when she gazed upon him after he had come into the world, she could not in her heart do him any physical harm herself, nor could she bear to see anyone else do it. In the end she had the prince put into a coracle or hide-covered basket, which she had fitted snugly all around him; then she caused it to be cast into the lake – according to some books, but some say he was put into a river, others that she had him put into the sea – where he was found a long time afterwards, as the present work will show when the time comes.

The Tale of Taliesin

In the days when Maelgwn Gwynedd was holding court in Castell Deganwy, there was a holy man named Cybi living in Môn. Also in that time there lived a wealthy squire near Caer Deganwy, and the story says he was called Gwyddno Garanhir (he was a lord). The text says that he had a weir on the shore of the Conway adjacent to the sea, in which was caught as much as ten pounds worth of salmon every even of All Hallows. The tale also says that Gwyddno had a son called Elphin son of Gwyddno, who was in service in the court of King Maelgwyn. The text says that he was a noble and generous man, much loved among his companions, but that he was an incorrigible spendthrift – as are the majority of courtiers. As long as Gwyddno’s wealth lasted, Elphin did not lack for money to spend among his friends. By as Gwyddno’s riches began to dwindle, he stopped lavishing money on his son. The latter regretfully informed his friends that he was no longer able to maintain a social life and keep company with them in the manner he had been accustomed to in the past, because his father had fallen on hard times. But as before, he asked some of the men of the court to request fish from the weir as a gift to him on the next All Hallow’s eve; they did that and Gwyddno granted their petition.

And so when the day and the time arrived, Elphin took some servants with him, and came to set up and watch the weir, which he tended from the high tide until the ebb.
When Elphin and his people came within the arms of the weir, they saw there neither head nor tail of a single young salmon; its sides were usually full of such on that night. But the story says that on this occasion he saw nothing but some dark hulk within the enclosure. On account of that, he lowered his head and began to protest his ill-fortune, saying as he turned homeward that his misery and misfortune were greater than those of any man in the world. Then it occurred to him to turn around and see what the thing in the weir was. Immediately, he found a coracle or hide-covered basket, wrapped from above as well as from below. Without delay, he took his knife and cut a slit in the hide, revealing a human forehead.

As soon as Elphin saw the forehead, he said, “behold, the radiant forehead (i. e., tal iesin)!” To those words the child replied from the coracle, “Tal-iesin he is!” People suppose that this was the spirit of Gwion Bach, who had been in the womb of Ceridwen; after she was delivered of him, she had cast him into fresh water or into the sea, as the present work shows above. He had been in the pouch, floating about in the sea, from the beginning of Arthur’s time until about the beginning of Maelgwn’s time – and that was approximately forty years.

Indeed, this is far from reason and sense. But as before, I will keep to the story, which says that Elphin took the bundle and placed it in a basket upon one of the horses. Thereupon, Taliesin sang the stanzas known as Dehuddiant Elphin, “Elphin’s Consolation,” saying as follows:

Fair Elphin, cease your weeping!
Despair brings no profit.
No catch in Gwyddno’s weir
Was ever as good as tonight’s.
Let no one revile what is his.
Man sees not what nurtures him;
Gwyddno’s prayers shall not be in vain.
God breaks not his promises.

Fair Elphin, dry your cheeks!
It does not become you to be sad.
Though you think you got not gain
Undue grief will bring you nothing –
Nor will doubting the miracles of the Lord.
Though I am small, I am gifted.
From the sea and the mountain, from rivers’ depths
God sends bounty to the blessed.

Elphin of the cheerful disposition –
Meek is your mind –
You must not lament so heavily.
Better God than gloomy foreboding.
Though I am frail and little
And wet with the spume of Dylan’s sea,
I shall earn in a day of contention
Riches better than three score for you.

Elphin of the remarkable qualities.
Grieve not for your catch.
Though I am frail here in my bunting,
There are wonders on my tongue.
You must not fear greatly
While I am watching over you.
By remembering the name of the Trinity
None can overcome you.

Together with various other stanzas which he sang to cheer Elphin along the path from there toward home, where Elphin turned over his catch to his wife. She raised him lovingly and dearly.

From that moment on, Elphin’s wealth increased more and more each succeeding day, as well as his favor and acceptance with the king. Some while after this, at the feast of Christmas, the king was holding open court at Deganwy Castle, and all his lords – both spiritual and temporal – were there, with a multitude of knights and squires. Their conversation grew, as they queried one another, saying:

“Is there in the entire world a man as powerful as Maelgwn? Or one to whom the heavenly father has given as many spiritual gifts as God has given him: beauty, shape, nobility, and strength, besides all the powers of the soul?” And with these gifts, they proclaimed that the Father had given him an excellent gift, one that surpassed all of the others, namely, the beauty, appearance, demeanor, wisdom, and faithfulness of his queen. In these virtues, she excelled all the ladies and daughters of the nobility in the entire land. Beside that, they asked themselves: “whose men are more valiant? Whose horses and hounds are swifter and fairer? Whose bards more proficient and wiser than Maelgwn’s?”

At that time poets were received with great esteem among the eminent ones of the realm. And in those days, none of whom we now call “heralds” were appointed to that office, unless they were learned men, and not only in the proper service of kinds and princes, but steeped and skilled in pedigrees, arms, the deeds of kings and princes of foreign kingdoms as well as the ancestors of this kingdom, especially in the history of the chief nobility. Furthermore, each of these bards had to have their responses readily prepared in various languages, such as Latin, French, Welsh, and English, and in addition, be a great historian and good chronicler, be skilled in the composition of poetry and ready to compose metrical stanzas in each of these languages. On this feast, there was in the court of Maelgwn no less than twenty-four of these; chief among them was the one called Heinin Fardd the Poet.

And so after everyone had spoken in praise of the king and his blessings, Elphin happened to say this: “Indeed, no one can compete with a king except another king; but, truly, were he not a king, I would surely say that I had a wife as chaste as any lady in the kingdom. Furthermore, I have a bard who is more proficient than all the king’s bards.”
Some time later, the king’s companions told him the extent of Elphin’s boast, and the king commanded that he be put into a secure prison until he could get confirmation of his wife’s chastity and his poet’s knowledge. And after putting Elphin in one of the castle towers with a heavy chain on his feet (some people say it was a silver chain that was put upon him, because hew as of the king’s blood), the story says that the king sent his son Rhun to test the continence of Elphin’s wife. It says that Rhun was one of the lustiest men in the world, and that neither woman nor maiden with whom he had spent a diverting moment came away with her reputation intact.

As Rhun was hastening toward Elphin’s residence, fully intending to despoil Elphin’s wife, Taliesin was explaining to her how the king had thrown his master into prison and how Rhun was hurrying there with the intention of corrupting her virtue. Because of that he had his mistress dress one of the scullery maids in her own garb. The lady did this cheerfully and unstintingly, adorning the maid’s fingers with the finest rings that she and her husband possessed. In this guise, Taliesin had his mistress seat the girl in her own chamber to sup at her own table and in her own place; Taliesin had made the girl look like his mistress, his mistress like the girl.

As they sat most handsomely at their supper in the manner described above, Rhun appeared suddenly at the court of Elphin. He was received cheerfully, for all the servants knew him well. They escorted him without delay to their mistress’s chamber. The girl disguised as the mistress rose from her supper and greeted him pleasantly, then sat back down to her meal, and Rhun with her. He began to beguile the girl with seductive talk, while she preserved the mien of her mistress.

The story says that the maiden got so inebriated that she fell asleep. It says that Rhun had put a powder in her drink that made her sleep so heavily – if the tale can be believed – that she didn’t even feel him cutting off her little finger, around which was Elphin’s signet ring that he had sent to his wife as a token a short time before. In this way he did his will with the maiden, and afterwards, he took the finger – with the ring on it – to the king as proof. He told him that he had violated her chastity, explaining how he had cut off her finger as he left, without her awakening.

The king took great delight in this news, and, because of it, summoned his council, to whom he explained the whole affair from one end to the other. Then he had Elphin brought from the prison to taunt him for his boast, and said to him as follows:

“It should be clear to you, Elphin, and beyond doubt, that it is nothing but foolishness for any man in the world to trust his wife in the matter of chastity any farther than he can see her. And so that you may harbor no doubts that your wife broke her marriage vows last night, here is her finger as evidence for you, with your own signet ring on it; the one who lay with her cut it off her hand while she slept. So that there is no way that you can argue that she did not violate her fidelity.”

To this Elphin replied, “With your permission, honorable king, indeed, there is no way I can deny my ring, for a number of people know it. But, indeed, I do deny vehemently that the finger encircled by my ring was ever on my wife’s hand, for one sees there three peculiar things not one of which ever characterized a single finger of my wife’s hands. The first of these is that – with your grace’s permission – wherever my wife is at this moment, whether she is sitting, standing, or lying down, this ring will not even fit her thumb! And you can easily see that if was difficult to force the ring over the knuckle of the little finger of the hand from which it was cut. The second thing is that my wife has never gone a single Saturday since I have known here without paring her nails before going to bed. And you can see clearly that the nail of this finger has not been cut for a month. And the third thing, indeed, is that the hand from which this finger was cut kneaded rye dough within the past three days, and I assure you, your graciousness, that my wife has not kneaded rye dough since she became my wife.”

The story says that the king became more outraged at Elphin for standing so firmly against him in the matter of his wife’s fidelity. As a result, the king ordered him to be imprisoned again, saying that he would not gain release from there until he proved true his boast about the wisdom of his bard as well as about the fidelity of his wife.

Those two, meanwhile, were in Elphin’s palace, taking their ease. Then Taliesin related to his mistress how Elphin was in prison on account of them. But he exhorted her to be of good cheer, explaining to her how he would go to the court of Maelgwn to free his master. She asked him how he could set his master free, and he replied as follows:

I shall set out on foot,
Come to the gate,
And make for the hall.
I shall sing my song
And proclaim my verse,
And the lord’s bards I shall inhibit:
Before the chief one
I shall make demands,
And I shall overcome them.

And when the contention comes
In the presence of the chieftains,
And a summons of the minstrels
For precise and harmonious songs
In the court of the scions of nobles,
Companion to Gwion,
There are some who assumed the appearance
Of anguish and great pains.

They shall fall silent by rough words,
If it ever grows ever worse, like Arthur, Chief of givers,
With his blades long and red
From the blood of nobles;
The king’s battle against his enemies,
Whose gentles’ blood flows
From the battle of the woods in the distant North.

May there be neither blessing nor beauty
On Maelgwn Gwynedd,
But let the wrong be avenged –
And the violence and arrogance – finally,
For the act of Rhun his offspring:
Let his lands be desolate,
Let his life be short,
Let the punishment last long
on Maelgwn Gwynedd.

And after that he took leave of his mistress, and came at last to the court of Maelgwn Gwynedd. The latter, in his royal dignity, was going to sit in his hall at supper, as kings and princes were accustomed to do on every high feast in those days.

And as soon as Taliesin came into the hall, he saw a place for himself to sit in an inconspicuous corner, beside the place where the poets and minstrels had to pass to pay their respects and duty to the king – as is still customary in proclaiming largesse in the courts on high holidays, except that they are proclaimed now in French. And so the time came for the bards or the heralds to come and proclaim the largesse, power, and might of the king. They came past the spot where Taliesin sat hunched over in the corner, and as they went by, he puckered his lips and with his finger made a sound like blerum blerum. Those going past paid no attention to him, but continued on until they stood before the king. They performed their customary curtsy as they were obliged to do; not a single word came from their mouths, but they puckered up, made faces at the king, and made the blerum blerum sound on their lips with their fingers as they had seen the lad do it earlier. The sight astonished the king, and he wondered to himself whether they had had too much to drink. So he ordered one of the lords who was administering to his table to go to them and ask them to summon their wits and reflect upon where they were standing and what they were obliged to do. The lord complied.

But they did not stop their nonsense directly, so he sent to them again, and a third time, ordering them to leave the hall; finally, the king asked one of the squires to clout their chief, the one called Heinin Fardd. The squire seized a platter and struck him over the head with it until he fell back on his rump. From that spot, he rose up onto his knees whence he begged the king’s mercy and leave to show him that it was neither of the two failings on them – neither lack of intelligence nor drunkenness – but due to some spirit that was inside the hall. And then Heinin said as follows: “O glorious king! Let it be known to your grace, that it is not from the pickling effect of a surfeit of spirits that we stand here dumb, unable to speak properly, like drunkards, but because of a spirit, who sits in the corner yonder, in the guise of a little man.”

Whereupon, the king ordered a squire to fetch him. He went to the corner where Taliesin sat, and brought him thence before the king, who asked him what sort of thing he was and whence he came. He answered the king in verse, and spoke as follows:

Offical chief-poet
to Elphin am I,
And my native abode
is the land of the Cherubim.

Then the king asked him what he was called, and he answered him saying this:

Johannes the prophet
called me Merlin,
But now all kings
call me Taliesin.

Then the king asked him where he had been, and thereupon he recited his history to the king, as follows here in this work:

I was with my lord
in the heavens
When Lucifer fell
into the depths of hell;
I carried a banner
before Alexander;
I know the stars’ names
from the North to the South
I was in the fort of Gwydion,
in the Tetragramaton;
I was in the canon
when Absalon was killed;
I brought seed down
to the vale of Hebron;
I was in the court of Dôn
before the birth of Gwydion;
I was patriarch
to Elijah and Enoch;
I was head keeper
of the work of Nimrod’s tower;
I was atop the cross
of the merciful son of God;
I was three times
in the prison of Arianrhod;
I was in the ark
with Noah and Alpha;
I witnessed the destruction
of Sodom and Gomorrah;
I was in Africa
before the building of Rome;
I came here
to the survivors of Troy.

And I was with my lord
in the manger of oxen and asses;
I upheld Moses
through the water of Jordan;
I was in the sky
with Mary Magdalen;
I got poetic inspiration
from the cauldron of Ceridwen;
I was poet-harper
to Llon Llychlyn;
I was in Gwynfryn
in the court of Cynfelyn;
In stock and fetters
a day and a year.

I was revealed
in the land of the Trinity;
And I was moved
through the entire universe;
And I shall remain till doomsday,
upon the face of the earth.
And no one knows what my flesh is –
whether meat or fish.

And I was nearly nine months
in the womb of the witch of Ceridwen;
I was formerly Gwion Bach,
but now I am Taliesin.

And the story says that this song amazed the king and his court greatly. Then he sang a song to explain to the king and his people why he had come there and what we was attempting to do, as the following poem sets forth.

Provincial bards! I am contending!
To refrain I am unable.
I shall proclaim in prophetic song
To those that will listen.
And I seek that loss
That I suffer:
Elphin, from the punishment
Of Caer Deganwy.

And from him, my lord will pull
The binding chain.
The Chair of Caer Deganwy –
Mighty is my pride –
Three hundred songs and more
Are the songs I shall sing;
No bard that knows them not
Shall merit spear
Nor stone nor ring,
Nor remain about me.

Elphin son of Gwyddno
Suffers torment now,
’Neath thirtheen locks
For praising his master-bard.

And I am Taliesin,
Chief-poet of the West,
And I shall release Elphin
From the gilded fetters.

After this, as the text shows, he sang a song of succor, and they say that instantly a tempestuous wind arose, until the king and his people felt that the castle would fall upon them. Because of that, the king had Elphin fetched from prison in a hurry, and brought to the side of Taliesin. He is said to have sung a song at that moment that resulted in the opening of the fetters from around his feet – indeed, in my opinion, it is very difficult for anyone to believe that this tale is true. But I will continue the story with as many of the poems by him as I have seen written down.

Following this, he sang the verses called “Interrogation of the Bards,” which follows herewith.

What being first
Made Alpha?
What is the fairest refined language
Designed by the Lord?

What food? What drink?
Whose raiment prudent?
Who endured rejection
From a deceitful land?

Why is a stone hard?
Why is a thorn sharp?
Who is hard as a stone,
And as salty as salt?

Why is the nose like a ridge?
Why is the wheel round?
Why does the tongue articulate
More than any one organ?

Then he sang a series of verses called “The Rebuke of the Bards,” and it begins like this:

If you are a fierce bard
Of spirited inspiration,
Be not testy
In your king’s court,
Unless you know the name for rimin,
And the name for ramin,
And the name for rimiad,
And the name for ramiad,
And the name of your forefather
Before his baptism.

And the name of the firmament,
And the name of the element,
And the name of your language,
And the name of your district.

Company of poets above,
Company of poets below;
My darling is below
’Neath the fetters of Aranrhod.
You certainly do not know
The meaning of what my lips sing,
Nor the true distinction
Between the true and the false.
Bards of limited horizons,
Why do you not flee?
The bard who cannot shut me up
Shall have no quiet
Till he come to rest
Beneath a gravelly grave.
And those who listen to me,
Let God listen to them.

And after this follows the verses called “The Satire on the Bards.”

Minstrels of malfeasance make
Impious lyrics; in their praise
They sing vain and evanescent song,
Ever exercising lies.
They mock guileless men
They corrupt married women,
They despoil Mary’s chaste maidens.
Their lives and times they waste in vain,
They scorn the frail and the guileless,
They drink by night, sleep by day,
Idly, lazily, making their way.
They despise the Church
Lurch toward the taverns;
In harmony with thieves and lechers,
They seek out courts and feasts,
Extol every idiotic utterance,
Praise every deadly sin.
They lead every manner of base life,
Roam every village, town, and land.
The distresses of death concern them not,
Never do they give lodging or alms.
Excessive food they consume.
They rehearse neither psalms nor prayer,
Pay neither tithes nor offerings to God,
Worship not on Holy Days nor the Lord’s day,
Fast on neither Holy Days nor ember days.
Birds fly,
Fish swim,
Bees gather honey,
Vermin crawl;
Everything bustles
To earn its keep
Except minstrels and thieves, the lazy and worthless.

I do not revile your minstrelsy,
For God gave that to ward off evil blasphemy;
But he who practices it in perfidy
Reviles Jesus and his worship.

After Taliesin had freed his master from prison, verified the chastity of his mistress, and silenced the bards so that none of them dared say a single word, he asked Elphin to wager the king that he had a horse faster and swifter than all the king’s horses. Elphin did that.

On that day, time, and place determined – the place known today as Morfa Rhianedd – the king arrived with his people and twenty-four of the swiftest horses he owned. Then, after a long while, the course was set, and a place for the horses to run. Taliesin came there with twenty-four sticks of holly, burnt black. He had the lad who was riding his master’s horse put them under his belt, instructing him to let all the king’s horses go ahead of him, and as he caught up with each of them in turn, to take one of the rods and whip the horse across his rump, and then throw it to the ground. Then take another rod and do in the same manner to each of the horses as he overtook them. And he instructed the rider to observe carefully the spot where his horse finished, and throw down his cap on that spot.

The lad accomplished all of this, both the whipping of each of the king’s horses as well as throwing down his cap in the place where the horse finished. Taliesin brought his master there after his horse won the race, and he and Elphin set me to work to dig a hole. When they had dug the earth to a certain depth, they found a huge cauldron of gold, and therewith Taliesin said, “Elphin, here is payment and reward for you for having brought me from the weir and raising me from that day to this.” In that very place there stands a pool of water, which from that day to this is called “Cauldon’s Pool.”

After that, the king said had Taliesin brought before him, and asked for information concerning the origin of the human race. Forthwith, he sang the verses that follow here below, and that are known today as one of the four pillars of song. They begin as follows:

Here begin the prophecies of Taliesin:

The Lord made
In the midst of Glen Hebron
With his blessed hands,
I know, the shape of Adam.

He made the beautiful;
In the court of paradise,
From a rib, he put together
Fair woman.

Seven hours they
Tended the Orchard
Before Satan’s strife,
Most insistent suitor.

Thence they were driven
Through cold and chill
To lead their lives
In this world.

To bear in affliction
Sons and daughters,
To get tribute
From the land of Asia.

One hundred and eight
Was she fertile,
Bearing a mixed brood,
Masculine and feminine.

And then, openly,
When she bore Abel
And Cain, unconcealable,
Most unredeemable.

To Adam and his mate
Was given a digging shovel
To break the earth
To gain bread.

And shining white wheat
To sow, the instrument
To feed all men
Until the great feast.

Angels sent
From God Almighty
Brought the seed of growth
To Eve.

She hid
A tenth of the gift
So that not all did
The whole garden enclose.

But black rye was had
In place of the fine wheat,
Showing the evil
For stealing.

Because of that treacherous turn,
It is necessary, says Sattwrn,
For each to give his tithe
To God first.

From crimson red wine
Planted on a sunny days,
And the moon’s night prevails
Over white wine.

From wheat of true privilege,
From red wine generous and privileged.
Is made the finely molded body
Of Christ son of Alpha.

From the wafer is the flesh.
From the wine is the flow of blood.
And the words of the Trinity
Consecrated him.

Every sort of mystical book
Of Emmanuel’s work
Rafael brought
To give to Adam.

When he was in ferment,
Above his two jaws
Within the Jordan river
Fasting.

Moses found,
To guard against great need,
The secret of the three
Most famous rods.

Samson got
Within the tower of Babylon
All the magical arts
Of Asia land.

I got, indeed,
In my bardic song,
All the magical arts
Of Europe and Africa.

And I know whence she emanates
And her home and her hospitality,
Her fate and her destiny
Till Doomsday.

Alas, God, how wretched,
Through excessive plaint,
Comes the prophecy
To the race of Troy.

A coiled serpent,
Proud and merciless,
With golden wings
Out of Germany.

It shall conquer
England and Scotland,
From the shore of the Scandinavian Sea
To the Severn.

Then shall the Britons be
Like prisoners,
With status of aliens,
To the Saxons.

Their lord they shall praise.
Their language preserve,
And their land they will lose –
Save wild Wales.

Until comes a certain period
After long servitude,
When shall be of equal duration
The two proud ones.

Then will the Britons gain
Their land and their crown,
And the foreigners
Will disappear.

And the words of the angels
On peace and war
Will be true
Concerning Britain.

And after this he proclaimed to the king various prophecies in verse, concerning the world that would come hereafter.

– “The Tale of Gwion Bach” and “The Tale of Taliesin,” translated by Patrick Ford in The Mabinogi and Other Medieval Welsh Tales, 162-181

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