Taliessin

‘Shining Brow’
Talgesin, Taliesin Ben Beirdd, Talyessin, Teliesin, Thelgesinus

Tradition says Taliesin flourished in the sixth century, which means he lived after any ‘historical’ Arthur. He was a poet and bard who, it is told, were singing at the courts of at least three Brythonic kings. Not many poems have remained to this day, although eleven are preserved and thought to be the work of the historical Taliesin. Some of his works are addressed to Urien of RhegedOwain mab Urien, Brochfael Ysgithrog of Powys and Cynan Garwyn.

Glennie names him as one of the four, some accounts says five, renown poets. Historia Brittonum lists them as Talhaearn Tad Awen, Aneirin (Aneurin), Blwchfardd, and Cian Gwenith Gwawd. Glennie lists them as Llywarch Hên, Aneurin and Merlin.

The legends say Elffin (Elphin), son of Gwyddno Garanhir, adopted the child Taliesin. Elffin became a king in Ceredigion, Wales and the boy was raised at court in Aberdyfi. When he was thirteen years old he visited King Maelgwn Gwynedd, Elffin’s uncle, and correctly prophesied about the king’s death of yellow plague. In time he becomes a hero, a companion of King Arthur and Bran the Blessed.

Taliessin is our fullest throat of song,

says Arthur in Tennyson’s idyll The Holy Grail.

The spelling of his name, Taliessin, comes from Lord Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, which in Middle Welsh means ‘shining brow’. In Medieval Welsh poetry and legend he is often named Taliesin Ben Beirdd, which means ‘Taliesin, Chief of Bards’, or ‘Chief of Poets’. The following poem is a fragment by Taliesin Ben Beirdd.

I have been a multitude of shapes,
before I assumed a consistent form.
I have been a sword, narrow, variegated,
I have been a tear in the air,
I have been in the dullest of stars.
I have been a word among letters,
I have been a book in the origin.

When Saint Gildas went to Brittany and acted as a teacher, Taliessin were one of his students.


Notes
Tal is Welsh and means ‘end’, when applied to places, but when applied to persons it denotes ‘front’. Talyhont signifies the end of the bridge, while Taliesin means radiant front or luminous head.


See also
Adaon ab Taliesin | The Legend of King Arthur
Bedd Taliesin | The Legend of King Arthur
Ceridwen | The Legend of King Arthur
Heidyn | The Legend of King Arthur
Wizards and Enchanters | Myths and Legends