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Book of Taliesin
Book of Taliesin
Aberystwyth, NLW, Peniarth MS 2
facsimile, folio 13
Also known as
First half of the 14th century
some 60 Welsh poems
The Book of Taliesin (Welsh: Llyfr Taliesin) is one of the most famous of Middle Welshmanuscripts, dating from the first half of the 14th century though many of the fifty-six poems it preserves are taken to originate in the 10th century or before.
The manuscript, known as Peniarth MS 2 and kept at the National Library of Wales, is incomplete, having lost a number of its original leaves including the first. It was named Llyfr Taliessin in the seventeenth century by Edward Lhuyd and hence is known in English as "The Book of Taliesin". The palaeographer John Gwenogvryn Evans dated the Book of Taliesin to around 1275, but Daniel Huws dated it to the first quarter of the fourteenth century, and the fourteenth-century dating is generally accepted.:164
LVI "Kanu y Byt Bychan" ("Little Song of the World")
Date and provenance of contents
Many of the poems have been dated to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and are likely to be the work of poets adopting the Taliesin persona for the purposes of writing about awen (poetic inspiration), characterised by material such as:
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.
A few are attributed internally to other poets. A full discussion of the provenance of each poem is included in the definitive editions of the book's contents poems by Marged Haycock.[page needed][page needed]
Twelve of the poems in the manuscript were identified by Ifor Williams as credibly being the work of a historical Taliesin, or at least 'to be contemporary with Cynan Garwyn, Urien, his son Owain, and Gwallawg', possibly historical kings who respectively ruled Powys; Rheged, which was centred in the region of the Solway Firth on the borders of present-day England and Scotland and stretched east to Catraeth (identified by most scholars as present-day Catterick in North Yorkshire) and west to Galloway; and Elmet. These are (giving Skene's numbering used in the content list below in Roman numerals, the numbering of Evans's edition of the manuscript in Arabic, and the numbers and titles of Williams's edition in brackets):
Williams's title (if any)
Trawsganu Kynan Garwyn Mab Brochfael
Gweith Argoet Llwyfein
Yspeil Taliesin. Kanu Vryen
Poems 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, and 9 (in Williams's numbering) close with the same words, suggesting common authorship, while 4 and 8 contain internal attributions to Taliesin. The closing tag runs
Ac yny vallwyf (i) ben
y-m dygyn agbeu agben
ny by?if y-m·dirwen
na molwyf Vryen.
Until I perish in old age,
in death's dire compulsion,
I shall not be joyous,
unless I praise Urien.
The precise dating of these poems remains uncertain. Re-examining the linguistic evidence for their early date, Patrick Sims-Williams concluded in 2016 that
evaluating the supposed proofs that poems in the Books of Aneirin and Taliesin cannot go back to the sixth century, we have found them either to be incorrect or to apply to only a very few lines or stanzas that may be explained as additions. It seems impossible to prove, however, that any poem must go back to the sixth century linguistically and cannot be a century or more later.:217
Scholarly English translations of all these are available in Poems from the book of Taliesin (1912) and the modern anthology The Triumph Tree.
Later Old Welsh poems
Among probably less archaic but still early texts, the manuscript also preserves a few hymns, a small collection of elegies to famous men such as Cunedda and Dylan Eil Ton and also famous enigmatic poems such as The Battle of Trees, The Spoils of Annwfn (in which the poet claims to have sailed to another world with Arthur and his warriors), and the tenth-century prophetic poem Armes Prydein Vawr. Several of these contain internal claims to be the work of Taliesin, but cannot be associated with the putative historical figure.
Many poems in the collection allude to Christian and Latin texts as well as native British tradition, and the book contains the earliest mention in any Western post-classical vernacular literature of the feats of Hercules and Alexander the Great.
^ abSims-Williams, Patrick (30 September 2016). "Dating the Poems of Aneirin and Taliesin". Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie. 63 (1): 163-234. doi:10.1515/zcph-2016-0008.
^Haycock, Marged (2007). Legendary Poems from The Book of Taliesin. Aberystwyth: CMCS.
^Haycock, Marged (2013). Prophecies from The Book of Taliesin. Aberystwyth: CMCS.
^Williams, Ifor, ed. (1968). The Poems of Taliesin. Medieval and Modern Welsh Series. 3. Translated by Caerwyn Williams, J.E. Dublin: The Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. p. lxv.
^Koch, John T., ed. (2005). "Taliesin I the Historical Taliesin". Celtic Culture. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO. p. 1652.
^Clancy, Thomas Owen, ed. (1998). The Triumph Tree; Scotland's Earliest Poetry, AD 550-1350. Edinburgh: Canongate. pp. 79-93.
Evans, J. Gwenogvryn, The Book of Taliesin (Llanbedrog, 1910)
Haycock, Marged, ed. (2007). Legendary Poems from the Book of Taliesin. CMCS Publications. Aberystwyth. ISBN978-0-9527478-9-5.