(Poem #554) Taliesin
I have been all men known to history, Wondering at the world and at time passing; I have seen evil, and the light blessing Innocent love under a spring sky. I have been Merlin wandering in the woods Of a far country, where the winds waken Unnatural voices, my mind broken By a sudden acquaintance with man's rage. I have been Glyn Dwr set in the vast night, Scanning the stars for the propitious omen, A leader of men, yet cursed by the crazed women Mourning their dead under the same stars. I have been Goronwy, forced from my own land To taste the bitterness of the salt ocean; I have known exile and a wild passion Of longing changing to a cold ache. King, beggar and fool, I have been all by turns, Knowing the body's sweetness, the mind's treason; Taliesin still, I show you a new world, risen, Stubborn with beauty, out of the heart's need.
Taliesin  is one of my favourite mythological characters. Partly, of course, for the obvious reason - he's a poet, and not just a poet, but the archetype of that wonderful figure, the wandering minstrel. And partly for a very different reason: Taliesin, like Loki and Enki, Coyote and Brer Rabbit, is a trickster - he uses cunning and ingenuity to get his way . Today's poem emphasizes the former aspect of his character: specifically, the ability of the poet to synthesize experience into a new and compelling form. The final couplet is the most telling: Taliesin still, I show you a new world, risen, Stubborn with beauty, out of the heart's need. One might interpret this couplet as Thomas' view of the process of poetry, broken down into four parts: who, what, how and why. Who: 'Taliesin still' - the poet, though transformed by his experience, remains recognizably himself. What: 'I show you a new world' - the central tenet of the poet's creed everywhere; it's especially fitting that the words are spoken by a person who embodies the idea of poetry, in its most elemental form. How: 'Stubborn with beauty' - this phrase, to those who know his work, is pure R. S. Thomas. It reflects that rarest of abilities, the ability to find magic in the harshness of the everyday. Why: 'Out of the heart's need' - this, at least, requires no explanation. thomas.  The name means 'radiant brow'  The figure from Plains Indian mythology. Not his descendant Wile E. <grin>.  Random association: Rowan Atkinson saying "I have a cunning plan, Baldrick". [Links] Biographies of Ronald Stuart Thomas: http://www.uwp.co.uk/book_desc/rsthomas.html and poem #392. An essay comparing R. S. Thomas and Geoffrey Hill (another contemporary poet whose work I enjoy), with especial emphasis on the former's Welshness: [broken link] http://www.sogang.ac.kr/~anthony/ThomasHill.htm More on Thomas' Welshness: http://www.britannia.com/wales/lit/lit18.html 'I am Taliesin; I sing perfect metre', translated from the original by Ifor Williams: poem #175 'The Ancients of the World', a Thomas poem charged with mythic grandeur: poem #152 'Good', a quieter, more introspective poem, but one none the less powerful for that: poem #392