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Taliesin -- R S Thomas

(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.
-- R S Thomas
Taliesin [1] 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[2] and Brer Rabbit, is a trickster
- he uses cunning and ingenuity to get his way [3].

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.


[1] The name means 'radiant brow'
[2] The figure from Plains Indian mythology. Not his descendant Wile E. <grin>.
[3] Random association: Rowan Atkinson saying "I have a cunning plan, Baldrick".


Biographies of Ronald Stuart Thomas: 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]

More on Thomas' Welshness:

'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

36 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Emyr Lewis said...

Should note - 2 taliesins. One was historical poet, other a mythical
shape-shifter. Thomas (like tradition) has conflated both, but in his case

Nicole Ilott said...

im scared

TitusL said...
This comment has been removed by the author.

TitusL said...

Taliesin's poems are awesome,
Robert Graves does a great job de-scrambling them, and Thomas' poem above is brilliant :D
I thought that you might like my
Taliesin's Battle Of The Trees machinima film,
Bright Blessings By Stone and Star,
Celestial Elf ~

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