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The Birth of Taliesin the Bard 
by Richard Britton
 

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© Richard Britton 2010 
Published by Philistine Press 










Contact the author: richbritton@hotmail.co.uk 




THE BIRTH OF TALIESIN THE BARD

 

 

                                    I, Taliesin the bard - carpenter of words,

                                    The joiner of Druid and Christian lore,

                                    Gouger of heroics and noble quests,

                                    Cutter of homilies and carver of truth -

                                    Was wrought from the fowl and the grain...

-          Taliesin The Bard

From The Epistles to The Culdees

                                   

 

 

 

1.  THE BOOK OF PHERYLLT

 

Keridwen laboured as if her womb was filled

With stones fired in the acidic larva

That gored its path to fathom valleys

Between the star-threatening peaks

Of Snowdonia, in sleepless prehistory,

As time cut its cord from its creator.

Tegid Voel, her lord, glanced once only

At the wretched bundle, the love

For which had stemmed her bitter blood,

And then left the room to take wine.

 

Whilst her lord was slumped under his

Antler-mounted fire-place, she stared

At the pink moon as it haemorrhaged

Love into the bruised-blossom night.

Her son, Avagddu, smiled at her

Despite the tightening of his cleft lip,

Flashing his crooked, premature teeth,

His body covered in hair as thick

As a boar’s, his hoofed feet kicking.

“The gods have rid their brittle clay

To render your form” she whispered

“But I will engender you with wisdom

And craft that will emblazon your name

Beyond the curse of your misshapen body.”

The baby opened his mouth and roared,

His hunger-echoes shaking the stillest

Nests in the undefiled trees of the forest.

 

Her priest risked the wrath of her lord

To ride through the densest woods

For seven nights and seven days

To enquire of the Holy Book of Pheryllt

From which she would draw sublime

Incantations, and breath life into her pledge.

 

At the city of Emrys the priest arrived,

The city of pyromancers, where red-bearded

Druids converse in koine with turbaned

Alchemists and draw potent symbols

In the shell-sands for far-eastern sages

And fakirs from the valley of Indus,

Who sweat water from the Ganges,

As they lean over their kilns and forges.

 

The Dragons of Beli lived underneath

The city, in a labyrinth, guarding

Rocks of great urge that calibrated

The measure of the power released

From these citizens’ metaphysical toils.

They never stirred, but always

Had one eye open and breath bated

Lest the laws of nature should be defiled.

 

After much consultation and seeking

Of advice and counsel, the priest was

Sent to the Grand Keeper of Books

In the Tower of Books, the most

Magnificent library in the world,

Housed in a hollowed mountain

Far from the city’s yellow-stoned core.

There, he was shown the ancient

Text, ciphered in ogham, but reading

In a tongue as ancient as the species

Of worms that the wizened librarian

Plucked from its spine, obsessively,

With the sabre-points of his grey nails.

And so he noted the concoction.

And he journeyed back to Penllyn,

Past quarries of slaves, dust shrouded,

The spoils of wars – sacked cities

And barbarian wastes, enemies subdued -

Excavating rocks or cosmic wisdom?

Muscled Gauls cracked whips scoring

Red lines in their lime-blanched skin.

 

 

 

2.  PREPARATION  OF THE BREW

 

As Tegid lay sleeping off his wine,

Keridwen cut his throat with the bone

Of a cuttlefish; his eyes flashed open

And she ordered the nurse to bring

The child forth and shame his neglect

As his noble blood drained through

The smiling clean wound and mixed

With the wine spilt on the floor

After his glass fell in his struggle:

The two ruddy liquids mingled as one.

His black-eyed son stared into his death,

Watching the embers of a cruel fire dull.

 

Retainers were sent on missions wide

Some to charm adders into thrall,

To milk the venom from their ducts,

Some to clip nails of prince’s brides,

Or swab the backs of Egyptian toads,

Others to peel off skins from stoats,

That languish in Iberian meadows,

Others to cut hearts from the chests,

Of Norse warriors in the Orkneys,

And pack them in ice to chariot back,

Still pumping their last as they add to,

The concoction in the cauldron pot,

That must be boiled for a year and a day,

Three drops of which, only, are potent.

 

Gwion Bach, the son of the Llanfair Herald

Tended to this malevolent brew,

Out of which dark creatures tried to crawl,

And cruel faces moulded into the slime,

He stirred it to break up the ferment,

And crack the callous carrion crust,

He tore open the septic skin-surface,

Keeping the mixture moving round and through.

 

Keridwen, despite her obsession,

Was taking leisure with several knights,

And woodmen from her juniper forests,

She almost forgot the care of the potion,

And left her baby to suckle his nurse,

And wander in the mistletoe gardens,

And climb the ivy wrapping the trees.

 

Morda, the blind seer adjusted the fire

From his hut, high in the old oak tree,

And sang the flames high or low,

Sniffing towards the stench of the crows

Flying in the direction of the brew

To sit on the window-ledge of the lady’s

Apothecary and beg, beg for the gristle

From the discarded chunks of flesh.

 

As the year of boiling came near its end,

Gwion Bach stirred the brew to split

Its volcanic curdling head,

But as his ladle pierced through, three

Molten droplets hit his finger,

 

Licks dulled the listless pain,

But Gwion Bach’s mind fell inwards,

In a second, his eyes floated through

The depths of the universe

Like heavy stars plucked from the sky,

And then they crashed back into his head.

Morda stood  at the door, nostrils ablaze,

But Gwion could see the marrow

In his gnarled bones and could see

His memories played over and over,

The horrors of battles blood-burned

Into the battle-field, where spears drill

For the deepest biles to replace the dew.

 

He could hear the voices of the trees

Outside and could feel the burden

Of future horrors bowing his spine,

Faces flashed and their fates forced

Their way across the pallet of his sight,

And so Gwion Bach took frantic flight.

 

Now the precious three drops were gone,

It seethed into a venomous brew,

That cracked the blackened cauldron

Base and streamed into the river near.

Keridwen’s rage upturned her woe,

And with the ladle she struck Morda

Dead (How his grey eyelids flickered)

As man, but alive as a crone, freshly cruel.

 

 

 

3.  THE CHASE AND THE TRANSFORMATIONS

 

Gwion Bach could see the buckled face

Of  Keridwen as she stormed through

Field, forest and farm in his pursuit –

The vision woke him from a fever-fit

Sleep, he put out his fire and followed

The icy winds, that growled and snarled

And slapped at his ankles like tentacles

Of an ancient, cursed and beast remote

In the lateness of the summer night,

To reach a beach and charter a boat.

 

Keridwen had the help of  Morda’s witch,

That impeached her to follow the guide

Of the icy winds.  But Gwion, with sight

That eclipsed the reach of the furthest

Sights, saw this crone’s dead-horse hair

Whipped out of her louse-hive head.

Gwion Bach strode into the woodlands

And convulsed into the guise of a hare,

Black furred, black tongued, black eyed

Tricking itself into the skin of the night

With each leap and the flicking of its tail.

But the witch-seer muttered incantations

That melted her patron’s mortal flesh

And ground to powder her desperate bones

Re-moulding them into a tall sleek hound,

Following his trail into the woodlands.

How the crows and blackbirds were silenced

By Keridwen’s hag chanting dark words

Through her cracked-coal teeth, searching

The sky with her sour-milk eyes and then,

Through the parted pages of a dank tome,

She curdled song to hasten Keridwen’s

Foot flip, angled her teeth to aid their rip.

 

But Gwion the hare came to a still mere,

And, in the midst of his dive, his dark fur

Crisped into scales that sparkled silver

As it pierced the print of the buxom moon

On the water-skin and swam into the depths.

But the crone, how she shrieked, sending

The prowling weasels back into the depths

Of their burrows, the badgers to their sets

And the foxes to their dens.  Even the wolves

Cowered in the towering tree-shadows.

And as Keridwen the hound submerged

Within the cloak of the praeternatual mere,

Parts of her flesh and bone filed away

And as her snout drilled through the shafts of

Still waters, it rounded and her paws shrank

As she patted away the silence and shuffled on.

Her tail widened and she became an otter.

 

Sensing the stalk, Gwion the fish launched out

Of the mere and his fins fanned and feathered

Whilst keratin sharpened his nose to a point,

And legs sprouted at speed from his groin

As he swooped upwards eclipsing the moon

For half a second only, but time-enough

For Keridwen’s hag to pull her patron out

Of the mere with the anti-gravity of her cruel

Incantations, and stretch her snout, harden

And shine it like the blade of a night assassin,

And split the strands of her dactylic limbs so

That blood fell and inked the mere surface

As webbing reunited the flesh into far spanned

Wings, vengefully parting the wind venting

Across the heights of the sky. Sensing awry

 

The blanket of the blackening span that cast

A denser night over his clothing of sparrow,

Making a pearl-bone day of the moon fattened

Sky, (excluded by the flapping from tip to tip)

So Gwion Bach was delivered realisation,

And the sprint of his leaf-width wings

Flicking open and shut a dozen times

For every flap of Keridwen’s hawk- wings

Was not enough to clear her claw reach.

One last flap did halt his wings at his waist

And they would not move as his bludgeoning

Beak sank into his neck whilst his tail rolled

Over his head and under and over and under

Like the clod missile from an Olympian’s palm,

Balling magnificently.  Friction shaved him

Down, smaller and smaller, sparking flames

That spirit-danced the shapes of the feathers,

Burning the textile from the quill and then

Pulping the flesh into a ball of roundness

Envied by the forces of physics that fruit

The trees and carve worlds from the ecstasy

Of suns.  Each revolution of his tumbling form

Shaved off a layer, with purple sparking off

His shrinking form, further and lower down,

 

Until his collision took him to a corn field,

Not un-mixed in the crestfallen grains

Gathered in a basket, with crows not

Pausing to pick what they peck at as

They take their fill of the weevils within.

Keridwen the hawk then dived down

As her hag oriented her to the target

Of her indulgent hate, but her dive slowed

And her sleek, muscled body fattened

As her wings drew into her shoulders,

She began to tumble as her plump bundle

Blundered to the ground with a thud,

Cratering a patch of the corn stalks,

And she wobbled to her feet, furious

With her latest guise as a fat black hen.

 

But there was measure in the hags deeds

As Keridwen’s obese hen quickly spied

Gwion Bach’s particle, shivering within,

Hoping, praying his tiny seed would be

Gobbled by a crow and flown up high

But soon evacuated in this bird’s faeces,

Back to the ground and relative safety.

But Keridwen’s hen, despite her wobble

Was, nevertheless mobile, and Gwion-

Bach’s grain was physically most unable,

(Save for his sharper end, which tried to fumble

Him down to the safety of the wicker floor,)

And with a sharp withdrawal of her ugly neck,

She drilled her blundering beak into the basket,

Catching Gwion Bach’s fugitive form,

Swallowing him down as a grain of corn!

Before returning to her human form.

 

 

 

4.  THE NATIVITY OF TALIESIN THE BARD

 

Nine months passed and Keridwen bore

A child whose black hair danced in the wind

Around his day-sky eyes.  His beauty bound

Her wrath, and despite Avagddu’s premature

Death, she could not kill this child despite

The way his pearl skin shone against her

Memory of Avagddu’s unfortunate hue.

 

She wrapped him in cloth as if she was

Hiding her sins, placed him on a coracle

And cast it out to sea.  She did not turn

Back as the baby’s cries battled the turn

Of the waves as evening fell and a storm

Creaked on the blade of the horizon.

 

The storm confused sky and sea; lightning

Wrought shapes in the sight of fishermen

Trawling the tumultuous estuary waters

And they nearly thought the coracle was

A salt-eye illusion but they dragged it in.

 

The child was passed to Gwyddno, a Lord,

And upon opening the bundle he cried:-

“Behold, a child with radient brow!

He shall be called Taliesin and raised

In my court.”  And then, he hugged the child

With the love that Keridwen could not find

Amongst all the bitterness at her first-born’s

Lot.  And the sea rested and the clouds parted

And Taliesin laughed the sun out of hiding.

 

 

THE END

 

 


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