Mabinogion: Elphin and Taliesin

This story is part of the Mabinogion unit. Story source: The Mabinogion, translated by Lady Charlotte Guest (1877).

Elphin and Taliesin

Then came Elphin to the house or court of Gwyddno his father, and Taliesin with him. And Gwyddno asked him if he had had a good haul at the weir, and he told him that he had got that which was better than fish.

"What was that?" said Gwyddno.

"A Bard," answered Elphin.

Then said Gwyddno, "Alas, what will he profit thee?"

And Taliesin himself replied and said, "He will profit him more than the weir ever profited thee."

Asked Gwyddno, "Art thou able to speak, and thou so little?"

And Taliesin answered him, "I am better able to speak than thou to question me."

"Let me hear what thou canst say," quoth Gwyddno.

Then Taliesin sang:

In water there is a quality endowed with a blessing.
On God it is most just to meditate aright;
To God it is proper to supplicate with seriousness
Since no obstacle can there be to obtain a reward from him.

Three times have I been born, I know by meditation.
It were miserable for a person not to come and obtain
All the sciences of the world, collected together in my breast,
For I know what has been, what in future will occur.

I will supplicate my Lord that I get refuge in him,
A regard I may obtain in his grace.
The Son of Mary is my trust; great in him is my delight
For in him is the world continually upholden.

God has been to instruct me and to raise my expectation,
The true Creator of heaven, who affords me protection;
It is rightly intended that the saints should daily pray
For God, the renovator, will bring them to him.

And forthwith Elphin gave his haul to his wife, and she nursed him tenderly and lovingly.

Thenceforward Elphin increased in riches more and more day after day, and in love and favour with the king, and there abode Taliesin until he was thirteen years old, when Elphin son of Gwyddno went by a Christmas invitation to his uncle, Maelgwn Gwynedd, who some time after this held open court at Christmastide in the castle of Dyganwy, for all the number of his lords of both degrees, both spiritual and temporal, with a vast and thronged host of knights and squires.

And amongst them there arose a discourse and discussion. And thus was it said: "Is there in the whole world a king so great as Maelgwn, or one on whom Heaven has bestowed so many spiritual gifts as upon him? First form, and beauty, and meekness, and strength, besides all the powers of the soul!" And together with these, they said that Heaven had given one gift that exceeded all the others, which was the beauty, and comeliness, and grace, and wisdom, and modesty of his queen, whose virtues surpassed those of all the ladies and noble maidens throughout the whole kingdom.

And with this they put questions one to another amongst themselves: Who had braver men? Who had fairer or swifter horses or greyhounds? Who had more skilful or wiser bards — than Maelgwn?

Now at that time, the bards were in great favour with the exalted of the kingdom, and then none performed the office of those who are now called heralds unless they were learned men, not only expert in the service of kings and princes, but studious and well versed in the lineage and arms and exploits of princes and kings, and in discussions concerning foreign kingdoms and the ancient things of this kingdom, and chiefly in the annals of the first nobles, and also were prepared always with their answers in various languages, Latin, French, Welsh, and English. And together with this, they were great chroniclers and recorders, and skilful in framing verses and ready in making englyns [poems] in every one of those languages.

Now of these there were at that feast within the palace of Maelgwn as many as four-and-twenty, and chief of them all was one named Heinin Vardd.

(700 words)

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