Mabinogion: The Finding of Taliesin

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

The Finding of Taliesin

And at that time the weir of Gwyddno was on the strand between Dyvi and Aberystwyth, near to his own castle, and the value of an hundred pounds was taken in that weir every May eve.

And in those days Gwyddno had an only son named Elphin, the most hapless of youths and the most needy. And it grieved his father sore, for he thought that he was born in an evil hour. And by the advice of his council, his father had granted him the drawing of the weir that year to see if good luck would ever befall him and to give him something wherewith to begin the world.

And the next day when Elphin went to look, there was nothing in the weir. But as he turned back he perceived the leathern bag upon a pole of the weir.

Then said one of the weir-ward unto Elphin, "Thou wast never unlucky until tonight, and now thou hast destroyed the virtues of the weir, which always yielded the value of an hundred pounds every May eve, and tonight there is nothing but this leathern skin within it."

"How now," said Elphin, "there may be therein the value of an hundred pounds."

Well, they took up the leathern bag, and he who opened it saw the forehead of the boy and said to Elphin, "Behold a radiant brow!"

"Taliesin be he called," said Elphin.

And he lifted the boy in his arms, and, lamenting his mischance, he placed him sorrowfully behind him. And he made his horse amble gently that before had been trotting, and he carried him as softly as if he had been sitting in the easiest chair in the world.

And presently the boy made a Consolation and praise to Elphin, and foretold honour to Elphin, and the Consolation was as you may see:

Fair Elphin, cease to lament!
Let no one be dissatisfied with his own:
To despair will bring no advantage.

No man sees what supports him;
The prayer of Cynllo will not be in vain;
God will not violate his promise:
Never in Gwyddno's weir
Was there such good luck as this night.

Fair Elphin, dry thy cheeks!
Being too sad will not avail.

Although thou thinkest thou hast no gain,
Too much grief will bring thee no good;
Nor doubt the miracles of the Almighty:
Although I am but little, I am highly gifted.

From seas and from mountains
And from the depths of rivers,
God brings wealth to the fortunate man.

Elphin of lively qualities,
Thy resolution is unmanly;
Thou must not be over sorrowful:
Better to trust in God than to forbode ill.

Weak and small as I am,
On the foaming beach of the ocean
In the day of trouble I shall be
Of more service to thee than three hundred salmon.

Elphin of notable qualities,
Be not displeased at thy misfortune;
Although reclined thus weak in my bag,
There lies a virtue in my tongue.

While I continue thy protector,
Thou hast not much to fear;
Remembering the names of the Trinity,
None shall be able to harm thee.

And this was the first poem that Taliesin ever sang, being to console Elphin in his grief for that the produce of the weir was lost and, what was worse, that all the world would consider that it was through his fault and ill-luck.

And then Gwyddno Garanhir asked him what he was, whether man or spirit. Whereupon he sang this tale and said:

"First, I have been formed a comely person;
In the court of Caridwen, I have done penance.
Though little I was seen, placidly received,
I was great on the floor of the place to where I was led;
I have been a prized defence,
the sweet muse the cause,
And by law without speech I have been liberated
By a smiling black old hag, when irritated
Dreadful her claim when pursued:

I have fled with vigour,
I have fled as a frog,
I have fled in the semblance of a crow, scarcely finding rest;
I have fled vehemently,
I have fled as a chain,
I have fled as a roe into an entangled thicket;
I have fled as a wolf cub,
I have fled as a wolf in a wilderness,
I have fled as a thrush of portending language;
I have fled as a fox, used to concurrent bounds of quirks;
I have fled as a martin, which did not avail;
I have fled as a squirrel, that vainly hides,
I have fled as a stag's antler, of ruddy course,
I have fled as iron in a glowing fire,
I have fled as a spear-head, of woe to such as has a wish for it;
I have fled as a fierce hull, bitterly fighting,
I have fled as a bristly boar seen in a ravine,
I have fled as a white grain of pure wheat,
On the skirt of a hempen sheet entangled
That seemed of the size of a mare's foal
That is filling like a ship on the waters.

Into a dark leathern bag I was thrown,
And on a boundless sea I was sent adrift,
Which was to me an omen of being tenderly nursed,
And the Lord God then set me at liberty.

(900 words)

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