Mabinogion: Taliesin Sings of the Bards

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

Taliesin Sings of the Bards

And afterwards Taliesin sang the ode which is called "The Excellence of the Bards."

What was the first man
Made by the God of heaven?
What the fairest flattering speech
That was prepared by Ieuav?
What meat, what drink,
What roof his shelter?
What the first impression
Of his primary thinking?
What became his clothing?
Who carried on a disguise
Owing to the wilds of the country
In the beginning?

Wherefore should a stone be hard?
Why should a thorn be sharp-pointed?

Who is hard like a flint?
Who is salt like brine?
Who sweet like honey?
Who rides on the gale?

Why ridged should be the nose?
Why should a wheel be round?
Why should the tongue be gifted with speech
Rather than another member?

If thy bards, Heinin, be competent,
Let them reply to me, Taliesin.

And after that he sang the address which is called "The Reproof of the Bards."

If thou art a bard completely imbued
With genius not to be controlled,
Be thou not untractable
Within the court of thy king
Until thy rigmarole shall be known.
Be thou silent, Heinin,
As to the name of thy verse
And the name of thy vaunting,
And as to the name of thy grandsire
Prior to his being baptized.
And the name of the sphere,
And the name of the element,
And the name of thy language,
And the name of thy region.
Avaunt, ye bards above;
Avaunt, ye bards below!

My beloved is below
In the fetter of Arianrod.
It is certain you know not
How to understand the song I utter,
Nor clearly how to discriminate
Between the truth and what is false;
Puny bards, crows of the district,
Why do you not take to flight?

A bard that will not silence me,
Silence may he not obtain
Till he goes to be covered
Under gravel and pebbles:
Such as shall listen to me,
May God listen to him.

Then sang he the piece called "The Spite of the Bards."

Minstrels persevere in their false custom;
Immoral ditties are their delight;
Vain and tasteless praise they recite;
Falsehood at all times do they utter;
The innocent persons they ridicule;
Married women they destroy;
Innocent virgins of Mary they corrupt.

As they pass their lives away in vanity,
Poor innocent persons they ridicule.

At night they get drunk; they sleep the day;
In idleness without work they feed themselves.

The Church they hate, and the tavern they frequent;
With thieves and perjured fellows they associate.

At courts they inquire after feasts;
Every senseless word they bring forward;
Every deadly sin they praise;
Every vile course of life they lead;
Through every village, town, and country they stroll.

Concerning the gripe of death they think not;
Neither lodging nor charity do they give,
Indulging in victuals to excess.

Psalms or prayers they do not use;
Tithes or offerings to God they do not pay;
On holidays or Sundays they do not worship;
Vigils or festivals they do not heed.

The birds do fly; the fish do swim;
The bees collect honey; worms do crawl:
Everything travails to obtain its food,
Except minstrels and lazy useless thieves.

I deride neither song nor minstrelsy
For they are given by God to lighten thought,
But him who abuses them
For blaspheming Jesus and his service.

Taliesin, having set his master free from prison and having protected the innocence of his wife and silenced the Bards so that not one of them dared to say a word, now brought Elphin's wife before them and showed that she had not one finger wanting.

Right glad was Elphin; right glad was Taliesin.

(600 words)

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