Taliesin Analysis


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Taliesin (talh-YEHS-uhn) lived during the final age of Brythonic Celtic power that checked the final incursions of Saxons, Angles, and other groups (c. 570-590 c.e.). Although possibly from the Welsh area of Powys, Taliesin spent most of his professional life serving Urien in the Welsh kingdom of Rheged in northern Britain.

Little is known of Taliesin’s life, except what can be gleaned from the surviving dozen poems he composed that describe the actions of the lords he served. Bards, highly esteemed and influential in Celtic cultures, praised a lord into favor or ridiculed him into disrepute. In such circumstances, Taliesin served briefly with a Powys lord and then moved north to serve Urien in Rheged. He composed poetry praising Urien’s battle triumphs and generosity. As Urien aged, Taliesin also wrote poems about Urien’s son Owain, who eventually died in battle (c. 604 c.e.), and another Welsh lord, Gwallawg of Elfin.


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Taliesin’s works represent the earliest examples of Welsh literature and language. His poems were later incorporated into a larger group, all attributed to him, The Book of Taliesin (c. 1300 c.e.), which inspired a medieval cult connected to the Arthurian tales. The mystical poems are markedly different in style and content from the original dozen poems, and scholars have agreed that the other poems were written later, probably by monks.

Additional Resources

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Humphreys, Emyr. The Taliesin Tradition. Bridgend, England: Seren, 2000.

Pennar, Meirion. Taliesin Poems. Lampeter, Wales: Llanerch Press, 1988.

Williams, Sir Ifor. The Beginnings of Welsh Poetry. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1972.