I am Taliesin. I sing perfect metre
I am Taliesin. I sing perfect metre,
Which will last to the end of the world.
My patron is Elphin…
I know why there is an echo in a hollow;
Why silver gleams; why breath is black; why liver is bloody;
Why a cow has horns; why a woman is affectionate;
Why milk is white; why holly is green;
Why a kid is bearded; why the cow-parsnip is hollow;
Why brine is salt; why ale is bitter;
Why the linnet is green and berries red;
Why a cuckoo complains; why it sings;
I know where the cuckoos of summer are in winter.
I know what beasts there are at the bottom of the sea;
How many spears in battle; how may drops in a shower;
Why a river drowned Pharaoh’s people;
Why fishes have scales.
Why a white swan has black feet…
I have been a blue salmon,
I have been a dog, a stag, a roebuck on the mountain,
A stock, a spade, an axe in the hand,
A stallion, a bull, a buck,
I was reaped and placed in an oven;
I fell to the ground when I was being roasted
And a hen swallowed me.
For nine nights was I in her crop.
I have been dead, I have been alive.
I am Taliesin.
Eleven medieval Welsh tales collectively referred to as the Mabinogion have been widely influential providing the basis of much European and world literature including Arthur and Merlin. In the mid 19th century Lady Charlotte Guest published her translation of 11 medieval Welsh folk tales under the title The Mabinogion,ironically incorrect but used ever since, from when the tales came to prominence. They are concerned with the themes of fall and redemption, loyalty, marriage, love, fidelity, the wronged wife, and incest set in a magical landscape corresponding geographically to the western coast of south and north Wales,in which white horses magically appear, giants, beautiful, intelligent women and heroic men.
I love the lyrical quality of Ifor Williams translation above, a reknown Welsh scholar who made Old Welsh his main field of study.
Artwork my own.
‘Language is the centre of everything and what we do, it’s a fundamental of being human’.
“every reader is, while he is reading, the reader of his own self. The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument which he offers to the reader to enable him to discern what, without his book, he would perhaps never have perceived in himself” -M. Proust
You don’t have to read Proust to know what he is describing here, but it probably helps to recognise how reading affects the qualitative experience of being human, because it really does. And some people are missing out. Reading provides a context from which we can better explore the subjective realities we all live in. It takes time to build a human – that’s why artificial intelligence still has a long road to travel. Time, patience and compassion. There is an apparent paradox that the activity of reading brings out the true – in reading fictive lives the reader is learning compassion in their own realities, the exploration from the armchair is as powerful as the journey of long haul flight’s destination – and all readers know this. Proust realises in Time Regained that
“[I]n all perception there exists a barrier as a result of which there is never absolute contact between reality and our intelligence”.
From the time of our first story we learn how our world may look different to others, that we experience through our personal senses and that these differ dependant on who you are born to, where you are in the world, when you live. This is possibly the foundation upon which the human experience is subjectively different to other species. I suspect the foundation has other substantive components to it, but I am discussing the value of language here. When Proust spends his time describing past experiences he is wanting to explore the depth of his imaginings understanding that the subjective experience of everything relies on the layers of memory and associations with it. And so we too can take pleasure in the understanding that our contact with nature or mathematics or love is embedded in the personal narrative we bring to it, we are not having to live in an impersonal world of the rational mind, which only describes the ‘thing’ and not the feeling that the ‘thing’ triggers. We are all looking for those “intermittencies of the heart,” amongst our ‘dog eared maps of desire’, and that’s o.k.! Within ‘ Time Regained’ Proust is seeking to uncover and experience “[f]ragments of existence withdrawn from Time” in order to live more fully. That appears to be his aim – to live more fully. To live more fully, shouldn’t one turn ones attention to living rather than writing? Not if writing is what brings meaning. Proust exhorts us to engage, to dig deep, to immerse in experience. He did.
Proust is a mountaineer and we cannot all follow his individual path up the mountain, but his message is valid and important – we can transform our experiences by what we bring to them, and if we bring to them the values inherent in authentic works of art, we too can recognise our own moments of illumination to be of value. An artist is working in metaphor in order that he gives us easier maps to read our own atlases; the poet, the author treads those maps tirelessly and becomes practised with them in order that we communicate with one another. And the magic is this – the artist communicates that which is beyond language, using language, knowing it is just the tool of something infinitely more complex, more interesting, more mysterious. Thus music moves us when we cannot play a note, and poets sing melodies of solace and yearning beyond meaning. I read Eliot long before I knew a poem even held meaning. That is magic and mystery
what if a much of a which of a wind
what if a much of a which of a wind
gives the truth to summer’s lie;
bloodies with dizzying leaves the sun
and yanks immortal stars awry?
Blow king to beggar and queen to seem
(blow friend to fiend: blow space to time)
-when skies are hanged and oceans drowned,
the single secret will still be man
what if a keen of a lean wind flays
screaming hills with sleet and snow:
strangles valleys by ropes of thing
and stifles forests in white ago?
Blow hope to terror; blow seeing to blind
(blow pity to envy and soul to mind)
-whose hearts are mountains, roots are trees,
it’s they shall cry hello to the spring
what if a dawn of a doom of a dream
bites this universe in two,
peels forever out of his grave
and sprinkles nowhere with me and you?
Blow soon to never and never to twice
(blow life to isn’t; blow death to was)
-all nothing’s only our hugest home;
the most who die, the more we live
This is a poem that sings a scary , standing on the edge of a cliff tune. The wondrous skill of the poet plays with the reader – the rhythm is playful, whereas the message is apocalyptic. I have spent the majority of life fearing the the ‘dawn of a doom of a dream’ that bites ‘this universe in two,’
I heard a singer songwriter, Sharon Murphy, on a popular UK programme ‘The Voice’, who effected that same magic -the unquantifiable quality that by some alchemy changes words and melody , rhyme and cadence to thought and feeling, communicates the existential pain of longing that everyone feels, the understanding that loss and grief are an inevitable facet of human experience. If we are without our poets and musicians, our sculptors and our artists, where would we go to find ourselves? One of the darker aspects of living in the Western world in the 21st century is the effect neo-liberalism is having on the mindset of society. The human being is more than the sum of its parts, and should not be seen only as a unit of production. The more technology we introduce into the experience of being human, the more we need to balance our lives with connecting with nature, with life force, with the act of creating expression.
”I have spent my life watching, not to see beyond the world, merely to see, great mystery, what is plainly before my eyes. I think the concept of transcendence is based on a misreading of creation. With all respect to heaven, the scene of the miracle is here, among us. The eternal as an idea is much less preposterous than time, and this very fact should seize our attention.” Marilynn Robinson
‘Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.’
We came across the beauty and magic of Glen Affric last year, and it was am experience I will never forget. I know I will return because it will pull me back – I haven’t spent enough time in the company of the flora and fauna there.
When I came across this project, http://treesforlife.org.uk/work/woodland-projects/ I was delighted – it is an inspired and inspirational effort that deserves our attention , and our care! I hope you go over to the YouTube link as it is breathtaking.
It is eighteen years ago, almost to the day –
A sunny day with leaves just turning,
The touch-lines new-ruled – since I watched you play
Your first game of football, then, like a satellite
Wrenched from its orbit, go drifting away
Behind a scatter of boys. I can see
You walking away from me towards the school
With the pathos of a half-fledged thing set free
Into a wilderness, the gait of one
Who finds no path where the path should be.
That hesitant figure, eddying away
Like a winged seed loosened from its parent stem,
Has something I never quite grasp to convey
About nature’s give-and-take – the small, the scorching
Ordeals which fire one’s irresolute clay.
I have had worse partings, but none that so
Gnaws at my mind still. Perhaps it is roughly
Saying what God alone could perfectly show –
How selfhood begins with a walking away,
And love is proved in the letting go.
C Day Lewis
We were taking some time out from chores to take the dog and the cameras for a walk on our local nature reserve. I know there are lots of photographs of Robins in the world. But this is my photograph, and that is what makes it special to me!! What a little sweetie he was. It is always the simple pleasures that delight the heart so much. Mine expands when I am walking in sunshine, hearing the birds, discoursing with the trees.