The Poems of Taliesin
English translations of some of Britain's most ancient poems, with a discussion of the locations and events being described that may shed light on a forgotten history of the north of Britain.
Taliesin was a bard (court poet) who is recorded as having lived in the late 6th century. The majority of his surviving works that can be claimed as authentic, are praise poems to a north British king, Urien of Rheged.
The language in which the poems where originally composed was the early Welsh language dialect of Cumbric, then spoken throughout the north of Britain.
The Old North of Britain (Yr Hen Ogledd)
The term Yr Hen Ogledd (pronounced: 'ur-Hen Ogleth') found in medieval Welsh literature means 'The Old North' and refers to an area of Britain today covering northern England and southern Scotland.
The territory of the Old North once stretched at least as far south as Leeds (Loidis) in Yorkshire and as far north as Edinburgh (Din Eidyn) in Scotland.
In a strict sense, the Old North refers to those parts of this territoy falling within kingdoms whose rulers continued to speak the early Welsh language dialect of Cumbric; this shared language providing the cultural connection between the Old North and medieval Wales.
The historical period of the Old North can be said to extend from the 5th century, following the collapse of Roman rule in Britain, through to the 7th century, and the rise of the English speaking kingdom of Northumbria.
This site aims to explore the history of the Old North of Britain, a history that has largely been forgotten, particularly in the north of England, where much of its drama took place. It is a history that tells the story of how Britain transformed itself from an island of rival warlords and regional kingdoms into the nations of England, Wales and Scotland that we see today.
Please contact me if you have suggestions, comments of contributions that you would like to make. Thank you.
The Song of Taliesin
The poems of Taliesin were composed as part of a living tradition of oral history: Initially they would have only survived by being learned, memorised and performed by generations of subsequent bards.
In the original Cumbric language the poems would have had an intricate rhyme, rhythm and structure that is not preserved in the English translations, and this would have greatly aided their accurate transmission as oral history.
The poems were later written down, maybe only after many centuries, and thereafter were dutifully copied by Christian scribes. Mistakes in the text suggest that over time the language became so archaic that the scribes no longer fully understood the meaning of what they copied.
The Book of Taliesin
Fifty-six poems attributed to Taliesin are preserved in a 14th Century manuscript called The Book of Taliesin.
Most of the poems have been shown, through analysis of their language, style and historical content, to be compositions of a much later date and simply assigned to the authorship of the prestigious bard Taliesin.
A total of twelve poems can be dated to the 6th century and may be considered the authentic work of the bard himself. These poems purport to be firsthand, eyewitness accounts of events that took place in the north of Britain over 1400 years ago.