J. Gwenogvryn Evans has provided scholars with a fine edition of the manuscript, The Book of Taliesin ( 1910 ); this is henceforth the definitive text. He went astray badly in his introduction and his notes, but it is well to have a text in which line after line are faithful copies of the original, for there is here a wealth of valuable material for the use of those who wish to study the beginnings of Welsh bardic poetry or even the evolution of the Welsh language in the early period. As more light is obtained on the evolution of the language itself, so there comes new light on the history of the Dark Ages.
One thing is clear by now. To the poet Taliesin of the end of the 6th century have been attributed, wrongly, a number of poems which formed a part of a narrative or tale which was put together in a later age, possibly in the 9th century . The chief character in this dramatic tale is Gwion Bach who swallowed the three drops (containing particular virtues) which flew in the fullness of time from the cauldron of Ceridwen the Witch . Gwion in turn was swallowed by the angered witch and was reborn as a babe described as ‘ iesin ei dalcen ,’ i.e. with a beautiful forehead, who knew everything about the past, about the present, and about the future. This is the Taliesin who sang to Elphin ap Gwyddno and it is his exploits which are chronicled in prose and verse in the tale which is called ‘ Hanes Taliesin ’ ( Lady Charlotte Guest , The Mabinogion , iii). He bore no relationship at all to the historical Taliesin but he became much more popular than the latter, as may be seen in references by the ‘Gogynfeirdd.’ It is easy to apportion the contents of ‘ Llyfr Taliesin ’ between the two (except the religious poems). The Gwion Taliesin is located in the Bala Lake district , in Maelgwn 's court at Degannwy , and in Elphin 's court — wherever that was. As to Taliesin the bard there is no certainty. According to his own words he was not one of the subjects of Urien , but he journeyed to the chieftains of the North and stayed there to praise them. It can therefore be assumed that his home was Wales and as a eulogy to Cynan ap Brochfael , king of Powys , the old extensive Powys , was attributed to him there may be some justification for making him a native of Powys — the part of Wales that was nearest to Strathclyde and the most convenient place whence to start on a journey to Elfed (‘ Elmet ,’ near Leeds ), Gwallawg , Rheged , and Urien . A prehistoric grave mound in north Cardiganshire is called ‘ Bedd Taliesin ’; this would probably be the Taliesin of the medieval tale, not the Taliesin of history.
Sir Ifor Williams, D.Litt., Ll.D., F.B.A., F.S.A., (1881-1965), Pontlyfni
Published date: 1959