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Taliessin in the School of Poets

4 March 2010

Taliessin studied the exactitude of language;
Juxtapositions of verb and clause,
(and the philosopher’s doctrines
of chains of cause and cause)
And the precision of noun and noun-case
In the Byzantine school.
While the Greek monks chanted hymns
And the streets under golden domes grew dim,
Each day Taliessin would dare
To sit and gaze upon her face
In the unguarded garden.

The Emperor’s daughter was delight given form;
The shape of her neck, a metaphor more profound
Than the scribbling whisps of Vergil’s verse–
Her eyes, the weight of balanced verse,
And the symbol of the harmony of poetry itself.
Honey and sunlight and ripened corn could not compare
To the golden hues of her flowing hair
As she wandered through the garden
Like the first mother in innocence.

Taliessin dreamed of what could not be.
The pitfalls of grammar, the uncertainty
Of words whose meanings, now lost and obscure,
No longer adequately describe Love.
The Llogrian poet sighed;
His own precision of language shifted,
And he thought of his native tongue
And the sound of the sea and the shape of the wave
(less grand or fair than her shape
but capable of being possessed by mere human mind)–
Suddenly, the Golden City seemed less fair,
The words of ancient poets hollow,
And the lonely despair of semibarbarous lands
On the Empire’s border, full of renewed promise…

6 Comments leave one →
  1. 4 March 2010 14:50

    Taliessin does what we all do — extrapolate from the personal/specific to the public/general. And it is unattainable desire that is the cause. This is good. This is very good. And very fine.

    • 4 March 2010 15:19

      Thank you, Glynn. These Taliessin poems all share a theme–I’ve been working with and playing with Arthuriana for a while. Charles Williams’ poetry on the same subject has been an inspiration, but more of my own ideas have worked in over the years (the early poems with Taliessin and Dinadan and so on are, while maybe fun, mostly slavish imitation). For me, Byzantium is more than just an idealistic symbol (as it was for Williams); it is a reality, both in the manifest and, simultaneously, the spiritual world. Byzantium holds the secret–art, culture, education, spiritual perfection–but even there, there can be a malaise and unhappiness. Not, you understand, that this comes from the perfected glory that Byzantium symbolizes–but that it is something poor Taliessin carried with him. In some ways, this is sort of a prequel (or at least chronologically before) “Talessin’s Repentance” which I posted a while back. For me, my Arthurian poetry is a vehicle for me to discuss the nature of the relationship of the artist with the reality around him; with the world itself; with God; with the struggle to adore Beauty but not become an idolator. And, occasionally, with the pitfalls and torments of living in the fallen City of Man (as St. Augustine would call it).

      Thanks again for your kind words on this one. They are kind of close to my heart, and the things that I write that very few people ever seem to enjoy. I’m always glad when someone finds one of them interesting.

  2. 5 March 2010 13:11

    Oh, no, we enjoy them, we just don’t know what to say sometimes. Lots of us I’m sure just wander around looking at all the pretty flowers and never say a word, that you can hear anyway.

    And though I share an appreciation of Byzantium, I would not really be able to comment in depth — I do though enjoy listening.

    • 5 March 2010 15:09

      My thanks, Melissa! I’m glad to know that these have a greater audience than the relentless judge of stat-counters can figure out!

  3. 6 March 2010 23:39

    The pitfalls of grammar, the uncertainty
    Of words whose meanings, now lost and obscure,
    No longer adequately describe Love.

    these words i like very much
    the pitfalls of grammar
    he really has it bad

    • 7 March 2010 01:15

      LOL, yes, yes it’s true–the Emperor’s daughter is a source of inspiration and temptation for our poor poet; and, ultimately, why he chooses to leave Byzantium and go home to Britain…

      A man can’t live with the frustrations of the unattainable forever. At least, not in close proximity.

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