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Taliessin commanding the king’s horse

13 July 2010

Taliessin practiced stillness. The war horn’s claxon
Sounded the battle’s beginning, and the hosts
Ran to meet one another on the plain below;
Hearts thudding like the war-drums, each man
A jumble of bravery and fear, cowardice and courage.
‘Be still,’ said the king’s bard to the king’s horsemen,
Now under his strategic care; ‘They are here and they are there–
let them catch as catch can. We watch for the sign,
like the Magi in a Persian garden,
Or Saint Constantine upon the bridge.’

With perfect peace, the king’s poet gave command
And the men in his charge were freed
From the slavery of their own fears, while the years
Of the poet’s study in the East proved
He had learned more than the art of poetry;
He who commanded the harp also knew the art of war.
‘What then, my lord?’ asked Owain, the honest churl
Who had become Taliessin’s constant companion–
‘Are we to watch the king be cut down? The battle goes ill
for us! Ought we not rush now to their aid?’

‘Be still,’ said the king’s poet, more firmly yet,
His own brow wrinkled with the lines of care
Woven from a certain uncertainty; down there,
Below, it went ill for the king indeed. Taliessin watched,
Waited, and prayed: Domine, miserere nobis!
As the battle pitched first that way, then this.

A flash from the sky! Sudden winds arose,
A great luminous breach in the azure of the day
Followed by a peal of thunder to wake sleepers
From their graves; the old magician had acted.
Taliessin sprang from ready silence to ready action,
Giving at last the command: ‘Charge and make haste!’

The small cavalry, a mere fifty horse, thundered down the hill,
The approach of death on hoof-beats covered
By the alchemical thunder of Merlin’s spell; to hell
The mounted warriors sent their heathen foes,
Cut down by the strategic competence of a poet in the throes
Of the art of command, not so different
From the art of swaying men’s hearts with a song.
The throng of the pagan warriors fell beneath the hoofs
And the spears of the mounted men, warriors true,
Battle and battle-song mixed with the screams of horse and man,
And the in the end the day was saved
By the patience of the king’s poet, practicing stillness.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 14 July 2010 12:40

    I’ve been patiently waiting for another Talessin poem. And you did not disappoint.

  2. 14 July 2010 17:38

    Thanks, Glynn! This one has been stewing a while and went through several more revisions than I intended. The story kept coming through but the characteristically “Taliessin”-ness of it didn’t. I hope I finally got it right.

    In comparison to “The Division of the Table” (which I am not at all pleased with; the story and the philosophy and the theology are all there, but the je ne sais quoi that makes these poems really coalesce is missing) this one is heads and shoulders above (so I think, anyway)…

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