Book of Taliesin

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This article is about the medieval Welsh manuscript. For the album by Deep Purple, see The Book of Taliesyn.
For other uses, see Taliesin (disambiguation).
Book of Taliesin
Aberystwyth, NLW, Peniarth MS 2
facsimile, folio 13
Also known as Llyfr Taliesin
Date First half of the 14th century
Size 38 folios
Contents some 60 Welsh poems

The Book of Taliesin (Welsh: Llyfr Taliesin) is one of the most famous of Middle Welsh manuscripts, dating from the first half of the 14th century though many of the fifty-six poems it preserves are taken to originate in the 10th century or before. The manuscript, known as Peniarth MS 2 and kept at the National Library of Wales, is incomplete, having lost a number of its original leaves including the first. It was named Llyfr Taliessin in the 17th century by Edward Lhuyd and hence is known in English as "The Book of Taliesin".

This was one of the collection of manuscripts amassed at the mansion of Hengwrt, near Dolgellau, Gwynedd, by Welsh antiquary Robert Vaughan (c. 1592 – 1667); the collection later passed to the newly established National Library of Wales as the Peniarth or Hengwrt-Peniarth Manuscripts.

The volume contains a collection of some of the oldest poems in Welsh, though many of them, particularly those attributed to the Dark Age poet Taliesin who was active towards the end of the 6th century, would have been composed in the Cumbric dialect of the north.

Oldest strata[edit]

Twelve of the poems in the manuscript were identified by Ifor Williams as credibly being the work of a historical Taliesin, or at least 'to be contemporary with Cynan Garwyn, Urien, his son Owain, and Gwallawg'.[1] These are (giving Skene's numbering used in the content list below in Roman numerals, the numbering of Evans's edition of the manuscript in Arabic, and the numbers and titles of Williams's edition in brackets): XXIII/45 (Williams: I, Trawsganu Kynan Garwyn Mab Brochfael), XXXI/56 (Williams: II), XXXII/57 (Williams: III), XXXIII/58 (Williams: IV), XXXIV/59 (Williams: V), XXXV/60 (Williams: VI, Gweith Argoet Llwyfein), XXXVI/61 (Williams: VII), XXXVII/62 (Williams: VIII, Yspeil Taliesin. Kanu Vryen), XXXIX/65 (Williams: IX, Dadolwych Vryen), XLIV/67 (Williams: X, Marwnat Owein), XI/29 (Williams: XI, Gwallawc), XXXVIII/63 (Williams: XII, Gwallawc). Scholarly English translations of all these are available in the anthology The Triumph Tree.[2]

Among probably less archaic but still early texts, the manuscript also preserves a few hymns, a small collection of elegies to famous men such as Cunedda and Dylan Eil Ton and also famous enigmatic poems such as The Battle of Trees and The Spoils of Annwfn (in which the poet claims to have sailed to another world with Arthur and his warriors). Several of these contain internal claims to be the work of Taliesin, but cannot be associated with the putative historical figure.

Many poems in the collection allude to Christian and Latin texts as well as native British tradition, and the book contains the earliest mention in any Western post-classical vernacular literature of the feats of Hercules and Alexander the Great.

Contents by topic[edit]

Titles adapted from Skene.

Praise poems to Urien Rheged[edit]

  • XXXI "Gwaeith Gwen ystrad" ("The Battle of Gwen ystrad")
  • XXXII Urien Yrechwydd (A Song for Urien Rheged)
  • XXXIII Eg gorffowys (A Song for Urien Rheged)
  • XXXIV Bei Lleas Vryan (A Song for Urien Rheged)
  • XXXV "Gweith Argoet Llwyfein"("The Battle of Argoed Llwyfain")
  • XXXVI Arddwyre Reged (A Song for Urien Rheged)
  • XXXVII "Yspeil Taliesin" ("The Spoils of Taliesin")
  • XXXIX "Dadolwch Vryen" ("The Satisfaction of Urien")

Other praise-songs[edit]

  • XII "Glaswawt Taliesin" ("The Praise of Taliesin")
  • XIV "Kerd Veib am Llyr" ("Song Before the Sons of Llyr")
  • XV "Kadeir Teyrnon" ("The Chair of the Sovereign")
  • XVIII Kychwedyl am dodyw ("A rumour has come to me")
  • XIX "Kanu y Med" ("Song of Mead")
  • XX "Kanu y Cwrwf" ("Song of Ale")
  • XXI "Mic Dinbych" ("Praise of Tenby")
  • XXIII "Trawsganu Kynon" ("Satire on Cynan Garwyn")
  • XXV Torrit anuyndawl (Song of the Horses)
  • XXXVIII Rhagoriaeth Gwallawc(Song on Gwallawg ab Lleenawg)


  • XL "Marwnat Erof" (Elegy of Erof [Ercwlf])
  • XLI "Marwnat Madawg" (Elegy of Madawg)
  • XLII "Marwnat Corroi ap Dayry" (Elegy of Cu-Roi son of Daire)
  • XLIII "Marwnat Dylan eil Ton" (Elegy of Dylan son of the Wave)
  • XLIV "Marwnat Owain ap Vryen" (Elegy of Owain son of Urien)
  • XLV "Marwnat Aeddon" (Elegy of Aeddon)
  • XLVI "Marwnat Cunedda" (Elegy of Cunedda)
  • XLVIII "Marwnat Vthyr Pen" (Elegy of Uthyr Pen(dragon))

Hymns and Christian verse[edit]

  • II Marwnat y Vil Veib ("Elegy of a Thousand Sons", a memoir of the saints)
  • V Deus Duw ("O God, God of Formation", Of the Day of Judgment)
  • XXII "Plaeu yr Reifft" ("The Plagues of Egypt", Mosaic history)
  • XXIV Lath Moessen ("The Rod of Moses", Of Jesus)
  • XXVI Y gofiessvys byt ("The Contrived World", Of Alexander)
  • XXVII Ar clawr eluyd ("On the Face of the Earth", Of Jesus)
  • XXVIII Ryfedaf na chiawr (Of Alexander the Great)
  • XXIX Ad duw meidat ("God the Possessor", Hymn to the god of Moses, Israel, Alexander)
  • LI Trindawt tragywyd ("The Eternal Trinity")


  • VI "Armes Prydein Vawr" ("The Great Prophesy of Britain")
  • X "Daronwy" ("Daronwy")
  • XLVII "Armes Prydein Bychan" ("The Lesser Prophesy of Britain")
  • XLIX Kein gyfedwch ("A bright festivity")
  • LII "Gwawt Lud y Mawr" ("The Greater Praise of Lludd")
  • LIII Yn wir dymbi romani kar ("Truly there will be to me a Roman friend")
  • LIV "Ymarwar Llud Bychan" ("The Lesser Reconciliation of Lludd")
  • LVII Darogan Katwal[adr?] ("Prophecy of Cadwallader" (title only))

Philosophic and gnomic[edit]

  • I "Priv Cyfarch" ("Taliesin's First Address")
  • III "Buarch Beird" ("The Fold of the Bards")
  • IV "Aduvyneu Taliesin" ("The Pleasant Things of Taliesin")
  • VII "Angar Kyfyndawt" ("The Loveless Confederacy")
  • VIII "Kat Godeu" ("The Battle of the Trees")
  • XI "Cadau Gwallawc" ("Song on Lleenawg")
  • IX "Mab Gyrfeu Taliesin" ("The Childhood Achievements of Taliesin")
  • XIII "Kadeir Taliesin" ("The Chair of Taliesin")
  • XVI "Kadeir Kerrituen" ("The Chair of Cerridwen")
  • XVII "Kanu Ygwynt" ("The Song of the Wind")
  • XXX "Preiddeu Annwfn" ("The Spoils of Annwn")
  • LV "Kanu y Byt Mawr" ("Great Song of the World")
  • LVI "Kanu y Byt Bychan" ("Little Song of the World")

Further reading[edit]

  • Evans, J. Gwenogvryn, The Book of Taliesin (Llanbedrog, 1910)
  • Haycock, Marged, ed. (2007). Legendary Poems from the Book of Taliesin. CMCS Publications. Aberystwyth. ISBN 978-0-9527478-9-5. 
  • Meic Stephens, ed. (1998). "Book of Taliesin". The New Companion to the Literature of Wales. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. ISBN 0-7083-1383-3. 
  • Haycock, Marged (1988). "Llyfr Taliesin". National Library of Wales Journal. 25: 357–86. 
  • Parry, Thomas (1955). A History of Welsh literature. H. Idris Bell (tr.). Oxford: Clarendon Press. 
  • The Poems of Taliesin, ed. by Ifor Williams, trans. by J. E. Caerwyn Williams, Medieval and Modern Welsh Series, 3 (Dublin: The Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1968)


  1. ^ The Poems of Taliesin, ed. by Ifor Williams, trans. by J. E. Caerwyn Williams, Medieval and Modern Welsh Series, 3 (Dublin: The Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1968), lxv.
  2. ^ Thomas Owen Clancy (ed.), The Triumph Tree; Scotland's Earliest Poetry, AD 550-1350 (Edinburgh: Canongate, 1998), pp. 79-93.

External links[edit]