Wednesday 9 August 2017

Taliesin - Bard of Britain

'Time present and time past are both perhaps present in time future, and time future contained in time past.' So wrote the poet, T.S. Eliot, and I was by his side as he crafted his words. I guided the hands of Shakespeare, Blake and Milton too. I shouldered arms beside the great defenders of this realm -  from Churchill and Nelson to Alfred and Arthur. I was a hod carrier when the Cathedrals soared heavenwards and a Master Druid when the stone circles were made. I lit candles with the saints - Cuthbert and Bede, Boniface and Hilda, Alban and Kentigern - exemplars of this holy isle. I was a guide, my lantern carving a path through the mist as Joseph of Arimathea - on his second visit to Albion - brought the sacred chalice to Glastonbury. For I had stood on St. Michael's Mount thirty years before, a wild Prince of the West, welcoming him as a trader (along with his nephew, the boy Jesus) to these rocky shores.

So much for the past. I shape the present and future as well. It is all one, as Eliot knew - a seamless robe, a unified field. I see, hear, feel and experience it all. Nothing under Albion's moon and sun is strange to my eye or foreign to my heart. It is a burden both crushing and exhilarating - a  mixed chalice, a weight of glory.

It wasn't always like this though. My boyhood was simplicity itself. I was brought up in Deganwy on the Clwyd coast, midway between the Great Orme and Conwy Castle. Gwion was my name. My Mum and Dad (I miss them so much) were poor but loving. I wish those times would come back, I really do - throwing stones into the sea with my Mum at Llandudno, while my Dad carried me halfway up the Orme on his back. 

I ran errands in those days, in exchange for stickers and sweets, for a lady named Ceridwen who lived in a big house behind the bay. I was friends with her son, Afagddu, who was my age and blind. I honestly don't think his blindness bothered him at all. He was able to play ball (the ball had a bell in it), build dens and run on the sand without any hardship. But Miss Ceridwen (I never caught sight nor sound of any husband) fretted and fussed continually. I heard her tell Mrs. Griffiths next door that Afagddu's blindness would hold him back in life and that she wanted to compensate somehow. He was a quiet boy too, you see. His words, though well chosen, were few. His mother thought he was withdrawn - walling himself off from the world. She would sit with him for ages - looking at him, hugging him, talking to him - trying to prise open the secrets of his mind. 

As I say, I didn't think there was anything wrong, but Afagddu was my friend and I respected Ceridwen greatly. I was keen to help, so when she asked me to stay at the house for a year and a day and watch over a potion she was brewing for him I asked no questions but accepted gladly. She showed me a cauldron on the front room carpet - sapphire blue with a rim of pearls - then gave me a ladle and strict orders not to taste a drop.

That was an easy instruction, and I had no problem whatsoever until the last couple of days. The cauldron started to bubble and hiss, and no matter how much I stirred I couldn't calm it down. I was worried about the carpet getting wet, but what eventually happened knocked that into a cocked hat. It was the second last night, mid-summer's eve. I peered over the pearly rim to see if the ladle was needed when the water spat and leapt up, like it had a mind of its own, stinging my hand and splashing my thumb. 'Ow,' I exclaimed, 'that's hot.' I put my thumb to my mouth to cool it down and in that instant, there and then, saw and knew everything that ever was, is now and ever shall be - individually and collectively - my soul's journey through time and space and the whole history of this land, from the song of creation to the consummation of the age. Then Ceridwen appeared in the doorway, took one look and knew ...

Her scream rent the air as hands stretched out to tear my face to shreds. I saw the blow coming, jinked past and darted out the door onto the lamplit bay. I meant to turn left towards Holyhead and Ireland, but in my confusion turned right instead towards England. I ran by the light of the moon, Ceridwen gaining all the time, across the sand and shingle, until my legs turned to jelly and my knees began to buckle. 'If only I could change into a hare,' I thought, and as soon as I'd imagined it, there I was, a boy no more but a milk-white hare, bounding along the beach three times faster than before. But my spirits sank when I looked behind. Ceridwen had vanished but now there was a greyhound on my trail, sleek and slavering and four times as fast.

The chase continued for a night and a day, through wind and warmth and summer showers, under moon and sun and stars. Beyond Flint Castle, I grew weary. The dog snapped and snarled at my heels.

There was no way I could race her all the way to England. The Wirral peninsula loomed into view on my left. So I changed tack, turned into a salmon and sprang into the sea, only to be followed, swiftly and inevitably, by a gleaming, rapacious otter. 

I reached Liverpool at dawn, hoping to shimmy between the ships, become a boy again and lose my pursuer in the harbour buildings or down in the crypt of the Catholic Cathedral. I glanced up, saw a seagull circling the Radio City Tower and switched plans on the spot, turning into a pigeon and soaring into the sky like the kites I used to see over Colwyn Bay. It wasn't long, however, before I heard the thrum of wings behind me. Blast! There was a hawk on my tail now, poised and regal, sizing me up and waiting for the first sign of fatigue. 

The land drifted by below, a patchwork mosaic of rivers, motorways, medium-sized towns and parkland with more rugby posts - pointing up like white, accusatory fingers - than I'd ever seen before. By the time I got to Manchester I was flagging badly. I aimed for the city centre, thinking I could dive down into the throng, disguise myself as an ant and shake off my shadow in the urban mêlée. But the wind blew me off course, somewhere to the north and east. My strength failed. I could barely flap my wings. So I pinned them back and crash-landed into a haystack, changing at the last second into a grain of corn. I congratulated myself on my ingenuity. But not for long. A red and gold hen clattered through the hay, tossing yellow stalks aside with her scimitar-esque beak. I lay at the bottom, prostrate and forlorn. The hen saw me, stood over me, squawked in triumph, and swallowed me whole.

Darkness covered me. Warmth and wetness too. I no longer discerned the great themes so clearly - Albion's history, my own destiny and so forth - but I knew where I was - Ceridwen's womb - where we were - the Pennines - and what we were doing - wandering meditatively through the mountains, pausing often, sometimes for days on end, at wayside chapels and hidden wells, buried like treasure amidst the rocks and scree.

It was a quiet time - a time of rest, reflection and growth. I was an embryo, then a foetus, then an unborn babe, growing in awareness, strength and size, conscious of Ceridwen's sorrow and ongoing anxiety over her son. My intuition told me, however, that Afaggdu was doing just fine in her absence. Father Dafyd, the parish priest, would have taken him under his wing and he'd have Mrs. Griffiths' two sons, Pwyll and Arawn, to play catch with. But I felt bad on his account. as well. The potion was meant for Affagdu, after all, not me. But there was nothing I could do about it now, just wait to be born and trust that Ceridwen wouldn't kill me.

I didn't think she would, if I'm honest. I didn't expect any favours but the nine months in the mountains had clearly done her good, softening her heart, taking the edge off her anger and easing, if only a little, her maternal fears. And so I was born, tied up in a brown cloth bag and left to float down a winding, mountain stream.

I let the waters take me, ceasing to worry and even to think. Many was the waterfall I tumbled down and many the bumpy landing, until the hour came when I felt strong hands pulling me out, untying the bag and holding me up to the light of day for the first time in a year.

Sunlight smashed through leaf and branch, the river danced and glinted. The mighty tower of Durham Cathedral rose steep and sheer above, while before me I saw the face a of a man - careworn but strong and lit from within with surprise and delight. 'Behold,' he cried. 'What do I see? A miraculous catch indeed. I will call the Taliesin - Shining Brow - for that is what thou art.'

I was baptised in the Cathedral's great font a week and a day later, next to the tomb of St. Cuthbert.  My new Dad, whose name was Elffin, carried me up the spiral staircase to the top of the tower straight after. His wife, Rhonnwyn, was there too. He held me aloft and I looked upon the land, rolling out before me like a magic carpet, all the way to Newcastle and the Silver Sea beyond. A light drizzle, like a second dose of holy water, splashed my bald baby head and my prophetic powers were instantly restored. 

The story of Britain unfolded before my inner eye, unfurling like a tapestry or scroll. It was a magnificent tale, tainted here and there by materialism and greed, but powered in the main by courage and creative flair. I saw as far as the Dark Time and the light that shines beyond it - the spiritual blindness that beset the land, the implosion of the House of Windsor, then the War of Contending Flags - black and multi-coloured - that laid the Island of the Mighty waste. And then that winter dawn when a King of ancient line returned from the East, stepping down from his ship at Thanet as the Romans did of old. A universal shout of joy rang out across the realm and that night Arthur's Beacons were relit, from St. Michael's Mount to Flamborough Head. Next day the rumours began - from Devon and Cornwall - that Jesus Himself was back, walking along the rocky shore, telling stories, healing the sick, and giving bread and wine to rich and poor and good and bad alike.

A veil descends and I see these things no more, just Afaggdu and myself on Llandudno beach, throwing a shining, tinkling ball back and forth in looping, parabolic arcs. Ceridwen watches on contentedly while my old Mum and Dad wave and take pictures from the crowded pier.

I think again of Eliot and of that most pure and noble of English mystics, Mother Julian of Norwich. For I was a cobbler in the city while she dwelt amongst us, and it was after I had come to her window one Friday afternoon to pour out my heart (as we all did) and receive her blessing that she wrote those famous words of sustenance and grace:

'All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.'

And I, Taliesin, Bard of Britain, I who see, feel, sense and know it all - the power and the glory, the sorrow and the shame - can vouch and testify that her vision holds the truth. 

Yea, and more than this. The fire and the rose, as the poet wrote, will be one again, and Jerusalem - that city of soldiers, saints and poets - will shine forth once more upon England's clouded hills - a beacon, a fountain, an iridescent jewel - the City of God and capital of the Golden Age to come. 


All images in this piece come courtesy of my friend and collaborator Rob Floyd. Rob's art is rich in religious and mythological symbolism. His work, I am sure, will prove a source of stimulation and inspiration for readers of Albion Awakening. His oeuvre can be viewed in full at his website -

No comments: