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The Poems of Taliesin

English translations of some of Britain's most ancient poems, with a discussion of the locations and events being described that may shed light on a forgotten history of the north of Britain.

Taliesin was a bard (court poet) who is recorded as having lived in the late 6th century. The majority of his surviving works, that can be claimed as authentic, are praise poems to a north British king, Urien of Rheged.

The language in which the poems where original composed, is the early Welsh language dialect of Cumbric, then spoken throughout the north of Britain.

The Old North of Britain (Yr Hen Ogledd)

The term Yr Hen Ogledd (pronounced: 'ur-Hen Ogleth') found in medieval Welsh literature, means 'The Old North' and refers to the area of Britain that is today northern England and southern Scotland.

The territory of the Old North stretched as far south as Leeds (Loidis) and as far north as Edinburgh (Din Eidyn), covering approximately all the land between rivers Humber and Mersey in England, and the Forth and Clyde in Scotland.

The historical period of the Old North may be said to extend from the 5th century (following the collapse of Roman rule in Britain) through to the 8th century (a century that ended with the first Viking invasions).

About theoldnorth.co.uk

This site aims to explore the history of the Old North of Britain, a history that has largely been forgotten, particularly in the north of England, where much of its drama unfolded. It is a history that tells the story of how Britain transformed itself from an island of rival warlords and regional kingdoms, into the nations of England, Wales and Scotland that we see today.

Please contact me if you have suggestions, comments of contributions that you would like to make. Thank you.

Oliver Robinson
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The Song of Taliesin

The poems of Taliesin were composed as part of a tradition of oral history. Initially, they would have only survived by being learned, memorised and performed by generations of subsequent bards.

In their original Cumbric language, the poems had an intricate rhyme, rhythm and structure (not preserved in the English translations) that would have greatly aided their accurate transmission as oral history.

The poems were later written down (maybe only after centuries), and thereafter dutifully copied by scribes. Mistakes in the text suggest that, over time, the language became so archaic, the scribes no longer fully understood the meaning of what they copied.

The Book of Taliesin

Fifty-six poems attributed to Taliesin are preserved in a 14th Century manuscript called The Book of Taliesin.

Most of the poems have been shown, through analysis of their language, style and historical content, to be compositions of a much later date (and simply assigned to the authorship of the prestigious bard).

A total of twelve poems can be dated to the 6th century and may be considered the authentic work of the bard Taliesin. These poems purport to be firsthand, eyewitness accounts of events that took place in the north of Britain over 1400 years ago.