Warbands Return The Taliesin

(sixth century) This poem, contained in the Book of Taliesin, is one of the oldest poems in Welsh. It is attributed to the poet Taliesin, who was active at the end of the sixth century and was chief bard in the courts of at least three Welsh princes of that time period. While the manuscript itself is from the 14th century, it is generally assumed that the poems were orally transmitted through generations of bards to a monk of Glamorgan and are thus authentic.

The poem itself is a reflection by the poet about what would happen if his patron, Urien, did not return from battle. The poem not only praises Urien's heroism but also comments on the importance of the poet and the king in society. He further contemplates the possible loss of a way of life and exile. Urien was king of Rheged, a northern Welsh kingdom, at the end of the sixth century. Bards of kings in Celtic and Germanic medieval societies were expected to praise their lords and, if he was killed in battle, eulogize him as well. In performing this duty, the bard was an essential part of the comitatus (warband) structure, able to publicize the honor and shame of warriors in battle, thus bringing fame or disgrace to one's family and community. Bards were often killed during battles along with their patron, but if they did survive, their preservation of the battle in poetry was highly regarded and transmitted orally for generations.

further reading

Evans, Stephen S. The Heroic Poetry of Dark-Age Britain: An Introduction to its Dating, Composition, and Use as a Historical Source. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1997.

Bradford Lee Eden

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