Taliesin was a bard rather than a Druid priest, although to the Celts music had magical powers and the distinction was blurred. As with many of the characters from the waning years of Celtic Britain the truth behind Taliesin, "The Greatest Bard" is mixed in with myth and legend.

According to the tales, Taliesin was born out of Ceridwen after she caught and swallowed Gwion when he was hiding as a grain of corn. The newborn infant was cast adrift in a coracle but found by Prince Elphin who raised the child. A spellbinding singer and storyteller from an early age, Taliesin's power lay in his ability to use his voice and song to charm others.

He is often associated with the King Arthur mythos and some believe that Merlin may be a combination of Druid priests and Taliesin, although in modern tales the two are separate characters.

from the Mabinogion, the great book of Welsh legend. Adapted by me from Charlotte Guest's chunky translation.

Long ago, there was a witch named Ceridwen, who gave birth to two children. The first, her daughter, was perfectly beautiful, clever and sweet, and a delight to all who met her. But, much to Ceridwen's dismay, her second child turned out so ugly, stupid and unpleasant that everyone who saw him turned away, sickened.

This was a great worry to Ceridwen. She grew concerned that he would never amount to anything, being so hideous and so totally without talent: the court of King Arthur would never admit him, and no child of hers was going to be a mere commoner. She racked her brains for a while, and then got out her cauldron, and began to make a great spell, which would make her son a wise, inspired bard, full of insight and imagination. Then nobody would mind how ugly he was.

When the spell was ready, the first three drops of liquid - and only the first three drops - from the cauldron would impart ultimate knowledge, wisdom and inspiration to whoever drank them. Meanwhile, the cauldron would have to be kept boiling for a year and a day to complete the spell, while Ceridwen collected the necessary plants and herbs, and worked out the incantations. So she hired an old blind man named Morda to stoke the fires, and a young boy, Gwion, to stir the cauldron. And off she went to the hills, to search for the rare plants needed for the spell.

She wandered far and wide, walking herself into exhaustion. On the final day she added the last plant, sat down for a rest and fell asleep. The boy Gwion was stirring the brew when the ladle slipped, and three drops flew out onto his thumb, burning him. He thrust his thumb into his mouth to stop the pain and in a flash, wisdom, inspiration and ultimate knowledge came upon him. Of course the first thing that occurred to him was that Ceridwen would be very, very angry.

He dropped the spoon and ran away, but it was not long before Ceridwen woke up and discovered what had happened. The potion was useless now, and her son would remain an idiot. In a fury she set off after Gwion to blast him to a crisp. He used his new magical powers to turn himself into a hare and ran like crazy, but she turned into a greyhound, and gained ever more on him. Reaching a river he became a fish and swam like crazy, but Ceridwen became an otter, and was soon on his tail again. He leapt from the water, and became a bird: Ceridwen became a hawk. In desperation, Gwion looked down and saw a pile of wheat. He dived, landed, and as it scattered he turned into a single grain. But Ceridwen became a hen, and pecked at the grain until she had swallowed the boy.

Soon after, Ceridwen found herself with child, although no man had been near her. When she realised that the baby was Gwion, she and her son - who was also furious with the boy and wanted revenge - resolved to kill it as soon as it was born. But when the baby arrived Ceridwen found she couldn't do it: the baby was the most beautiful child ever seen. There wasn't much point in keeping him, though, as her son would probably kill him if she did. So she took him and, sewing him into a leather bag, set him adrift on the ocean.

Meanwhile, over the water in Gwynedd, there was another parent with an unfortunate son, a lord named Gwyddno Garanhir, whose son, Elphin, was reckoned the most unlucky man alive. There was a weir on Gwyddno's land that always had a huge catch of salmon in it on May Eve, so Gwyddno resolved to let Elphin have it to help turn his luck. That May Eve, Elphin and two of his father's men went to the weir. Net after net he pulled out, but there were no fish.

"Why, you've turned the luck of the weir," the men growled.
"Just wait," begged Elphin, "I haven't finished yet. There might still be something..."
There were no fish. But just as they were about to go, Elphin noticed something caught on a pole by the weir. He waded out and brought it back.
"More bad luck," grumbled the men.
"There may be a treasure inside," Elphin replied as he carefully slit open the leather bag he held. And, to his astonishment, he saw the forehead of a baby, so white and beautiful that it seemed to shine.
"A radiant brow!" he exclaimed. (tal iesin in Welsh.)
"Yes, Taliesin, that will do nicely," said the baby.
Elphin stared, rigid: he was so surprised he nearly dropped the child. The men muttered and made the sign against evil, but Elphin put the child in front of him on the horse, and they headed for home. While they rode, Elphin's thoughts were gloomy, as he realised they still had no salmon. But the baby in front of him spoke, saying:

"Fair Elphin, cease your lament!
Swearing profits no-one.
It is not evil to hope
Nor does any man see what supports him,
Not an empty treasure is the prayer of Cynllo,
Nor does God break his promise.
No catch in Gwyddno's weir
Was ever as good as tonight's.

"Fair Elphin, dry your cheeks!
Such sorrow does not become you,
Although you consider yourself cheated
Excessive sorrow gains nothing,
Nor will doubting God's miracles.
Although I am small, I am skilful.
From the sea and the mountain,
From the river's depth
God gives His gifts to the blessed.

"Elphin of the generous spirit,
Cowardly is your purpose,
You must not grieve so heavily.
Better are good than evil omens.
though I am weak and small,
Spumed with Dylan's wave,
I shall be better for you
Than three hundred shares of salmon.

"Elphin of noble generosity,
Do not sorrow at your catch.
Though I am weak on the floor of my basket,
There are wonders on my tongue.
"While I am watching over you,
no great need will overcome you.
be mindful of the name of the Trinity
And none shall overcome you."

"How can this be - that you, a baby, can talk?" stuttered Elphin in amazement.
Again Taliesin replied with a poem.

"Firstly I was formed in the shape of a handsome man,
in the hall of Ceridwen in order to be refined.
Although small and modest in my behaviour,
I was great in her lofty sanctuary.

"While I was held prisoner, sweet inspiration educated me
and laws were imparted to me in a speech which had no words;
but I had to flee from the angry, terrible hag
whose outcry was terrifying.

"Since then I have fled in the shape of a crow,
since then I have fled as a speedy frog,
since then I have fled with rage in my chains,
- a roe-buck in a dense thicket.

"I have fled in the shape of a raven of prophetic speech,
in the shape of a satirising fox,
in the shape of a sure swift,
in the shape of a squirrel vainly hiding.

"I have fled in the shape of a red deer,
in the shape of iron in a fierce fire,
in the shape of a sword sowing death and disaster,
in the shape of a bull, relentlessly struggling.

"I have fled in the shape of a bristly boar in a ravine,
in the shape of a grain of wheat.
I have been taken by the talons of a bird of prey
which increased until it took the size of a foal.

"Floating like a boat in its waters,
I was thrown into a dark bag,
and on an endless sea, I was set adrift.

"Just as I was suffocating, I had a happy omen,
and the master of the Heavens brought me to liberty."

By the time he finished, they had arrived at the court of Gwyddno. Everyone crowded round to see how big the catch was. Elphin held up Taliesin for them all to see.
"What is that? Where is the catch?" asked Gwyddno.
"Here is the catch, father, see, I have caught a baby."
Gwyddno looked at him in disgust. "What use is that? Don't you have a good wife, who can bear you many strong sons of your own?"
"He will get more profit from me than the weir ever gave you," said Taliesin, and Gwyddno nearly tripped over his robes in surprise.
"Can you speak, and you so small?" he asked.
"Indeed, I am better able to answer than you are to question me," claimed the baby.
Then Gwyddno asked him what else he had to say, and Taliesin replied with another poem. Everyone was delighted. So Elphin, most pleased with his stroke of luck, gave Taliesin to his wife to care for. She loved the baby very much. Time passed, and he grew up.

The king of the land at that time was Maelgwn, a rather vain man who surrounded himself with toadies and fawning sycophants. The year that Taliesin turned thirteen, Elphin received a summons from the king, demanding his presence at the Christ Mass feast at midwinter. Elphin would much rather have stayed home with his wife and foster son, but as a dutiful subject , and royal relative, there was no getting out of it.

He was bored and silent at the high table. The other men were irritating him, trying to outdo each other in praise of Maelgwn. Elphin couldn't see much to praise. Eventually Maelgwn noticed his silence, and asked him why he wasn't joining in.
"Well, my lord," said Elphin, "I would say that though I am not a king, my wife is as fair and as virtuous as any woman in the kingdom - and my bard the is best in Gwynedd."
Maelgwn was not pleased. "Insolence!" he roared. "Throw him in our deepest dungeon! Let him be chained there until the falsity of his monstrous claim can be shown once and for all!"

Back at home, Taliesin was out skating. As he bent down to take the skates off, he glanced at a patch of ice, and it became a magic mirror, where he saw all that had befallen Elphin. When he woke, he rushed home to tell Elphin's wife, and they cooked up a plan.

Maelgwn had a son named Rhun, a lecher so revolting that to be seen with him would tarnish a woman's reputation beyond repair. This son he sent to Elphin's home, to seduce his wife and show the falsity of his claim. When Rhun came to the gate, he was welcomed, if not warmly, then civilly, by young Taliesin. Taliesin showed the prince into the hall, where sat a woman, beautifully and richly dressed, with rings upon her fingers and a golden torc. She made Rhun welcome, and they supped together. Rhun poured cup after cup of wine for her, and foolishly she drank it all. Soon she was giggly and silly, and she assented to his request to withdraw with him to some place more private. Rhun waited until she fell asleep in a drunken stupor, then tried to remove the ring from her plump hand, to take back to Maelgwn as proof. It would not come off, so quick as lightning he cut the finger off, ring and all.

Laughing, he rode back to his father's house. Maelgwn was delighted with his son's performance. He called for Elphin to be brought forth.
"Well, cousin, how say you now? The prince Rhun has had your wife with her willing cooperation. Do you persist in your stupid claim that she is so very fair and virtuous?"
Elphin paled, and feared for his wife, for he did not really believe that any woman, let alone she, would lie with Rhun by choice.
"How do you know this, my king?" he asked.
"My son's word is good enough for me - and should be for you, too."
"I'm sorry, my king, but even the money-lenders ask for solid proof where the prince Rhun is concerned."
The king growled, but the courtiers were, this once, murmuring in agreement with Elphin.
"Since that's not enough for you, see here is her finger. Do you deny that this is her ring?"
Elphin looked closely at the severed digit.
"Indeed, my lord, it is her ring, but I do deny that it's on her finger."
"How so, knave?" roared the enraged monarch.
"For three reasons, my king. First, my wife is a small woman, and this ring sits loosely on her thumb, but it's jammed so tightly on this finger that it won't come off. Second, ever since I've known her, my wife has trimmed her nails every Sabbath Eve, and this nail hasn't been trimmed this month, I'd say. Third, we keep servants for kneading bread dough - I certainly don't require my lady wife to do it. And yet you see under this nail and in the creases of the finger, traces of the rye dough this hand was lately kneading. I fear that the prince has despoiled some innocent kitchen wench, but whoever it was, it wasn't my wife."

The court cowered before Maelgwn's fury.
"You won't get away from it that easily!" Maelgwn declared. "If your bard is so great, let him come and compete with ours." He turned to the guards, furious. "Take him away!"
Hurriedly, the guards took Elphin back to the cell.

Taliesin arrived at the court two days later, and slipped through the gates. He made his way to the throne room and sat in the corner. When the king's bards filed in, he pouted his lips at them and blew big loud raspberries. Magically all the bards stood still, entranced, and blew raspberries too, making revoltingly rude noises instead of praising Maelgwn. Maelgwn, in fury, ordered a guard to strike Heinnin Fardd, his chief bard. This broke the trance enough that Heinnin Fardd could explain to Maelgwn that there was a devil, in the form of a child, who had cast a spell on them.

Maelgwn had Taliesin brought out, and questioned him.
"I have come to salvage Elphin's honour and his freedom. Taliesin am I, primary chief bard to Elphin.

"Primary chief poet
Am I to Elphin.
And my native country
Is the place of the Summer Stars.
"John the Divine
Called me Merlin,
But all future kings
Shall call me Taliesin.

"I was nine full months
In the womb of Ceridwen.
Before that I was Gwion,
But now I am Taliesin.

"I was with my king
In the heavens
When Lucifer fell
Into the deepest hell.

"I carried the banner
Before Alexander.
I know the names of the stars
From the North to the South.

"I was in Caer Bedion
I accompanied Heon
To the vale of Hebron.

"I was in the canon
When Absalom was slain.
I was in Llys Don
Before the birth of Gwydion.

"I was patriarch
To Elijah and Enoch.
I was there at the crucifixion
Of the merciful Mabon.

"I was the foreman
At the construction of Nimrod's Tower.
I was three times
In the prison of Arianrhod.

"I was in the ark
With Noah and Alpha
I witnessed the destruction
Of Sodom and Gomorrah.

"I was in Africa
Before the building of Rome.
I came here
To the remnant of Troy.

"I was with the Lord
In the manger of the ass.
I upheld Moses
Through the water of Jordan.

"I was at the Cross
With Mary Magdalene.
I received the muse
From Ceridwen's cauldron.

"I was a harping bard
To Deon of Lochlin.
I have gone hungry
For the Righteous One.

"I was at the White Mount
in the court of Cynfelyn.
In stocks and in fetters
For a year and a day.

"I was in the larder
In the land of the Trinity.
And no-one knows whether my body
Is flesh or fish.

"I was instructor
To the whole universe.
I shall be until the judgement
On the face of the Earth.

"I have sat in the perilous seat
Above Caer Sidi.
I shall continue to revolve
Between the three elements.

"There is a marvel in the world
Which I cannot reveal."

Taliesin bowed. Maelgwn was not impressed. "All this makes you think you're better than my bards?" he sneered. "My bards, who have trained for twenty years?"
"They are as nothing beside me," declared Taliesin.
Heinnin Fardd, ignored, tugged at the king's sleeve, demanding a contest.
Taliesin was unruffled. "Why not?" he said. "Me against all the king's bards. The contest - to compose a poem on the wind."
"Of course the king must judge," fawned Heinnin Fardd, with a grovelling look at his monarch. "Who better?"
"All right - this contest will take place in twenty minutes' time," Maelgwn announced, bored with the whole thing now.
"Twenty... my lord, I entreat you, I implore you, how can an epic be composed in -" Heinnin Fardd was desperate.
"Just do it, get on with it, I'm getting sick of this."

Heinnin Fardd and the king's bards huddled in the corner, consulting scrolls of rhymes and metaphors. Every so often, one let out a yelp of frustration. Taliesin lounged on the floor, eating plums, grinning smugly at their discomfiture.

When the time was up, the king's bards stood in a line before the throne and bowed.
"O greatest of kings, hear our song.," they said in unison: and then burst, quite helplessly, into a loud chorus of rippingly rude raspberry noises. Taliesin laughed himself silly. The court nobles looked at Maelgwn to see if laughter was allowed. It obviously wasn't.
"Knaves! Fools! Miserable swine!" he thundered. "Was it for this that I paid you in gold and precious gems?" The court had never seen Maelgwn so angry. The bards grovelled in the rushes. "Mighty king, it was not our fault! It's that demon child."

Taliesin, admittedly, was smirking most smugly.
"So it's my turn?" he asked. He stood up straight and began his song about the wind. While he sang, a great wind arose and buffeted the castle, shaking it to its foundations. The court cowered, terrified. Even Maelgwn was afraid, and he called for Elphin to be brought out.

As soon as Elphin arrived, Taliesin stopped the wind, and sang a new song that caused Elphin's chains to fall away from his ankles and wrists. Then he cried out to Elphin's wife to enter the hall, and she held her hands up so that everyone could see that she had ten fingers. Maelgwn was angrier than ever. "You think you're so great. You're nothing! I bet my horses are better than yours, anyway."
Taliesin smiled and whispered to Elphin, "Take him up on it - I know how to make us win."
"I accept, my king."
"Then let there be a horse race,"said Maelgwn, and dismissed them.

Elphin led the other two home. On the appointed day, they returned, leading a lame old horse. Maelgwn rubbed his hands in glee. The horses started - Taliesin riding old Dobbin. As each horse of the king's overtook him, he struck it on the rump with a holly twig, then let it fall. As the king's horses got further and further ahead, no-one could understand why Taliesin was still smiling. He slowed down and dropped his cap - again, no-one knew why.

Old Dobbin reached half-way, and Taliesin stopped him for a rest. The king's horses had long since passed them on the way back. Dobbin started back. As the king's horses passed the discarded holly twigs that Taliesin had struck them with, they stopped, reared up on their hind legs, and began to dance. The whole court was in fits of ill-concealed laughter, except Maelgwn and Rhun.

Taliesin and Dobbin wandered past them to the finish line. Maelgwn saw no alternative to letting them go. On the way home, Taliesin asked Elphin to stop where he had dropped his cap. He had some men dig a hole at the spot, and they dug up a great chest full of treasure.
"Truly, Taliesin, never could I regret the day I pulled you out from the weir," said Elphin as they rode away.

(It is said that afterwards, Taliesin went to the court of Arthur, where he was chief harper and adviser to the king.)

Taliesin is the Wisconsin home and studio of that infamous egomaniac of yore, Frank Lloyd Wright. 'Taliesin' was the name of Wright's home, but it now refers to the entire parcel of land that his family owned.

The main building, Wright's home of many years, is a good design, one that unmistakably bears his imprint and his early 20th century style. Low-slung from the outside, spacious inside, limestone bricks rising out of the grass field. It's maybe the first design of Wright's that fit beautifully with the countryside.

Also on the site is the Riverview Terrace Restaurant, with the almost-moderne repetition of zoomy triangles in the rafters, and the Romeo and Juliet Windmill, with its extremely stylized details and fine engineering. (Wright had a great intuitive grasp for engineering and the physics of load-bearing, but he'd too often let a cool idea get in the way of a good structure. Not here, though.) The Midway Barns takes to same idea as the Taliesin home, but is more a stylized barn than a rule-breaker and trendsetter. Lesser buildings on the site are the Unity Chapel and the Tan-y-deri house tailor-made to placate his in-laws.

Wright was known for his interior design, but Taliesin has no famous bits of furniture or layout that I know of. It does show his famous control-freakiness, however. He prevented cows from chewing cud on the compound grounds, because he didn't like the black-and-white on green grass. He preferred a Cherokee red, which is why all automobiles owned by tenants on the lot were required to be painted that color. He designed everything in each building, including the electricial system, which went very literally haywire in 1925 and severely burned the main Taliesin structure. (It was the second fire there - a previous tragedy happened there, where a cook supposedly lost sanity after some abuse, killed Wright's wife, and set Taliesin on fire.)

Taliesin: tawl-YES-een
Taliesin, Talyesin, Talyessin, Taliessin, Thelgesinus

from Tâlyessin:
tâl: brow
yessin: shining

1. A Celtic god of poetry and rebirth, said to have once been Gwion Bach, servant of Cerridwen, until he receieved the three drops of Awen. Then he became a shape-shifter, was pursued and swallowed by Cerridwen, who gave birth to him and set him to sea. He is then found by Elphin, and performs feats of bardic prowess while a child, at one point identified with Merlin (see Hanes Taliesin). He is said to have been at the Battle of Ireland where Bran was killed. (See Branwen uerch Llyr)

2. A 6th century bard, possibly from Powes in Wales, but later migrated to Rheged where he became the court bard to Urien of Rheged and friend of Owain (the Arthurian Yvain). He is said to have been at the battle of Catterick (The Gododdin), and comforted Merlin/Myrddin at the Battle of Arthuret. His son is said to be variously named Aeddon, Adaon, or Afaon.

3. An anonymous scribe who composed poems in the 9th century and took on the persona of both 1 and 2. From him come the majority of the poems in The Book of Taliesin, dating to the thirteenth century.

4. Chief Bard of Prydain and leader of the bardic college in The Chronicles of Prydain, by Lloyd Alexander. He is the one who gave Fflewddur Fflam the truthful harp, and it was his son Adaon who was killed in The Black Cauldron (book, not film).

5. Bard of Gwyddno Garanhir in The Silver on the Tree, by Susan Cooper (The Dark is Rising series). Also called Gwion, he helps Will Stanton and Bran Davies gain the sword Eirias and end the enchantment on Gwyddno.

The long-time home of architect Frank Lloyd Wright near Spring Green, Wisconsin, as well as a spinoff near Scottsdale, Arizona.   In fact, all sorts of things associated with Frank Lloyd Wright have the name "Taliesin" associated with him.

In 1909, Frank Lloyd Wright, having made his reputation as a designer of homes in Oak Park, Illinois, shocked the entire community by leaving his wife and four children, and running away to Europe with the wife of one of his clients, Mamah Borthwick Cheney.  When he returned in 1911, there was the problem of finding a place to live. So he turned to the Wisconsin valley his mother's Welsh family had settled, and near which he was born.   He then set to building 'Taliesin', a home and studio in the valley.

Wright was frequently gone while working on commissions, and it was in 1914 that one of Taliesin's staff killed seven others (including his lover and two of their children) and burned the house to the ground.   Wright immediately rebuilt the house.

In 1924, Wright met Olgivanna Lazovich, their first child was born in 1925. The same year, the replacement Taliesin II house was destroyed by a fire started by lightning.  He rebuilt again.

Despite great critical success, Wright's finances were a shambles -- the Bank of Wisconsin seized the house in 1926, the same year Wright was arrested for violating the Mann Act.   His clients and friends couldn't bear to see this happen, so they bought the house in 1928, the same year Wright finally married Olgivanna.

Wright's wife set herself to the goal of ensuring her husbands financial security, as well as her own. In 1932 the pair created The Taliesin Fellowship, turning Taliesin into a sort of architectural kibbutz. Young, promising architects would live at Taliesin, feeding the house by working in the vegetable gardens by day while learning architecture at night.  Wright constantly tinkered with the house, and it grew to an immense size, 37,000 square feet, to accommodate the Fellowship.

In 1937, Wright decided to build a 'winter camp' for his Fellowship, and so Wright, Olga, and several of his students hopped in a car and drove down Route 66 to Scottsdale, Arizona, where the students built Taliesin West according to Wright's design.  Unlike the first Taliesin, which resembles the "Prairie House" styles of Wright's early career, Taliesin West was designed to fit in with the Arizona mountains and desert, being, in Wright's own words, 'a look over the rim of the world'.  As Wright experimented with the design of the house, Taliesin West, too, grew to immense proportions to accommodate Wright's students.  Wright lived out the rest of his days with Olga at Taliesin West

Taliesin and Taliesin West are still both owned and maintained by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.  At Taliesin West, activity at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture resembles the days when the Fellowship lived and worked together.

History summarized out of
recollections from Ken Burns' film Frank Lloyd Wright

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