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Posts Tagged ‘Bardic rant’

A lot of my writing this year has been towards an art/word project inspired by The Black Book of Carmarthen, a small, handwritten manuscript containing poems collected over a lifetime by one person. It is the oldest known manuscript written in the Welsh language. A mixture of ancient bardic poems and prayers, it is at once mundane and transcendent, simple and utterly baffling. The words that come to me are either reflecting some of the imagery or subjects of the fifty odd pieces, or dwell on the nature of the author and the continuity of language and writing. The art works I am making mainly combine parts of the manuscript pages overlain with my own woodblock prints from decades ago. There will, probably, be a book that combines text with image. It is in no way a translation of the original text. It is one artist’s reflections of the magical mirror and timelessness of ancient books.

MER KERTEV KEIN (Black Book)

(The marrow of fine songs)

It is a river

Uncurling in caves,

A white torrent on dark slick rocks.

It is a shoreline cave where mystery is born by echoes,

Far from comfort, where opposites couple in the roaring of it.

Spanning centuries each word tumbles combining elements.

Shadow worlds are dressed in time to shatter and rebuild the fragments.

Oh, speckle-breasted thrush,

Thrice the song to sing.

Morning rain.

Rain of morning.

Dawn storm.

Eternal song.

A river where meaning slips like fishes,

A flash, a flank, and gone.

The next ripple, the next wave, the scintillating light.

Umbral echoes.

It dances from sound to sound.

A juggler slipping from stone to stone

In the midstream rush. Where next? Where next?

And the foaming roar of it:

The world dancing elements and prophecy

And the arc of words cast up and caught, too fast for the eye.

A stream, a stream, of passion itself.

Sound clothed in the names of things,

The naked, naked sound.

A river of God’s being,

A bowstring caught and released,

The mouth’s harp

And its breath drum rhythm song.

There are spirits here

There are ghosts

Where I see these landscapes,

Familiar, sunlit, wild

I have never been.

I am haunted by the names

And by the meanings

Within the meanings I know.

Other pages in other hands:

Mirrored, pushing through.

I am become a palimpsest of prayer-

The angels with clawed feet

Offering golden torcs.

A language of waves,

Of echoing empty hills.

My eyes water the seeds of words,

Grow vast forests.

The dance of sounds:

Lost timeless for a while,

We dance and dance.

The memories are not ours

That lodge in our hearts.

My soul fragments to the four quarters

As though I am already buried.

There is a cold wind from the north.

A woman who is not a woman

Moves at the edges of my sight

Whispering rhymes with berry-stained fingertips.

One of Three and Three in One.

Before Eden we quake.

The Tower was too high,

The Tree was too bright.

The Flaming Sword

That drove us outwards

We stole for shovels and mattocks.

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HARD RAIN

Hard rain washing the world away.

Leaves fall through cooling air.

The gutters are singing an autumn song.

Rivers wake from summer’s sleep.

I was dreaming of eagles and their turquoise voice

In the days where darkness drums down more suddenly

And the cold cannot any longer be shrugged off.

I was dreaming of a path that was a spiral

And a spiral that was a mirror.

I stand before a silent oak.

Its name is eternal song,

Retribution, its door.

Its mouth is darkness.

In the end we do not know what matters.

This curl of sound, this exhalation of breath

Might be enough for a universe to be complete.

I study the taste of this turquoise,

Turn it between cold fingers

Then walk into the hill ( for all hills are doorways).

If you follow the hare, the path shall lie

Flat as grass before a strong wind.

If you follow the deer, the path shall be

Dappled and filled with birdsong.

If you follow the otter, the path will be

Silver and smooth as moonlight.

If you follow the dead,

Returning to their places,

You shall find your path

To womb and fireside

And questions: why and whereto.

All the warm singing halls

Lost in mist and blood.

All the familiar is a lie.

The world is utter strangeness

And the stars, known but unnamed.

I have been a trowel, an eagle, a pen.

What has been put together, falls apart.

These dreams you do not own.

Each is borrowed to keep you warm.

The path is a name you do not know.

This world is all the clue you will get.

Wrapped and unwrapped, each day a reminder.

There is no greater fool than a poet,

No greater truth than the lie of poetry.

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THE OLD TALIESIN

He does not have to raise his voice –

Silence comes with it like the tide on the shore.

Bent-backed, i see his strong staff, serpent-wrapped.

It is still a tree of fruits, sweet and bitter:

A crab apple scented with autumns, hard with frost

And the seeing of too much sorrow.

I see his bright brow, bald as the moon.

He is being chased again through the halls of the world

By another who shall not relent.

And he will change form again,

On wide, sunlit oceans again,

But not until the three drops congeal in truth,

Not until the chariot wheel is cracked,

Not until a new axle pin is shaped and smoothed.

A year and a day,

And we shall all change places.

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Because of their words:

A quantum entanglement.

Whether equation or story,

The ripples vibrate.

All metaphor is truth.

All truth, metaphor.

So said Euron.

So said Eurwys.

They wrap the bones

Of space in pictures.

Weave timelessness

With heroes.

By means of language

And of matter

They fashion magnificent trees,

The span of universes,

A melodious ocean.

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GATEKEEPERS

Sometimes, sometimes, and maybe always,

The doors can be so big

That they cannot be seen.

There is, they say, a wall

At the edge of the universe

So far away, so far away

That light from there has never reached here yet,

And never will.

It is neither winter nor Spring.

The year is a troubled child, roaring.

You know how I write:

I wait for words to come.

I do not send in dogs to flush out the birds of dawn.

I wait, to the souls of rivers and owls, to the world’s breath,

‘Til one by one, they come, gathering lightly,

Bright buds, whispers from the old roads.

And they may dissolve again.

They may dissipate, the offerings of time and waiting,

Just not enough to stay or settle.

The giants were called obstructors.

You might say, doorkeepers.

You might say, guardians.

Huge enough to carve out universes from their skulls,

Rich enough to give a thousand conflicting cosmologies.

It shall be storm all day today.

Waters bubbling down

From the cauldron of the hills.

Clouds dark and eloquent as Afagddu,

Dark as a cormorant preening on his pylon.

The layers of darkness arranged

For a perfect dive into silence.

The world has tipped.

Its weather spills out across the globe.

Excess and extravagance

Eating the hearts of the poor.

We await a new inoculation against greed.

But all our heroes of success

Only hasten destruction.

And so, I bow to the obstructions of giants:

The doorkeepers who block the way

And ask the riddle.

What skill do you possess

That you think would allow you to pass?

What quality, what virtue, to ensure

Any continued existence here?

What is the art that will not destroy?

What is the craft that we have never encountered?

What reasons can you make sound reasonable,

Sliding your guilt out of sight as if it were not yours.

Can you learn harmlessness?

Facing the storm you have raised

Can you abide at ease in the flickering light

Watching the helpless ones be swept away,

Swept away.

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TALIESIN FRACTALS

1

Nyt o vam a that pan y’m digonat

Not from a mother or a father was I made

The druids know all things are born

From desire and a fear of extinction.

Here I am, beginningless, not born but made,

Unless before the world and before the beginning of the world.

A’m creu a’m creat o naw rith llafanat

And my creation was made for me from nine forms of consistency

I was waiting to be clothed, sound to word,

Word to meaning, meaning to understanding,

Understanding to knowledge, knowledge to wisdom,

Wisdom to poetry, poetry to creation of worlds,

Creation of worlds to fear and desire.

How many souls does the one created consist of?

What animates the articulations of a creature?

O ffrwydd, o ffrwytheu, o ffrwyth Duw dechreu

From a fruit, from fruits, from the fruit of God in the beginning.

Not the seed, not the tree, not the beginning,

Begun from the ripened, time-ripened exudate of the creator.

Not from one, but from many,

Not after but at the start of the beginning.

From the tree of God, from God’s fruit,

From the Garden of Eden was I made.

From the vegetal elements of the world, before the world.

Made by God and by enchanters –

Enchanters chanting sounds, chanting word,

Giving fruit its form, giving God a voice.

2

What he says:

I am not a human.

I was given form with plants,

From fruit, from fruits, from God’s first fruit

(And what was that?).

Made from the elements of the natural world,

From plants, from soil, from water.

I was, yet I continued to be shaped

Or given form, or recreated:

From God’s fruit, from the soil,

Water and plants.

From Math, from Gwydion,

Reared by Eurwys, by Euron,

By Modron, by Math, by Gwydion,

These five enchanters.

Made from within a desert, a fire, a conflagration,

Made before the world was finished.

Brewed, even. The plants collected, the elements combined

With water, the fire of the pot, the fermentation,

Becoming the same but changed.

I fall from the first tree, a fruit of God, ripe and ready.

I melt into earth, become plants, become blossoms, become trees.

All mulched, all matter there is, rotted, fermented, made from that.

And is this ‘I’ one or many?

Singular or compound?

Changed before completion

By enchantments of the five.

Before the world in what should have been,

When there was nothing but fire.

Sacred from the cauldron heated,

Stirred in, changed by fire,

Reared by enchanters,

Made new and new and new again.

Rising from the sullen earth golden-topped,

Golden-browed, filled with voices,

Filled with light.

From the houses of earth, I, We,

Arise. We, Taliesin, a fun guy.

Some. Soma. Filled with exhilaration,

Full, frothing, leaping, loud.

The words come from the deep.

From the dripping dark the waters speak.

As clear as thunder, they will echo

Until they find meaning in minds ablaze.

It is a million voices fractured and combined,

Playing in the light, dreaming in purple night.

The wonders are named and renamed,

Calibrated in wandering souls to measure their worth,

Their awakeness, their clarity.

Dressed in monstrous words

Are the names of being and non-being.

The mediocre can never live forever

Except as soil and falling petals.

3

I, the poet

Who is and is not

And also outside the world

Inhabiting all worlds.

Word warring, slicing meanings.

My spear and shield awen,

My crow awen, my cauldron awen.

From God and also

From the enchanters before creation was.

These words are all lies and all perfect.

They are here to shepherd you

Towards a delightful oblivion,

Towards fire and water and the one tree.

The most holy fruit, the fermented fall

Of exultation beyond meaning.

4

Clarity from confusion.

Not jumping to conclusions.

Floating on the thermals of meaning.

The paths that lead nowhere

Lead everywhere.

And the unexpected provides answers.

Turn away from the problem to find the solution.

The deep world beneath the world:

Everything the same, but shining.

The power of seeing patterns

And of remembering the stories that are used

To make excuses to do the same as before.

5

These bright words:

A skitter rhythmic ricochet

Scattering meanings across centuries.

No weir, no tickle or hook,

No line or net will keep them held for long.

Proud words, free words, unimprisoned,

Validated in memories

Springing out of rushing waters, upstream, upstream,

To seed in still minds,

To become vast again

In distant worlds.

6

Yesterday I was sure of its meaning.

Today I am not certain.

Tomorrow I shall start again

following other threads, other roots

down into the dark soil.

The seeds unfurl though they still

see no light. They taste

many futures and that is enough.

Allowing the breeze to bring its news,

breathing softly, trying

not to possess an outcome.

The wind lifts the smoke upwards,

the edges of the day retreat.

It is in silence the song can be heard.

It builds and dissipates

as clouds do at sunset.

Whole kingdoms dissolve.

Endless blue, then one,

then another star.

7

This world is clothed in words.

Shaped by enchanter’s song.

Brought to being and non-being by utterance.

Silence does not dispel it.

There are always echoes,

Always fading recollections

Into the next world.

8

Whose voice is this, whose words,

Yours or mine, and who is this I?

That is, and was, and will be?

The wind bends down the trees:

They kneel, they sigh, they dance,

They moan seeking shelter in song.

They can do little else when moved.

Where do the winds arise?

From beyond what horizons?

A word was spoken- the first word –

A little breath, and it has been uttered ever since.

The wind growing stormy – no birds are in the sky.

This powerful song has driven away all other thought.

You kneel and bend and sigh,

What else can you do?

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TWENTY YEARS ( OF DRUID TRAINING)

1

It was like a rope of light

let down into the chaotic darkness.

Only later would we see

it was a deadly serpent

and the chains of enslavement.

But such is the nature of knowledge

and we shrugged, accepting all costs.

.

Nyt o vam a that

Pan y’m digonat

.

It was not from a mother and a father

That I was made.

.

2

One year we were held in complete silence.

No word spoken

but internal recitation of all the masters’ words.

Becoming each one, and their lilt,

moving into their expressions,

reclothed in passions,

Eyes opening in other worlds.

.

A’m creu a’m creat

O naw rith llafanat;

.

And my creation was created for me

From nine forms of consistency:

.

3

Another year we each were given

one word only, to unwrap.

To follow, to hunt to its uttermost,

to its bright birth,

In a name that has become ours alone.

A map of our journey,

a seal on our circumference.

.

O ffrwyth, o ffrwytheu,

O ffrwyth Duw dechreu;

.

From fruit, from fruits,

From God’s fruit in the beginning;

.

4

Once the words were learned

all the rhythms and the hidden wealth:

We could see how nothing existed

outside of those patterns of plaid.

No move, no colour, no conceit,

nothing that was not drawn

from that well of words.

And so we learnt to see around us,

in every hall, in every byre,

where each would walk

and where in each tale

they would place themselves.

And how with a word

it might be shifted

and how with a gesture

the plot might be moved on.

.

O vriallu a blodeu,

O vlawt gwyd a godeu,

.

From primroses and flowers,

From the blossom of trees and shrubs,

.

5

One year we were given

the gift of madness.

.

Prid o pridet

Pan y’m digonet,

.

From earth, from the sod

Was I made,

.

6

Another year we slept all the long days

and at night gathered around still pools

to learn the dance of stars, and their songs.

Our dreams would be strange then,

and our names, unpronounceable

.

O vlawt danat,

O dwfyr ton nawvet.

.

From nettle blossom

From the ninth wave’s water.

.

7

One year we would speak only lies,

until we knew that truth is itself a lie,

and that the tides beneath us

are drowning darknesses

and screaming passions.

.

A’m swynwys-i Vath

Kyn bum diameth.

.

Math created me

Before I was completed.

.

8

A year as birds

soaring and rising on thermals,

to find the fulcrum of the winds

and to twist the cloud rivers to rope

for sun or rain or storm.

To placate, to restore.

.

A’m swynwys-i Wytyon

Mawrut o brithron.

.

Gwydion fashioned me

Great enchantment wrought by a magic staff;

.

9

A year abiding by trees –

some would not return,

fertilising the world

with their eternal silences.

.

O Eurwys, o Euron,

O Euron, o Vodron;

.

By Eurwys, by Euron,

By Euron, by Modron;

.

10

Another, we hunted and slew all the gods,

taking their women and siring new progeny.

These we fed with our own blood and souls,

so that they would know us when we summoned them.

.

O pymp keluydon

Arthawon eil math –

Pan ymdygyaed.

.

By five enchanters

Of a kind like godparents –

Was I reared.

.

11

One year to placate and cajole poisons.

Those songs were enticing, sweet as death.

.

A’m swynwys-i wledic

Pan vei let loscedic.

.

A ruler fashioned me

When there would have been a burning extent.

.

12

Then we did all return to our own families

To serve one year, unrecognised, in their midst.

For many that was the final chain broken to the past.

Allegiance of blood once sweet, now rancid, old, bitter.

.

A’m swynwys sywyt

Sywydon kyn byt,

.

The wisdom of sages fashioned me

Before the world was made.

.

13

A year of folding secrets into the mundane;

Of speaking to the deep;

Of remaining human.

Learning that love and hate

Are the gravity that keeps us here.

.

Pan vei genhyf-y vot,

Pan vei vach veint byt.

.

When I had being,

When the extent of the world was still small.

.

14

A year polishing swords and mirrors

And placing the singing spells

Of vision and death within them.

.

Hard bard bud angnawt,

Yt uedaf ar wawt

A traetho tauawt.

.

A fair poet, of unusual gifts,

I control in song

That which the tongue utters.

.

15

The genealogies of the lost

And the equations of gods;

Their doorways, their doorkeepers.

The mysteries under the earth

Where the stars wander,

Passionate light on an endless river.

.

Gwaryeis yn llychwr,

Kysceis ym porffor.

.

I played in the light,

I slept wrapped in purple.

.

16

The transmutation of the body into smoke;

To see without eyes;

To move the shining streams.

.

Neu bum yn yscor

Gan Dylan Eil Mor,

.

I was in the citadel

With Dylan Son of the Sea,

.

17

To become free in chains;

To remember the first cauldron

And the journey from there.

Brightness remaining.

To give everything away,

Yet remain undiminished.

.

Yg kylchet ym perued

Rwg deulin teyrned.

.

My bed in the interior

Between the knees of kings.

.

18

To summon guards and guardians;

To curse the dreams of kings;

To know the stars’ positions in daylight;

To travel out on rays of light;

.

Yn deu wayw anchwant:

O Nef pan doethant.

.

My two keen spears:

From Heaven did they come.

.

19

To know one’s manner and time of death;

To move into other forms;

To prophesy and to escape from prophecy.

Transformation at the moment of death;

To remember every name and

The shape and hungers of souls.

.

Yn Annwfyn llifereint

Wrth urwydrin dybydant.

.

In the streams of Annwfn

They come ready for battle.

.

20

To return to simple words,

To return to silence;

To remember and forget,

To move freely without ripples.

Three drops spinning –

Their taste, the honey moment.

To know that all is song.

That all is one song, one river,

And to listen to the winds from the hills there,

From the rapids, from the shallows,

To leap upstream, to float downstream.

To inhabit the world that inhabits the wise.

.

Ef gwrith, ef datwrith,

Ef gwrith ieithoed.

.

He made, he remade,

He made languages.

.

Llachar y enw llawffer,

Much llywei nifer;

.

Radiant his name, strong his hand

Brilliantly did he direct a host;

.

Ysceinynt yn ufel

O dosas yn uchel.

.

They were scattering in sparks

From a drop in the heights.

The Welsh is taken from ‘Cad Godeu’, a long and mysterious poem attributed to Taliesin. It is not meant as a commentary on my verses, nor the other way round. But perhaps they both come from the same place and act as a counterpoint in time and space.

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THE SHOUT

1

Anchor my mouth in the sun

and let it roar the world’s width

to wake the dreamers

and to find the tides

to race the weed and wrack

and sweep the land clean once more.

A hook is my word

for to catch the shining, leaping warriors.

It is cast out in the waters of the air,

in the brightness of the morning.

It is laced with gold and the promise of blood,

the crunch of bones in the jaws of wolves and foxes,

the ravens collecting the last fading visions of the slain,

The souls, brave souls, looking for new forms in the wild hills.

A hook well tied to reel in the strong eels of wriggling passion

Well knotted to call them back for gold and glory and another day of war.

Deep rooted my tongue in the synaptic shudders of the past.

Deep rooted my buried word grasping the chambers of stone.

Deep rooted so as to throw out long whip-branches

And a sturdy trunk with a thousand branches of meaning.

It is a shelter to the people, a roof and a feast hall.

This tree of persuasion, a fleet sent out by breath,

Each a vessel of contingency, an unassailable fortress of intent.

2

Battle boar sits on my head, roars though my mouth.

A bright god, bright as sun, bright as moon, springs from my tongue.

Its mind and my mind are united.

It is the circle of the land we are sworn to defend.

The circle of time we are to fulfil.

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I DREAM THE DISEASE OF INSISTENT TRUTH

We have already lost the world

We have already lost the world.

But we go to a world where it still is.

.

Filling the bright circle

With a cadence of whispered names.

.

It is not this.

It is not this,

Where we step through to brightness.

Going nowhere, we turn,

Become pillars of silence

Against the metred songs of a warrior god,

Sung in a warrior’s language you hardly even know,

Built for grey walls and bitter days.

.

A circle of leaves

In a sacred number

To build a door in air.

.

The knots are tied and untied

To measure the moon’s dance,

The stones moved round the circle.

.

The one who was lost

Is a clue to the thing

That can never be found by looking.

.

All our friends who are not with us are dead.

They are remembering other roads

Beyond the shadows of trees and the towering fountains.

.

We dance with mathematical precision,

A syncopated falling.

.

Small white flowers shall puddle

In her footsteps

Though the bones of the snow

Spell cold on the mountains.

.

We cannot tell if your bleak holiness

Shall heal yet, or simply dissolve our duties

To leave us standing mute and shelterless.

.

We fall into the roaring gorges,

The broken roaring overhung,

The dark, weeping trees.

.

It is a battle whose sides

We once understood.

.

Through a silent circle of leaves,

Holy in number,

We shall step and take new forms

That wait for us

Winged or furred or fluttering,

Whispered or yearning

We shall slide between

The rocks of certain truth.

.

Stones will shatter for our gentleness,

Worlds cave in and crystals crack,

The dark shall fill with pulsing light.

.

The impossible sky

The impossible sky

We will dance within.

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TALIESIN’S HANGOVER

We are the ghosts,
And the demons dance
Roaring in our blood.

The holy and the profane-
The weather of our tastes.

Better would be silence
Than a thousand poets
Limping their rhymes
Through barren landscapes
They mistake for freedom.

Bitterness shall wake us,
Beauty put us to sleep.

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