“Taliesin Before Arthur”

Each Friday I post a poem from my archive, until I run out. This one from my series set in and around the Arthurian legends; in this poem Taliesin, Arthur’s court bard, responds after Arthur asked him to see the future.

Lord king, forgive me that I do not tell you all I know,
For I have spoken with angels and stood in the Presence.
I have seen mysteries it is not given to men to understand,
And have witnessed the steps of the dance of the stars.
I have interpreted the sayings of the wise
And clarified the meaning of the learned ones.
I have read the future in the stars and foretold my own death.

Instructed by the lectionary for the day, I read:
“How fair upon the mountains are the feet
That bring good news.” The feet of the king
Are beautiful; his tidings are those I bring.

Lord Arthur, you would not wish for me to sing a lay
Of your high destiny, for your future, though sweet, is bitter,
And the song of your time is sad. But you insist.

You will be denied the peace of death
And the honor of life, for as long as my sight lasts.
I have read your weird. Backwards, it is a great destiny.
Forwards, it begins in happiness and ends in sorrow and war.

The first version of this poem was written somewhat early in the series, probably my senior year of high school. Like the last poem I posted from this series, I probably revised it somewhat around my junior year of college, and again slightly while preparing it for posting. As always, I earnestly welcome your comments, suggestions, critique, or other feedback about this or any other part of my work. You can also read other poems I’ve posted on my blog.

This poem is also posted on my wiki.

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3 thoughts on ““Taliesin Before Arthur”

  1. Jonathan, only one question about this fine poem. You wrote:

    Instructed by the lectionary for the day, I read:
    “How fair upon the mountains are the feet
    That bring good news.” The feet of the king
    Are beautiful; his tidings are those I bring.

    About whom is Taliesin speaking in the last two lines?

    Do you mean, it’s a mite confusing, this (forgive this paraphrase written simply to determine your meaning):

    …The feet of you King Arthur
    Are beautiful: the tidings of you, a king with beautiful feet, are those I bring.

    Maria

    • It’s been a while since I thought about this poem. Let me see … I think that Taliesin is indeed speaking about Arthur in that bit, but not to him; many early poems in the series moved back and forth between the characters’ words, actions, and thoughts, so that bit may not even necessarily be aloud. A somewhat more verbose paraphrase/explanation is that in that bit of Isaiah 52 it’s the feet of the messengers that are said to be beautiful, while Taliesin muses that in his situation the feet of the subject of the message are beautiful. Not that the tidings he has for the king are “good news” by any means …

  2. Thank you! This makes sense. Incidentally these lines are among those I particularly enjoyed:

    I have read your weird. Backwards, it is a great destiny.
    Forwards, it begins in happiness and ends in sorrow and war.

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