Sarah Ziman, ‘The Birth of Taliesin’
About Sarah Ziman:
I’m originally from the South Wales valleys, and – like Charles Causley – prefer to write work that can be appreciated by all ages, though I mainly describe myself as a children’s poet. I have always enjoyed his poems for their use of folklore and local dialect. I’ve not yet got my own collection – although I am hopeful that this is pending – but I have had poems included in several anthologies for children in the UK and USA, including ‘The Best Ever Book of Funny Poems’ edited by Brian Moses (Macmillan) and ‘Poems for 8 Year Olds’ edited by Matt Goodfellow (Macmillan), and all the current journals which accept poetry for children (The Caterpillar, Cricket, The Toy, Tyger Tyger etc). I have been highly commended three times in The Caterpillar Poetry Prize, and won the YorkMix Poems for Children competition last year. My latest poem for adults will be included in the Almanac for 2023, published by Candlestick Press.
Ceridwen was powerful; Ceridwen was fair
Ceridwen was boiling up a potion for her heir.
Morfran was dim-witted; Morfran was a brute,
Nothing yet the witch had tried had made him more astute.
She’d gathered herbs by moonlight: sage, hyssop, bay and rue
She’d tossed them in her cauldron, a year and day to brew.
The first three drops were magic; the rest was certain death,
and servant Gwion stirred it whilst he cursed beneath his breath:
The witch keeps me a-stirring; the witch won’t let me shirk –
The witch has lost her wits if she believes this spell will work.
Morfran will stay monstrous, most ill-favoured in the land
Morfran…OW! The potion – now it’s splashed upon my hand!
Three drops leapt out and Ceridwen could only be appalled
To see his fingers in his mouth to sooth the sudden scald.
At once he brimmed with knowledge, and was beautiful and good
And knew that in her fury she would slay him where he stood.
A hare replaced young Gwion, a hare with speed and grace –
A hare that knew his life was through, should he stay in that place.
Then Ceridwen threw back her head, her howl a chilling sound
And chased the fleeing Gwion in the body of a hound.
She ran him down to water’s edge; he had to turn about,
But in despair she saw the hare become a shining trout!
The hound then disappeared at once; she knew what form to take
And as an otter Ceridwen thus slipped into the lake.
The fish swam to the bottom; the fish swam to the top
The fish swam every which way but the otter wouldn’t stop.
She snapped her teeth behind him, they nearly met their mark –
He gave a leap into the air, where he became a lark!
A falcon then pursued him, a falcon swift and fleet
He fled its stoop, into a coop, where he became some wheat.
Ceridwen considered, and then she became a hen
Clucked and pecked and ate him, and went back home again.
Ceridwen was powerful; Ceridwen had won
Ceridwen was swelling like ripe grain beneath the sun.
She knew the child was Gwion, she knew he caused her strife
But he was born so beautiful she could not end his life.
Instead she cast him to the waves, his future to decide
And he was found by fishermen when washed up by the tide.
They took him to Prince Elffin, where the babe began to speak
of poetry and prophecy, and enemies’ defeat.
He named him Taliesin; he named him ‘Shining Brow’
He named him foster son and ward – he’d come to safety now.
And so the greatest bard was born that Wales had ever seen,
Radiant Taliesin, who Gwion once had been.