by Thomas Davis
Taliesin walked in a sparse woods;
pink and white stones rose from earth into cliffs
topped with rock, pinyon, pine, and juniper trees.
This was not his native land, Ireland’s wild coast
where clerics and ancient bards warred,
declaiming words of power
into spirits of unlettered men and women,
but a land as dry as Job’s tongue:
“Where shall wisdom be found?”
The great bard had stood on a rock
jutting into a sea’s fury, called mists and forest spirits
into a gate he walked through into sweltering skies
so filled with light they felt unreal.
Standing below a tall red cliff
he sent his spirit out across a dry land
and walked, feeling how poetry faltered
in the great silence of stone, trees, and sand.
On a massive sandstone table he stopped
and stared at hairy black spiders’ frenzy
as they scuttled in a fall mating dance.
He could not understand the language
spoken by the spider’s movement.
He could not feel the spirit of poetry’s ebb and flow
where no coracle boats or sailing ships plied waves.
He studied a turquoise juniper tree’s green flame.
He tried to feel how such small trees
would move across the dry landscape,
but they seemed rooted in pink and white stone,
trees drawing sustenance from soils
not fertile enough to engender song.
Taliesin walked and walked through a long day.
In the west, above dark hills, the sun blazed.
A horned moon, slender in new waxing, rose.
The ancient bard’s heart shuddered, making him faint.
How was he to leave a land where poetry was tenuous?
Where no selkie dived beneath waves into seaweed forests?
Where he could not weave the land’s power into his voice?
He listened. The Milky Way netted above him,
luminous river of light flowing toward night’s horizon.
He listened, and then he heard . . .
women’s voices elegant and wild with creative frenzy,
men speaking words as strange as the landscape,
voices that echoed back through peoples
more ancient than even Taliesin’s time.
A red wolf howled beneath stars and horned moon.
A cold wind blew.
Pinyon, pine, and juniper branches danced and sang.
The great bard felt the strangeness of where he was
and smiled and raised arms out of his brown robe.
He found the rhythm of poetry’s one language
and spoke it to the night sky, trees, wind,
and suddenly he stood in darkness,
and he was on a black rock jutted
into a foaming, wind-driven sea.
Note: This is an old poem. I am not sure if I have blogged it here before.
7 responses to “Taliesin in New Mexico Near Inscription Rock”
When I read the word Taliesin, I immediately thought of Frank Lloyd Wright. I didn’t need to read much further to realize that the reference was not to the architectural ‘shining brow” but to the bard by that name.
I don’t know much about the ancient Welsh poet Taliesin except that some remnants of his song remain and are said to speak about the sources of a poet’s inspiration.
I surmise, then, that the speaker of this poem is a poet who finds himself in an environment that seems alien—dry desert, far from his beloved seashore—and wonders on the landscape, the moon, the dark, how he will ever find inspiration amid this odd geography, strange vegetation and generally desolate place.
The answer comes to him in voices even more ancient than the ones he has known, perhaps those of the great aboriginal people of this new land….and with them he suddenly feels inspired and “at home”, even to the extent that he can now poetically “see” the sea.
You say this is an old poem, Thomas. I have not read it before. (And I keep reminding myself and others that poems do not have an expiration date, so re-posting is good!)
It’s not an old poem, but a timeless one, I think, and quite beautiful and rich in its imagery and spirit. I’m so glad you posted it.
Thanks Cynthia. I posted this because I have not been able to write poetry lately. I’ve been discouraged enough that I’ve seriously thought about ending my effort to write creatively after a lifetime of doing so. I did try to edit the poem before I posted it. I had a poem published in Wisconsin Academy Review a number of years ago on Taliesin East, Frank Lloyd Wright’s home, studio, and school in Wisconsin, during a period when I was doing a feasibility study for the State of Wisconsin concerning that Taliesin property. I became fascinated with Taliesin, the bard and god, at that point in time, especially when I read The White Goddess by Robert Graves. I really appreciated your long comment. When I wrote this I was primarily writing long free verse poems.
Ah…The White Goddess. I read that a long, long time ago. But I still have my copy, and now you’ve got me thinking I might get back to it, to see if time has given me more insight into its riches.
I recall reading, about W. H. Auden, that he often had periods of panic that his creativity was running out and he would never write a decent poem again…writer’s block, some call it. Whatever you call it, it can be miserable when it occurs…like the frenzy of the ourobouros, or the insomniac who is so worried about his inability to sleep that he can’t sleep.
I know the feeling, but these days I just breathe deeply and let it be. I am old enough to die, now, so I figure if I never write another thing, it will be okay. I’ve written quite a bit, and some of it is good. It will never be famous, but it exists and has already done much work among readers. Who knows what will come to be? After all, how many lines of Shakespeare, or poems of Keats does anyone actually remember, compared to the amount they wrote? Just a very few, I would wager.
Someone once commented about a poem on my blog that if I never wrote another poem, this one poem proved the worthiness of its author. That comment got me to thinking, about the old quality vs. quantity conundrum. It’s a matter of taste and temperament, of course, but I always come down on the side of quality, where less can be more. Even so, it’s crazy to get ahead of oneself and prejudge the quality of what one is doing. That can stop you before you even get started. As THE MUSE says in my poem of that title: “do the work, and leave the door ajar; do not worry, I know where you are.”
Thomas, I don’t remember this one so am very glad you posted it. The imagery is so vivid and beautiful with earth tones – and I love that Taliesin found the ancient source of poetic inspiration in his new environment – which was really the same source after all. Remarkable poem!
Thank you Betty. I posted it because I haven’t come up with any new poems lately, and Ethel and I take turns posting. I’m glad you liked this, though. I reworked it from the original draft before posting it.
Thomas, I do the same thing when having trouble writing anything new – revise older poems and repost (which I’ve been doing lately). It does seem to help. It’s a huge frustration when writer’s block hits – I know! And I’m sure you’ll be writing new ones before you know it. Meanwhile please keep posting older ones. They’re all a delight to read, whether we’ve seen them before or not.
I certainly have not read it before. And am glad to do so now. Great rhythm and a choice of words and image to bring forth a magic and mystery.