Here is Post #2 in the Series on Taliessin through Logres! Please visit the INTRODUCTION to this series first, and here is the INDEX to the other posts in the series.
Today’s post is about “Taliessin’s Return to Logres,” and it is by Charles Franklyn Beach.
Charles Franklyn Beach teaches literature and writing classes at Nyack College. He first discovered the novels of Charles Williams at a bookstore sale in August 1985, and he eventually worked with those novels on his MA thesis and PhD dissertation at Baylor University. He is also a regular presenter at the New York C. S. Lewis Society, whose members he had not yet convinced to become fans of Williams.
1. TALIESSIN’S RETURN TO LOGRES
After “The Prelude,” with its disheartening picture of the demythologizing, the deimaging (as it were), of the Empire at the hands of those who seek God through the rejection of images—and by connection, the rejection of creation itself—Taliessin journeys from Byzantium (Constantinople), the center of the Empire, and returns to its head, Logres, the kingdom over which Arthur will rule. His arrival in his homeland is filled with image and memory, as he reflects on what he has left behind and to what he is returning. The ship which has dropped him off at “a harbor of Logres” is sailing back the to south, while he journeys north toward his beloved Wales.
Taliessin here is both poet and spiritual figure: he describes himself as “Druid-sprung,” even as he carries a harp on his back—the harp he would strum gently as he recites his verse. This is what he can bring to Arthur’s court: the voice of one who has seen the world and who knows what place Arthur’s kingdom has in that world. And as someone who knows this land, its people, and its spiritual heritage, he can interpret for the king and for his court the meaning of the events they witness and even the meaning of their lives.
And that meaning will not be merely legendary, but rather mythic, as Taliessin suggests when he several times references his Druidic heritage. He also speaks of “the darkness where Circe’s son / sings to the truants of towns / in a forest of nightingales”—possibly a reference to Telegonus, the son of Circe and Odysseus, who in post-Homeric legends killed his father—perhaps a foreshadowing of Mordred’s later rebellion against Arthur. In any case, this reference connects Taliessin’s vision to Greek and Roman mythology, something developed further in “Mount Badon” when the poet sees the battle—which is the climactic moment that establishes Arthur’s kingdom both in history and in legend—through the eyes of the Roman epic poet Virgil. Furthermore, Taliessin “came by Broceliande,” the mythic forest of Arthurian lore that serves as the mysterious “other,” the place of magic and spells and spiritual danger. In some versions of the Arthurian stories, Broceliande is the place where Merlin is conquered and enslaved by his sorceress opponent. As Taliessin passes that dangerous place, he sees a “diagram” which “played in the night,” perhaps an image or symbol of evil. Williams might not have envisioned “golden sickle” or “signalling hand” to be necessarily signs of evil, but all three images suggest attempts to lure the poet from his set path. (And a reader who grew up in the Cold War era perhaps cannot imagine the “golden sickle,” a familiar image of the Soviet bloc, as anything other than an evil.) But the poet does not give way to fear, even when he faces Broceliande: “I cast my heart in the way; / all the Mercy I called / to give courage to my tongue.”
Yet Taliessin’s return is not all myth and imagination. He rides in an orderly fashion, much as the poem uses a set stanza pattern (with eight-line stanzas that include two sets of rhyming lines: one and four, five and eight). With its short lines, the poem suggests his ride is hurried; with irregular line lengths, the poem echoes the panting breath of the poet and his horse. And at the end, he sees the light of the king’s campfires—a light which seems to Taliessin to reflect the mythic world of the Druids and to indicate the faster-than-wildfire spreading of Arthur’s power and authority through Logres. And the final two lines say, “Into the camp by the hazels / I Taliessin came.” The poet names himself in the final line, in so doing claiming his place as a Welshman (for “Taliessin” is a Welsh name) and as the “radiant brow” who shall reveal in his verse the connections between Arthur’s kingdom and the Empire, between the traditional pagan beliefs of his people (hinted at in the reference to “hazels”) with the Christian faith which he, and Arthur, have embraced.