The Cauldron of Inspiration

The breath of Nine Maidens

Yg kynneir, o’r peir pan leferit:
o anadyl naw morwyn gochyneuit

“So”, Taliesin said, “even when Pwyll went into Annwn, and throughout the time of his sojourn there, , no-one knew of Gweir imprisoned in Caer Sidi, no-one had been there. He dwelt there alone, singing a sad song. But we went, three shiploads of us sailed with Arthur in Prydwen, but of those only seven of us returned.”

It was a story he liked to tell and, not noted for his modesty, the part he played in that raid on the Otherworld was his main theme. It was him, he claimed, that first thought of it, going after the cauldron that was held there in that perilous place. They say it was kindled with the breath of nine maidens, that its rim had pearls on the dark edge of it. It’s virtues were many and various magical things could be done with it, but for him, always in pursuit of the awen, it was the source, the Cauldron of Inspiration, and all the other stuff was just trivia. Those nine maidens were the muses, and each of them had infused it with an element of the awen – three times three, three for the bards, three for the ovates, three for the druids: for bardic craft, learning and wisdom. These comprise the elements of song, but a tenth, the deep infusion of all of them, sung secretly in the heart of a true poet, that was his quest, and that was the song that Gweir sang, imprisoned in his lonely fort.

Could he capture this? So Arthur took him there, braved the engulfing waters, his men eager for the spoils of Annwn. But Taliesin had no patience with them, with men at arms or those who were supposed to be wise, dismissing the soldiers as sluggards with trailing shields, and the priests and scholars as men who knew nothing. Even his fellow poets didn’t fare well in his opinion. What did they know? He, on the other hand, knew everything. He was an awenydd, with the gift of the awen, a true poet blessed by the muse.

So when that man, ‘Death-Dealer’ they called him, stuck his sword in the cauldron and his mate ‘Leaper’ grabbed hold of it, he knew they would never leave that place. Just to have been there, to have looked upon it, to have heard Gweir’s sad lament, that was all he needed. Were they really with him at all? Yes, they went on a raid for loot, and a few of them came back. But which of them went into the Otherworld? Only him, if you know what he found there. No-one else knew, and it was nothing he could show you. But it was a prize he’d sacrifice an eye for if he had to.

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7 thoughts on “The Cauldron of Inspiration

  1. This is a fascinating reading of Priddieu Annwn. I hadn’t thought there might be a connnection between the infusion in the cauldron and Gweir’s song before.

    Also, my interpretation has always been quite literal, that Taliesin and Arthur etc. ‘really’ went to Annwn. But if it’s more a spirit journey can a group cross the veil together and together enter the otherworld? If they do so would their perception be the same? Very interesting questions raised here.

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  2. This is a lovely puzzle – going on a dangerous journey to get to Annwn but only one(?) of those who goes is really there. Could Taliesin have got there staying at home or is some sort of journey necessary?

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  3. @Lorna: The connection between the Cauldron and Gweir’s song is something I have supplied from creative interpretation. It seems to me to be plausible and imaginatively right, though I don’t regard it as definitive.

    @ Lorna: “Do they go to a physical place called ‘Annwn’ “? &
    @ Hamadryad: “Could Taliesin have gone there without physically going anywhere”?

    Both good questions but I think requiring an answer that I can’t definitively give. Certainly I think it’s necessary to go on a journey somewhere to get to Annwn, but whether that means leaving ‘home’ or not is not so certain. Whether some of a party of people could have different experiences to others is, I think, indisputable, though again I’m not sure how I would reply to someone who wished to dispute it!

    But James Stephens was surely onto something when he said “In truth we do not go to Faery, we become Faery” though in spite of this his story about Becfola ‘becoming Faery’ meant she had to leave her house and walk until the landscape became unfamiliar in order to get there.

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  4. The notion of ‘becoming Faery’ is fascinating; suggests we can in some way merge with Faery, partake in a Faery nature. Do you think there’s an element of becoming one with one’s ‘co-walker’ in this?

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  5. @ Lorna, yes ‘becoming one with’ certainly describes the process. The co-walker is certainly one way of doing this, merging with the one who accompanies you there to become that other in an other-world. Or with a place.. All tantalysingly suggestive of ways to take the ‘half-step’ into Faery.

    I’m hoping a piece of writing about this will take shape …. if I can find the half-stroke of the pen to find the right words 😉

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  6. I have been studying “The Spoils of Annwn” too, (for personal reasons), and my interpretation is more simple. For me it was easier to do a line-by-line interpretation. I think the battle in this poem is a symbolic religious battle between Christianity and older religion (i.e., prophecy/poetry). Taliesin accepts defeat or loss in the battle, but at least he lets everyone know where he stands. It is not useful to look at the movements of King Arthur or other battles to learn about this battle. I made a site too (but not a blog). My interpretation is quite different from anything I have read so far, yet it actually shares (broadly) themes and/or elements with this interpretation. They kind of fit together (in a way) and so I am encouraged.

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