Taliesin was a sixth-century poet and one of the five chief bards of the Isle of the Mighty (Wales). Twelve poems attributed to him have survived to the present day, some of which are thought to be authentic, collected in the Book of Taliesin.. Although it is considered too late to be Taliesin's, the poem The Spoils of Annwfn connects him with Arthur and the raid on Annwn. As with his contemporaries, fantastic tales have naturally grown up around Taliesin.
His story begins with the bard as a young boy named Gwion. The great witch Ceridwen assigned him the task of tending her cauldron. For a year and a day he was to stir the magical brew. Ceridwen would then give the mixture, a source of great knowledge, to her son as compensation for his hideous appearance. As the fateful day drew near Gwion accidentally splashed himself with the brew. In licking three drops off his fingers he became the unintended recipient of the All Knowing, and thus became aware of Ceridwen's plans to kill him once he had served his purpose. What remained of the brew was now only poison and the enraged Ceridwen gave chase.With his newly acquired gifts Gwion shifted his shape to that of a hare. Ceridwen followed in the shape of a greyhound. He took to a stream, becoming a fish; Ceridwen followed as an otter. He took to the air as a small bird; she followed as a hawk. Lastly, Gwion became a grain of wheat. Ceridwen, in the shape of a black hen, swallowed him. Returning to her own shape, Ceridwen was now pregnant with Gwion. In time, she gave birth to the child. On seeing his beauty, however, she could not bring herself to kill him, but set him adrift upon the sea in a leather bag. Elphin, the nephew of King Maelgwn, found the bag caught on a salmon weir. He carefully opened it and on seeing the child exclaimed, "Behold a radiant brow!" And so the child was named Taliesin, meaning "Radiant Brow."
Elphin's family took him into their care and raised him. Taliesin's power first attracted attention when he journeyed to the court of King Maelgwn Gwynedd to rescue his imprisoned patron Elphin. To avoid interference from the haughty resident bards, Taliesin cast a spell upon them so that the only words they could speak were "blewrn, blewrn." To add to their indignity, the enchantment also caused them to compulsively finger their bottom lips. Under the disdainful glare of the king, the chief bard, Heinin, strained against the spell. After what seemed an eternity, Heinin managed to blurt out that they were not drunk, as it seemed, but were under a spell cast by the boy in the corner! Now commanding the king's undivided attention, Taliesin stepped forward. The king asked him who he was, and in reply Taliesin began to recite his now famous poem of "I Have Beens," recounting his many incarnations. With the sound of his voice the chains that held Elphin fell away. Taliesin then began to foretell the future of Britain. As he spoke the wind rose until it raged, shaking the hall and nearly drowning his words. As the prophecies drew to a close the wind subsided, leaving all quiet but for the whispered chants of the bards.