Taliesin: “Nights” (translated by Katherine Robinson)

Translator’s note: “Nights” is excerpted from a long poem entitled,
Madgyfreu Taliesin, or  Taliesin’s Juvenilia, recorded in the Middle Ages and attributed to the Welsh bard Taliesin.


Why are stalks pale and bright?
Why is one night full of moonlight,
another so dark it will douse
the glint of your shield outside the house?
Why do the waves roar,
loud, against the shore?

Do you know what
you are when your eyes are shut:
a body or a ghost
or a pale, bright thing,
elsewhere, unknown and enclosed?

You, who can sing
so perfectly—why won’t you say?
Where does the night wait for the day?

from Madgyfreu Taliesin

Pan yw kalaf cann,
Pan yw nos lloergan,
Arall ny chanhwyt
Dy yscawt allan?
Pan yw gofaran
Twrwf tonneu wrth lan?…

A wdost ti peth wyt
Pan vych yn kyscwyt:
Ae corff ae eneit,
Ae argel canneit?
Eilewyd keluyd,
Pyr na’m dywedd?

Katherine Robinson’s poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared in The Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, The Hudson Review, Poetry Ireland, Poetry Wales, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in poetry from Johns Hopkins University, and she recently received a Gates Scholarship to pursue her PhD at Cambridge University where she will study the influence of The Mabinogion, a collection of Medieval Welsh tales, on the poetry of Ted Hughes.