The Celtic Literature Collective

The Battle of the Trees
The Book of Taliesin VIII.
From The Four Ancient Books of Wales

I HAVE been in a multitude of shapes,
Before I assumed a consistent form.1
I have been a sword, narrow, variegated,
I will believe when it is apparent.
I have been a tear in the air,
I have been the dullest of stars.
I have been a word among letters,
I have been a book in the origin.
I have been the light of lanterns,
A year and a half.
I have been a continuing bridge,
Over three score Abers.2
I have been a course, I have been an eagle.
I have been a coracle in the seas:
I have been compliant in the banquet.
I have been a drop in a shower;
I have been a sword in the grasp of the hand
I have been a shield in battle.
I have been a string in a harp,
Disguised for nine years.
in water, in foam.
I have been sponge in the fire,
I have been wood in the covert.
I am not he who will not sing of
A combat though small,
The conflict in the battle of Godeu of sprigs.
Against the Guledig of Prydain,3
There passed central horses,
Fleets full of riches.
There passed an animal with wide jaws,
On it there were a hundred heads.
And a battle was contested
Under the root of his tongue;
And another battle there is
In his occiput.4
A black sprawling toad,
With a hundred claws on it.
A snake speckled, crested.
A hundred souls through sin
Shall be tormented in its flesh
I have been in Caer Vevenir5
Thither hastened grass and trees
Minstrels were singing
Warrior-bands were wondering
At the exaltation of the Brython,
That Gwydyon6 affected.
There was a calling on the Creator,
Upon Christ for causes,
Until when the Eternal
Should deliver those whom he had made.
The Lord answered them, 
Through language and elements:
Take the forms of time prinncipal trees,
Arranging yourselves in battle array,
And restraining the public.
Inexperienced in battle hand to hand.
When the trees were enchanted,
In the expectation of not being trees,
The trees uttered their voices
From strings of harmony,
The disputes ceased.
Let us cut short heavy days,
A female restrained the din.
She came forth altogether lovely.
The head of the line, the head was a female.
The advantage of a sleepless cow
Would not make us give way.
The blood of men up to our thighs,
The greatest of importunate mental exertions
Sported in the world.
And one has ended
From considering the deluge,
And Christ crucified
And the day of judgement near at hand
The alder trees, the head of the line,
Formed the van.
The willows and quicken trees
Came late to the army.
Plum-trees, that are scarce, 
Unlonged for of men
The elaborate medlar-trees
Tue objects of contention.
The prickly rose-bushes,
Against a host, of giants,
The raspberry brake did
What is better failed
For the security of life.
Privet and woodbine
And ivy on its front,
Like furze to the combat
The cherry-tree was provoked.
The birch, notwithstanding his high mind,
Was late before he was arrayed.
Not because of his cowardice,
But on account of his greatness.
The laburnuin held in mind,
That your wild nature was foreign.
Pine-trees in the porch,
The chair of disputation,
By me greatly exalted,
In the presence of kings
The elm with his retinue,
Did not go aside a foot
He would fight with the centre,
And the flanks, and the rear.
Hazel-trees, it was judged,
That ample was thy mental exertion
The privet, happy his lot,
The bull of battle, the lord of the world
Morawg and Morydd7
Were made prosperous in pines. 
Holly, it was tinted with green, 
He was the hero.
The hawthorn, surrounded by prickles, 
With pain at his hand.
The aspen-wood has been topped, 
It was topped in battle.
The fern that was plundered
The broom, in the van of the army, in the trenches he was hurt.
The gorse did not do well, 
Notwithstanding let it overspread. 
The heath was victorious, keeping off on all sides.
The common people were charmed,
During time proceeding of the men.
The oak, quickly moving,
Before him, tremble heaven and earth.
A valiant door-keeper against an enenly,
his name is considered.
The blue-bells combined,
And caused a consternation.
In rejecting, were rejected,
Others, that were perforated.
Pear-trees, the best intruders
In time conflict of the plain.
A very wrathful wood,
The chestnut is bashful,
The opponent of happiness,
The jet has become black,
The mountain has become crooked,
The woods have become a kiln,
Existing formerly in the great seas
Since was heard the shout:--
The tops of the birch covered us with leaves,
And transformed us, and changed our faded state.
The branches of the oak have ensnared us
From the Gwarchan of Maelderw.8
Laughing on the side of the rock,
The lord is not of an ardent nature.
Not of mother and father,
When I was made,
Did my Creator create me.9
Of nine-formed faculties,
Of the fruit of fruits,
Of the fruit of the primordial God,
Of primroses and blossoms of time hill,
Of the flowers of trees and shrubs.
Of earth, of an earthly course,
When I was formed.
Of the flower of nettles,
Of the water of the ninth wave.
I was enchanted by Math,10
Before I became immortal,
I was enchanted by Gwydyon
The great purifier of the Brython,
Of Eurwys, of Euron,
Of Euron, of Modron.11
Of five battalions of scientific ones.
Teachers, children of Math.
When the removal occurred,
I was enchanted by the Guledig.
When he was half-burnt,
I was enchanted by the sage
Of sages, in the primitive world.
When I had a being;
When the host of the world was in dignity,
The bard was accustomed to benefits.
To the song of praise I am inclined, which the tongue recites.
I played in the twilight,
I slept in purple;
I was truly in the enchantment
With Dylan, the son of the wave.12
In the circumference, in the middle,
Between the knees of kings,
Scattering spears not keen,
From heaven when came,
To the great deep, floods,
In the battle there will be
Four score hundreds,
That will divide according to their will.
They are neither older nor younger,
Than myself in their divisions.
A wonder, Canhwr are born, every one of nine hundred.
He was with me also,
With my sword spotted with blood.
honour was allotted to me
By the Lord, and protection (was) where he was.
If I come to where the boar was killed,
He will compose, he will decompose,
He will form languages.
The strong-handed gleamer, his name,
With a gleam he rules his numbers.
They would spread out. in a flame,
When I shall go on high.
I have been a speckled snake on the hill,
I have been a viper in the Llyn.
I have been a bill-hook crooked that cuts,
I have been a ferocious spear
With my chasuble and bowl
I will prophesy not badly,
Four score smokes
On every one what will bring.
Five battalions of arms
Will be caught by my knife.
Six steeds of yellow hue
A hundred times better is
My cream-coloured steed,
Swift as the sea-mew
Which will not pass
Between the sea and the shore.
Am I not pre-eminent in the field of blood?
Over it are a hundred chieftains.
Crimson (is) the gem of my belt,
Gold my shield border.
There has not been born, in the gap,
That has been visiting me,
Except Goronwy,13
From the dales of Edrywy.
Long white my fingers,
It is long since I have been a herdsman.
I travelled in the earth,
Before I was a proficient in learning.
I travelled, I made a circuit,
I slept in a hundred islands
A hundred Caers I have dwelt in.
Ye intelligent Druids,
Declare to Arthur,14
What is there more early
Than I that they sing of.
And one is come
From considering the deluge,
And Christ crucified,
And the day of future doom.
A golden gem in a golden jewel.
I am splendid
And shall be wanton
From the oppression of the metal-workers.15


First, it is worth noting that them of a battle of the trees can be seen reflected in the Irish story of The Second Battle of Magh Turedh:

"And ye, O Be-cuile and O Dianann," said Lugh to his two witches," what power can ye wield in the battle?"

"Not hard to tell," said they. "We will enchant the trees and the stones and the sods of the earth, so that they shall become a host under arms against them, and shall rout them in flight with horror and trembling."

And so the battle between the gods (Tuatha De Danann) and titans (Fomoraig) is waged in part by animating the trees and stones. Here, we have another battle; but who is it between? In a later short text, also called "The Battle of the Trees," the battle is between Arawn and Bran on the side of the underworld, and Amaethon and Gwydion on this side. The battle here is over a white deer and a dog, both animals which appear in the beginning of the Mabinogi as the animals of Arawn, wrongly pursued by Pwyll. In "The Battle of the Trees," Amaethon steals the animals from "Hell," which is ruled by Arawn. Amaethon is able to prevail when his brother Gwydion guesses the name of one of the fighters, Bran, by the fact that he has alder sprigs on his shield. Now, Bran's nephew (son of his sister Branwen) was named Gwern, meaning "alder," and it is the sister's son who is often the heir or chief defender of the kingdom.

So what exactly is the Battle of the Trees? When one examines part of the outcome of the second battle of Magh Turedh--namely that Lugh forces Bres to reveal the secrets of agriculture--and compares that them to the meaning of Amaethon's name--"Divine Farmer"--we may be getting bits of a story varient of the gods vs. titans (or Aesir vs. Vanir, etc.) myth.

1. I have been in a multitude of shapes:

2. bridge/Over three score Abers: an aber is the mouth of a river. As for someone being a bridge, this could possibly refer to Bran the Blessed, who stretched himself as a bridge over the Liffy in the story of "Branwen uerch Llyr". Or, it could just be one of the transformations.

3. Guledig of Prydain: a warlord, here over all Britain. Who does this refer to? Arthur is mentioned later in the poem; could it be him?

4. occiput: eye socket.

5. Caer Vevenir: this location is obscure.

6. Gwydyon: the great magician of "Math vab Mathonwy". Father of Lleu, he is a bard and magician, and his name means "wood knowledge".

7. Morawg and Morydd: these figures are obscure.

8. Gwarchan of Maelderw: this is actually a poem in the Book of Aneirin, attributed to Taliesin.

9. Not of mother or father...: This section seems to refer to the creation of Blodeuwedd, the woman of flowers who was given to Lleu as a wife. She later betrays him.

10. Math: the king of Gwynedd and master magician who created Blodeuwedd for his nephew Lleu.

11. Eurwys, of Euron,
Of Euron, of Modron
: Eurwys and Euron are obscure; Modron is the mother of Mabon, but also the wife of Urien and mother of Owein. She is identifiable with the Gaulish goddess Matrona as well as with Rhiannon.

12. Dylan, son of the wave

13. Goronwy: the lover of Blodeuwedd and the murderer of Lleu; when Lleu is

14. Arthur

15. metalworkers: the word given is fferyll; some see this as the word Fferyllt, who is the classical poet Vergil, whose book Cerridwen reads from when making her potion for awen.

Back to the Book of Taliesin