“He is no poet who does not preserve the traditional tales and synchronize the common knowledge”.
Poetry is discourse with the Sacred. It was the primary art of that class of druids known as bards (in Ireland as Filidh). Considering the central role that the druids played in their societies, it is reasonable to assume that poetry also played a central role. It was a means of storytelling, preservation of wisdom, political control, but Bards were doorways for the people – doorways to cultural and spiritual belonging, and this included being at one with the land. Druids were submitted to long years of training, required to memorize the wealth of poetry that allowed them to perform these roles in their culture.
With all these wonderful haikus floating about lately, poetry has been on my mind the past few days…. So I thought I would share some of my feelings on poetry. But first, as good poetry should do, the haikus have inspired me, so here is a poem:
Speak to me of Timeless Things (A Digression)
I was born into a world –
forgotten tradition feeling
its way along itself fallen
too deeply in tragedy.
There is something about a forest greening,
speckled with white and pink – blossoming
more and more, and floating down through song
in lazy circles from far to here, bringing
their secrets of past told by branch and leaf –
tremendous, the beckoning; astonishing, the lure
of this greening dream.
Yes, so very dearly – like a wren –
hope, landing in kisses on my shoulder,
and once a year, a rose is brought
from the garden, she throws open
her petals to eyes which see beyond…
language… so speak
The ages appear before my heart, and I walk, finally,
in truth’s whisper – the forest calls like never before;
it calls: go into my moist grass, walk among my nestled
frogs and worms. Bared and vulnerable, should I bathe
my feet in sweet mud before I enter, before my footsteps
leave the hard world, and find soft pebbles
on the bridge to her mystery? Or, shall I remain here, content
with spring’s celebration – singing to the blossoms
an ancient chant, sending a psychopomp ritual to the breeze?
but where shall I seek serenity
in the embrace of just one arm?
to me of timeless things
beyond the pages,
from depths of ages,
from heights of heavens.
speak of timeless things – until
they become newborn dancers
to midwives’ song – seasons
come but always
On the other side of the fence, her treasures deepen,
rustle, sing, hop, send caresses of true and full breeze.
Would that fullness crush me under her glory?
Tell me, why then is it what I want? Tell me why
should I be content with a one armed embrace? Who built
this fence to keep me out? Is it keeping something safe within?
into the next.
So awaken the dancers in your soul.
Be where you can speak like kisses
on my shoulder, a midwife,
where seasons are born – bring life
to a world of forgotten tradition,
finding its way along a newborn verse.
Poets live within the Great Song of Creation; in the beauty that creates and erupts from the human spirit in an ongoing cycle of music and poetry. They inhabit that elusive passion that hovers ever on the edge of perception, calling us, leading us, making us whole. Life without this passion is a dire imagining indeed. I would go as far as to say that without this passion, life simply is not.
The word poet is for me synonymous with the word mystic. Poets have a personal relationship with the sacred; they experience it first-hand in everything that our human senses perceive. Out of this relationship with the sacred, they knowingly create and shape poetry, music, circumstances, events, experiences. Poets are, as all mystics, doorways. With their experience, they can guide others to a personal relationship and experience with the sacred; they guide others to the memory of their inherent creative and shaping nature. Following that, the role of the poet goes far beyond creation of music and poetry, to basic, primal needs; needs that can only be filled by the vehicle of the poet’s passion, and his or her ability to call this passion in others. The Bards were, and poets are, absolutely essential for the survival of the tribe, for the survival of humanity.
Consider the roles of the ancient Bards. The best definition I have found is from Professor Bedwyr Lewis Jones: “The poet’s function and authority remains the same. It was to maintain the existing social and political order by bestowing honour on individual rulers in whom the heroic values of society were seen to be incarnated.”
Another description from Professor Patrick K. Ford:
“The seers, endowed with extrahuman capabilities, were the custodians of all the sacred tribal wisdom. Their office required frequent recitation from this store of wisdom for purely functional purposes within the society.”
“The corpus of institutionalized knowledge also included what may have been the corner-stone of early tribal lore, a fund of gnomic wisdom.”
The Bards, or Fili, kept or removed kings from the throne with heroic tales or stinging satire. It is critical to note that this went far beyond political intrigue or mere power games when we consider the sacred marriage of the king with the land (the Goddess). They were said to have the ability to shame and cause an unjust ruler to break out in boils, simply by reciting a poem. The magnitude of their words can scarcely be imagined today. This is very important to put into context. The Celts were, of necessity, much closer to nature than many of us are today. Their very survival depended on nature. If the sacred marriage was not kept sacred, crops would fail, storms would wreak havoc, and general mayhem would ensue.
The connection of the people with the land indicates a strong connection of the bard with the land. This is a mystic relationship. The bard’s connection and experience with the land, with nature, with the spirit of place, is direct and profound; it goes far beyond heroic tales or stinging satire of kings or chieftains. This has not changed today. If anything, the connection of today’s poet’s to the land is even more essential than it was for the ancients. There are fewer people today that are concerned with their connection to the land; there are more and more people who do not realize that they are the land, and that the land is them. We are today removed from the participation mystique of oneness with the world. Most do not pause to feel the spirit of place, and if they notice any feelings, visions, or emotions, they perhaps enjoy it for a moment, but quickly move on, forgetting that it is an inherent part of being human. Most people have been conditioned to see a separation between themselves and the land, but his separation is an illusion. The poet knows that it is an illusion and consciously shapes his or her life to tend and preserve the memory of our oneness with the land. This is a very important task that must be realized by today’s poet.
The gnomic wisdom of the bard is not limited to such momentous tasks as tending the sacred marriage, but also is applied at a personal level. It was bards who taught the people how to look after themselves on their spiritual journey – to their souls, and to oneness with the sacred. Using their gnomic wisdom, it is the Bards who accompanied those going through the death and rebirth cycles of the Soul Journey. Modern poets must also perform this function today, for individual and for societal transformations. Considering the increasing globalization, the importance of this task is apparent.
I am utterly convinced that the role of the poet has not changed drastically over time. The only change that I see is the fact that the ancients were charged with the maintenance of certain values and we today are charged with re-establishment of these. It all comes down to inspiration – Imbas, Awen. The poet’s gift is the ability to be inspired, but also, through their works, to create their poems and inspire others to create new visions for the inner and outer worlds.
So what makes a poet a bard? The ability to sing, play an instrument, write poetry? I think not. Anyone can learn those things. Only a Poet though, can sing, play an instrument, or write poetry in such a way to bring tears in one instant and laughter in the next, followed immediately by the ever rising sense of expectancy that is the spirit. The Poet is one that not only feels, but lives in the erupting beauty, the passion on the edge of perception. The poet runs toward this passion, calling it, leading it, making it whole. The singing, music and poetry, of necessity, will follow.
The poet is one who has remembered, has found at-one-ment with the Sacred, with the Land, with Soul, with Self, and guides others to finding their memories and the way to their at-one-ment.