||THE POET TO HER
Come sit with me and be my friend
we'll tell stories without end
From far and near, from books and
Interweaving without strife.
The dreams I've dreamed, the
lands I've known,
Why should you not call your own?
you've had, both false and true,
Shall I not know them all through
Let the unenlightened talk of spite
And envy among those
The faster shall our friendship grow,
The livelier shall
our verses go.
Two's company, three's company,
Six constitute a
Ten, a council of the wise --
No end to what we might
And whether all eggs or few may hatch,
This present good
at least we'll catch,
If (as our favoring signs portend)
with me and be my friend.
TO A FELLOW-POET
As after midnight's muteness the first
call to one another and seem to make
the space between them,
even so the words
within a poem call each other, wake
each other to
a life before unknown.
And should there be an end to this, a
at the poem's edge a boundary- or gravestone?
Should we put
love in quarantine, and lop,
before they touch, association's
I hope not so; but in a pleasant shade
woven of all our words
to walk at ease,
delighting each in what the other said,
the highest art and truest praise
of God whose life quickens each leaf,
INSTRUCTIONAL VERSES (THE PATH OF
Those who aspire to the skill of
And wish to know how to acquire it
Should bear in mind with
joy and reverence
Four things chiefly: the word, the self,
other, the cosmic Whole.
First the word: how each word we
Contains a wealth, a world of meaning.
At every hour watch words
To names above all accord attention,
For the act of
naming is half of art.
Read, too, the books of the bards before
Watch what they do and how they do it,
At tradition's table
listen and learn.
Next, attend to yourself, your soul,
memories, well of dreams,
Wearer of wounds, seeker of
Unending teller of its own tale,
Source of melody beyond
Those who can hear both tale and tune,
To them all
things bring signs of guidance.
Then, the others who are to
Storehouses of memories, wells of dreams,
wounds, seekers of healing,
Unending tellers of their own
Source of melody beyond experience,
Messengers to you as you
Above all, abhor envy like poison,
For envy blinds the I in
Blots creation with hatred of good.
If envy stings, let
its sting alert you
To what you must praise lest your soul
Then draw its fang with magnanimous deed
And all you
acknowledge shall be your own.
Last and first: the cosmic Whole,
household of Earth and all its inhabitants,
The infinite fugue of human
The hope of vision, of one awareness
Embracing all earth,
In each true word the poet utters
attention, advances toward peace.
Vast is the Way, complex beyond
Yet free, unforced as a child's chanting;
At every step the
goal is present
And most when we manage the step of silence.
who read this find friends in wisdom
And inspiration for sacred
THE BARD'S FOURFOLD TASK
To learn the tradition and hear how the
voices converse together;
To find your own vision and voice, assume
your part in the play;
Attentive to all around you, to gather and order
Then, on the ground thus gained, to teach and organize
Words that are things
.... that great poem, which all poets, like the
co-operating thoughts of one great mind, have built up since the
beginning of the world.(Shelley)
This is a thought that began with an act:
one autumn in Munich
in a bare student apartment I pinned to the wall a
of snapshots I’d taken of friends in Berkeley, the year
in such a way that they formed one image, a whole made of
Doubtless you’ve done the like. But I was then reading
whose face, clipped out of the paper, appeared at the lower
and his voice, unheard yet heard, sounded hollowly through the
of a place where I knew no one. As though in an empty
on the stage a lone actor stood, a dark space curving around
and spoke. A monodrama, yet every line, every word,
inflection and every silence implied the others —
Where were they? and
what action had he been trying to start?
After his denouement, I began
to reread the classics,
the moderns. At every turn, as if from under
I heard his comment. Until there were no more solo
no authors of separate worlds, only the cast of one
affected, affecting, and all caught in the drift of one
and I felt called upon to climb on the stage myself,
Hamlet up on that platform, to meet the ghost there, to answer
summons, swear its deep oath and get the others to swear.
Ah, it’s a
pity there was no contemporary Cervantes
to follow along and record my
discomfitures as they’ve occurred
ever since. Nevertheless,
eppur, the idea’s a good one.
Years later came to my hand a copy
of Vincent Millay’s
at Midnight — a work that has
never been lucky:
after the manuscript was burnt with the author’s
she tried to reconstruct it from memory. Then everyone panned
the flapper poet, they said, will ein Philosopher sein,
be not one man but seven men all convening
compass-points to settle the fate of the world!
A dialogue, or a play
in verse where each characters uses
a different verse-form, as if the
from the innumerable styles I have worn in the last three
though without turning my coat, this I am bound to
someone might almost suspect that I was
then, think of our various voices as parts in an ongoing
authored by no one — and yet we’d imagine that behind
us there is one will to some poem beyond the poem.
Could be more fun,
don’t you think, than Dungeons and Dragons...
DESIGN FOR A COLLEGE OF BARDS
Poetry is an expression -- perhaps the
supreme intellectual expression -- of eros, the force in the universe that
draws and holds things together. As such, poetry should be called on
wherever humans consider actions that affect the coherency of human
society and the planetary environment. This has been the custom in other
times, and could be again.
The idea of a college of bards comes from
the ancient Celts (or the legend about them). Among the Celts
knowledgeable men and women formed a single guild, known as the Druids.
Within the guild there were degrees, based on the level of study
completed. The course of study took up to twenty years and consisted
mainly of memorizing the long poems which contained the Celtic store of
natural science, myth, history, law and ritual. The tradition was the work
of many hands, yet it formed an organic whole. The possessors of this
knowledge acted as teachers, healers, priests, councilors, judges and
perhaps even rulers; these functions, too, were organically related.
Historically the Celts lost out to the
Romans, whose efficiency was partly due to the technology of writing.
Writing made it possible to transmit data and mobilize people without
truly integrating them, and thus contributed to the growth of the large
and greedy empires which dominate the world to this day. Under this regime
the knowledge the Druids had kept whole was split up into fragments that
served the rulers' ends. Religion dissociated itself from the knowledge of
nature and lined up with the obscurantism of power. Science lost the sense
of the sacred, became a tool for exploitation and conquest, and split into
sub-specialties. Politics became manipulation rather than guidance. And
poetry became a private diversion, expressing the thoughts and emotions of
isolated individuals. Poets had no guild, no body of knowledge, and no
standing in society. After the media enabled people to entertain
themselves without listening to their friends or reading, no one paid any
attention to poets at all.
Poetry under these conditions was, at its
best, a series of isolated and incomplete acts of rebellion. This best is
represented by the Divine Comedy, which sets the poet up de
verbo as the judge of church and state and gives an illusion or
intimation of a cosmic whole, but which bows to the reigning theology and
stops short of re-envisioning the collegial relation of bards. Similar
intimations and compromises can be traced in other works.
In our time it has become clear that the
Roman pattern of civilization leads to the destruction of the biosphere.
The exile of the poets presaged the demise of the songbirds. And by the
same token, a true ecological science would have to begin with a
reconstitution of poetic tradition. It is not possible to recover the lost
poems of the Druids. But it is possible to discern the manifestations of
poetic eros, the intimations of wholeness, in the works that have come
down to us, and to build on them consciously and collegially. It is
possible once again for poets to set themselves the "Fourfold Bardic
To learn the tradition, hearing how the
voices converse together;
To find your own vision and voice, assume
your part in the play;
To fathom the world around you, gathering and
Then, on the ground thus gained, to teach and
A first round of glosses on the
"To learn the tradition, hearing how the
voices converse together": A reconstituted poetic
center on the Divine Comedy, as the most comprehensive poetic vision that
has been preserved. Other poets and also some prose writers, such as
Joyce, have responded to this work in ways that reveal different facets of
the poetic condition. The formal energies that shaped the Divine
Comedy have manifested in many shorter works. Sources from other
cultures, such as Lao Tzu, the Hasidic masters, and Black Elk, help to
suggest how poets can better combine and concentrate their energies, so as
to break through the pattern of exile. For poetry is basically the Way, it
is the search for the Law, for "the shape of all shapes as they must live
together in one being." (Black Elk)
"To find your own vision and voice, assume
your part in the play": While studying this tradition, apprentice bards
would write poems placing their own experience in the light of the
tradition. This phase parallels the "training analysis" which the
beginning psychoanalyst undergoes. As part of this phase, the apprentice
bard would learn to use the traditional forms. To use a form in the right
way is to pour one's own experience into a communal vessel. It is an
affirmation of continuity, and as such implies acceptance of one's own
death. It is a kind of initiatory ordeal.
"To fathom the world
around you, gathering and ordering knowledge": The poet's self-integration
into the tradition prepares the poet to address a society which is
presently guided by fragmentary forms of knowledge -- psychology,
sociology, religion, law, science. The poet's task is to gather the
valuable insights in these fields and put them together. Through poetry,
and through poetry alone, interdisciplinary studies are truly possible.
Eventually, something like a Druidic corpus of poetically integrated
knowledge may take shape. Even if such a corpus could not absorb all the
data of the natural sciences, it could still influence society's view and
use of science.
"Then, on the ground thus gained, to teach
and organize others": Poets' organization of
society would begin with
their own organization. In the first two phases of study, poets would be
learning a common language and speaking to one another in that language.
Having accumulated a convincing poetic autobiography and demonstrated
knowledge of the canon and ability to use the traditional forms, the poet
would be accredited as a bard and admitted to the councils of the guild.
These councils would be structured, perhaps by something like the Native
American pipe ritual, to promote common deliberation and mutual
comprehension. Such councils could hope to make wise decisions on such
matters as the accreditation of new members, the choice of teachers for
the next generation, the shaping of the teaching canon, and methods of
communicating with the surrounding culture. The guild's first task would
be topersuade the people to turn off the media and listen to their poets
and to one another. If this can be accomplished, there is hope for the