Come sit with me and be my friend
And we'll tell stories without end
From far and near, from books and life,
Interweaving without strife.

The dreams I've dreamed, the lands I've known,
Why should you not call your own?
The friends you've had, both false and true,
Shall I not know them all through you?

Let the unenlightened talk of spite
And envy among those who write!
The faster shall our friendship grow,
The livelier shall our verses go.

Two's company, three's company,
Six constitute a poets' bee,
Ten, a council of the wise --
No end to what we might devise!

And whether all eggs or few may hatch,
This present good at least we'll catch,
If (as our favoring signs portend)
You'll sit with me and be my friend.


As after midnight's muteness the first birds
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 stop,
at the poem's edge a boundary- or gravestone?
Should we put love in quarantine, and lop,
before they touch, association's trees?
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,
would be the highest art and truest praise
of God whose life quickens each leaf, each phrase.



Those who aspire to the skill of singing
And wish to know how to acquire it
Should bear in mind with joy and reverence
Four things chiefly: the word, the self,
The human other, the cosmic Whole.
First the word: how each word we use
Contains a wealth, a world of meaning.
At every hour watch words in action,
To names above all accord attention,
For the act of naming is half of art.
Read, too, the books of the bards before you,
Watch what they do and how they do it,
At tradition's table listen and learn.
Next, attend to yourself, your soul,
Storehouse of memories, well of dreams,
Wearer of wounds, seeker of healing,
Unending teller of its own tale,
Source of melody beyond experience:
Those who can hear both tale and tune,
To them all things bring signs of guidance.
Then, the others who are to themselves
Storehouses of memories, wells of dreams,
Wearers of wounds, seekers of healing,
Unending tellers of their own tales,
Source of melody beyond experience,
Messengers to you as you to them.
Above all, abhor envy like poison,
For envy blinds the I in the other,
Blots creation with hatred of good.
If envy stings, let its sting alert you
To what you must praise lest your soul perish,
Then draw its fang with magnanimous deed
And all you acknowledge shall be your own.
Last and first: the cosmic Whole,
The household of Earth and all its inhabitants,
The infinite fugue of human fates,
The hope of vision, of one awareness
Embracing all earth, surmounting strife,
In each true word the poet utters
Calls to attention, advances toward peace.
Vast is the Way, complex beyond knowing,
Yet free, unforced as a child's chanting;
At every step the goal is present
And most when we manage the step of silence.
May all who read this find friends in wisdom
And inspiration for sacred song!


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 knowledge;
Then, on the ground thus gained, to teach and organize others.



Words that are things (Byron)

 .... 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 set
of snapshots I’d taken of friends in Berkeley, the year preceding,
in such a way that they formed one image, a whole made of wholes.
Doubtless you’ve done the like. But I was then reading Anfortas,
whose face, clipped out of the paper, appeared at the lower right,
and his voice, unheard yet heard, sounded hollowly through the silence
of a place where I knew no one. As though in an empty hall
on the stage a lone actor stood, a dark space curving around him,
and spoke. A monodrama, yet every line, every word,
every 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 the ground,
I heard his comment. Until there were no more solo voices,
no authors of separate worlds, only the cast of one play,
affected, affecting, and all caught in the drift of one current,
and I felt called upon to climb on the stage myself,
like Hamlet up on that platform, to meet the ghost there, to answer
its 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

Conversation at Midnight
— a work that has never been lucky:
after the manuscript was burnt with the author’s house
she tried to reconstruct it from memory. Then everyone panned it:
the flapper poet, they said, will ein Philosopher sein,
wants to be not one man but seven men all convening
from different 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 author were plural.
from the innumerable styles I have worn in the last three decades,
though without turning my coat, this I am bound to admit,
someone might almost suspect that I was plural.)
                                                 Why not,
then, think of our various voices as parts in an ongoing drama,
authored by no one — and yet we’d imagine that behind
all of us there is one will to some poem beyond the poem.
Could be more fun, don’t you think, than Dungeons and Dragons...




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 Task":

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 ordering knowledge;
Then, on the ground thus gained, to teach and organize others.

A first round of glosses on the above:

"To learn the tradition, hearing how the voices converse together": A reconstituted poetic
tradition could 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 earth.