Tag Archives: bards

Reflections of a Twentieth Century Bard

After the “Song of Amergin”

I have been a fly on the wall of a corporate meeting
I have been a child lost in snow that drifted roof high
I have been a broke-winged bird, flightless through winter
I have been a prisoner in some Gothic dungeon
I have been a supporter of lost, hopeless causes
I have been a wandering fool, aimless and goal-less
I have been a prodigal son for whom died the fatted calves
I have been a homeless man in cities of great wealth.

I have been a harsh word whispered in a darkened alley
I have been a silver slick carp, no good for the fry pan
I have been a glee-man singer for spare change and train fare
I have been a ragged voice crying in the wildness
I have been a drowsy student of life’s strange instructors
I have been a trust fund baby given deceptive means
I have been a reed in the wind blown aside by gale force
I have been a poet stoned with drunk and swollen words.

I have been a teacher of some useful knowledge
I have been a night janitor in the halls of justice
I have been a poor cross-maker, Pharisee and martyr
I have been a young soldier, grown old in the battle
I have been a raging fire made from drenched matches
I have been a quick perceptor without a portfolio
I have been a childhood plowman, tiller of the earth
I have been a knowing victim of victimless crime.

I have been a cold white speck in a snowfall blizzard
I have been a big, loud fish in an empty trout pond
I have been a moving current and the dry of drought
I have been a helpful force to some creative light
I have been a drifting cloud on the face of the sun
I have been a changeling spirit of the moonless night
I have been a watcher of winds that shape the noon sky
I have been a friend of the trees that breathe the earth’s air.

Who, more than I, can claim to have been loved?
Who, having also being lost, can with more conviction believe themselves found?

Who else, having for so long lived under a curse of their own making, has been more blessed?

29 MAR 2000

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If Words Alone Could Change the World

If words alone could change the world
the poets would still reign as kings,
and those who may rely on swords
would spend their time on lesser things.

The lure of verse, both blank and rhymed,
would tempt young minds to greater heights;
to cast aside appearances
and reclaim beauty as their right.

If words alone could change the world,
then love would be the ruling act;
for more has been said on this verb
than said on any other fact.

The search for meaning would consume
that span that runs from birth to death;
and those who would conceal great truths
would waste both time and precious breath.

If words alone could change the world,
each pulpit, podium and stage
would needs be guarded night and day
lest some loose phrase escape its cage

and in an instant, raze to ash
our vain illusions, leaving naught
except the aching poet’s mind
that dreams of texts no longer taught.

19 AUG 2007

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Your Own Words

What do I care? They’re only words,
flung out in speech like careless pearls;
it’s not as if they can raise boils
or lay an endless, babbling curse.

Oh, wait; that’s not entirely true.
For in the Celtic lands, the bard
could with their words alone transform
a thing in such a way.

What do I care? Those bards are dead;
were their pale spirits gathered here,
each duly armed with sticks and stones,
I doubt they’d raise a bruise.

Well, wait; I’d like to take that back,
and years of useless, pointless talk
avoiding one small, simple truth;
that your own words can hurt you.

07 APR 2006

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On Bards of Old

Did bards of old, I wonder, ever tire
of rooting through their souls for a new verse
in order to instruct, praise or inspire
through their connection with the universe,
and after twenty years of “learn by rote”,
requiring mastery of form and feel,
the skill to recognize a tune by note,
a repertoire to make the senses reel,
and knowledge of the history and lore,
not only of their clan, but the whole world,
while at the beck and call of some great lord
who nine times out of ten, was partly churl,
requiring curses cast against their foes
or songs of praise to elevate their fame?
How often did a bard observe a rose
for just its fragrance, not speaking its name?

And when a verse or two was shared between
a group of bards that met along the road,
how often did the conversation lean
to simple things, not meter, rhyme and code?
I wonder if the burden that they shared,
the weight of culture’s future on their tongues,
was often thought a curse, even compared
unfavorably to being deaf and dumb?

They say the pen is greater than the sword,
that eloquence breaks down more doors than steel;
how treacherous that makes a life where words
are just as precious as true love, or meals.
Let modern poets suffer for their art,
imagining their angst so great and pure;
where their woe ends, the bard’s task only starts,
and leads where few may travel, or endure.
Those bards of old are gone, some may declare;
Their arts? Anachronistic and no use.
So few remain who act as if they care,
and on the struggling poet, heap abuse.
Did bards of old, I wonder, ever think
to give up, knowing that their audience,
who when given ambrosial words to drink,
gained neither wisdom or experience?

04 MAY 2005

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Father’s Day

Ultimatums are absurd,
like “I will not write one more word
until those reading clap and say,
‘Bravo!’ and ‘Watch the genius play!'”

The Sufis had it right, I think:
“Don’t name wells from which you won’t drink”;
and yet, to stand aloof and proud
from rabble, sometimes, is allowed

When lines of poesy and wit
Are cast aside, in praise of shit
the gauntlet’s thrown, the challenge made.
Now, let mere pundits be afraid!

The bards of old were greatly feared,
but their kind have all disappeared
and in their place are only found
experiments in time and sound

The erudite, vanity press?
Who reads that stuff, and more or less
who gives a damn for words these days
that speak the truth, when lies are praised?

The torture of the gentle soul
who speaks against such mind control
and casts their nets for bigger fish
and writes exactly as they wish

Is to live in a dull gray place
Where art is schlock and soon defaced
Where schools are meant to churn out rows
of mindless robots too well-clothed

And Music? Who can bear the tune
That blares out Sunday afternoon
Lambasting resting ears with tripe,
vulgarity and guttersnipe

Too loud, the world seeks truth in vain
for it hides behind windowpanes
a throbbing headache from the noise.
It waits for men, and finds, just boys

Who dabble with a word or two
But think of drink and fight and screw
Without the faintest sense of shame
That they know not their father’s names

And yet, this sad, misgotten lot
Who claim a God that knows them not
Will look at me with great distain
As I stand out and smell the rain

Oh, wash this street, and filthy town
destroy its streets, and bear them down
along the river to the sea;
It cannot come too soon for me!

And ultimatums? I refuse
to leave this place, to cede, or lose
until my words, like slow, cruel time
sink in and waken just one mind.

21 JUN 2004

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Oh Bard, Come Sing: the official Welsh meters

Oh Bard, release your sacred song
to heal these hurts and ways gone wrong! (cyhydedd fer)

Let loose thy harp strings, filled with untamed woe;
go deeply, cut to the heart –
For it is there our wounds start. (englyn penfyr)

Release from our lost stronghold
the strength of our hidden soul –
Let it our hearts console. (englyn milwr)

With words forged of the land and sea and sky,
let fly at disbelief;
Give to us no pause for grief,
Without giving, too, relief. (englyn unodl union)

Cleanse our souls with balanced hand,
so we may form a true land;
Purge our unspoken fears and mingled hate
That we may understand (englyn unodl crwca))
our place in this living world:
the grain of sand, and the pearl,
that connects us true and sure
to wisdom’s pure, hidden pool. (englyn proest dalgron)

Bard, give us light, burn us through
until we each have had enough;
for in great darkness we have trod
and now must seek the morning. (englyn lledfbroest)

Give rise to winds and change this weather,
teach us hope, that we can never
let loose of this life’s bright tether –
tell us this gloom won’t last forever. (englyn proest gadwynog)

Softly, let your song uncoil
and fill our eyes with salt tears;
anoint our heroes with oil,
and give them praise through the years. (aydl gywydd)

Gently, play your harp anon,
and give us dreams to build on;
Let there be Music and song
to give us back what is gone: (cywydd deuair hirion)
a rousing tune,
of earth and moon,
to guide us all
from this great fall
and with its song
help us belong. (cywydd deuair fyrion)

If we are young, or aged with years,
if simple, elegant or wise,
far or near, to each one sing
of peace, and harmony give voice,
that our life’s spirit may rejoice,
and see beauty in all things. (cywydd llosgyrnog)

For dark the night
that finds us here,
and none too clear
the path ahead –
Our rage now builds
against cruel fate
and will not wait
for dawn’s bright tread. (rhupunt)

Teach us of patience through this gloom,
our minds are filled with pending doom;
with no compass we cannot steer,
so dark fear rules our broken hearts. (byr a thoddiad)

Remind us of our human need,
to reach out, healing those that bleed;
and our gifts divine,
let us intertwine –
pour your wine;
our souls, feed. (clogyrnach)

For in these dark days, we must all think
that together, we shall stand or sink;
and in these hours, here upon the brink,
there is not time to guess, or to blink –
we must find a well and share this drink,
reach out in brotherhood and relink. (cyhydedd naw ban)

So Bard, speak out strong
your healing in song!
Correct us if wrong
and give us aid.
Sing us your refrain
of joy and of pain,
and help us contain
what fear has made. (cyhydedd hir)

For we must not hide from the coming day,
locked away, far from the living earth;
The whole of humanity must be joined,
and each value the coin of rebirth. (toddaid)

And in your song, Bard, let us be cleansed;
let us see truth anew through your lens.
Help us to seek balance among new friends,
and work as a whole to make amends. (gwadodyn)

For each is to blame for this darkness –
each sees in themselves not a weakness,
but thinks they are chosen, blessed and more,
and justice is left out by the door.
Each border and boundary marks us,
and gives us each excuses for war. (gwaydodyn hir)

So comfort us not with worn, false pretense,
but send us our disenfranchised ones hence,
let us hear their voiced rebel dissent,
and remind us of truths, self-evident –
for we have come too far along this path
using ignorance as our sole defense. (hir a thoddaid)

Then sing ye, Bard, hold back naught –
show us what our seed hath wrought;
this silence will inform us not
of the heart’s cause we forgot.
Show mercy to those who fought;
Give thanks to those who peace brought.
We listen! We who are now caught
and lost in this evil plot. (cyrch a chwta)

We need to hear
where we have strayed;
We are afraid –
you must be strong.
Now, from our fear,
where dreams die hard,
we beg thee, Bard:
release thy song! (tawddgyrch cadwynog)

16 SEP 2001

My last poem of the day reminded me, in its rallying cry to the world’s poets and singers, of a piece that I wrote shortly after the 9/11 tragedy. I am a Druid by religion, a Musician by vocation, a Philosopher by inclination, and a Bard by sheer determination.

While I am far from a reconstructionist (meaning I do not think it practicable or useful to reconstruct the practices of an earlier culture in order to merely mimic the way that that culture approached their spirituality), there are a number of things about the Celtic peoples of the past that to me are very powerful. Primary among these things is that the poets of the Celtic peoples had real influence and a kind of power to direct the culture. People who were able to connect with the spirit of the world and distill that experience in verse, narrative or other poetic means were revered and treasured. I am saddened that in our culture today this is not also the case. But I am hopeful that this too shall pass.

After the tragedy of September 11, I thought it was high time that the bards began to assert their rightful place in helping the healing process, in directing our future evolution, and in guiding those who sought after truth and wisdom. I composed a poem of twenty-four stanzas, with each stanza using a different one of the twenty four “official” Welsh bardic meters, that I hoped would offer some small start in that process. It certainly has focused my attention. I hope that it finds you, singers of songs, and dreamers of dreams, well and in good spirits.

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The Bard Blues

Earlier this year, someone approached with the notion that being a bard was a relatively simple undertaking; of course, I took a small bit of umbrage to that idea, and responded with the following poem:

Who is a bard, who asks, who claims
Such title, such a sorrowed fame?
There are poets, minstrels, clowns
And more that covet bardic crowns,

They’ll study years and not begin
To grasp that song that cries within.
A Bard, why who would want the right
To spend too few a restful night

When chronicle the times he must,
And trace mankind from dust to dust?
The glory, what is that to thee,
When one imprisoned means none free?

The secret language of the bard,
Oft covers pain and life lived hard,
For royal poets all are gone –
We’ve lost the schools, the tools, the songs;

As minstrel singers take the stage,
And style, not substance, is the rage.
Who is a bard, who wants to be?
‘Tis not a role filled easily,

For few can stand to see in mirrors
Their faults beside their wasted years,
While wielding still the two-edged sword
Of pleasing crowd, and self, and lord.

A bard am I, are any here?
‘Tis not a calling, or career,
But endless years of toil and sweat
To write in words, lest all forget;

And still they do, for words will fail,
When there’s a life, who needs a tale?
A bard is more than line and verse,
More than a song for coin in purse –

But more a sacred touching stone,
And oft, for this, he dreams alone,
For passing between death and life
May lose him friend, or work, or wife

Who is a bard? A slave to those
That seek to know why words be chose,
And those who want a glimpse of light,
While they themselves are still in night;

For these, the bard must ply his wares
And speak the truth, tho’ no one cares.
The sacred silence we all find
In doubtful moments, kills the mind

And makes us wonder of the use
For shaping language into noose;
But still we write, because we must
Until we, like our words, are dust.

Summer 2002

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