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Esther Cameron
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THE BARD LIADAN, OR PERHAPS ONE OF THE RISHIS, CONSIDERS THE INFORMATION OF A TIME-TRAVELER

 

                                                The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars

                                                            But in ourselves, that we are underlings.

                                                                                                         -- Shakespeare.

 

Let me be certain I have understood you.

You tell me that you have no guilds of bards

pledged to convene and sing to one another

in sacred measures of what has transpired

between the full and dark, the dark and full,

each offering the fragments of their vision

until an image of the hour take shape,

which the most skilled then set before the people

to put them on their guard against the guileful

and rectify the laws and names of things;

that poets vie in speaking idle words,

promising nothing, making nothing happen;

that for their labors most have no reward

save to be printed on a page perused

by none, except their rivals studious

of the judge’s mind, that they too may be printed?

Ochone, the harp of concord thus untuned

and bardcraft made into a trade for fools!

It is the dark age you must live in surely,

the age our eldest bards foretold last solstice

in such a cold as no one could recall.

 

But, traveler, if you hear me, as I you,

And if your well of wit is not quite dry,

will you not now return and tell your comrades

the time has come to win word’s honor back,

reforge the canon and the sacred forms,

reconvene the counsels of the wise,

send forth your strongest voices to beseech

the people to return to reason’s measure?

The words of all who do this will be deeds,

worthy of space in the memory of the gods;

the rest is vanity, the trash of time

which time will sweep away.

 

THE POET TO HER COLLEAGUE

 

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.

 

WRITER’S PLACE

 

We do not come to read here in the pride

of being chosen by those arbiters

who on whatever basis may decide

this person's poem is better, another's worse.

We write because we must; we come to read

because the heart must speak its mind, or break;

and, recognizing one another's need,

each with attention hears the other speak.

It is a humble thing, a humble place,

but greatest things spring from humility --

as the Tao says, the central empty space

give the vessel its utility;

and we may yet be, if we hold this dear,

our city's heart and mind, its mouth and ear.

 

***

INVITATION

 

We gather here to see

faces from which we need not hide our face,

to hear the sound of honest speech, to share

what dreams have etched upon the sleeping brain,

what the still voice has said, when heavy hours

plunged us to regions of the mind and life

not mentioned in the marketplace: to find

and match the threads of common destinies,

designs grimed over by our thoughtless life --

A sanctuary for the common mind

we seek.  Not to compete, but to compare

what we have seen and learned, and to look back

from here upon that world where tangled minds

create the problems they attempt to solve

by doubting one another, doubting love,

the wise imagination, and the word.

For, looking back from here upon that world,

perhaps ways will appear to us, which when

we only struggled in it, did not take

counsel of kindred minds, lay undiscovered;

perhaps, reflecting on the Babeled speech

of various disciplines that make careers,

we shall find out some speech by which to address

each sector of the world's fragmented truth

and bring news of the whole to every part.

We say the mind, once whole, can mend the world.

To mend the mind, that is the task we set.

How many years?  How many lives?  We do not know;

but each shall bring a thread.

 

 

***

 

 

 

INSTRUCTIONAL VERSES (THE PATH OF SONG)

 

Those who desire 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!

 

 

***  

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 knowledge;

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