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The Bard

What Is That Exactly?

What is a “bard”? To be extremely specific, a bard is a type of poet found in Celtic-speaking cultures since the most ancient times, mentioned as characteristic of the Celtic peoples by the Romans and the Greeks. A bard is seen as the voice of the community, the voice of tradition, and his words carry tremendous moral weight. In the past, it was believed that if a bard wrote a satire about you, you could literally die from the black magic power of it. People don't believe that anymore, but real bards still exist in the Gaelic-speaking areas of Ireland and Scotland and in the Welsh-speaking parts of Wales.

To be rather less specific, we could define a bard as one of a class of traditional poets found in cultures all over the world. It is the task of the bard to speak for the community, especially by reminding it of its deepest values through passing on and performing its myths and its epics. It is also the task of the bard to commemorate the important events of the present day, to praise when praise is called for and to condemn when that is needed.

 

We don't really have any bards in modern America, because our poets almost always speak for themselves as individuals. The bard as the poet of the community and its traditions is not really part of our national culture. In the places where the bard does still exist, such as the Hebrides or Siberia, his poetry may not always be up to the highest literary standards. On the other hand, those cultures almost always value poetry much more highly than ours does, and give it a much more honored place in the life of the community.