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December '08 Seminar - Reflections on Sacred Poetry

Posted: 20 Nov 2008, 17:11
by OakWyse
Reflections on Sacred Poetry

Greetings all. I'm honored to provide some food for thought in this December seminar on writing poetry. I'm 61 years old now :old: , and have been writing poetry for about 50 years. Some of you will remember I started a poetry writing forum in the first incarnation of this Board a number of years ago. I've been a Druid Member of OBOD for almost seven years now. My first novel, The Apple and the Thorn, coauthored with Emma Restall Orr, is in print, and available from Thoth Publications in the UK. A second novel, done alone, is due out from Thoth in 2009, titled Marsh Tales and Other Wonders. You can learn more about both at

There once were quite a few of my poems on the OBOD Board, but they've faded away over the years.

So, there follows a brief sketch of what I think poetry is about, including a couple of my own works. Hope you enjoy it, and that we might have a good discussion!

There are eleven (at least) steps in the writing of sacred poetry, all of which are necessary. True, you can write poems without these steps, but they will be some other kind of poem. The steps are:

Life Experience
Specific Experience

The first six steps bring the poem to you. The second five steps take your poem to the world. Note the actual writing of the poem (in first draft) is only one of eleven steps, yet for many people that is the only step ever taken. Having an inspiration and writing it down in a first and only draft is not being a poet, for poetry is not a flight of fancy, it is hard work. The trick is pouring blood, sweat, and tears into a poem, and have it emerge as though it were totally spontaneous!

1. Life Experience

There is a saying among bagpipers: "It takes seven years to make a piper, and seven generations before that." It takes a lifetime to make a poet, and a heritage. You begin by looking at your family heritage and your every waking moment with the eyes of a poet. Every tale you hear and every image you see becomes a part of your poet's soul. Write down the stories of your ancestors as they are told to you. Keep a journal, and at the end of the day make a note of everythhing you experienced that day worthy of a poem. Pick one or two of these, and write a poem about it that you will never show to anyone. Train yourself to see poetically, to think poetically.

2. Specific Experience

As you go about step one, from time to time something you experience with your senses or your thoughts will cry out for closer attention. Focus in on that. Experience it fully. Don't start writing right away, for you have not had the full experience yet! Observe in a disciplined way, involving all the senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste. Do not even make notes at this point. I used to ask people not to take photographs during wedding rituals I conducted. "But how will we remember it?" they would ask. I would reply, "How about really, really paying attention?" At this step you are developing, training, and then using your attention.

3. Reflection

This is when you process the experience or thought that started you off. Turn it over in your mind, explore the experience again. If you've gone off into the forest and had an inspiring exerience, wait until you return home before reflecting. "Seeing again" is another kind of "second sight," and it is vital to the creation of sacred poetry.

4. Inspiration

Note that you have written nothing yet! Out of the reflection, if you have done well to this point, "something" may jump out at you. Or it may not. If not, let the experience simmer at the back of your mind, and go on with life. Perhaps it will call you back later. But if it does, look at it in your mind. In the large cloud of the experience, inspiration is the one bright point of light. It's more than your subject, it is the seed or egg of the poem, the thing in itself which you are moved to write about. Note how this inspiration makes you feel, for that will help determine what sort of poem you will write.

5. Writing

This is the crisis point, fraught with potential and with danger. Some people can sit down at a piano and zip off a brand new melody without thinking. But those people are rare. Most of us trying to do that would produce only noise. Why do we think writing poetry would be any different.

There are key concepts to any poem. And a sidebar to your life experience must be the learning of these concepts. The two most critical are: Rhyme and Metre.
But other things such as length, physical structure, use of language and phrasing, are also important.

"Oh, I can't be bound by such things," you say. "I just like to write free verse." Art is inspiration put in order. Sometimes that "order" may be elusive, even absence, but if it is art it is there.

There is a year of teaching in this step, but a few brief, important points must suffice:

a. Once you pick a mtere or ryhme scheme, keep it! Don't change it in the poem unless there is a really good reason the story demands it! Abandoning a rhyme or metre scheme because you can't make it work in the sixth line is not poetry, it's laziness.

b. Don't poetically invert words just to make the rhyme work. It stands out like a sore thumb. e.g. "I saw a bear outside my tent/but off into the forest it went."

c. You don't have to rhyme just at the end of the line. Internal rhyming can be powerful:

I saw a bear outside my tent
where the forest stood,
when off she went
into the winter wood.

Sometime alliteration is as good as rhyme, but don't overdo it!

Don't try using free verse until after you have experience crafting rhymed and metered poems. Otherwise your "free verse" will sound like a prose paragraph that simply has been broken up into shorter lines.

6. Revision

Your poem will not be good after the first inspired draft. It may look very promising, it may be moving, it may be inspiring. But it won't yet be good. Look at the difference in the Bear Poem in 4b and 4c. The first was an inspiration. The second was a rewrite. Look at what you've written. Does it say what you wanted to say? Does its timing, its sound, convey the feeling you wanted? How can you make it better. This is the step where true poets are made or destroyed?

7. Completion

You've had your inspiation, written it down, and revised it. It may have taken a day, a week, a year. Now is the "yes" moment. The moment you realize it has all come together, and you write it out in a neat and finished form. You get the personal feeling at this point that inexperienced poets try to get at step four! But even at this step you are not finished. Let it sit a bit. It may become real all by itself, or you may need to recycle several of the previous steps and return here all over again. You now have a completed poem ready to make its way into the wide world.

8. Sharing

Some would argue this is the step where a personal set of thoughts finally becomes poetry - when another person experiences your poem for her/himself without you as an intermediary. You have had your experience, done your reflecting, been inspired, crafted your poem. Now you set it free, and it becomes what it will. If you have done a good job, you just might communicate what you wanted. If you have done a superb job, you will communicate that and much more that you haven't yet imagined. If you have been lazy and slipshod in your writing, that is all you will convey.

9. Interpretation

Every poem is reborn in the mind of every reader. The reader now interprets your message for him/herself, bringing to it a wealth of life experiences and ideas that have nothing to do with you! Have you taken an audience into account? For whom were you writing? Did you try to touch their experience with your own? A poet lives in community, not in isolation. At least at this step.

10 & 11. Incorporation & Influence

If you've done your job as a poet, someone will incorporate your message into their own life. If you have been truly inspiring, they will do more than that: lives will be changed, and people will think or act differently because of what you wrote.

Why is this "sacred" poetry? Because you have put your own heart and soul into it. It is more than simply reporting. This is reporting:

"I saw a man upon the stair,
a little man, who wasn't there;
I saw him there again today,"

The fourth line makes it sacred:

"Gee, I wish he'd go away."

It's not the gods that make poetry sacred. It's the poet.

Poems by OakWyse:

Here's one of my favorites, "Sunreturn at the Lake." Note that in this poem there is no real rhyme scheme, and no regular meter. But the rhythm flows in such a way that the poem seems more structured than it really is. The phrasing is very simple, just enough to convey the image.You may recognize that it is based on the Fox in the Druid Animal Oracle. I drew that card once during a morning meditation. Later in the day, after the card had been put away, I wrote the poem. It is about the fox, but a central image is the candle in the window, suggesting the person who stis inside. Note the several contrasts, the repitition of the word soft, and the slowly increasing light from candle to hearth to sun.

Sunreturn at the lake

A single candle
in the darkness of the cottage glows.
Out and about the soft white flakes
of gentle snow descend.

As above the soft, cold
gray of cloud beneath the sky;
So below the hard, cold
gray of winter's ice upon the lake.

but for the soft, soft sound
of falling snow.
And the candle's light.

Across the frozen water,
a bright splash upon a barren shore,
in silent wisdom a fox stands, still . . .
candle-flame reflecting in his dark eyes.
And he senses warmth,
and will not trust the ice.

Quietly, beneath the snow,
around his soft paws the infant snowdrops wait.
It is Imbolc.

A single candle in the darkness of the cottage glows,
and the hearth brightens,
and the Sun will return at last.

(c) 2001 W. William Melnyk (OakWyse)

Here is another, written four years later on Iona, about the Great Fairy Mound on the road to the Bay at the Back of the Ocean. The rhyming is tighter here, and more disciplined, yet still does not follow a specific scheme. Rather, it is used in different ways to highlight ideas. For example, repeating the same rhyme for the last three lines (and indeed the same words in the final two lines) gives the sense of slow-moving eternity that the thought itself conveys.

The Same Old Hill

Whatever name the people used
it always was, I suppose,
the same old hill
and is so still,
not nearly so confused
in thoughtless soil and sod
as those thinking folk who toil
to champion their chosen names
for God.

In the golden days of Lugh
when clan chiefs raced
their horses against his chariot,
sunwise around the grassy base,
‘twas Sithean Mor, Great Fairy Mound,
this place: Home to an ancient godly race.
And when Columba prayed upon its crest,
he a different heavenly host addressed
and called it Hill of Angels,
so to call it blessed.

In truth, it was the same hill all along,
no matter what the words
of prayer or sacred song.
‘Tis only human, I suppose, to ask
if angels or if fae enchant the hill,
but it rises from the rocky land
the same earth, still.
And always will,
and always will.

© OakWyse
29 April 2005

And finally, a couple of stanzas from an epic poem, "The Finding of the Serpentine." Here the rhyme and meter follow a strict pattern, but not at all a conventional one. The proper formatting for these lines is for them to be centered, not left-justified:


Then out at sea in the foaming waves,
in the crashing and heaving swells,
a great form from the sea-bed rose,
and mounted in the Ovate's sight
from height to height in great magnificent display
the Sea itself,
as in the churning waters did appear
the mighty form of Manannan Mac Lir!


Out Oak strode into the sea,
around his ankles broke the chilling waves,
while high above the towering cumulus
was white against the sky;
and high, and high again Mac Lir did rise
above the waves.
Sea-plant was his clothing, hair, and beard,
a gleaming emerald trident in his hand.

(c) 1999 W. William Melnyk (OakWyse)

It goes on for 62 stanzas. The pattern is rough and not slavishly followed, but it is there. The tale is based upon an experience had on Iona at Beltaine of 1999. It was written down the following November. It is part experience, part reflection, part flight of fancy. The whole text can be found here: ... nding.html

A final note for those who share their work: I recommend you not post it on the internet unless you are willing to let it be stolen. It's just too easy to do online, and a (C) at the end will not protect you unless you constantly scour the 'net and have enough m oney to initiate lawsuits! Still, it helps sometimes, and it is a good idea to use a notation like one of those I've used above.

So there it is. I hope you've enjoyed it, and let the discussions begin! :where:

at RavenOak
19 November 2008

Re: December Seminar - Reflections on Sacred Poetry

Posted: 04 Dec 2008, 11:22
by Kat Lady
Thank you, Oakwyse. Do you find there are certain times when inspiration hits you more than others? Anyone that knows me knows my best inspiration happens in the bathtub! :grin:

Re: December Seminar - Reflections on Sacred Poetry

Posted: 04 Dec 2008, 14:11
by OakWyse
Kat Lady wrote:Thank you, Oakwyse. Do you find there are certain times when inspiration hits you more than others? Anyone that knows me knows my best inspiration happens in the bathtub! :grin:
Much of what happens in the bathroom or loo is of a cathartic nature, and therefore enabling of an altered or creative state. Two good places for a notebook are beside the bath and beside the throne.

Avoiding a lengthy foray into bathroom humor :wink: , let's say that catharsis and inspiration go hand in hand. We often miss the best moment for creativity if we assume it's always the moment of the initial experience. The hardest part about poetry can be the waiting for the right moment to write, rather than dashing off something immediately upon witnessing the sunset.

Re: December Seminar - Reflections on Sacred Poetry

Posted: 05 Dec 2008, 12:12
by Fox
Wow, this is terribly brave, to put up a "how to write poetry" seminar! Well done :shake:

I disagree with a lot of what you say, but hey, I've only been writing poetry for 25 years, so I bow to your superiour experience :D

I'm at work right now and can't engage at length, but look forward to sharing some insights and having a civilised discussion :tiphat:

Re: December Seminar - Reflections on Sacred Poetry

Posted: 05 Dec 2008, 15:03
by OakWyse
Hi Fox ~

I'm not sure it's terribly brave :shrug: - poetry is an academic subject like any other in the creative writing field. I think that given two people of equal inspiration, the one with more knowledge is likely to produce the better work. Inspiration cannot be taught, but theory and technique can. That's what the seminar is about.

I'm looking forward to your thoughts, personal experience, and writing when you get the time. Thanks for your comments. :tiphat:


Re: December Seminar - Reflections on Sacred Poetry

Posted: 08 Dec 2008, 08:22
by Eilthireach
Hello OakWyse,

thank you very much for sharing your thoughts with the forum. I think it is a good seminar. It reminds me of two things:

First, it's been a while that I've written my last poem and I miss it. But considering that writing a mid-sized poem (40+ lines) has always taken me up to two weeks, I just don't find the time anymore.

Second, your seminar emphasizes that writing poetry is among other things a matter of discipline. I think this is true. Poetry is partly a gift and partly just honest work. The same might be said about walking on a spiritual path.

With greetings from beneath the Bavarian Alps,

Eilthireach /|\.

Re: December Seminar - Reflections on Sacred Poetry

Posted: 08 Dec 2008, 14:14
by kproefrock
OakWyse wrote:The hardest part about poetry can be the waiting for the right moment to write, rather than dashing off something immediately upon witnessing the sunset.
Thank You, OakWyse, for a very well presented seminar. Your words above hit home for me--I often find myself "too busy" and not writing when the inspiration hits. Too busy with what? I have to ask myself--isn't that creative expression really what it's all about? Your discussion is a wonderful reminder for me, thank you again.


Re: December Seminar - Reflections on Sacred Poetry

Posted: 13 Dec 2008, 15:25
by OakWyse
To give a little kick-start to discussion, how about this:

Folks are invited to post a poem they've written, with a commentary on how the poem came about - the inspiration, considerations during writing, etc., and in what why it is "sacred" for them.


Re: December Seminar - Reflections on Sacred Poetry

Posted: 22 Dec 2008, 14:08
by Alastor
I'm not so sure that I agree, perhaps I don't understand this tradition. I don't think I am capable of writing sacred poetry, I could aim at profound poetry, beautiful poetry etc, but sacred? I can write about a sacred subject for sure. I agree that Poetry could become sacred. However the word sacred seems too powerful, too strong, for something to be sacred it is only attainable over time, by peoples reverence - I'm an outsider, new to this board, and perhaps my understanding of the word is different. In my terms nothing can be constructed that is sacred, unless it is an artefact of a sacred tradition, created in that tradition, or like a tree have that status because of it's nature, and how that nature is viewed in that tradition. So a priest can use a form of ceremony, containing words that are sacred, words to consececrate, water, marriage etc. However the priest would be bound by limits, limits of that form, of that tradition and not free to create at will new wording. Obviously there must have been some origin, but was that spontaneous? Was it crafted? I guess a bit of both, with some development over time. So I contend that to claim to be able to - at will - even with inspiration, refelection, and careful revision, to create sacred poetry is something that needs some justification. It might be (in some personal sense) sacred to the writer, be appreciated by the reader, but more than that? It's a huge claim, there is a danger of such a claim cheapening the traditional, or do I not understand?

Re: December Seminar - Reflections on Sacred Poetry

Posted: 22 Dec 2008, 18:47
by OakWyse
Hi Alastor ~

Good questions and observations. In most faith systems the word "sacred" means something along the lines of "relating to the gods." Sacred poetry, therefore, would be poetry about the gods. It does not refer to the relative spiritual worth of the poem. For the purposes of this seminar, I'm suggesting that a poem "about the gods" need not necessarily refer to any specific god or gods either by name or inference. A poem that appears to be simply about nature, say, may be for the author or the reader sacred poetry. I'm also suggesting that a core requirement for sacred poetry is that it convey something of the author, basing that upon the well-known theological argument that it is impossible to talk about the gods without talking about one's self. (Try it - no matter what you say, it will still be you saying it! It is impossible to discuss god or the gods "as they are in themselves" without reference to humans - no matter how you try to phrase it, you are still a human making a statement about the gods.)

To sum up, for the purposes of this (highly ignored and little contributed to) seminar, "sacred poetry" is poetry that reveals to us something about the author in his/her relationship to the gods in some way. In some ways it is a very broad definition, in some ways quite focused.

So here I am hanging around the campfire :warm: in the cold of a Pennsylvania winter, hoping there may yet be a few more comments :shrug: before the month runs out.

Solstice Blessings,

Re: December Seminar - Reflections on Sacred Poetry

Posted: 22 Dec 2008, 19:02
by kproefrock
OakWyse wrote:To sum up, for the purposes of this (highly ignored and little contributed to) seminar, "sacred poetry" is poetry that reveals to us something about the author in his/her relationship to the gods in some way. In some ways it is a very broad definition, in some ways quite focused.

So here I am hanging around the campfire in the cold of a Pennsylvania winter, hoping there may yet be a few more comments before the month runs out.
Hello Oakwyse,
I, for one, feel sad about the lack of participation with such an important, to me anyway :D , subject. In my previous post, I was regretfully admitting that I was "too busy" and promising myself that I would make more time for such an important endeavor....however, as you can see, I have failed miserably :shrug:

Alastor's comments and your reply triggered an idea in my mind that I have played with for some time regarding interaction with deity. We have at least three orientations towards deity that we can take, this, of course is relatively true of any narrative exercise, that of third person (we talk about Deity), second person (we talk to deity), and first person (deity speaks through us). For me, sacred poetry falls into the first person and second person dialog--that is, it seems to take on a more "real", "living" or "vital" quality.

Most of the poetry that I write that I am comfortable sharing with others has to do more with personal of my personal goals is to regularly allow myself to enter that contemplative place where second person dialog is able to give way to first person "flow".

I don't know if the following piece qualifies as sacred poetry--or even quality poetry, for that matter :wink: but, I can speak to the fact that there was a definite "flow" in my process and for much of its formation, I was able to step back and watch it unfold from me, rather than force it into anything in particular.

Thank you for conducting this seminar, I am finding it valuable :shake:


The Black Dog of Mandragora, reeling with sense of purpose and enlightened horror

Sanity sacrificed, epiphany's price, pulled from the depths of a violated mind and body

Like Mandrake, the stuff of spells, screaming as they are ripped from their Mother

Screams of death, of liberation, dissolution and reunion, part of something greater, part of something Other

Invoking Chinnamasta, severed heads and freedom, erupting from the within to the without

Like a hole in the mind, like a hole in the ground, like a hole in a Mother from which all life crowns

Persephone complex, over the brink, beyond the pale, Oedipal Rex, possessed by Fear, Lust and guilty Fail.

Perpetually alien, personal Hell, compulsively chasing a wounding tale, continual anxiety and overwhelm

Tortured soul, distorted toll, ease ripped apart, thrown abroad, like Osiris' member and the monkey's paw

Unable to live, not content to die, violation's remains, family's pain, leave me alone but don't leave me now.

Abandoned mourning overcompensation, positive bonding internalization, healthy promise objectification....Escape with me this wheel of life, but...stay with me, my longsuffering and pure, resist the solace that is death's lure.

Re: December Seminar - Reflections on Sacred Poetry

Posted: 23 Dec 2008, 01:38
by Beith
Hello there,

Oh come now Oakwyse, 126 views (and rising) is certainly not "largely ignored"! It's just the case that you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink (or contribute a follow up post to something he has read!) People will browse but not necessarily venture a reply - that goes for any post on this board, seminar or otherwise. Also perhaps, given the subject, maybe people feel 'inadequate' to respond on it? Poetry is an art that is elusive for many or not one that they have much experience of, so perhaps that's why comments are not as plentiful as you'd hoped. That said, plenty are reading and indeed there are those of us who have been away for a while and not within access of computers to respond earlier where we'd have liked to. So being in the latter category I hope you don't mind a late incursion to this thread!

For me 'sacred poetry' is embued with the notion of sanctity in word- be it from Christian, Pagan or other spiritual traditions. It is something that is linked to aspects of the divine, whether in praise of, or making supplication to, or rejoicing in the creation of and enjoyment of nature, or being thankful for what is available to one in life. In essence, something akin to a hymn

I would also class the revelatory poetry composed extemporaneously by druids, filid, and other persons trained in it, as 'sacred poetry' as it reveals divine knowledge in poetic form, after a type of 'shamanic rite' of some sort.

Historically, poetry in celtic society was the highest art of all, taught in professional schools of poets along a graded and mentored system of learning and very well paid if one was a good poet of high learning! Certain types of it were pre-requisite for each grade of poet and there are types of rite that involve use of incantatory poetry required of druid and fili.

In a modern day aspect, I agree with you that sacred poetry can also be directed at the personal level - something that you or I or someone else writes that has a meaning that is special and spiritual to the self or indeed to another reader or listener; which may or may not have a directed appeal/relevance to God or "The Gods" as its primary purpose or theme, but touches the heart as something spiritual and meaningful.

As regards the writing of poetry itself, I have found in my own experience that the best poetry I have written, comes in a flood when the feeling is right, as though a tap has been turned on and it courses through the head almost faster than the pen can commit it to the page. A sort of "flood of inspiration" if you will - and I find that this opens up at times of great emotion and heightened feeling and occasionally when completely at peace and in restful stillness. Sometimes when the inspiration comes, it distracts from doing anything else, such that I have to write it down, I cannot concentrate on anything until the poem has taken form. It's as though it forces itself into being made manifest if that's not too strong an analogy. That's just my own experience, but perhaps others may find that as in one of the latter points in your seminar above, that one can work at a poem, crafting it in a smith-like manner, taking time to choose words and revisit it time and again until perfected in one's own eyes and mind. As Yeats would put it in his poem 'Adam's curse' :

....a line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught."

where he reveals the work put into poetry to make great effort seem effortless.

Actually if I may use him for further example -

Like many of his poems,"The Song of the Wandering Aengus" draws heavily on allusion to Irish folklore and mythology in addition to themes of love for a woman called Maud Gonne, who, in this poem, he casts in the image of a shape-shifting fairy woman with 'apple blossom in her hair". The poem uses a fantastic metre so that it pulses like a drum beat when you read or say it aloud. This use of rhyme and metre is a wonderful means of imparting a rhythmic character that is hypnotic in its beat. In earlier times, syllabic count and alliterative sequences were important in doing that in early Irish lyric poetry,before the development or use of more rhyming schema and complex metres. Metres can change within a poem too, as seen in ancient incantatory forms which use different metrical structures in various verses to heighten various passages. This is also done in prose tales, where prophecy or the statements of the characters may be given in rosc, as distinct from the general narrative so that drama is emphasized or the supernatural content of passages is heightened. This I believe is also a features of ancient Hindu myth takes, where poetic pieces are interspersed with narrative for the same purpose.

As you point out above, consideration of a metrical scheme can make a huge difference to a poem, particularly one that is written as a 'sacred poem' and especially those that are meant for reciting rather than reading - praise poems to be uttered aloud, poems of prayer or plea and those that are for incantation, perhaps as part of a rite.

Giving the example of the effect of metre in Yeat's "The Song of the wandering Aengus":

I went out to the hazel wood,
because a fire was in my head,
and cut and peeled a hazel wand,
and hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
and moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in the stream
and caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire aflame,
but something rustled on the floor,
and someone called me by my name:

It had become a glimmering girl
with apple-blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
and kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass
and pluck 'til time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

When I read or say that poem, it feels alive to me, like the drum-beat of a bodhrán or a pulse in the vein. I perhaps would not call it sacred poetry in the sense of appeal to or relation to the divine, although certainly aspects of it have a supernatural and mythical appeal – the hazel wand, the notion of “Fire in the head” which comes from an ancient celtic wellspring of thought regarding inspiration and supernatural gift and echoes a line in the “Song of Amergin”; the poet being beside a stream at night – a liminal place and time. Then the hooking of a trout in a manner reminiscent of the tale of ‘the salmon of knowledge’. Then there’s the idea of shape-shifting from the form of a fish to a fairy woman, a “glimmering girl” - the apple-blossom itself a supernatural emblem and she eludes him and fades into the distance. His reference to “hollow lands and hilly lands” perhaps to the raths and mounds of Ireland that he was so fond of – places that are associated with the sidhe folk that Yeats was so given to wandering in his pursuit of encounters with the “good people”. The golden and silver apples, perhaps echoing the “apples of the Hesperides” that were supposed to give immortality and sustenance to those who took a bite from them, apples of the otherworld are mentioned in several old tales. That sort of drum-beat trancelike metre together with clever use of metaphor and spiritual/mythological allusion creates poems that touch the soul rather than the mind I think.

Although the style is very different, I recall the same feeling in your poem “Sun return at the lake” – there is a quiet stillness to that poem that evokes images and feelings of imbolc and a sense of the spiritual is held within. It is very beautiful and it conjures up a little of the magic of that time for those who read it. That was my impression when I first read it and it is my lasting impression still.

Another from Yeats to return to the effect of metre coupled with mythos:

“The hosting of the sidhe”
To explain terminology at the outset for those unfamiliar with it: A ‘hosting’ is the translation of the Old Irish word slógad and it pertains to the riding out of a group of people – usually an army in pursuit of something eg. Battle, lands, cattle raid. A hosting has the notion of an objective to be achieved, a conquest of something, a band of warriors riding out for a given purpose. Here the fairy folk (áes síde, later sídhe) led by Caoilte mac Rónáin of the Fíanna and Níamh, a fairy woman, are riding out with a group of fairy folk, from the cairn of Medb (Queen Maeve) at Knocknarea in Sligo, western Ireland. Folklorically, the sídhe were to be feared when on such a journey as it was believed that they travelled on a fairy wind, on horseback, out of the great mounds in which they dwelt, and sometimes would not return alone, having taken a human back with them. It’s not so long ago when people, older people especially, would bless themselves at the site of a small whirlwind of leaves blowing on the street, believing it to be a passing host of “sídhe” (pron. “shee”))

The Hosting of the Sídhe

The host is riding from Knocknarea
Over the grave of Clooth-na-Bare;
Caoilte tossing his burning hair,
And Níamh calling Away, Come Away:
Empty your heart of its mortal dream.
The winds awaken, the leaves whirl round,
Our cheeks are pale, our hair is unbound,
Our breasts are heaving, our eyes are agleam,
Our arms are waving, our lips are apart;
And if any gaze on our rushing band,
We come between him and the deed of his hand,
We come between him and the hope of his heart.

The host is rushing ‘twixt night and day,
And where is there hope or deed as fair?
As Caoilte tossing his burning hair
And Níamh calling Away, Come Away.

Here, if you read the poem with increasing speed in the italicized section, it reads as a breathy, charging pulse, conjuring up the image of the host, rushing out. Again, a liminal setting is given for the fairy host – between things – in this case, between night and day and out from a burial mound. Níamh is portrayed as the enchantress, enticing a human to “come away” with them, more by enchantment than a person’s own desire. Their look is ethereal, unearthly, pale skin, wild tresses unbound, shining eyes and a wild abandon in the joy of their hosting – waving arms, mouths open in excitement, heaving breasts with breathless fury of pursuit. The lines “we come between him and….” have an ominous tone…the fairy host can and will overtake and override the actions of a human, nullifying his deed or his will as they exert their own in the taking of a person. This belief was very strong in Ireland and the notion was that people could be taken away into the fairy mounds by the side-folk; sometimes leaving a changeling – an unhealthy fairy creature in the likeness of the stolen person; or sometimes they could be released through the actions of a “Fairy Doctor”, a human who had certain powers or knowledge of the fairy world to enable them to gain back the stolen one. Again, the strong supernatural images, together with a breathless, urging, rushing metre in the middle section create a vibrant poem of supernatural content and thrumming rhythm.

I think I’ve taken up enough “floorspace” with some musings and “wanderings” of my own!
I very much enjoyed the seminar topic and I’m sure many others did too, even if they have not too much to say on it at present!

(Kenneth - some powerful stuff there!)

best wishes,

Just a note to all reading – the seminars go into an open “Seminar Attic” forum where you can continue discussions there after each one has its month’s “hosting” (of another sort) on this page of the board. Please feel free to continue posting comments/questions or thoughts on any of the topics, either here in Discuss Druidry or in the “seminar attic” forum

Re: December Seminar - Reflections on Sacred Poetry

Posted: 23 Dec 2008, 08:22
by illion
Dear, OakWyse :)

I would like to applaud you for a wonderful seminar :applause:
I have been reading and following this thread in awe. I have not made any comments to it because I don't feel that I know enough about it to come up with anything worthy. What do I know of "sacred poetry"? Absolutely nothing. What do I know of poetry at all? Not very much, I will have to say.

But I feel that I know a lot more now, after I read this seminar. I actually found out that I am a sort of a poet in my own terms :oops: Probably not the kind of poet that most people think of when they talk about poets, but I think I am a pretty good one for those I perform.

I am an intuitive counsellor, and I write when I work. It is a sort of channeling and the words that come down on paper is my written interpretations of the feelings and thoughts that I get while I'm tapping into the flow of inspiration. Before I can reach the inspiration I have to be in the right state of mind, just like Beith said in her last post ;)

Sometimes I think that it is hard to find the right words for the feelings I get. It's like I know what it is, but I can't describe it. Now you really inspired me to try to practice more on the writing.

Thank you, OakWyse :)


Re: December Seminar - Reflections on Sacred Poetry

Posted: 23 Dec 2008, 10:27
by Alastor
Well I think I understand a little better. I read your poem kproefrock , and I understood something. I refected a little on OakWyse's words...
OakWyse wrote: I'm also suggesting that a core requirement for sacred poetry is that it convey something of the author, basing that upon the well-known theological argument that it is impossible to talk about the gods without talking about one's self. (Try it - no matter what you say, it will still be you saying it! It is impossible to discuss god or the gods "as they are in themselves" without reference to humans - no matter how you try to phrase it, you are still a human making a statement about the gods.)
And thought of it from the flip side, that when you read or listen to sacred poetry you interpret in a similar way, through your own sytem / understanding. And I realised that in reading kproefrock's poem there was a resonance with aspets of myself in some lines. I also agree that my best poetry comes in times of great stress or emotion, somehow I think it allows unconcious thought ( perhaps thought is not the right word) to bypass all the filters our conscious mind uses to hide our fundamental nature. When poetry is truly powerful I think there has to be an element of that present. Maybe it is a kind of channelling. I love poetry that has rythm, that has pace, and I feel that it is an important part - well for me. I was taught that poetry ought to be free of that need, I'm not sure. I think poetry should not be too closely defined, but it is a skill, and I'm sure it can be taught.

I read with interest Beith's comments on Yeats, I'm glad I did, it was written clearly, and gave me insight, often I've read lines and not understood, I need to know more, but thanks, I followed what you wrote. I knew that Yeats had been involved with the Golden Dawn, I knew he'd written their rituals, but I've never read any extracts. Do they exist? I would be interested to read parts, It would definitely be interesting to see. For me one thing I must do is read folklore / mythology if I am too get even half of the allusions, and I guess that's where I'm going to leave off. Thanks again, an interesting thread.

Re: December Seminar - Reflections on Sacred Poetry

Posted: 23 Dec 2008, 14:37
by OakWyse
illion wrote:
What do I know of "sacred poetry"? Absolutely nothing. What do I know of poetry at all? Not very much, I will have to say.
Illion ~

As you noted just after the above quotation, you know more about poetry than you thought you did! To be human is to be a poet. And to be a poet is to enter the realm of the sacred.

Perhaps what confuses is that there are indeed two aspects of poetic creativity: inspiration, and craft. Inspiration is a gift, and is available to all (though perhaps more appreciated by those who predispose themselves to "see," and missed by those who go through life with spiritual blinders on.) Craft, on the other hand, is taught and learned. It is much like a dancer, who has an innate sense of flow and rhythm, yet also studies dance steps. Or a musician who "hears" and plays wonderful melodies, yet also learns to read and compose music, and studies music theory. Or a lover who revels in the inexpressable wonder of a relationship, yet also labors to learn all there is to know about the beloved.

Beith expressed this so well in her post above. It is clear she values the unplanned moment of inspiration as vital to her poetry. Yet one cannot read Beith for long without realizing the vast wealth of learning she has amassed in her lifetime. A beautiful expression of the dance of Inspiration and Craft. What we know, said Kant, is always a combination of the experience of what's actually "out there," and the intellectual and emotional filters that experience passes through in our minds before we realize we are thinking about it. Beith's study of Yeats (a poem in itself :idea: ) of Irish poetry in general, even of Ogham, informs her innate artistic ability and she is a better poet for that.

Many thanks for the responses,

Re: December Seminar - Reflections on Sacred Poetry

Posted: 23 Dec 2008, 15:57
by City Druid
Thank you for your seminar, Oakwise you have inspired me to try harder with my poetery.

I do not class myself as a poet in anyway or form, though I do enjoy trying to put my feelings and experiences into poetry, i wouldnt say my poetry i very good as on averege it only takes me about half an hour to write one, though they are quite personal to me but somtimes i think its only me who knows what i am trying to exspress.

your seminar has inspired me and hope in future to be able to write poems that others can relate to.


Re: December Seminar - Reflections on Sacred Poetry

Posted: 23 Dec 2008, 16:08
by OakWyse
Hi Tim ~

Would you like to pick one of your poems to work on with me one-on-one? I'd not tell you how to edit or rewrite it, but work with you to come up with suggestions? You are likely a better poet than you think!


Re: December Seminar - Reflections on Sacred Poetry

Posted: 23 Dec 2008, 23:35
by City Druid
Thanks Oakwyse
but I wouldnt really no where to start, most of my poetry is on the poetry forum
feal free to browse through, any advise will gladly welcomed as i do feal my poetry lacks abit of structure.