Tales of Bards

And there are among them composers of verses whom they call Bards; these singing to instruments similar to a lyre, applaud some, while they vituperate others. - Diodorus Siculus Histories 8BCE

A general definition of a bard is a professional oral story teller, verse-maker and music composer, employed by a patron (such as a monarch or noble), to commemorate one or more of the patron's ancestors and to praise the patron's own activities. Bards were found the Ancient Celts, Irish, English, Welsh and Scottish peoples. The word bard is of Celtic derivation.

It is significant to note that Medieval History was not written but rather passed by word of mouth from one generation to another. Celt myths and Welsh legends carried the origins of the stories of King Arthur and the Arthurian Legend.

The Ancient Celtic Bards had their own privileged society. They were exempt from taxes and military service. They were believed to be closely tied to God singing His praises while celebrating the victories of the people, therefore, they held a very important and powerful influence. Their importance carried over through heredity. In most cases, a bard had to undergo a lengthy apprenticeship in order to acquire the necessary skills needed to serve. There were two classes of medieval bards: the bard Teulu who was part of the king’s official household, and the pencerdd who were the heads of the bardic fraternity in the area.

According to John Michael Greer:

“Bards were required to memorize a great deal of poetic and mythological lore in order to complete training … In many Druidic orders and traditions, the grade of Bard is one of the levels of initiation, either first or second in a sequence that culminates in rank of Druid.”

In Druidry, Bardic schools consisted of a Chief Poet and attendants. A good memory served a novice well since all leaning was rote. Old records show that sensory deprivation was also employed as poems and stories were incubated, Tribe genealogy memorized and other-worldly inspiration sought. This meant much time spent in solitude under sparse accommodations.

A brief rehash summary of schooling from druidry.org:

Year One: The student progresses from Principle Beginner [Ollaire] to Poet's Attendant [Tamhan] to Apprentice Satirisist [Drisac]. They learn the basics of the bardic arts: grammar, twenty stories and the Ogham tree-alphabet.

Years Two – Five: Learning ten stories and an unspecified number of poems per year is required along with dozens of philosophy lessons, extensive ogham combinations, dipthongal combinations, The Law of Privileges and various uses of grammar.

Year Six known as a Pillar (Cli): Study of 48 poems and 20 more stories

In years 1-6, students were allowed to carry a bronze branch.

Years Seven – Nine known as Noble Stream (Anuth): Learning 95 tales while studying prosody, glosses, prophetic invocation, the styles of poetic composition, and specific poetic forms. In Ireland, learning place/names of the country was required. Student is allowed to carry silver branch.

Years Ten – Twelve: Ten, study of further poems and compositions, Eleven, 100 poems, Twelve, 120 orations and four arts of poetry. Student becomes Ollamh, Doctor of Poetry and is allowed to carry a gold branch.

During the Dark Ages, bards were inspirational to the people as they faced their hardships. Unfortunately, after a time, this encouragement was regarded with suspicion and thought of as degenerate and rebellious much like today’s tabloids.  During the 12th and 13th century, having bards as part of the king’s household were no longer practiced, thus greatly affecting their position in society especially after the end of native rule.

As the bards began to become regulated and subject to various laws, they were replaced by troubadours and minstrels. Minstrels were primarily traveling minstrels and troubadours were composers who performed lyric poetry.

O Hear the voice of the Bard
Who present, past and future sees
Whose ears have heard the holy Word
That walked among the ancient trees...

William Blake, First Song of Experience


The Immortal Bard - by Isaac Asimov

"Oh, yes," said Dr. Phineas Welch, "I can bring back the spirits of the illustrious dead."

He was a little drunk, or maybe he wouldn't have said it. Of course, it was perfectly all right to get a little drunk at the annual Christmas party.

Scott Robertson, the school's young English instructor, adjusted his glasses and looked to right and left to see if they were overheard. "Really, Dr. Welch."

"I mean it. And not just the spirits. I bring back the bodies, too."

"I wouldn't have said it were possible," said Robertson primly.

"Why not? A simple matter of temporal transference."

"You mean time travel? But that's quite - uh - unusual."

"Not if you know how."

"Well, how, Dr. Welch?"

"Think I'm going to tell you?" asked the physicist gravely. He looked vaguely about for another drink and didn't find any. He said, "I brought quite a few back. Archimedes, Newton, Galileo. Poor fellows."

"Didn't they like it here? I should think they'd have been fascinated by our modern science," said Robertson. He was beginning to enjoy the conversation.

"Oh, they were. They were. Especially Archimedes. I thought he'd go mad with joy at first after I explained a little of it in some Greek I'd boned up on, but no-no-"

"What was wrong?"

"Just a different culture. They couldn't get used to our way of life. They got terribly lonely and frightened. I had to send them back."

"That's too bad."

"Yes. Great minds, but not flexible minds. Not universal. So I tried Shakespeare."

"What?" yelled Robertson. This was getting closer to home.

"Don't yell, my boy," said Welch. "It's bad manners."

"Did you say you brought back Shakespeare?"

"I did. I needed someone with a universal mind; someone who knew people well enough to be able to live with them centuries away from his own time. Shakespeare was the man. I've got his signature. As a memento, you know."

"On you?" asked Robertson, eyes bugging.

"Right here." Welch fumbled in one vest pocket after another. "Ah, here it is."

A little piece of pasteboard was passed to the instructor. On one side it said: "L. Klein & Sons, Wholesale Hardware." On the other side, in straggly script, was written, "Willm Shakesper."

A wild surmise filled Robertson. "What did he look like?"

"Not like his pictures. Bald and an ugly mustache. He spoke in a thick brogue. Of course, I did my best to please him with our times. I told him we thought highly of his plays and still put them on the boards. In fact, I said we thought they were the greatest pieces of literature in the English language, maybe in any language."

"Good. Good," said Robertson breathlessly.

"I said people had written volumes of commentaries on his plays. Naturally he wanted to see one and I got one for him from the library."

"And?"

"Oh, he was fascinated. Of course, he had trouble with the current idioms and references to events since 1600, but I helped out. Poor fellow. I don't think he ever expected such treatment. He kept saying, 'God ha' mercy! What cannot be racked from words in five centuries? One could wring, methinks, a flood from a damp clout!'"

"He wouldn't say that."

"Why not? He wrote his plays as quickly as he could. He said he had to on account of the deadlines. He wrote Hamlet in less than six months. The plot was an old one. He just polished it up."

"That's all they do to a telescope mirror. Just polish it up," said the English instructor indignantly.

The physicist disregarded him. He made out an untouched cocktail on the bar some feet away and sidled toward it. "I told the immortal bard that we even gave college courses in Shakespeare."

"I give one."

"I know. I enrolled him in your evening extension course. I never saw a man so eager to find out what posterity thought of him as poor Bill was. He worked hard at it."

"You enrolled William Shakespeare in my course?" mumbled Robertson. Even as an alcoholic fantasy, the thought staggered him. And was it an alcoholic fantasy? He was beginning to recall a bald man with a queer way of talking....

"Not under his real name, of course," said Dr. Welch. "Never mind what he went under. It was a mistake, that's all. A big mistake. Poor fellow." He had the cocktail now and shook his head at it.

"Why was it a mistake? What happened?"

"I had to send him back to 1600," roared Welch indignantly. "How much humiliation do you think a man can stand?"

"What humiliation are you talking about?"

Dr. Welch tossed off the cocktail. "Why, you poor simpleton, you flunked him."