In the ancient tradition of epic poetry starting with the Babylonian tale of Gilgamesh, the Vedic tale of the Mahabharata, Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey, and to Virgil’s Aeneid, The Parliament of Poets by Frederick Glaysher provides the reader with a modern-day epic poem. The form shaped by Greco-Roman standards, developed and grew as we find in Dante Alighieri’s Inferno Canto, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and later in Lord Byron’s Don Juan, John Milton’s Paradise Lost, and the Spanish epic, El Cid. Twentieth Century epic poems include: The Cantos by Ezra Pound, Maximus by Charles Olson, Paterson by William Carlos Williams, and The Moon Says I Love You by Frank Stafford. Others who wrote in epic poetry style include Robinson Jeffers, who wrote from his life and perspective of mid-20th Century life in Big Sur, California, and H. Doolittle, who wrote of life in London during the late stages of WWII.
One of the features of epic poetry is an opening plea to the hero’s muse. The opening line from Homer’s Odyssey, begins:
“Tell me, O muse, of that ingenious hero who travelled far and wide after he had sacked the famous town of Troy.”
John Milton’s first words in Paradise Lost are “Of Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit/Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste/ Brought Death into the World, and all our woe.”
Twentieth Century poet, H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), epic poem, Trilogy, written in the latter stages of WWII, narrates life and the major themes of living through, recovering from, and redefining and rebuilding from the tragedies living through war. She wrote, “we have no map; / possibly we will reach haven, / heaven.”
In the 21st Century, poets form the bridge between the ancient past, the recent past and the world of the future. Poet, Frederick Glaysher serves to erect a bridge that extends beyond the Earth’s surface, to depict the human condition through the eyes, lips, and hearts of all the poets from all the ages of our history in his book, The Parliament of Poets. In the ancient tradition of epic poetry, The Parliament of Poets stands as one step in the bridge between the past and life as it unfolds in the 21st Century.
In the 20th Century, we humans had the first opportunity to view ourselves from a perspective beyond our earthly limits. It seems fitting that a parliament of poets from all cultures, all times, and all perspectives would meet on the moon at this time in history. In Book One of this twelve book epic, we discover that the Greek god, Apollo, has called all the poets of all times and nations together to consult on the meaning of modernity. Author, Frederick Glaysher, who has magically been transported to the surface of the Moon, begins his journey in the classic style of the epic poet, addressing his Muse:
“O Muse, O Maid of Heaven, O Circling Moon,
O lunar glory of the midnight sky,
I call on thee to bless thy servant’s tongue,
descend upon thy pillar of light,
moonbeam blessings, that from my mouth
may pour out at least a fraction of the love
I hold for thee, sweet blessings, for service
to God’s creation, and His Creative Word,
the Bible’s thundering verses, Brahma
of the Upanishads, Allah, the Compassionate,
Buddha’s meditative mystery,
Confucius and the Dao. ”
Here Glaysher lays out the journey before his reader, as he sets out on this epic journey to the Moon. Beyond these first lines, we travel with the epic poem’s narrator, the Persona.
An epic poem is meant to lead the reader/listener on a long serious narrative of an event or major challenge or issue that a society, group, or humankind in general face. We are meant to follow the trials and tribulations of the hero—the one who represents all of society or some characteristic aspect of a particular group—on the hero’s journey to redeem, save, restore, or create a solution for the whole of humankind. In The Parliament of the Poets, the journey involves the hero, in this case, called the Persona. The Parliament called by Apollo, is set on the Moon at the site of the 1969 Apollo Landing, the Sea of Tranquility. From there, he is magically transported by a guide to the seven continents where he is to learn from the masters of the spiritual traditions and the poets.
In the classic epic poem, the hero suffers many challenges, meets many obstacles, and experiences what Joseph Campbell described as the Hero’s journey, wherein the hero is called to a journey. In the case of Glaysher, he seems to have been called on July 21, 1969, when he first watched the blurry black and white television transmission of the first manned lunar landing on the Earth’s Moon. As a 15-year old adolescent boy, Glaysher’s journey began long before he wrote of his Persona standing before the nine muses at the Sea of Tranquility many years later. This hero’s journey reflects the changes that he, as a man in this culture, experienced, of the vast wealth of knowledge and experience that helped shape his own life and that of his Persona in this epic poem.
At some point in the Hero’s journey, one has the choice of accepting the challenge or not. Glaysher accepted the challenge in spite of the overwhelming struggle that it entailed. He expresses his sense of being in awe with what he has gathered and brought with him to the Moon meeting. The Persona comes into contact with the sum total of all his own learning, all the poets, ideas, traditions, mythology, and lore that have formed his life, his questions, and his present quest. The Persona realizes initially that he feels out of his depth being in the presence of so many other poets, from the moment he finds himself in being led by Cervante’s Don Quixote, who greets him,
“So you’ve finally made it up here.
What’s taken you so long?
Don’t give me any of your excuses.
We’ve all been waiting for you.”
At this point, the gathering of allies takes place, as is necessary in any heroic journey. The journey, the calling, the greeting, and the gathering are all the threshold experiences one has in preparation for a larger quest. In this case, the quest seems to be the total emergence of a lifetime of learning now being brought to the surface through the character of the Persona who is to be tested, challenged, and tried to determine how well his powers of discernment and his processing of knowledge have enabled him to glean the meaning he seeks.
The Persona and Glaysher’s quest to discover the meaning of modernity against the backdrop of all the world’s treasures of scientific thought and discovery, philosophic and spiritual traditions, information and technological innovation, and humanity’s historical and collective experiences and dilemmas, places the Persona on the path of 21st Century humankind—the path to discover meaning, purpose, and existential salvation for a flawed and wounded world. At the threshold of his journey, the Persona realizes his challenge, and from there the adventure begins.
A hero must meet obstacles, and in the case of the Persona, the obstacles are both internal and external—very Jungian is our hero. The quest for individuation or the coming together in wholeness, is evident as we, the readers/listeners follow the trials and travels of our hero. In the case of the Persona, much of the struggle and the obstacles relate to whether or not he can find his way or know himself. The obstacles include his own fear, angst, lack of trust, and desire to understand, but not sure what he is meant to do, be, or learn. He is introduced to the different cultures he is to learn from and taken into their tribal rituals and initiations. The narratives of the tribes are told in sacred time and space—in ceremonies, the rituals of Dream time and awakenings. The Persona’s role is to look for the thread that links and connects all—past to present, near to far, one group to all others. The story is further narrated to add the names of those more recent to the voyagers, explorers, and to come up with the new questions that will lead the hero/Persona forward on his journey.
Repeatedly, the Persona returns to the Moon to meet with the parliament and to receive further instructions. The Return is part of the hero’s journey, and in this case, the ultimate Return seems to be happening on the Persona’s quest to find meaning and purpose within, through experiencing how his knowledge, ability to use his words, and capacity for understanding provide him with the inspiration and connections he needs, as when tasked in Book IV by Krishna to use his gift of poetry to come out of the darkness of his own confusion and fear:
“You are the poet; where’s the poem?
You bear a vision; where is its rendition?
You have a song; sing it for us?
Let go of the outcome; detach yourself.
You have a duty; where is the action?
Cast away all desire and fear.
You know the asuras; when will you slay them?
Do your duty; leave the rest to God.”
Traditionally, epic poems were meant to be read or sung aloud, and passed along from one generation to the other, in the honored tradition of oral culture. One way to taste the fruit of this epic poem, is to read it aloud, for then the essence of the Persona’s inner struggle becomes even more apparent. After trembling and bemoaning his inability to understand what he must do next after realizing how paralyzed he has become in the face of such greatness, the Persona recognizes, through his muse, the Moonlight Goddess, that her ‘love is the essence of [his] devotion.”
The Persona seems to envision his mission finally, “Deep in my heart I reflected on what / had transpired, vowing to find some way / to convey it to the world, if life and time / should be granted to me by the gods.” Finding the question at the heart of modern humankind’s quest—how can I use my precious gifts to express myself and serve others? How can I bring something of purpose, worth, and meaning into being, through this life I have been privileged to live?
In Book Five, the Persona, when called by Guan-Yin (Kwan Yin) understands he has been called to ‘harmonize the nine schools”—a seemingly impossible task. We poets feel called to do so much with so little, and this is the Persona’s mission. As the Persona continues being taken from one continent, culture, and age to another, the sense of timelessness and the past always being present, continues to confound the Persona. When brought before China’s leading poet, Du Fu, the Persona is humbled by the vastness and complexity of his journey and quest. The struggles taxing him, the Persona still seeks to understand to accept the journey. Led by the master poet, Du Fu, who tells the Persona,
“Every time has its duty.
One feels care and worry for it. I was
driven by the troublesome times.
How to advise and guide aright the emperor,
was all my thought, loyalty, and duty,
humane thought and action, through my poems
in the end. Retirement from the world,
I had to put it off....
Our office is like that of a monk,
but we poets cannot get free of the yoke,
and so I left this place, as you, too, must.”
At the end of this encounter with Du Fu, the Persona laments,
“Despair pulls me down.
Duty pulls me back up, telling me to push on.
I know it’s not about me, but their suffering,
terror, at how much worse it could, might, will be.”
The existential angst and struggles that a poet experiences, are based on the deep, emotional connection and feeling that one has to those who capture the poet’s compassion and empathy. To use one’s words to capture some of what is needed to heal, repair, explain, or discover answers, solutions, or peaceful ways to mend what is broken, is the work of the poet. This epic poem, The Parliament of the Poets, explores the search we humans have for meaning in our lives, for connection and understanding of the mysterious, unknown, or different. We, the readers and listeners, accompany the hero, the Persona on his quest for meaning. For a poet the way is to discover how to express the meaning of the power of a mountain into a single sentence or word picture. For us, the quest may come in other modes, forms, or means.
In the fourth and final trip back to the Moon and the Parliament, the Poet of the Moon, the Persona, our hero, arrives with the desire to do his part to annihilate the dark forces with greater awareness of Unity, oneness as illuminated through the Moon by the Sun, and viewed and experienced by all on Earth. We all see the same Moon, the same Sun, and we are all united on so many levels. Science cannot function apart from thought, reason, and spirit. None stands alone. In the final analysis, the journey to find meaning is one. The Poet of the Moon is told by Mbeku, the Flying African tortoise,
“First you must
go on one last voyage, alone, by yourself.
No one can accompany you on this journey.
No guide can lead you. The test is yours alone,
to pass or fail, understand or despair.
Are you ready for it? Only you can choose,
and you may reject it. I will take you back
to Earth, if you prefer.”
Again, and again, as we wind our way through the heroic journey, we have the choice—to go on, to despair, or to return to a place which we choose not to go back to. What choice do we have? Once we have the wisdom, we cannot unlearn it except through some tragedy or loss of consciousness.
In this epic poem, not meant to be devoured at one meal, we bite into a long, profound journey of conscious, intentional searching, and all the obstacles, struggles, conflicts, and dilemmas we face when seeking for the essence of meaning, purpose, and Truth. In the final book as the Persona stands in the presence of the Parliament, he talks of his motivation:
“I’ve done this…not for myself,
but for service to the great Traditions
you yourselves served, what is human,
what is worthy of the human being,
the glories of the soul.”
In the end the hero is called to task, one most of us understand when we have completed some major life feat, task, or journey:
“You must earn [the laurel]
...there by returning, remembering,
writing it down there, for the people, reaching
and touching their hearts through words of poetry,
a vision that they know as, and call, their own."
We started this review of The Parliament of Poets by looking at the first line—the Persona’s address to his muse. We end it with the last few lines of this heroic journey.
“We were not alone. We all felt it.
The Love of the Unseen Essence, encircling us.
We were wrapped in the arms of the universe.
We gazed above the foliage at our home,
the Earth, a round hoop of beauty, dancing
across an endless field of space and stars.”
Frederick Glaysher’s epic poem takes the reader on a narrative journey that has been called a “literary masterpiece” (New Consciousness Review), “a great epic poem of startling originality” (CKCU Literary News), and “Very readable, intriguingly enjoyable, and a masterpiece that will stand the test of time” (Poetry Cornwall). It is an epic poem in the tradition of great narrative poetry, told from the perspective of one man touched by a world that changed before his eyes, and who sought to explore both the world at large (ancient and modern) and the world evolving within him as a Poet of the Moon.
For biographical information, visit Frederick Glaysher's Website to learn more about his work.