David Whyte is a poet. I’d even say Bard, with that word’s ancient meaning.

David Whyte

David Whyte

When I say I’ve been with him, went to hear him, or admire his work, most people look quizzical, make the remark, “I don’t understand modern poetry.” Another variation is, “Poets today are too obscure.” I’m eager to make my next film and recently proposed to the two men who have sponsored past films, one at PBS and other at Channel 4 in London, that I go on a long canoe trip with David Whyte…..that the conversation would be worthwhile, make an interesting film. We sat together at the same London cafe Table. They didn’t  know David, and asked who he was. When I said, a poet, they spoke simultaneously, almost in alarm: “A Poet?” I felt small. They said, “Look, Rob, if you want to take Michelle Obama, or a Kardashian, we’d be interested.” 

I’d like to prove them wrong.

David Whyte is a successful poet. He self-publishes through Many Rivers Press. He travels constantly. He makes his living by poetry. He takes poetry into corporations. He can charm an audience of three, three hundred, or eighteen hundred. He is a master at creating intimacy.  He receives little attention form the academic community, where most poets find positions, and where poetry critics live. David works in the world. Occasionally, he exudes an irritating self-confidence, but hearing him read, talk and enquire, you forgive him.Traveling as he does between this world and wherever it is he goes to bring back the honey of his enquiry, I’d forgive him a lot more. It takes effort to delve so deeply into one’s own self. He’s good at it. Recently, he posted on his face book a passage he wrote about hiding, being shy, and received 500,000 hits. 

We don’t live in a contemplative age. We don't live in an age of poetry, as we once did. Much contemporary poetry follows suit; attempting to abandon metaphor and beautiful language, for….for what? I’m not sure. An earlier 20th century poet, William Carlos Williams, in his late poem Asphodel, explained why poetry matters this way: 

“It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.”


Here, a current poem from David Whyte…...

The Well of Grief

Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief,

turning down through its black water
to the place we cannot breathe,

will never know the source from which we drink, 
the secret water, cold and clear,

nor find in the darkness glimmering, 
the small round coins,
thrown by those who wished for something else

The Orange Dragon of the Green Valley

My friend will never write this, as I’ve asked for thirty years, and he hasn’t yet.

The most Thoreau-vian man I know, he spends his time investigating edges, the edge of a field, the currents along a river’s edge, the attic of a house, the thoughts most people don’t even know they have. He is a connoisseur of the barely there, both inside himself and in the world. 

For fifty years he’s traveled the edges of his community in the Stockbridge valley. He knows its forest, rivers, streams and even the vernal ponds. He knows them the way a commodities trader knows his market. Being interested in edges, he sees the center pretty clearly. 

He hasn’t yet burned down 300 acres of town woods, as Thoreau and his friend, Edward Hoar, did (by mistake) cooking fish they’d caught in the Concord River. Once, my friend, running in winter, found a Bobcat hit by a car on the road. He marveled at the cat’s beauty, held the still warm body, turned it in his hands, fondly. Knowing the skin’s value, he carried the cat
against his chest to hide in the woods and pick up later. When he returned there was no Bobcat, only its tracks leading off. He often speculates what would have happened if the stunned cat woke up in his arms. Another seasonal income, this in early summer, has been to drive from Stockbridge to New York City, gathering roadside wildflowers, then selling them to vendors at the New York Flower Market.

Thirty years ago this fall, as a freshman, I met my friend crossing Harvard Yard in early morning. He was fly-casting; practicing long distance casts. It could only have been him. I watched, as charmed then as I continue to be by this outlander. 

He trades in secrets. He knows things. He is solitude’s companion. No local or foreign government would pay for his secrets, but if he wrote, or spoke, what he knew, he would be the Edward Snowden of the natural world, the Interface between us and the lower case world, the quiet, sipping-out-of-sight creatures and processes we pass by. Once, he retuned in the spring from a long solitary hike and pronounced he’d seen the Orange Dragon of the Green Valley.

—Robert F. Perkins