Castalian Spring

The upper mountain slopes
of Mount Parnassus
from which, like falling water
all the words you need might flow.

And the source at the foot
of the mountain from
where the water rises,
has carried the name,
'Castalian Spring’,
for three thousand years.

A place sung for centuries
as the common source
from which we might drink
words fully commensurate with
the awe we need
to comprehend our world.

A name I learned sitting
behind a school desk,
and a place that had become
a mere reference, a classical
abstract that I distrusted,
and that might lead me away
from the truer, more difficult
and more nourishing
source of verse: that mythic
heartbreak found in our attempt
to make a proper passage
through a single day.

The truer sources, that you and I
find everywhere
just for instance, the loving words
passed down to you from your mother,
or unforgivably, if your mother
did not love you as she should,
then the words you
surely know inside
she should have said.

And failing that: the patient ear
of a listening neighbour,
coaxing the words from the ground
of your vulnerably youthful
and untried discontent,
or then again, think of the teacher
who taught you
the simple, beautiful,
but quavering notes
of your first song;
and most extraordinary,
all along the road,
and through the years,
those exceptional strangers
who took their patient time
with you, an equal stranger,
to give you exactly what you needed.

The water has always touched our lips
everywhere and with everyone,
from whatever source
we find that nourishes,
disturbs, and then surprises.

So strange then
for me to be surprised,
as I was surprised
this morning drinking from
the Castalian Spring,
as if undone by
the fast moving quicksilver of
some inner traveling
light, rising to my feet with
the water still cold in my mouth
and my hands wet
where they had been cupped
to the swirl and gleam
of the source.

The life giving rains
given from the clouds,
finding their way
from deep in the mountain
out into the world once more,
first through my hands, and then
through my mouth, and then
through my about to speak voice
at one and the same time,
the water swirling and glinting
as I leant toward the spring
of shared memory that lives in me,
tasting the essence and the freshness
of every gifted- God given thing.

Some thirst met and assuaged
and for a fleeting moment
this morning - in the clear
Mediterranean light,
rising over the shadows
of Parnassus : the magic felt
- and fully acknowledged.

- ©2023 David Whyte


The theme of this newsletter parallels the theme of ‘Castalian Spring’ along with my Three Sundays in January broadcast and my upcoming Asilomar conference on the shores of Monterey Bay in California; that is: finding a way to ‘Drink from a Deeper Well’. Intuitively, each of us knows what that phrase means, we all secretly or not so secretly long to find a way to be nourished more fully: by our daily life, by a relationship or marriage, by our art or our music or by the physical expression of our lives through a given discipline or sport. Contemporary life is a constant invitation to skate along on the surface, to refuse the deeper dive that takes time, focus and concentrated presence; whether we are distracted through the only half-realized emotions of texting, the general addiction to our screens or the inability to take our insights and sense of presence to a deeper level.

As a schoolboy in the North of England subject to the last gasp of a classical education; I learned, under the guise of Greek and Latin, the wild doings of a crowd of ancient Greek Gods: where they lived, where they descended from, physically and familiarly, and the havoc they almost always caused when they appeared in our world. (To accidentally come across a Greek God on a mountainside was never, ever, a good thing.)

Mount Parnassus at various times was the home of Dionysus, Orpheus, the Nine Muses and most important of all, the great god of poetry: Apollo. Any of these mythic beings would be enough to cause trouble in any human life should they come down to meet you. One of the ways the overwhelming powers of inspiration and electric presence represented by these figures could be stepped down to our human level, was through the natural rain that fell and flowed both over and under the slopes of Parnassus, emerging at the bottom in a most concentrated way in a famous source called the Castalian Spring. This spring is said to have carried the inspiration of Apollo, Orpheus and the Nine Muses to anyone who drank from it, and above all, to give them the powers of poetry and articulation in which to carry that gift to others.

This last October I visited, beneath Parnassus, a deserted early morning Delphi in the quiet company of my wife, and was shocked to find myself suddenly coming upon that Castalian Spring. I had no idea it still took the form of a real and present physical source, burbling not far from the road that passed it on the mountainside. My first inner encounter, standing before it, was with my reluctance to take it seriously. I remembered the reputation of its mythic powers, but only in the way they had long ago been drowned by my schoolboy, intellectual irony, and only in the way I had avoided any abstraction of poetry that stole from it what I always saw as the everyday sacredness of ordinary speech. Luckily, over the years, I have given myself a little training in letting go of names, prejudices and all those excuses for reluctance we make in order to keep the raw powers of the world at bay. Gathering myself, I stood in silence for a good while, looking at the spring as if it might indeed carry everything the ancient myths had promised and then stooped to the cool water with my cupped hands, drinking with no little thirst from our walk in the hot morning sun rising over Parnassus. The harvest of that moment of presence was the following poem, begun in note form on my iPhone beside the very spring, and worked on, little by little, ever since until this latest version, completed here this morning, in far away Costa Rica.

Learn More

Purchase options
Select a purchase option to pre order this product
Countdown header
Countdown message