The Warrior Poet

Several years ago I ran a very popular blog at lochandload.com. When the demands of child-rearing outweighed the website in importance, I chose to shut it down. The title “Loch And Load” was a play on words. The idea was simple: I am coming at you “fully loaded” in this blog…I am not holding anything back. To add my obligatory humor, instead of using lock, I chose the Scottish homophone loch. This was also a nod to my ancestral roots.

The blog did not center upon any particular theme, but the subject of manhood and character occurred often. There was a strong heralding for men to be men and to be responsible individuals. Woven into it was a large measure of chivalric spirit. One day I received a very nice letter from a lady who said she greatly enjoyed reading the articles and considered me a “real warrior poet.” Even though I wasn’t exactly sure what the phrase meant, I sent her a thank-you note for the kind words.

The more I thought on it, the more I liked the sound of the phrase. I remembered hearing it at the end of my favorite movie, Braveheart. Robert the Bruce, in the closing narrative says “In the year of our Lord 1314, patriots of Scotland, starving and outnumbered, charged the fields of Bannockburn. They fought like warrior poets. They fought like Scotsmen. And won their freedom.” This was the only time I recalled ever hearing it in my life. I initiated an online search, but all I found was nonsense written by people just as confused as me. The odd thing is: I did start signing my blog posts: ~John Cripps, Warrior Poet.

Recently, I wrote an article titled “Women Dig Real Men.” In it I set forth three major types of men and pointed to the particular type women say they prefer. You’ve got your Mr. Wimpy, Mr. Macho and Alpha Man. I came up with the titles for the two “wannabe types,” but used the psychological term for the Alpha Male. The thing is, I really disliked using the phrase because it’s so greatly abused. There are even websites and videos devoted to turning any man into an “Alpha Man.” Snake oil never goes out of fashion.

In September, Scotland celebrated the 700th Anniversary of the aforementioned Battle of Bannockburn. My youngest son put on the Braveheart movie, and once more I heard that phrase. I thought to myself maybe this is a better phrase than Alpha Man, and I tried a new Internet search. Then came a feeling of déjà vu, as I read article after article of nonsense. Finally, I stumbled upon the Word Wenches website. There I found notes from a writers workshop given by Susan Sarah on the very subject of the Warrior Poet.

I read the article with great interest because my wife had made so many comments almost verbatim, without knowing such an archetype existed. Sarah seemed very knowledgeable about the subject and I include some of her comments below.

William WalalceIt is generally accepted that the phrase originated in Celtic folklore. As Sarah points out, The Fianna were Irish heroes who were trained both as warriors and poets. The archetype is set apart from the Alpha Hero due to his wide spectrum. Susan Sarah refers to the Warrior Poet as an M&M hero because he is hard-shelled and crusty on the outside but delicious, rich and soft on the inside. She calls it a hardened shell, one of invulnerability and restrained emotion, but soft-hearted with a deep capacity to love. A William Wallace combination to be sure.

America has produced many such “Warrior Poets.” Patrick Henry’s hard crust was equally matched by his poetic oratorical eloquence. As a father of seventeen children, he could often be seen on the floor wrestling with them. A warrior on the outside, a poetic softie on the inside. The War Between the States brought many Warrior Poets into the limelight. Men such as Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and the cavalier JEB Stuart.

Stonewall Jackson could possibly be the poster boy for the archetype. He was a fearless warrior who always fought on the offensive. He was greatly feared by the North and downright undefeatable. Frequently labeled the South’s most brilliant strategist, he could also be labeled the most audacious, in the undaunted sense of the word. Yet, at the same time he was most tender with his wife. Much has been written on the subject and it even filtered into the movie, Gods and Generals. His men once saw him weep bitterly over news that a little girl he made friends with, while the army was wintering, had died of scarlet fever. They found it difficult to understand how this most hardened of warriors could have such a tender heart.

A later example is the World War II hero, George S. Patton. It might come as no surprise that Patton’s biggest hero was Stonewall Jackson. As he led the U.S. Third Army across Europe, he fought in the same spirit as Jackson. He was a warrior’s warrior, yet at the same time he was a poet. Here was a man who would slap a cowardly soldier in a fit of anger, then kneel and tenderly pray for a dying soldier. The Germans even referred to him as an anachronism. He remains a living paradox to many, but not for those who believe in the ideal of the Warrior Poet.

One might note an interesting pattern here. All of the men I have mentioned are of Scottish descent. While I do not believe the archetype to be exclusive Celtic property, these were the first examples that came into my mind. I was not contemplating the Celtic connection until after I had wrote them.

The Warrior Poet Archetype

There are many qualities shared between fellow Warrior Poets. Their strength is a given. They not only possess physical strength, but their measure of mental and spiritual strength are legend as well. They have thought things through…all things which are important. They develop rock solid opinions. The world sees them as close-minded, but the opposite is true. A Warrior Poet is teachable, but you better have done your homework, and prepared extensively before trying to change his perspective. He appears close-minded only because you are offering him whim, not well thought-out arguments. He has no time for shallowness.

The Warrior Poet is also decisive. They have trained their minds over time by their well thought-out perspectives. Instinct decides for them. They have developed a chivalric code. They have a strong sense of justice, and what makes for right and wrong. They have meditated much on the subject of virtue. They weigh themselves in the balance and seek to make improvements in their lives where they find themselves wanting. If this sounds more Arthurian than lifelike, then you have much to learn about the Warrior Poet psyche.

Our hero is also very passionate and those around him have a difficult time comprehending what drives it. At times, these passions may seem misguided because the underlying principle is misunderstood. The Warrior Poet has a reason for everything he does. He is guided by his principles which acts like a collar and chain keeping him within certain bounds. He is a very emotional man, but not in a sappy sense. The Warrior Poet possibly possesses a really bad temper, but his anger is one of righteous indignation. It is fueled by injustice. His deep capacity to anger is matched only by his deep capacity to love.

And on the subject of love, he does not believe love to be a feeling. Though love can obviously be felt, he believes love is a strong binding relationship built upon honesty, devotion, mutual trust, and loyalty. While “feelings of love” seem to fade in others, he believes real love grows and matures. His ideal is not based on appearance, sex, fame, wealth or any form of externals. He sees love as an internal bond, a melting of souls. Even in his male friends, he looks to the heart. He doesn’t associate with people who bring him, or others, down. He wants to be around men of character and deep inside he wants to know they “have his back.”

The Warrior Poet also possesses the increasingly rare trait of true courage. There is no absence of fear, but he has learned that true courage is a man’s rising above his fears and conquering them. This breeds fortitude which gives him the ability to persevere in blood, sweat, and tears through the many dangers, toils and snares…to reach his goals.

Warrior Poet MusicianYet in the midst of all the testosterone, there coexists a child-like nature. Sarah states the Warrior Poet craves expression, and may be drawn to art or music. Here the theory of brain lateralization is tossed to the winds. The realistic, analytical, logical, strategic left brain meets the creative, passionate, intuitive, poetic right brain. There the fierce champion can be found, pen in hand, scribing his poetry. The warrior wielding a battle axe in his left hand and a fiddle in his right. The soldier charging with bayonet straight into enemy fire while singing The Beatles “All You Need is Love.” Sound crazy? Yes, my friends, truth is stranger than fiction.

Yes, our hero is chock full of apparent contradiction and contrasts. Don’t try to figure out what makes him tick. Only a fellow WP can understand. The world sees our heroes as terribly complex characters, but to themselves they are simple men and live with a simple set of rules. In short, picture a man who tenderly opens the car door for his woman, then turns and stomps a man to pieces who dare insult her.

The Tragic Backstory

Back to Ms. Sarah. She briefly mentions the Alpha Male hero but believes the Warrior Poet rises above him, the former being more mutable. She states the Warrior Poet comes into the world with an innate capacity for love. Further, they are nurtured in love growing up. Along the road of life something tragic happens that throws the hero off balance. She says, “He learns to suppress and hide a loving nature behind a barrier of genuine, and often intimidating or threatening, strength or power. Often he has developed that shell, whether it’s physical prowess, sharp intelligence, or some hard emotional shell, at a price.”

Of course, my examples make the “tragedy” easy to spot. With Henry it was the Revolutionary War. Jackson, Lee and Stuart all fought in the Confederate Army. Patton fought in both World Wars. However, fighting in a great war is not necessarily a prerequisite for membership in the Warrior Poet club. I believe there are Warrior Poets walking among us who have never been in the military, though they would certainly meet up to the challenge. Remember, in his bosom burns a fiercely intense flame. Whatever his objectives in life, do not dare stand in his way. He cannot be persuaded or stopped. In a sense he is on autopilot because he has no choice in the matter. He is hard-wired to do what he believes is right. You see, he has a chivalric code. He cannot be bought or dissuaded.

Further, loyalty is one of the main virtues etched into his spine. It is like a religion to him. He cannot fathom how the men of the world break trust with one another. It is beyond his understanding. To him, covenant and bond are as fixed as the firmament above. Oftentimes, I believe this is the very thing that “hardens the shell” of the non-military Warrior Poet. He is a loyal friend or servant who ends up being betrayed. In his soul, he cannot bear it. The “how can a man break trust” turns to “why did the man break trust.” The world which seemed so settled and understandable is now wrought with confusion. His days become dark as everything important to him is suddenly ripped asunder. For a time, he may even question his code.

A good example of this betrayal can be found in Braveheart. Robert the Bruce, after covenanting with William Wallace, changes sides and sets him up. The betrayal was more than Wallace could bear. He just wanted to lay down and die. In this modern world, where men lie, cheat and deceive each other on a daily basis, it may seems like no big deal. But Warrior Poets understand the weight of this.

After the betrayal, the Warrior Poet will appear to have changed. He may even lay down his sword. As he turns inward, his outward causes and objectives may fall to the wayside. He continues on in life withdrawn and distrustful. But remember, it is just a shell. Inside, the essence remains intact.

The Heroine

The Warrior Poet HeroineIn her workshop Susan Sarah introduces the heroine. After all, every good Warrior Poet story needs one. It is here I believe her deep understanding of the archtype helped me the most. On my own I can understand much about the male characteristics, and even the tragedies. But the female perspective she offers is very enlightening. I quote the entire paragraph:

The heroine fascinates him, enrages him, frustrates him, throws him even further out of balance at first. In this teetering state, he must right himself again. He lands again with more stability than before. The heroine is key to that. But the WP is complete on his own. He does not need the heroine to carry on – he does fine. But he is a better man with her than without her, and he soon realizes that.”

You see, the heroine is a strong character as well. Besides the feminine qualities of gentleness and charitableness, she possesses great strength as well. Further, she possesses a courage that catches our hero off balance. He is immediately drawn to that rare virtue. Part of him wants to open up while the remainder desires to stay in the closet. What follows is tremendous internal turmoil. His hardened gut warns him to flee, while his melted heart firmly shackles his feet. He takes up the sword once more, but rather than slaying Sassenach or dragon, he fights with himself.

A normal woman could not endure the “conflict stage” of this new relationship. But our heroine is up to the task. In fact, she was born to it. It is her destiny. She has waited all her life for this moment in time. She comes out of her shell and blossoms alongside her man. Through her great physical and mental strength, she finds the chink in his armor and penetrates the hard shell.

Ms. Sarah continues, “The Warrior Poet usually has restrained emotions and great physical and mental strength. His stubbornness, independence, control can make him both compelling and irritating to the heroine. She senses the depth in this guy, sees the potential, and knocks hard into that outer shell. But she, unlike others, gets under it.”

From that point on, both are forever changed. Though it may take a while, he once more learns to trust. Though he has proven he can get along just fine without anyone else, he has no desire to be without his heroine. For her, the knight of her dreams has arrived. She thought it a fairy-tale, but now knows it to be true. She becomes the devoted soulmate. Mere mortal men no longer hold any interest. In fact, she wonders how she ever existed without her Warrior Poet.

The Most “Realistic” Hero

Of course, Ms. Sarah is teaching a workshop on how to “create” a Warrior Poet character and make it believable. I think she has done an admirable job of identifying the key characteristics of the archetype. It is getting these important ingredients in the mix that can make a fictional character seem real. While I greatly enjoy reading, I am not naturally drawn to fiction. As a writer, I tend towards topical papers. Therefore, I do not have knowledge or experience in the art of character creation. However, I have both read, and written, much on historical characters. The majority of these people fit the Warrior Poet archetype.

Over the years, I have tried to understand much about my own passionate character by studying the character of these passionate historical heroes. I have learned much and been inspired much. But it was only when my heroine danced into my life that I really learned most about myself. After spending years in a withdrawn state of betrayal (from one of my closest friends), I was not looking for someone to open up to. Yet, out of the darkness appeared my unlikely angel.

Warrior Poet's Happily Ever AfterIn the past four years, my wife has taught me more about myself than I learned in all the preceding decades. When I hit protective mode and tried to run, she lassoed me and refused to hear my lame excuses. She was, and is, the true heroine of my story. She has the strength to calm the warrior in me and coax the gorilla back in its cage. She knows all steam engines must needs come with a pressure relief valve, and she knows exactly how to operate it. But never think for one moment she would ever keep me from my passionate causes and objectives in life. Just the opposite, she would encourage me when, all the while, my hardened shell would hinder me. While no one else understands me, she has figured me out. She can actually interpret my motivations. She can feel much of my anger. She has no desire to remove my hurt, but rather wants to heal it. She didn’t know me before my tragedy…but yet she does. Don’t waste your time trying to to figure it out. She is what I need and I am what she needs…’nuff said.

In closing, Susan Sarah’s archetypal description will not be found in a dictionary, but she never claimed to be quoting from such a concrete source. Since I find nothing but nonsense outside of her article, her description is now my definition. From this point forward, if I use the phrase “Warrior Poet” it comes from the Book Of Sarah, not the Book of Webster. And while the phrase may not satisfy the requirements to replace “Alpha Male” in my other article, I think it clearly defines a rare type of individual that is necessary in the world. If anyone decides to write a female counterpart to my article, do not forget to include our heroine!

For those of you who have read this article and wonder if you know any Warrior Poets, I leave you with a simple test. Get your suspect really riled up and then look him straight in the eyes. The true Warrior Poet can pierce right through you. For a brief moment you are convinced he could kill you with his brain, with just a stare. Then immediately calm him down by asking him to sing his favorite song or quote you some poetry. This can theoretically all occur within the span of sixty seconds!