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The term “bard” is used to describe a professional story teller. They could also be a musician, oral historian, genealogist, or another writer. 

This person is employed by a patron to commemorate their family’s history or to praise that patron’s life and actions. Bards were originally a lower class role that poets took on but today, the term is more commonly used as one of praise, reserved for poets and writers of the highest order. These writers are skilled storytellers who, with their vast array of literary works, captivate the reader’s imagination. The most famous “bard” in history is William Shakespeare. So commonly is the term associated with the author that he’s often referred to only as “The Bard” or “The Bard of Avon.” 

The role of  “bard” originated from Gaelic and Welsh society. The term has various versions throughout Scottish Gaelic, Middle Welsh, Middle Breton, etc. For example, the Celtic “bardos,” the Middle Irish “bard,” the Middle Breton “barz,” and the Middle Welsh “bardd.” 

Bard Pronunciation: bahrd
Bard definition and meaning

Bard Definition 

A “bard” is a storyteller. The role of the bard was originally filled by lower-class poets, those who needed a wealthy patron and commissioned work in order to make money.

Bards were common throughout medical Gaelic and Welsh society but are also found around the world. In other countries, this same role was known as “skalds,” “scops,” “minstrels,” and “raphsodes.”

Today, the word “bard” is most commonly used to refer to a skilled storyteller, someone who is widely respected and considered to be of a very high skill level. This person’s stories are usually part of a nation’s or culture’s consciousness and may be ingrained in their understanding of themselves and literature more broadly. William Shakespeare and Rabindranath Tagore are great examples. Below, readers can explore more examples of famous writers who have been known as “bards” throughout their lives. 

Famous Bards Throughout History 

William Shakespeare

The best-known, and most commonly cited example of a, “bard.”

William Shakespeare Portrait

Shakespeare is considered to be one of, if not the, most important English-language writers of all time. His plays and poems are read all over the world. William Shakespeare was born on April 23rd, 1564, although there are no records of the day. He was not formally educated, and much of his life remains a mystery. 

From 1594 onward, he was a member of the Lord Chamberlain’s Company of Players, later called the King’s Men. Shakespeare became a full-time dramatist working for the company. Some of his best-known plays are Macbeth, Hamlet, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Tempest, and Richard III. He is also known for penning 154 sonnets, many of which are directed to the “Fair Youth,” an unknown young man that the speaker has an infatuation with. Here are a few lines from one of Shakespeare’s best-known plays, Hamlet

To be, or not to be: that is the question:

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;

No more; and by a sleep to say we end

The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks

That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation

Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;

To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;

Explore William Shakespeare’s poetry.

Rabindranath Tagore 

Rabindranath Tagore was an Indian writer who penned essays, short stories, travelogues, novels, and poems. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913. Some of his best-known works are: Amar Shonar Bangla, Rabindra Sangreet, and Jana Ganan Mana. The latter is the national anthem of India. 

Rabindranath Tagore was born in Calcutta, British India, in May of 1861. His writing career began in 1877with  “Bhikharini” or “The Beggar Woman.”  He reshaped Indian literature, music, and art within his movement, Contextual Modernism, during the 19th and 20th centuries. He is often referred to as “The Bard of Bengal.” Here are a few lines from one of his poems, ‘Where the Mind is Without Fear:’ 

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high

Where knowledge is free

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments

By narrow domestic walls

Where words come out from the depth of truth

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection

Read Rabindranath Tagore’s poems

Robert Burns 

Robert Burns, known by his friends as Rabbie Burns, was a Scottish poet. He is often regarded as the national poet of Scotland and referred to as the Bard of Aryshire and the National Bard. He wrote in what is described as a light Scots dialect meaning that his poetry was accessible to a broader audience than if he’s written differently.

Robert Burns was an incredibly important figure in the Romantic movement, and his influence remains incredibly poignant throughout Scotland to this day. He wrote the unofficial national anthem of the country “Scots Wha Hae” and is also responsible for “Auld Lang Syne.” Some of his other best-known poems include: ‘To a Mouse,’ ‘A Red, Red Rose,’ ‘Ae Fond Kiss,’ and ‘A Man’s a Man A’ That.’ Here are a few lines from ‘To a Louse,’ another very well-known example of Burns’ writing: 

Ha! whare ye gaun, ye crowlan ferlie!

Your impudence protects you sairly:

I canna say but ye strunt rarely,

Owre gawze and lace;

Tho’ faith, I fear ye dine but sparely,

On sic a place.

Discover Robert Burns poems.


What does bard mean?

A bard is a traditional poet/songwriter who is famed for their verse. Often, these verses include stories of heroes. Today, the term is more commonly used to refer to a very famous and well-loved poet. 

What is the role of the bard?

The “bard” writes songs and poems in lyrical or epic verse about everything from a patron’s life and family to the traditional legends of their culture. 

Who is the most famous bard?

William Shakespeare is, without a doubt, the most famous bard. He is commonly referred to as “the Bard” or “the Bard of Avon.” 

Related Literary Terms 

  • Burns Stanza:  named for Scottish poet Robert Burns who popularized its use. It is a six-line stanza form that uses a rhyme scheme of AAABAB.
  • Shakespearean Sonnet: follows a rhyme scheme of ABABCDCDEFEFGG and uses iambic pentameter.
  • Anti-Stratfordian: a blanket term given to all those who subscribe to a theory of alternative authorship in regard to the works ascribed to William Shakespeare.
  • Verse: a term that refers to various parts of poetry, such as a single line of poetry, a stanza, or the entire poem.

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