Wednesday, June 15, 2011

An Early Runhendr: The Four at the Bridge


Here's a little "ditty" for you in English from the legend and lore of Æthelmearc!


At Coopers pond our scene
On field hill great ravine
battles twixt warring foes
dragons come tigers go
dwarves elves, aetheling men
fight on hill, then in fen
two bridges they must cross
and from them foemen toss
Four heroes join the throng
dance to valkyrie’s  song
brave Boris, Haakon's kin
with Oak tree tall, then thin
green Morguhn, duke soon knight
young Willem, Fridriks wight
to fight at Pennsic war
a bridge to bathe in gore
To battle dwarvelords here
who rose from Calontir
our four men form a host
a half-tonne of pot roast
fiercesome  fighters four
who out-fought many score
whom many feared and yet
in battle they can't get
Thru spear storm’s din they stood
no action turned the mood
beneath the sun's harsh stare
they broil to pot roast rare
they glare at Calon herd
who at our heroes jeer
til thrice-king angry roared --
By Thor! His Grace was bored!
On three, charge! Morguhn said!
On three, Duke Morguhn lead!
thru Calon wall they sped
dwarves fell neath Willem's tread
Binder detached a head
Boris laid the dead to bed
surly sword-elves fled
Norns snipped their ghastly threads

Bodies from bridgehead flew
of hammer-dwarves and crew
three stout swordsmen tried
to gain brave Morguhn's side
then marshall's whistle shrilled
twas time to count the kill
whence from the corpse pile fell
came giggles straight from hell!
That pile our heroes tore
dead heads they tossed and more
to find His Grace they sped
whose laugh fills all with dread
Out Dead Things marshall cried
waked corpses moved aside
but Yngvar's Bane denied
raise blades... I've Not Yet Died!
Thrice-king rose without sound
took his stance, held the ground
foes fell from mortal wound
some bled stumbled swooned
til thirteen dwarvelords came
with arrows spears took aim
cowards felled brave duke
thus honor they forsook
Battle quit, bridge lay red
with raven wine from dead
treasure wasted armies fled
bloodswans songs bring dread
bloodstorm ends with many slain
corpses burn, across the plain
O'er blood fest ravens play
fast fried heroes...have it your way!
Even comes battles ends
armies leave, foes now friends
all dead risen head home
some to camp, some to roam
to beer and mead and songs
to spouses, cheering throngs!
Join me in beery toast
to half-tonne of pot roast!


This poem was written in 2008, before I moved on to Old Icelandic poetry.  It is written in an Old Icelandic form called runhendr, In Old Icelandic and eddaic poetry, end rhyme scheme is seldom  considered necessary.  Indeed, in drottkveitt, or Court Poetry, end rhyme is never used purposefully.  However, there is a form of poetry common to Iceland that does use end rhyme, runhendt (runnng rhyme).  In The Structure of Old Norse Drottkveitt Poetry, Kari Ellen Gade says:

"Not until the end of the tenth century, in Egil's [Skallagrimsson] "Hoflauðsen" [Head-Ransom] does end rhyme play a constitutive part in skaldic metrics.  This new meter, runhendr, which consists of lines with four syllables dispenses with the internal rhymes altogether and replaces it with end rhymes..... It is clear that runhendr meter represented a bold break with the established norms for the composition of skaldic poetry, and that this innovation was most likely the result of foreign [most likely English or Irish] influence.”

It should be noted that in the Prose Edda, Snorri Sturlusson identifies many different types of runhendr, including one with six syllables in a line.  While runhendr is unusual in Old Icelandic poetry, it is far more accessible to modern ears than dróttkvætt. [See my earlier posting for an example in Old Icelandic of this verse form]

This poem is the story of a true event at Pennsic 13 or so, when a line of four men: Boris Dragonsbane, Haakon Oaktall,  Morguhn Sheridan, and Wilfred Altmarker - charged through a Calontir shield wall & died gloriously.  It is ever so slightly embroidered, as such legends become over generations of the telling.  The next to last verse is partially borrowed from the Magnusdrapa, where the poet speaks of ravens pulling corpses from a burning house (fast fried corpses).  It was just too good to pass up.  In the poem, I have used fewer kennings than might be expected, in order to keep the flow of the narrative intact.  Among those used are: 
spear storm - battle 
Yngvar’s Bane - Morguhn Sheridan (for the classic battles between the two great knights of Æthelmearc)
bloodswans - ravens
bloodstorm - battle 
blood fest - battlefield
raven wine - blood
half tonne of pot roast - the line of four fighters who tipped the scales at just over 1100 pounds. 



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