Thursday, October 27, 2011

Nótt-veidr (Night-Hunt)

This poem is for Halloween. In Old Germanic lore, this time of year was when the Wild Hunt took place. There is a great deal of literature on the lore of the Wild Hunt. One explanation is at the Orkneyjar website. I have chosen the Wild Hunt motif here, lead by Loki and consisting of the ghouls, ghasts, and goblins we popularly think of when we dress for Halloween.

I have written in runhent, which literally means rhyming endings. It is the only metre in Old Norse-Icelandic poetry that uses end-rhymes. Although lines of runhent can vary in length from four to eight syllables, I have used primarily a four-syllable line, with occasional five-syllable lines. The verses should move fairly quickly when spoken and I hope the form is more comfortable for you to read than the longer, more technically demanding dróttkvætt that I usually write.

The poem is presented, as usual, in Old Icelandic, English Line by Line, and a Prose Translation, all followed by notes on the kennings used.

A note about the Jack-o-Lantern. When it first became a popular symbol of Halloween, the Jack-o-Lantern was based on folklore that shows it being a guardian spirit. The bold fellow i the picture above is a traditional Irish Jack-o-Lantern, carved from a turnip! You can read more here.



Old Icelandic English Line-by-Line Prose Order
Lopts fár-veiði
bereð mús-flæði
ok tán-riðinn
ok úlf-héðinn.
Almsorg ýla
blóð-tungl fýlla
eðl-vina blistra
slydda rísta
Loki´s hunt
brings the flood-mouse
and the hedge-rider
and the wolf-skin.
The elm-grief howls
the blood-moon fills
the toad friend whistles
the rain slashes.
Loki´s hunt
brings the flood-mouse
and the hedge-rider
and the wolf-skin.
The elm-grief howls
the blood-moon fills
the toad friend whistles
the rain slashes.
Upp strætir býrs
kveld-riðar fyrst
borgar-lýðr hvak
á gýgjar blakr.
Bjarnar tryllska
seið-kvenna sjá
ok menn mein-samr
með vargar u-tamr.
Up streets town
dark-riders flow
towns-people quail
at orges black.
Children bewitched
spell-women see
and men noxious
with wolves wild.
Up the town's streets
dark-riders flow
towns-people quail
at orges black.
Children bewitched
see spell-women
and noxious men
with wild wolves.
Háf-ulfr í blys-ljos
hálf-limt af kveld-mús
flet-þak brenna.
Stað-fólk gnella
á skræmir ílla;
brysti bera
fyrir fólk hverra?
Half-wolf in torch-lit
twilight of night-mouse
straw-thatch burn
Town-folk scream
at scarecrows evil;
breast bares
for folk who?
Torch-lit half-wolf in
twilight of the night-mouse;
burn straw-thatch (roofs).
Town-folk scream
at scarecrows evil;
who bares his breast
for the folk?
Upp fram-hus stíg
inn skulla-víg
brósa rauð-gull
ward festa-ból.
egg-leika krella.
Fára á hæl
veiði-konungr bæl.
Up porch stair
the skull of war
smiles red-yellow
guard abode.
Candle skull
edge-plays spirits.
Takes to the heel
the hunt-king burn(ing).
Up the porch stair
the skull of war
smiles - red-yellow
house guard .
Candle skull
edge-plays with spirits.
The burn(ing) hunt-king
takes to his heels.
Brý-bana bið
gefa fólk fríð
ok staðir-drott
allr svófu-rott.
The witch-bane abiding
gives the folk peace
and town- people
all sleep sweetly.
The abiding witch-bane
gives the folk peace
and the town-people
all sleep sweetly.



mús-flæði – the ´flood-mouse´ > BAT
tán-riðinn – the hedge-rider > GHOST
úlf-héðinn – the wolf-skin > WEREWOLF
almsorg – the grief of elms > WIND
eðl-vina – toad-friend > WITCH
kveld-riðar – dark riders > ZOMBIES
seið-kvenna – spell-women > WITCHES
háf-ulfr – half-wolf > WEREWOLF
kveld-mús – night-mouse > VAMPIRE
skulla-víg – skull (of) war > JACK-o-LANTERN
festa-ból – locked or fast house > ABODE
kyndill-skella - candle skull > JACK-o-LANTERN
egg-leika – edge-plays > BATTLES
veiði-konungr – hunt-king > LOKI
brý-bana – witch-bane > JACK-o-LANTERN


Now it's your turn - to leave a comment. Here are three questions to help you get started.

1. What image or images did you like the most?

2. What images or idea in the poem would you like to know more about?

3. What do you like or dislike about this metre,


  1. I like the candle skull image!
    Curious about the flood-mouse - the dictionary I have says it translates to "flow" (flæði), but I'm wondering how related it may be to the Icelandic word for flying (I have no clue what that would be)? (just curious because of the German word, which translates to flying mouse) Tiercelin

  2. First, thank for the comment, Tiercelin. ´kyndill-skella´is my own invention.

    According to Cleasby & Vigfusson, "flæðar-mús, f. 'flood-mouse,' a fabulous animal in nursery tales, vide Ísl. Þjóðs. and Maurer's Volksagen; the word is, however, probably only a corruption from Germ. 'fleder-maus,' the bat." So, you are correct. As a variant of "fleder-maus," it is a term for "bat."

  3. I like the poem as a whole. It evokes the creepy side of Halloween night as a dangerous time.

    The question of "who bares his breast
    for the folk?" is unclear for me. What is that line referring to?

    I like this meter as something I think my son my like to listen to. The more complex meters and the kennings leave him puzzled.

  4. Hi, Becky,

    thanks for the comment

    Well, it's my weak way of transitioning from the ghouls to the Jack-o-Lantern who guards the house. The phrase "hverra brysti bera" literally means "who bears the breast" as in who stands forward, or guards, the folk.

    I like the form for the same reason. It limits the use of complex kennings, and, at the same time, it forces the poet to choose his images carefully. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I want to study the period examples of the form for a while, and then try to write more runhent in the future.