Beowulf, misc notes on meter

I’ve organized a group of Freyaswomen to present a Freya-led ritual at Pantheacon for this year, and in the course of one of our planning sessions the topic of poetic meter in Old Norse (and Anglo Saxon) poetry came up. It’s very distinctive–think Beowulf, when read/spoken as a epic poem rather than prose:

He was well regarded              and ruled the Danes
for a long time after                  his father took leave
of his life on earth.                   And then his heir,
the mighty Halfdane,               held sway
for as long as he lived,            their elder and warlord.
He was four times a father,     this fighter prince:
Heorogar, Hrothgar,                the good Halga
and a daughter, I have heard, who was Onela’s queen
a balm in bed to the                battle scared Swede.   

In other words, boom de boom …..  de boom de boom. Kind of like listening to a blacksmith hammering repetitively, drilling the story into your subconscious. It’s a great meter to utilize for inducing trance or otherwise altered states. You can get a feel for it Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf (audio version found here), and in parts of Benjamin Bagby’s performance of Beowulf. The poetry does, in fact, weave a spell, and consciously so.

Heaney wrote at length about his translation of Beowulf, and it’s pretty amazing stuff. It’s fascinating to read a poet uncovering the genius of another poet’s work; what poets get right (and why I love them so much) is that good ones can nail the underlying essence of whatever is going on and are able to clarify that gleaming truth for the rest of us. Hail to the skálds, and to those who come after!

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