Wednesday, January 23, 2013

In Hel's Hall







In Hel's Hall


It was white-ice morning in Hel's Hall
in the ninth of the Nine Worlds, when
Odin donned the Hel-shoes, cast the runes
and rode to ask his questions of 
the dead. 

Because he was a god, twisted she rose 
from her ashen bed
and by force began to speak  
of what she knew:

So I found, said the blackened lips,
that cold is a serpent that holds, pushing its
ribbon-chest deep into mountain,
slow-cracking the heads of the spirits within
for gold to brighten its rippling scales.
Will you hear more?

So I saw, moved the fleshless jaw,
cold grow wide and thicken,
putting on its grey-white armor,
that its dead mouth kisses every shoulder, 
that the tree it circles
will shake down a harvest of lives
to grind out all you love.

So I found, rattled the dustdry throat,
that cold will make red daggers, hanging
scarlet borrowed blood to temper
oblivion's poppy snowflakes,
to pierce the heart of hearts
till red and white alike
vanish from sight.

So I saw, whispered the husk of Hel,
that snow will cover fire, 
that the white wolf no sword can kill
will eat desire, that you
are a basket of bones made for wildflowers
withering in a wind of empty hours.
Will you hear more?

Then the One-Eyed shucked his Hel-shoes
jumped back in Sleipnir's saddle,
and fled the Ninth World, 
where the wisdom he begged
had frozen on his tongue.

~January 2013



 posted for   real toads

Kerry's Wednesday Challenge: Worldbuilding
Kerry O'Connor has asked us to write around the subject of alternative worlds. Here I've reached into the the realm of Norse myth, and as usual, taken a few liberties with the tales of the Old Gods.



Process notes: In Norse mythology, Hel was the realm of those dead who had not died in battle, and also the name of the female figure who ruled it. It was where Odin the One-eyed, first of the Aesir and god of poetry, war, death, wisdom and wandering, journeyed to raise a dead Seeress to tell him of the future. She prophesies the events of Ragnarök,* the twilight, or perhaps re-making, of the gods, where the children of the antagonistic god of disorder and mischief, Loki, the Midgard Serpent and Fenrir the Wolf, will battle the gods, and the World Tree will 'shake and groan.' 

Hel-shoes (helskór) were put on the Norse dead to walk the road to the Otherworld.
Sleipnir is Odin's magical eight-legged horse.


* I probably ought to add that following the events of Ragnarök, the  völva also prophesies that a beautiful new world will emerge, where men and gods live in peace and plenty. Some believe that this a post-Christian introduction, but regardless, it satisfies the happily ever after need we humans have.






Image: Odin Rides to Hel, by W.G. Collingwood 
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

31 comments:

  1. "oblivion's poppy snowflakes"? Oh, stoppitttttt.

    I'll be back later to make a fuller comment, but geez. Give the rest of a chance, Joy. :-P

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    1. I don't think you need to worry, Miss Cookie. ;_)

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  2. Well, you know how I love me some Norse mythology! This is richly woven with lore and its language. I love the way you brought out the character of Hel through her words and prophecy.
    And I especially want to highlight these lines, for saying all that need be said of life and death:

    you
    are a basket of bones made for wildflowers
    withering in a wind of empty hours...

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    1. Thank you Kerry--I'm glad if it works. I feel like I should have perhaps made this more of a hybrid Norse/sci-fi world for the prompt, but this is what came.

      BTW forgot to put in the notes that the phrase "Will you hear more?" is taken more or less directly from the first poem (Völuspá) in the Poetic Edda, which deals with this particular encounter.

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  3. Freaking flawless. You can hear the intensity of the voice growing, the terror. And, the language is a joy to read in and of itself.

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  4. The blackened lips, the fleshless jaw.....your images are so wonderfully grisly. I especially love the lines Kerry noted - "you are a basket of bones made for wildflowers." Fantastic writing, Hedge.

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    1. Yes, "grisly". That's the perfect word.

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  5. you
    are a basket of bones made for wildflowers
    withering in a wind of empty hours....dang what an omen eh...be careful what you ask for you might just receive your answer....and that will def freeze on your tongue....great use of language through out as well to build the mood in this...

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  6. i concur, give the rest of us a chance, will ya?
    the rhymes in here are exquisite. and these lines are so intense:
    "So I saw, moved the fleshless jaw,
    cold grow wide and thicken,
    putting on its grey-white armor,
    that its dead mouth kisses every shoulder"
    yowza.

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  7. This is your bailiwick, no doubt. And I have to tell you... this scared the stuff out of me.

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  8. Very exciting piece, as everyone else I like this part you are a basket of bones made for wildflowers
    withering in a wind of empty hours.

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  9. Dude, be sure you want to hear the answer, before you ask a question. Joy, your depiction of Hel is superb. The language throughout this piece is astonishing in its precision, and a pleasure to read for its own sake. However, it is what you say in Hel's answers that chills and shocks with its blunt truth.

    The ice cracking the mountain ("ribbon chest". stop, just stop. see my first comment!) and the white wolf no sword can kill, eating all desire...my goodness. The cold, empty finality of death (especially for those who have not died in battle, presumably gloriously?) is starkly brought forward and dumped in the reader's lap, here.

    This is challenging, beautifully-crafted, chilling stuff.

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  10. This is just wonderful, Joy. Beautifully mythic, legendary, and generally wise. Beautiful cadence and rhyme and back and forth and great imagery too, which is as coherent and consistent as it is vivid. And it tells a tale. Really well done. k.

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    1. (Not suggesting you return but realized after your visit that I was using a most recent version but one that left out hook into story. I'd cut it. I find editing such a difficult process. Anyway found in old version and put back.) In my own dystopia over here! Thanks. k.

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    2. And I thought dystopia was just other people! Or was that Hel? I will come check--you caught me just before I took my gardened-out rear to a recliner.

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    3. Ha! there's a poem right there. (Thanks.) k.

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  11. Yup, I agree with everyone above - my favorite line being the "wildflower" one... and I'm sure he was glad his horse had 8 legs.. all the faster to take him away!

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  12. Whoa, poor old Odin—I'd flee that ninth world doublequick, too. Sounds nasty.
    Such a great write, Hedge.
    K

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  13. This feels so very appropriate to read right now physically here in my world it is freeeakking COLD.. Yeah, it IS winter but gwhiz.

    I love that this entire poem strings through it the torture of cold and brings to mind the bright of red and also white...lots of awesome contrasts happening.

    I love the basket of bones and then the killer ending that after all that the wisdom he asked is frozen on his tongue!! Brilliant writing, Hedge!! Wow.

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  14. Now this is worldbuilding...fleshless jaw, dead mouth kisses, so many creative phrases and descriptions in this. I love the ending!

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  15. I echo what others have already said .. and add that your poem, for me, was one of the most visually and physically vivid.

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  16. I just love Odin but surely this is a trial even for him!
    I could just stay with that first verse thanks- Certainly the remainder is well plotted and turned .
    I enjoy runes but not bone baskets. Thanks.

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  17. This poem stirred my emotions. Very evocative.

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  18. Wow Joy! I love Odin and it was so vivid n' stunning!
    I am in awe....
    What a wonderful way you embraced this challenge :D

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  19. Oh gosh, that ending. Whew. Deep sighs and groans coming out of me, and now I'm headed right back up to do it all over again.

    And though you claim this to be another world, it sounds eerily similar to the one in which our dying hearts presently live.

    This is my first favorite:
    "that the tree it circles
    will shake down a harvest of lives
    to grind out all you love"

    ... replaced shortly thereafter by this:
    "you are a basket of bones made for wildflowers
    withering in a wind of empty hours"

    And that ending! Oh my:
    "where the wisdom he begged
    had frozen on his tongue"

    I love it. Yet, it is terrifyingly true.

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    1. Yes--though fortunately it's not something you can think about all the time, and we forget. Thanks for your insights,as always, jasmine.

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  20. (BELCH)

    FETCH me some Mead, and be quick about it.



    Thanks for stopping by....G

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    1. That's 'Fetch me some mead, *wench!*' Yeesh. What are you, French?
      Hope you are having a kick-ass weekend.
      Best from Valhalla,
      ~Moonbat

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  21. Oh, you've revived my long-lost taste for Odin and his ilk. It's the romantic life I'm missing now! Great write!

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  22. "dead mouth kisses every shoulder" I couldn't repress a shiver.

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  23. This made my eyes burn and my heart cave. Lips, jaw, throat-- you've given this myth a tangible human form. Basket of bones to wildflowers gives a lean sense of hope that is small and pale in the face of transformation like this. So beautifully written and deeply felt.

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'Poetry is an echo asking a shadow to dance' ~Carl Sandburg