Friday, April 3, 2015

The Ravensong



The Ravensong



A warrior sings his death song:
'We struck with our swords.
I saw a host that morning
bow before the blade's edge...'

When his life completes, a man sings
the ravensong; he tells of his deeds,
enemies dead at his feet,
beasts brought to their knees.

'We struck with our swords.
the slain lay athwart one another
the spear-clash's cuckoo [the raven]
was cheered...'

At days' end, an old woman
sings her tale of ripe womb-apples
each more a battle than the wolf
at the throat, the axe-arc, the sword swing.

A woman sings her death song:
'In blood I brought forth,
at breast I nursed them on
and some yet stand to take me home.'

Can there be no other tune
to the ravensong then; only birth
and death under sun or moon,
for when the end comes?

'We struck with our swords;
it wasn't like a warm bath...
I saw the battle-moon burst
broken were the lives of men...'

'We struck with our swords
so it then was destined...' but what
of the one who sings of the day
the soil broke for the hand-rake

how the black earth was bent,
for the far-furrowed seeds
with unwavering intent
not to bear grain but only feed bees,

how nothing was slain, nothing was made
but color and scent, how a hand,
stretching, was put on the wind,
and it covered the land.


'We struck with our swords
So long ago it was...
[If] hope of life is lost now
laughing shall I die."


~April 2015




If you would like to hear the poem read by the author, please click below:


 









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Challenge: Fireblossom Friday
Shay (the Word Garden) wants us to write a song lyric today. Because she knows me well, she has given me personal permission to go back a few dozen centuries, and even stipulated that I could include Vikings, and severed heads if necessary. Taking great liberties with sequence, I have chosen to present excerpts of a very ancient poem, called Krákumál, which is written in ten line stanzas in a particularly tricky skaldic form, which I have not tried to reproduce, using a more traditional English form, the ballad, as my base, though I have mostly replaced the traditional ABCB rhyme with just meter and slant rhyme.  Krákumál was almost certainly meant to be recited  or sung as a sort of chant, or lyric, so hopefully between the skald's words and mine, I have met the challenge.
 More info below.





Process notes: Words in italics are from Krákumál, translation, Ben Waggoner. The phrase 'the spear-clash's cuckoo' is a skaldic poetic device known as a kenning, where an obscure but descriptive set of words is used in place of a more common term. In this same fashion, 'the battle-moon' refers to a shield, and I intend 'ripe womb-apples' to mean grown children.

Krákumál or the Song of the Crow ( in Old Norse: kråka= Crow) concerns events in 9th century Scandanavia and the British Isles, but dates in its first found instance to around 1230. It ' is an example of a "life-poem" (aevikvida)...in which the speaker reviews the deeds of his life, often as he is dying...similar poems exist in other early...languages, such as Beowulf's death speech in Beowulf. Krákumál may have been composed in Orkney or Scotland...the style is similar to known skalds [there]..." ~Waggoner, The Sagas of Ragnar Lodbrok










Images: all rights reserved by, copyright and  courtesy of  Silvan-Massa at Deviant Art, reproduced without any modifications.



23 comments:

  1. I can't even tell you how much I love every bit of this. It is those moments of every day life that sing the most beautiful tunes, for me, at least.... This is one I will return to, again and again.

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  2. This has a beautiful, dark dignity that I find very moving. I particularly liked the woman's death song. Pretty much says it all, doesn't it?

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  3. Well done. This works both as poetry and song lyric.

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  4. At first I thought this was so much like Games of Thrones, but when you read it, it doesn't seem like Game of thrones at all, it seems like all yours.


    The Befuddled Flatulent Blogger

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  5. This is a most fulfilling post, Hedge. You channel the music of the skalds like it is your birthright. I love the 'womb-apples', the black earth and the bees. Hearing your reading adds to the whole amazing experience.

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    1. Thanks, Kerry--i don't often do readings any more, but felt this one needed the cadence of it.

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  6. What a fantastic tale this is, well-told. Your use of language always amazes me, and this form sounds very intricate. I, too, love the womb-apples, and the whole idea of a death-song.

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  7. Mesmerizing. And the sound of your voice makes this poem even more so ~~~~

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  8. You have such a gift for poetic storytelling. I entered into this poem watching men killing each other. The bloodbath seems interesting, but I don't know them, so I move on... Then you show me their birth, and I mourn the pain of their loss. I'm dancing between sadness and something darker at the moment... hoping that if they have to die, that they do it laughing true.

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  9. This is just fantastic. What an important and compelling message--very well told. I am not in a position to listen to the reading right now, but will come back shortly. Really well done-Hedge--ah that people might live by it. Thanks. k.

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  10. So thankful you read your poem. It gives the poem even more depth. I so enjoy how you visit ancient planes with your work. There are always echoes of the past we need to hear.

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  11. See, I knew if I let you do what you love best to do, you'd ace this, and you have. I, too, love the "ripe womb-apples". It fits perfectly with the quoted language. In the end, after all the slaughter, swords are beaten into ploughshares, if I am reading this correctly, and all that was covered with blood and death becomes covered in color and life. Wonderful response to the challenge, Joy. Thank you.

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    1. You're reading it perfectly, Shay. There is a time to fight in this world, but there is so much more than that to do here. I'm so glad you liked it.

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  12. Drat, I couldn't click on you reading the poem. I would have loved to hear you read this epic feeling poem.

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    1. Thanks and sorry you couldn't get through--here is a direct link for anyone who has trouble with the soundcloud player:

      https://soundcloud.com/hedgewitch-othewilds/the-ravensong

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  13. Even before reading your notes, I 'heard' it as a chant, and thought it was a ballad with touches of old Anglo-Saxon poetry. Now I realise it was the Skaldic which was giving me that impression. It was wonderful to hear you read it.

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  14. Loved the reading. My husband listened too and very impressed. Really sounds great--the movement very clear on the spoken level too--which is not always the case. Thanks! 3 down! (And I wrote another song--ha! A silly one.) K.

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  15. you are a modern day bard, a jongleur of the wire(less), the wise fool who would tell the king and queen their crowns are too big for their heads and they wouldn't even know it. only your fellow fools get to grin, and bear it, as we all crow during this ages fall. ~

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  16. It's nice to hear your voice. Somehow I was reminded of a lady I worked with once who had two grown children. I always thought of this person as what they call a "salt of the earth" type--really down to earth, with her emotions intact. One day she said to me, "Don't ever have children, they'll only break your heart." Looking in her eyes I knew she wasn't joking--I'll never forget that. It's kind of like that hand in your poem that stretches to cover everything. Yet there is room for redemption in your poem, and I know my coworker never stopped loving her children.

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    1. Thanks Mark. Very true afa your coworker, and also that the hand that covers an choose its blanket. I'm glad you liked the reading, but I will never read like you do. The only person I have heard to equal your gift at giving each word and phase its true music and value is Dylan Thomas reading his own work, and very glad I am that there was tech that made it possible--would like to have been able to have heard Poe--now *that* would be something..

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  17. Daring deep dive here, Hedge, reliving the raven song (the way Pound took on "The Seafarer") in its gore and gusto and deepest ache of loss. A blood-eagle song, glutted and reeking of the way of death: And in the way Christianity wooed the Isles and Norway, finding a new trope on death and birth in the bloodless rebirth of the soil. (Though substituting Christ for corn, patrilineal Yahweh for matrilneal Erce.) My sense of the transition from pagan to Christian in that era was a bone-deep, generations-old weariness with the rule of blood; how different out Western world, I wonder, if your green martyrdom had been the wooer of the realm.

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    1. Rather ironic to say Christianity came to end the rule of blood because men wearied of it, when men never weary of it, and it only brought more excuses to kill--however, hate is not our only option, or even the one that the 'gods' insist upon, just the one we like to say they want, because of our own dark hearts no light of love or understanding can reach. I don't think Christianity turned out the way Christ preached it, but it was/is a wonderful tool to lure us to convert or kill the tribe next to us, as all the desert religions seem to be--witness the massacre in Kenya for the most recent developments. At least the Pagan killed for land and survival, and fought out of that recognition of fate and fatality that strife is the natural condition of everything on this earth, not for some hypocritical dogma of 'peace that passeth understanding" (nothing more peaceful than a dead man.)Thanks for reading on this Easter morn, B. and forgive the atheist rant--not directed at you personally, you just lit my fuse. ;_).

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