Monday, October 26, 2009

The skáld scratched skillfully the words -- honor to her who is hearkened to in memory and mead

In lieu of my SCA kingdoms in Old Norse post, I offer this musical tangent.  I'm lucky to find that the the cup of Suttungs mead has been passed to me, and I drink thankfully. Now, not all the songs I have written are particularly Norse. And the following is not one that follows the conventions of Viking Age poetry. However, I'm including it in this blog for two reasons. First, it invokes several Viking Age words and concepts. Second, I wrote the melody completely on the harpa (aka, the lyre -- mine is a Trossingen inspired harpa named Lofveig).

It is also a song that is particularly personal to me. I wrote the words a little after my maternal grandmother died, and it is meant as a memory poem to her (hence the title minnis-kvæði).  Jólinn is my persona's equivalent to my maternal grandmother. Unfortunately, I have not found the declension of the name Jólinn, so I have no idea if I have formed the genitive correctly in the title (I've assumed an indeclinable declension). If I ever do find it, the title will change accordingly.

Jólinn Minniskvæði
copywrite Eyja Bassadottir/Melanie Pafko 
I saw you sitting by the door
to watch the world so near.

A little sad the times you've had
yet always kept some cheer.

The völva brings some news to you

of what is meant to be:
'Turn your face now from this place,'
she says most forcefully.

All rivers run from north to south
Fate has no remorse.
The water's flow can't let you go
It all points to that course...

The silver curls upon your head
touch softly 'gainst the pyre.
Once golden fair like Sif's bright hair
echoes 'gainst the fire.

The corpse-horse rides to Niflheim
with you upon his back.
Guard you well to gate of Hel,
don't wander from the track.

Your head's bright jewels
are bright no more

The mound is touched by snow.

Oh amma mín, my mamma's kin,

I'd rather not you go.

As alluded to above, minnis-kvæði has a connection to the function of the song.  Kvæði (n.) is the general word for a poem or song.  Minnis is the genitive form of minni (n.) which can have the meaning of 'memory' or 'memorial', and is particularly associated with the Norse tradition of a memory toast (also can refer to the cup the toast is given upon) spoken for a god or the deceased.  Gunnvor, the Viking Answer Lady, mentions the tradition in her essay on "Alcoholic Beverages and Drinking Customs in the Viking Age".  I took the two words and made the compound minnis-kvæði to give the idea of a memorial song as opposed to a toast.

The first Norse word that occurs in the kvæði is völva (f.). 'a prophetess' -- often translated into English as 'sybil'.  She was one who could prophesy someone's Fate using spá magic and was highly respected. 

In the fourth verse, I invoke the image of Sif, a goddess.  She is listed by Snorri Surluson in his Edda as the wife of Þórr, and appears in a story involving Loki.  Loki, for an unknown reason, decides to cut off Sif's hair.  When it is discovered, he is, predictably, in trouble.  As his punishment he goes to the dwarves to order three magical items: one being Sif's replacement hair.  Sif's wig is actually made of pure gold and once placed on her head, grows like real hair.  This story results in a kenning used by poets: 'Sif's hair' refers to gold.  I thought it fitting to use this reference for my grandmother's hair, which I'm told was once blonde.

'The corpse horse' is a reference inspired by H.R. Ellis Davidson's book, Gods and Myths of Northern Europe.  I don't know whether I can properly document the phrase to period, but I liked the image, and so I used it.

Niflheim is a place in Norse mythology -- the underworld, where the spirits of the dead go.  It is ruled over by Hel, the goddess, who is also referred to in my song.  Even Baldr goes to Niflheim -- so, it's not segregated to evil doers, etc. like the Christian Hell.  Thus I felt it fitting to wish my grandmother well as she went to Niflheim.

'Your head's bright jewels' is my only kenning in the poem, and refers to the eyes.

And finally, my last bit of Norse in the poem, amma mín, which literally means 'my grandmother'.  From the construction of the rest of the poem, the rhyming schema for that line should be 3-4 syllables per half line, with the rhyme on the final word of the half line.  This final rhyme differs, as the final words for the half line is a pararhyme since the vowels differ -- mín being a long closed front vowel while kin is a short mid-closed mid-front vowel (or rather, the former is tense and the latter is lax).  The true rhyme for this line is actually in the penultimate words: amma and mamma (let's ignore that pesky genitive).  Of course, this is all extremely picky, and obviously, I like the construction well enough to leave it.

No kennings in this entry's subject, just a lot of alliteration.

Also, my SCA Kingdom post might be pushed back until after November due to NaNoWriMo.

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