Orkney: Tuesday 23rd June St Magnus Fest – Rognvaldr Re-imagined

Over breakfast were regaled with lurid tales of murder most horrid involving “The Monkey Man” and “Black Bob”.  There is a journalist also staying here who seems to know everything and everyone. There is a dark underbelly to island life needless to say.  After breakfast hotfooted it to the Salvation Army Hall in Kirkwall to a reading and lecture on Viking Poetry by poet Ian Crockatt.

Rognvaldr jarl Kali Kolsson became Earl of Orkney in 1135 and also wrote poetry as well as being a much-travelled warrior.  He was the nephew of the murdered St Magnus and was the founder of  the cathedral in his name.  The poems were fantastic and highly stylised using word-forms called kennings which are pairs of sometimes contrasting images created to intensify poetic meaning.  This is to a strict metre and form using a great deal of onomatopoeia and assonance.  Skaldic poetry is one of the most original and elaborate in European literature.  Nice to know that even Beserkers had their sensitive side.


In praise of Auðun the Red, first to board the African-crewed
dromond (merchant ship).

Gekk á drómund døkkvan
– drengr réð snart til fengjar –
upp með oernu kappi
Auðun fyrstr inn rauði.
Þar nǫ́ðu vér þjóðar
– því hefr aldar goð valdit –
– bolr fellr blár á þiljur –
blóði vǫṕ n at rjóða.

How avidly Auðun’s
heart beat for fame. Claiming
all – hell-bent on bounty –
he reddened the dromond.
Christ – irresistible
His cause as the kisses
of blood-lipped blades – leads us.
Black trunks deck the soaked boards.

He laments his wife’s illness, seeks comfort in shaping words.

Akrs verðk opt fyr sjύkri
(ey) fitjar (Þó sitja
(góð er mér en mæra
menbrík) Njörun sika;
“heder fylgrat” hauðri
hauks (tínik svá) minu,
setrs leitandi sύtar
slœgr á hverjύ dœgri.

I brood at her bedside
– I’ve brought lace, necklaces,
bone combs – who lies, limbs and
lips feverish – wishing
back our glad hours hawking
low-isled water-meadows;
I shape grave words – heart-deep,
honed, brief – to imprison grief.

Ian Crockatt

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