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Favourite poems

Discussion in 'The Cave' started by Gagnrad, Jun 29, 2015.

  1. Gagnrad

    Gagnrad New Member

    The Saga of the People of the Salmon River-Valley. I nearly put "Men" but isn't this the saga with a very steely-willed matriarchal figure?

    "The man who stands at a strange threshold,
    Should be cautious before he cross it,
    Glance this way and that:
    Who knows beforehand what foes may sit
    Awaiting him in the hall?"

  2. b612

    b612 New Member

    This thread is a good way to test my brain function.
    I'm going through a coffee detox and can't understand anything what I read here.
    I wonder how long it gonna last because I'm eager to read more poems...
    But now I just cannot... :(
  3. Gagnrad

    Gagnrad New Member

    First part was I was just commenting that Laxdæla, which you mentioned, is the dale (river-valley) of the salmon. Presumably the salmon came up that river to spawn, so the Icelanders named the river-valley after them. So the saga is the tale of the men, or people, of that place. I was turning "men" into a joke, because it has this ambiguity in English where it can mean either "people" or "males". And a lot of that saga, as I recall, is taken up with the doings of a particular woman. IIRC, she brought her people there from Ireland after military defeats suffered by the vikings there - and this is actually historical fact.

    Then I was following up with a short quotation which is from an Old Norse poem called Hávamál. It's taken from the Elder Edda and is supposed to be words of advice and warning given by Odin. Here's a translation - a different translation than the one I quoted from - of the poem in full:


    Odin is, of course, an appropriate figure to give advice. In the myths he actually gives an eye to acquire wisdom. I think the part I quoted was probably pretty sound advice for someone in Old Norse society. That society was violent and riven by feuding. It's been pointed out that even the Old Norse myths have kin-slaying and feuding in them, as if these practises were part of the very structure of reality - as I guess in a way they were for Scandinavian people in the Iron Age. See lecture 8 "Maimed Bodies and Broken Systems in the Old Norse Imaginary" here for more on that:


    So, yeah, the man walking in an unwary way into a strange hall might run into people with whom his kin are at feud and they might see him before he sees them:

    Last edited: Jul 25, 2015
    b612 likes this.
  4. Gagnrad

    Gagnrad New Member

    Anything by Yeats, but I think this is very fine. "I made it out of a mouthful of air" — next to nothing. Yet, made, put it against "the great and their pride" and it makes all the difference. "Their children's children shall say they have lied"

    William Butler Yeats

    He thinks of those who have Spoken Evil of his Beloved

    Half close your eyelids, loosen your hair,
    And dream about the great and their pride;
    They have spoken against you everywhere,
    But weigh this song with the great and their pride;
    I made it out of a mouthful of air,
    Their children's children shall say they have lied.
  5. Gagnrad

    Gagnrad New Member

    Here's a rather acid but little-known Kipling poem. Notice the date and you'll get where he's coming from.

    The Bonfires


    "Gesture . . . outlook . . . vision . . . avenue . . . example . . . achievement. . . appeasement. . .
    limit of risk. COMMOM POLITICAL FORM."

    WE KNOW the Rocket’s upward whizz;
    We know the Boom before the Bust.
    We know the whistling Wail which is
    The Stick returning to the Dust.
    We know how much to take on trust
    Of any promised Paradise.
    We know the Pie—likewise the Crust.
    We know the Bonfire on the Ice.

    We know the Mountain and the Mouse.
    We know Great Cry and Little Wool.
    We know the purseless Ears of Sows.
    We know the Frog that aped the Bull.
    We know, whatever Trick we pull,
    (Ourselves have gambled once or twice)
    A Bobtailed Flush is not a Full.
    We know the Bonfire on the Ice.

    We know that Ones and Ones make Twos—
    Till Demos votes them Three or Nought.
    We know the Fenris Wolf is loose.
    We know what Fight has not been fought.
    We know the Father to the Thought
    Which argues Babe and Cockatrice
    Would play together, were they taught.
    We know that Bonfire on the Ice.

    We know that Thriving comes by Thrift.
    We know the Key must keep the Door.
    We know his Boot-straps cannot lift
    The frightened Waster off the Floor.
    We know these things, and we deplore
    That not by any Artifice
    Can they be altered. Furthermore
    We know the Bonfires on the Ice!
    NeilBB likes this.
  6. b612

    b612 New Member

    This is very interesting. Thank you.
    I would like to read Elder Edda but I think it's not translated into Lithuanian.
    I get a headache if I read it in English. Too many bizarre words.

    Last year I went to Iceland national museum in Reykjavik.
    Those people must have been SO STRONG. Cold climat, no summer, strong winds, no light in winter, no animals to hunt, no vegetables to grow, no berries... only fish in the ice cold ocean. I would love to see how they looked like.
  7. b612

    b612 New Member

    I would love to see their hands.
  8. Gagnrad

    Gagnrad New Member

    I think I guess the problem. Could it be that the older translations are deliberately archaising? They use words that are no longer contemporary English. They're packed full with archaic words - and archaic constructions, too. That was deliberate: it used to be done to give a sense of the "dark backward and abysm of Time", and as a constant reminder that you were reading an old text originally written by people who didn't think or speak or act like you. But it's a strategy that's a bit looked down on nowadays, when something very plain and very contemporary tends to be preferred. The older translations from the Old Norse, the 19th and early 20th century ones, include some by people like William Morris that use a bizarre English that not only is not contemporary but that was never colloquial English at any time in the past ever: they're just written in a special pseudo-ancient one-off idiom. These might be hard going even for many native English speakers. I'm quite serious. There are plenty of people whose first language is English who would find an early 19th century author like Sir Walter Scott daunting: they'd be all at sea with William Morris.

    But these translations tend to be the ones available online - because they're old enough to be out of copyright.

    However, there is a translation of the Elder Edda into contemporary English by Jackson Crawford who teaches Old Norse, Norwegian, and Norse at the University of California-Los Angeles. (and who notes that "he can be reached at jacksoncrawford AT ucla.edu")

    So maybe try that.

    I think it can be downloaded from this address:


    Yeah, during one of Stefansson's first assignments when he was studying anthropology at Harvard, he unearthed some mediaeval skulls in Iceland. IIRC, there was some controversy over whether they had really been "washed out" by an encroaching sea or grave-robbed by a young postgraduate Stefansson eager for academic recognition and not too nice about ethics. Be that as it may, the interesting thing is that the teeth in the skulls from the early mediaeval period were close to perfect.

    It's interesting to note that Icelanders still do well in International "Strongman" competitions, although they have a tiny population.
  9. b612

    b612 New Member

    I have to google all that tomorrow.
    I googled Icelandic skeletons very fast as can't allow myself to sit in front of pc any;ore: http://www.forbes.com/sites/kristin...and-reveals-strenuous-lives-and-early-deaths/
    Looks like an interesting article. Have to save it for tomorrow.
  10. Gagnrad

    Gagnrad New Member

    Thanks. That was an interesting find. It's badly written though, isn't it? We have "kids" for "children", "in spades" for "prevalent" and so on. This is written in such a crazy demotic slangy English that I have to wonder if it would be, like over-formal 19th century English, difficult for some readers to understand:

    Where would I "trade" my toothbrush? And who would want a used toothbrush. Why would they swap cheese for it?

    On serious note, is the claim that the absence of dental caries must be down to "dairy consumption" rather than the (relative) absence of grain valid? And were "gingivitis, plaque ... infections and tooth loss" really prevalent? How could the academics who wrote the paper tell (if they did say that: you have to pay to see the paper, so I didn't read it). And if these conditions were prevalent, how can the writer know the cause was cheese?


    is just silly (and besides has been said too many times to be any longer interesting.)

    In this lady's cackhanded grasp, Sterotype has become a "dead metaphor". Stereotype originally meant "A relief printing plate cast in a mould made from composed type or an original plate". It's useful enough as a metaphor, but how does one "diminish" a printing plate? Besides, a Viking is a Viking is a Viking. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. A Viking was a man who went raiding. He could be expected to "maraud". What has any of this to do with a Scandinavian - or more properly Hiberno-Scandinavian (as Iceland was) - society at home? Did the writer expect they'd find swords and treasure in every grave or something?

    She also writes:

    Having read some of the sagas, I'd beg leave to doubt that. I think there's often quite lot of concrete detail in the sagas: for example, you can read of people putting out fires with the tubs of whey, which presumably were ubiquitous and useful for the purpose. But never mind.

    Sorry, don't mean to grouse. I'm very grateful for the link. It's just it's such an irritating and silly write-up. But the subject matter is interesting. It's a shame the original paper isn't available without paying:

  11. Gagnrad

    Gagnrad New Member

    Here's a translation of an Old Norse poem. It's imbedded in Njal's Saga and tells of the Battle of Clontarf (Ireland) in 1014.

    Blood rains
    From the cloudy web
    On the broad loom of slaughter.
    The web of man,
    Grey as armour,
    Is now being woven
    The Valkyries
    Will cross it
    With a crimson weft.

    The warp is made
    Of human entrails;
    Human heads
    Are used as weights;
    The heddle-rods
    Are blood-wet spears;
    The shafts are iron-bound,
    And arrows are the shuttles.
    With swords we will weave
    This web of battle.

    It is terrible now
    To look around,
    As a blood-red cloud
    Darkens the sky.
    The heavens are stained
    With the blood of men,
    As the Valkyries
    Sing their song

    Certainly powerful stuff. I'm afraid there's some "violence" in it, if not a lot of "marauding".

    They got pushed out. But it seems they did manage to take quite a few women with them.

    "The majority of Icelandic female settlers came from the British Isles":

  12. b612

    b612 New Member

    Haha, I posted the link before reading the article. Sorry :D
    Yes, I agree with you, the article is dumb.

    But take a look here:


    and here:


    I haven't read the papers yet but they look promising...
  13. Gagnrad

    Gagnrad New Member

    Not at all. As I said I was grateful. It was an interesting topic, and there were some things to be found out even if the person doing the write-up said little and rather got in the way.

    I assume there were marks on the bone that indicated gum disease - though who knows what the cause of that was? (I think it was legitimate to speculate on that: but if someone does that, they should make it clear that they are speculating.)

    It was interesting to find that there were signs of osteoarthritis, too. Was that merely down to heavy farm-work, I wonder? I wonder if nutrition might be involved there - though how I don't know.

    I think the person writing it up for the newspaper didn't really put much work or thought into it. There was little there that was not in the abstract and what was said was said clumsily without much thought about either the content or the language as a real means of communication with a reader.

    You've been busy. Have you got a particular interest in teeth? Are you a dentist or a physical anthropologist or something - or just interested in Iceland and its history?

    What did you think of Jackson Crawford's translations?
  14. b612

    b612 New Member

    No, I'm just an office rat with a curious brain.
    I quit my job today ;)

    I think they suffered from nutritrional deficiencies + severe lack of vitamin D.
    When I went to Iceland last year, I was told that satrvation was the first cause of death. This is what I really don't get... they didn't know how to fish or what???
    I need to investigate that.

    Sorry, didn't have time to check Crawford's translations.

    I'm interested in Iceland and other Nordic countries because I feel that I belong there. I can't explain why. Probably I lived there in my previous life...
    Teeth are the thing I notice first when I meet a new person.
  15. Congratulations!

    That's funny, I've lived here all my life and feel less and less like I belong here. :confused:
  16. Gagnrad

    Gagnrad New Member

    I hope you're OK till you find something else.

    Really? I can't see why they would suffer from nutritrional deficiencies. They had their sheep, could fish, and could catch seabirds. And they had no-one to tell them to stay out of the sun either.

    On Iceland or was this Greenland? When was this? When first colonising, or at some later date?
  17. Gagnrad

    Gagnrad New Member

    Like many of us.

    Do you believe in reincarnation, then? Not judging (much of the planet does, and who am I? …). Just asking.

    I had a look at the one of those papers. I'm not the one to read these, but here is what I, for what that's worth, noticed.

    Yes, interesting. Why? Is this perhaps connected with the consumption of dairy products? Not necessarily, I'd think. I think this can be seen, too, with some hominids. It would be interesting to corner someone like Chis Stringer and question him on this. A blonde Lithuanian might be able to do that; I doubt I could. ROTFL

    Here, I think, the literary evidence is interesting. I'd have thought that ancient Icelanders might have done Ok as regards vitamin C … but perhaps not.

    They lost me here:

    Was it generally available even in much of Europe, let alone Iceland, that early? I'd have thought more like 1400s.

    The other paper - the one on strontium isotopes in tooth enamel - is going to reflect where the settlers came from. Different issue. But I'll get round to it ...
  18. Gagnrad

    Gagnrad New Member

    On the strontium isotopes. This is the meat of the matter:

    Almost 40% of the samples came from individuals who must have been born elsewhere (more may have been). The levels are quite variable, which indicates that those whose teeth were sampled must have come from a number of different places. Strontium ratios aren't sensitive enough to pinpoint where.

    I suppose this shows that the settlement period was more protracted than people may have thought. Earlier in the paper they mention Norway, the Islands region of Scotland, and Ireland. These seem very likely places (and I assume those suggestions are based on what we know from the written records).

    There's also a sexual difference:

  19. b612

    b612 New Member

    I have just come back from Portugal.
    My holiday could have been so much better if I wasn't so f**** up. I didn't use any electronics and spent all the time suntanning and eating damn seafood.
    I couldn't sleep despite the fact that my environment and food were close to perfection.

    I can't concentrate and read everything that you have posted here.
    It's a pity, because everything you post is very interesting.

    I see ghosts sometimes.
    From what I see, I assume that yes, some of us happen to have a previous life.

    Take a look to this video. I saw it a couple of years ago.

  20. b612

    b612 New Member

    Can you see the video link? I have posted it 100 times but it doesn't appear.

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