Old Icelandic Rune Poem
Fe ar fraenda rog
ok flaedar viti
ok grafseids geta
Old Norse Rune Poem
Fe vaeldr fraenda roge;
fodesk ulfr i skoge.
Anglo Saxon Rune Poem
Feoh byth frofur fira gehwylcum;
sceal deah manna gehlywc miclun hyt daelan
gif he wile for drihtne domes hleotan.
My first mea culpa – I am attempting to learn how to insert special characters here. The “insert special characters” button is leading to screen freezes and a complete lack of…well..inserting of special characters. Eventually I imagine I will figure this out. In the meantime – the main problem lies in the potential translation of these poems. Entirely wrong translations can occur without the proper letters and accents. I have done my best to eliminate this by using the rune poems in their original forms, found elsewhere.
Why a rune poem? Well, they’re short, for one thing, which helps me keep my focus. Why Old Norse? Well…why not? Acutally, I want to be able to translate specific pieces of text from their original languages as part of the ongoing research I do for my books. That’s a subject of another blog. In any event, with the modern use of runes as oracular devices as well as the more traditional uses of runes and bindrunes, a great many modern translations are out there. Let’s be honest – some are better than others. Some are based on inspiration – and that’s no small thing – and some are more closely based on what sources remain to us.
It’s true that the rune poems may be simple mnenomics, poems that skalds, et al, utilized to help their memorization of which rune what which. It’s also true that the rune poems changed over time and that the Elder Futhark – the one which most of us use – is not the one used in the Viking Age (that’d be the Younger Futhark). There are pros and cons to the approach of the runes generally. I have studied the runes in their various forms for over half of my life, now (and isn’t that impressive sounding?), and my personal reasoning is this: the rune poems, for their faults, are the closest thing we’re going to get to an “original source” for runes. If, then, we want to study the runes, we should start with the rune poems. Our inspiration can guide us, but it needs a foundation from which to begin.
In any event….sources used for this particular blog:
Cleasby-Vigfusson’s Icelandic to English Dictionary:
A concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary:
Ragnar’s Ragweed Forge:
Flowers, Stephen E. “The Rune Poems: Volume One”. Runa-Raven: Smithville, 2002.
There are many, many more. These are down and dirty, but useful on the fly. What I am doing is exploring the words as best I can, then comparing multiple translations with my results to see what happens. This may be useful for some people. If nothing else, the process is enlightening and potentially helpful to anyone else starting out along the complicated path that is direct translation.
To the meat of the thing…
Fe (the e has a diacritical, or accent mark) – I have found it most often appearing as a compound word, and usually in the sense of ‘money’ – fe-audna, for instance, is money-luck. It is also used in the sense of cattle, in compounds such as fe-missir, a loss of cattle. In the Anglo-Saxon, feoh (no accents) directly relates to cattle, the herd, and movable goods, while additionally linking to property, money, riches, and treasure.
er – which, who, that (also where/when)
Fraenda – friend
rog – slander
ok – and
viti- a signal
geta – to get
aurum – ? sore, aching?
fylkir – king
Ragnar translates the OI as follows:
A source of discord among kinsmen
and the fire of the sea
and the path of the serpent.”
“Money is the strife of kinsmen
and the beacon of the flood-tide
and the path of the ‘grave-fish’ (serpent).”
I’m still working out what “grafseids” is, but graf- seems to relate to the grave. The word for serpent is “grafvitnir,” which while close by may or may not be the word’s meaning. THAT said, after consulting several other texts, serpent seems to be the word used the most often.
What I find interesting is the use of rog (accent on the o) to mean discord/strife. It more clearly means slander. And fraenda is friend, not kinsman (as we’re seeing above). In my own head, then, the first line of the poem runs more like:
Money which friend slander.
Most unpoetic. The sense is the same, though – money is a problem/cause of slander among friends.
This is certainly a true statement – money lent between friends often causes strife, particularly when it comes to paying back the loan. This is a good warning from the get-go, really. Then we have the “fire of the sea,” which I believe is a kenning relating to how money often came ‘from the sea’ (ie brought into the docks from the raiding vessels) and – here is my inspiration speaking – potentially relating to the sun; the sun’s light forming a path on the sea (or any body of water), or gold. The ‘path of the grave-fish’ is one that gives me some trouble. The serpent is seldom a positive figure in Old Norse mythology, so again we’re being given a warning of some kind. In all honesty, I am still debating that in my head, and am not willing to speculate further.
The Old Norse, as always, nearly echoes the OI. The poem is shorter, and the last line changed. Here we have the same first initial warning regarding money and friends. In the second line, though, we have mention of a wolf (ulfr).
“Wealth is the source of discord among kinsmen;
the wolf lives in the forest.”
“Gold causes the strife of kinsmen;
the wolf is reared in the woods.”
Now, what could that possibly mean? The connection between wolves and forests is clear. there is also a mythological wolf, Fenrir (Fenris) who is bound by the gods to put off Ragnarok; he also lives in a wood. Could this be a reference to Fenrir? How would the world’s most ravenous, destructive wolf relate to money? If we consider that fe also relates to cattle, we could speculate that this is another warning – t0 guard the herd against the wolf, for it will come from the forest and destroy your hard-earned wealth. Another inspiration/speculation, true, but one which I think holds true to the spirit of the poem’s meaning.
I’ll be honest. When I got to the Anglo Saxon rune poem I was completely flummoxed, from a translational perspective. I discussed the meaning of feoh earlier, and saw that frofur relates to consolation/joy/refuge/help/benefit. Fira refers to men/human beings. Gehwylcum …. well, there I stopped. For now, at least, I am focusing on learning Old Norse, so I decided to “cheat” a little and skip the AS work for now. Still – in that first line we have something different from the ON and OI translations – rather than slander and discord, we have benefit and joy.
“Wealth is a comfort to all men;
yet must every man bestow it freely,
if he wish to gain honour in the sight of the lords.”
“Wealth is a comfort to all of mankind, yet
Every man sould distribute it generously if
he wants to obtain a favorable judgment before the lord.”
I want to sat that I do not find this to be particularly religious. “Lord,” here, coems from the poem’s ‘drihtne’, which was a word refering to leaders in general. Dryhten did mean lord, ruler, prince and also referred to the “Lord,” God or Christ. On the one hand, then, generosity brought the favor of God – a Christian sentiment, to be sure. However, generosity was one of the key heathen values at the time. Generosity was expected of a leader, and in the case of one saga, at least, being called a ‘miser’ was an offense that lead to physical violence.
Wrapping everything up, what I am seeing in my translations thus far is echoing what others have done before me. This can be discouraging, in some senses. After all, why do the work on my own if it’s already been done a thousand times before? Why reinvent the wheel? I can say that, in my own world, there is a great satisfaction deriving from doing the work on my own. The runes themselves take a lot of work to “learn,” and a lot of work to “grow on.” I believe the runes are letters of the alphabet, sounds, written, magical, and oracular tools. Direct translation seems to be the next logical step for me. Yes, the question is “why didn’t you do this sooner?” I have no answer. Life gets in the way, I suppose. In any event, I thought a description of this process migfht be interesting to others, so I decided to show it off. With any luck this will get smoother as I go forward.