Welcome to this, the Afterlithe-Moon issue. This month, we have a Rune-Poem by D. Jonathan Jones, who is a poet and a Master in the Rune-Gild. His books of poetry include The Songs, available here.
There are a small number of historical Rune-Poems which all runic practitioners will (or should) know their way around. Beyond this, part of the initiatic process of the Rune-Gild’s Nine Doors programme is to write your own Rune-Poem, crystallizing your own understanding of the staves into something that can act to inspire other Runers. David’s Rune-Poem is written to the staves of the Elder Futhark, in a special structure with nine lines to each stave.
We shall also be publishing other Rune-Poems in the next few months.
Three Paths Through Midgard
A Rune Poem
By D. Jonathan Jones
I awoke! As if at the first dawn.
What was this burning that stirred me thus?
As if all my open eyes beheld
Were a flame and as lit from within
Or as by some magic spun from gold.
Where my eye fell was fire and gilded.
Kin saw not, minds chewed cud and slept still.
The grey shapes moved silent in the woods,
Heavy hung the gold torc mystery.
Fled I from the herd to the wild moor.
To heal, grow strong, twixt water and earth,
And so thus I did in Utgard thrive.
Bold I roamed the moor to hone my form.
I sought the beast, sought the great horned one,
My mettle to prove in hunt and kill.
I saw him not, save once in a dream,
He nosed the scraps of my shed man-skin
Said “No beast here is abroad save thee”.
Thus, as a thurs I roamed the wildness,
And delighted in my strength and force,
Hate and fear my only bedfellows.
A terror to men and women was,
Till all had fled and alone I stood.
Raged I then at the wind and mountains,
Raged I then at my own fierce raging,
Until, as though I watched some other,
Sat down a fool and in this was wise.
Now my power seethed within its banks.
Safe, the sword enclosed within its sheath.
Thus, I set to seeking out all things
And by knowing all, perchance know me.
My eyes sought the stuff behind all forms,
Each knowing brought a hundred questions.
Was there no end to each mystery,
As I spoke its name and knew its soul?
So behold! A god now rode the beast.
And, so the road it lay before me.
Ever I sought my stories’ kenning.
Who knows how far then did I wander?
Oft I made a path where there was none;
Driven on as if I was the mount,
Lost to the rhythm of the riding
And found within the rhythm of it.
I was road and rider and ridden;
The endless destination was self.
By my journeying, changed was I made.
The fevered sore brought forth the new flesh.
Ran glad into uncertain darkness,
Lit with torch of self in search of self,
Stoked I glad the timbers of my pyre.
Beat slag from mind with hammer of mind,
Forged anew, shook myself from ashes,
Burning with craft all formed at my thought,
As though it were thought that gave all form.
Given the greatest of gifts I was.
Yet, was this body new to my mind
Or mind gifted fresh to this poor flesh?
Each breath as though a world in full flux,
Each moment charged with aeons portent,
I was gift and giver and gifted.
This one prize of all and of nothing.
To which god should I give for this luck?
Mind given mind, in this I was god.
Joy was all; life a roaring pleasure.
From this high place my laughter rang loud,
But the shadow that it must end loomed.
How then to cheat death in this revel?
Where voices sang my name, there was I.
Where mind sought mind, there was I searching.
Return then I, though outside remain.
I mirthsome rode to holy mischief,
To light fires in the minds of sleepers.
Wyrd crashed in like hail on the barley.
Knew we our borders through their breaching.
Most crave frith, good harvest, a straw death.
What is a warrior without war?
Secret our smiles at peace broke in shards,
Enemies welcomed as an old friend.
War is the holy; it brings forth change.
Wherever swords meet there is Utgard,
The sacred isle where heroes endure.
The frost of war drove our need fire’s bow,
This, then, the ordeal of our heart’s wood.
All chests tighten at the call to arms;
When steel meets steel, which need proves greater?
The coward’s life or family name?
Whose bold red dew flows down to wyrd’s well?
Whose heart proves weak and beats on in shame?
Who shall lie ash and who rise as fire?
Our doubt, the grand thrill in this testing.
With ice of will we hearth the war fire,
Fix firm in mind thought of victory.
The new blade is tempered in cold flow,
Thus hard, its doom to bathe in blood warm.
True warriors cool in battle’s heat,
Heart as stone to the death, gore and screams.
His own death as nought to the bold man.
Worse, freeze in fear or flee from the field?
Who dies, whose name and deeds live in song?
The season of war gives frith meaning.
Long are the hours at play with steel,
Thus, arms grow stronger for the harvest.
The fruit of this toil: skill at slaughter.
What is sown and grown must then be reaped.
How we die gives meaning to our life.
Warriors scream loud at the spear thrust,
But greater fear a silent deathbed,
Worse still, live on as a foe’s plough-slave.
Dead is the tree without root or branch.
Rich blood flows down to roots, well and Hel,
What soars up to the highest of boughs?
Warriors are all light and all shade,
Minds dappled wild in Utgard’s bower.
Our praises sung while we were at war,
Fearful eyes watch us brood in boredom.
Peace? Better for us death’s cold embrace;
I know not me till I find a foe.
Fate rolls our dice out on the bloodfield,
Where luck is tested best, in struggle.
Some throw the bloodtwigs and ponder Wyrd,
But the warrior’s soul is action
In the gaming of king against king,
But kings move, too, as a God’s board piece.
When swords meet, time stops, wyrd and should sleep.
The unfolding is all, is endless,
Till the lot is cast and one must die.
He gave good service, left not the field,
Bold in the fray his cuts were deadly.
Slain now, in youth’s full bloom and vigour.
Did some eye mark him for greater cause?
Though he lies dead what figure here comes?
Beauty beckons. A sister? Lover?
His soul soars up away from cold flesh,
In swan wings gathered toward a new fray:
Just reward for valour well tested.
Now onward and upward toward the glow,
Holy light strikes the crystal of will,
Thus the rainbow bridge is cast for use.
Stepped out of the cycles of rebirth,
The bold of all ages now benchmates,
No longer is a piece, but player.
He stands shoulder to shoulder with Gods
In the fight at the grand end of time,
Where all is renewed in destruction.
Gazing up I saw the cloak of sky.
While heaven holds its stead all is well.
The night bright eye of the pole gazed down,
The holy nail round which the stars spin,
Sure comfort is found in this wheel turn.
Earthly life plays out in the same round,
Each man’s life as the heavens mirror,
Subject, as the stars, to rise and fall,
Lone, the tree that props this vault, endures.
Below me lay the mothering earth.
Midgard’s mound, oh this fertile barrow,
Birch door of secrets from which life springs.
Glimpsed in the swell of breasts and buttocks,
Sap rises at her beck and lust blooms.
Full fearsome, too, into death she calls,
Roaring, cast our lot into her void.
Know all and nought in that timeless spend,
Snug grain of should in dark womb slumbers.
Lovers bedded close, content entwined,
The mystery of two become one,
From this pairing oft is made new life.
Hand in hand, earth and sky make the space
Where Midgard teams with life full holy.
I ploughed a furrow, cut staves in soil,
Horses pulled together, might combined.
I, the guiding hand and eye behind,
All pairs are false: hidden lurks a third.
Man is made as the measure of things.
His is the eye and his is the hand.
Those parts that the noble Gods gave up
He wields, for their purpose, in Midgard.
Short his span: a curse or a blessing?
Joy and sorrow he finds in others.
Needs enemies, as much as lovers,
To describe like and not like for him.
In toil, for stead, as man amongst men.
Life is flow, one form to another.
Each man as a ship, his soul the crew.
He braves the restless waters of life.
This cargo of gold he brings to land.
His name, his word, all that he has done,
These goods his kin share after he goes.
Rich they are while his memory lives.
Gone he to earth full moist and fertile,
Forth burst the new shoots from this rich loam.
All men go to grave to rest a while,
Even Gods must face the eastern dark.
Oft the barrow beckons like a bed.
It is wise to say “Enough!” and cease.
The sleeper dreams, his arms and legs thrash,
The mind of man is never stillness;
Though all movement he has yet done nought,
He must plant his dreams in solid earth
To reap a crop, else the seed sleeps on.
Behold! A furious dusk or dawn.
This moment of my death spread endless
In a wave of changing, changeless glow,
Where opposites yet collapse and fuse,
Where light reveals dark as his brother
I danced twixt horns of all dilemmas.
Stepped out, yet dissolved within the whole,
Twined round all as though it were my love,
Mind everywhere was I, then gone.
At the homestead’s edge there stands a howe.
There my father’s bones lie and moulder,
His father’s, too, and down through ages.
This mound marks full well what we call ours,
His flesh and blood wed to this good earth.
Where the rest of him be, no man knows,
Though I glimpse his eyes in my children’s
As they stare forth bold into Utgard
And challenge all who deny their place.