Historical Lacunae and Poetic Space
A Creative Approach to Old Norse Poetry and Poetics
The poetic enactment analyses the complex relationship between historical gap and creative reader, the importance of the comprehension of literary objects as ideal or immutable, and the poetic construction of readable texts with particular reference to skaldic images. The poetic demonstration of scholarly approaches also raises a number of questions about poetic process and the role of composers, readers and historical contexts in Old Norse poetry. Analysing narrative-movement, diction, grammar, legend, the aural, the visual, authenticity, meaning and poetic objects as scripts, the author offers a theory of actual and virtual reading.
Table Of Contents
- About the author
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- List of Images
- The Companion Reader 1
- Chapter 1 Gaps and Critical Contexts
- Chapter 2 From Empty Helmets and a Few Bones
- Chapter 3 Who Is the Reader? And How Many of Us Are There?
- Chapter 4 Roman Ingarden’s Observer as Composer
- Chapter 5 Musical Chairs
- Chapter 6 Measures of Skaldic Poetry: What Does Metre Mean?
- Chapter 7 The Legibility of Contours
- Chapter 8 Commanding the Terrain of Lacunae
- Chapter 9 A Grammar of Secrets
- Gíld-rac Manuscript
- Rinaldi da Giacomo’s Argomento
- Pronunciation Guide
- The History: Books I–VII
- I. Dágazar’s Dreams
- II. Heyeoahkah’s Tales
- III. Oþýla’s Lays
- IV. Helga’s Lament for Kerrigan
- V. Kerrigan the Fearless
- VI. The Rise of Skulváði Úlfr
- VII. Síswyo’s Songs of the Wolf
- The Successors: Books VIII–X
- VIII. The Argument between North and South
- IX. The Law-suit
- X. Lord of the Route
- About the Artist
- Series index
Image 1. Shield no. 3 decoration.
Image 2. Shield no. 4 decoration.
Image 3. Shield no. 6 decoration.
Image 4. Terrain map drawn 1996.
Image 5. Terrain map drawn 1997.
Image 6. R.dG. 1594 frontispiece.
Image 7A. From book of Úllr, line 1.
Image 7B. From book of Úllr, line 2.
Image 7C. From book of Úllr, lines 3 and 4.
Image 8. Burial stone of Dágazar no. 1.
Image 9. Burial stone of Dágazar no. 2.
Image 11. Warriors commanded by Hræsvelg.
Image 12. City of Kerrigarðr c. 1489.
Image 13. Tattoos worn by Skulváði no. 1.
Image 14. Tattoos worn by Skulváði no. 2.
Image 15. From book of Skulváði.
Image 17. Verse-maps two and three.
Image 21. Tattoos worn by Síswyo.
Image 24. Burial stone of Kerrigan Logramsson.
Image 25. Plumes of Cukulcan Icon.
Image 26. Map of Kerrigarðr 1480–1501.
←xi | xii→Image 27. Hrogrmóat.
Image 32. Pouch pattern no. 1.
Image 33. Pouch pattern no. 2.
Image 34A. Fort of Margrnon entry.
Image 34B. Shield-wall manoeuvre.
Image 35A. Shields no. 1 to no. 5.
Image 35B. Shields no. 6 to no. 9.
Image 37B. Bifröst distance-rules.
Image 40. Deck of Ringhorn at sea.
Image 43. Yestuodi bareheaded.
Image 44. Yestuodi before battle.
Image 46. Plague-affected Finns.
Image 47. Time-keeping compass.
Image 48. Hallmundr facing north.
Image 49. The securest script.
This book offers a unique, creative approach through historical lacunae and poetic space towards new ways of reading Old Norse poetry. It considers the nature of poetic reading as multiple readings, in an examination of lacunae in the history, criticism and translations into English of Old Norse poetry. The methodology is an enactment of critical approaches to that poetry in the construction of an epic poem in English. The book’s focus is on literary objects, poetic reading and the significance of historical context in Old Norse court poetry.
The work is presented in two interconnected parts: an epic poem in ten Books bearing the title of its supposed manuscript, the ‘Gíld-rac Manuscript’, and its companion reader in nine chapters. The book opens with the introductory companion reader and proceeds to the poetic enactment. The Companion Reader analyses foundational critical writings in relation to gaps and reading in the areas of Old Norse philology and versification, literary aesthetics, and reception and reading. The introduction also provides companion reading to the construction of the demonstration of historical gaps, critical contexts and reading as a personal and cultural activity. It analyses narrative movement, diction, grammar, legend, the aural, the visual, authenticity and mythological re-invention, and offers a theory of actual and virtual reading. The epic poem demonstrates the book’s argument through narratives of the lives of the rulers of the constructed ‘Kingdom of Kerrigarðr’ (1051 to 1501 ad) and their successors.
The Companion Reader’s first chapter ‘Gaps and Critical Contexts’ provides a preamble to the whole Companion Reader. This chapter also sets the tone of the Companion Reader, introducing the experimental and researched material for the creation of the poem, the background to the scholarly questions addressed in the book and the process of authenticating the text of the poem. It leads the argument towards an analysis of the process covered in choosing the opening first-person narrator to be an eleventh-century Norwegian Earl Poet, to the choice of a late sixteenth- to ←xiii | xiv→early seventeenth-century English translator. It also introduces the discourse of the critical, literary and cultural approaches to translations into English of Old Norse poetry, definitions of the ‘Viking Age’. It considers the extant texts by or about Viking Age authors, their technique, language, historical and mythological references which highlight the problems of fixing the poetry that emerged from the Viking Age to points of reference such as place, time, author and purpose of the literature.
Chapter 2 ‘From Empty Helmets and a Few Bones’ explains what a poetic enactment should bring to a creative understanding of Old Norse poetry through historical lacunae towards new ways to approach the reading of Old Norse poetry. It explores the connection between original drawings of image-texts in the epic and the images on supposed shields said to have inspired ninth- and tenth-century Old Norse court poets Bragi the Old Boddason to write his poem ‘Elegy to Ragnar [Lóðbrók]’ (‘Ragnarsdrápa’) and Þjóðólfr Hvinir in composing ‘Autumn-long’ (‘Haustlong’).
Chapter 3 ‘Who Is the Reader? And How Many of Us Are There?’ introduces the central argument of the book. It considers ways to read texts as a modern reader or as an ancient reader and useful aspects of ancient reading from a Nietzschean point of view. This chapter argues for the existence of the poem as an object as real as a chair in a room where you are sitting and no less so. It argues that observer-readers have similar access to reading objects as composer-readers because a composer’s reading of the objects with which a poem may be created appears from two levels providing a special two-fold method of reading that comprises the whole encounter with indeterminate literary objects.
Chapter 4 ‘Roman Ingarden’s Observer as Composer’ develops the central argument of the book. It extends Ingarden’s propositions on the constituents of the literary work of art, suggesting that the real and the considered-real appear to us in such similar ways we seem to regard them as if those ways were the same. It also proposes that the comprehension of a literary work as one rife with lacunae belongs in the first instance to the composer’s experience rather than to the observer-reader’s, giving the composer-reader access to pre-reading constituted as a double reading.
Chapter 5 ‘Musical Chairs’ looks at the types of virtual readings or musical spaces into the parts of the poem. This chapter shows how those ←xiv | xv→types of readings can be applied to the epic poem and are, perhaps, applicable to any poetic reading. The broad categories are reading as a series of commands, reading as levels of attainment in reaching a goal and reading as mirrors.
Chapter 6 ‘Measures of Skaldic Poetry: What Does Metre Mean?’ shows how the sounds of the poem were teased out and arrived at, taking into account questions around provenance, problems with translating Old Norse poetry into English, omissions and philology. It shows how the setting up of the creation of the illusion of authenticity has foundations in the way the poem sounds. This chapter shows, also, how and why I incorporated various metres, fragments and short sequences, substitution-images and periphrases into the poem and how I created three new metres and played with diction and myth.
Chapter 7 ‘The Legibility of Contours’ addresses the place of the image-texts in the central argument of the book and the part they play in defining language and readership of text. The image-texts which appear in the margins of the poem proscribe the legibility of the image-texts for the readers inside the text, framing it and outside it. The topography of the landscape details of the text construct lines of sight which allow the poetic objects to be seen as they move and act. The landscape and language-set introduced by the first voice met in the poem, Dágazar’s, and the development of the re-invention of Muspellsheimr demonstrate how the real world of the poem is sustained. This chapter delineates the application of five types of scripts that offer ways of secret reading to open gaps, a unique role of poetic objects. This chapter also describes the folded scripts of the terrain and explains how the poem endeavours to blur the distinction between the poem’s enactment of critical discourse and the constructed world of the poem as if they were simply two languages where one may be used to read the other. It is here that the role of the poem’s translator of the made-up Late Medieval Norse-Icelandic ‘Gíld-rac Manuscript’ is proved. Gwen Terrane translates the obscurities to which all the variations in things and events in the world of the constructed manuscript give rise.
Chapter 8 ‘Commanding the Terrain of Lacunae’ addresses how the concept of shape-changing contributes to movement, use of language in the poem and interpretation. It shows how shape-changing extends to ←xv | xvi→my experimenting with appearances as much as meaning; for example, presenting the published object supposedly created by the poem’s Venetian publisher da Giacomo in the first instance.
Chapter 9 ‘A Grammar of Secrets’ concludes the central argument by showing how the poem’s contexts run together towards certain conclusions about reading and composing. Readers seem to stack up the exhibition of objects we comprehend like a shield-wall. This chapter reminds us that the focus of the whole journey is the performance of language, the battle for shape, meaning and generational comprehension of the performance of meaning through layers of reading.
The epic poem calling itself ‘Gíld-rac Manuscript’ is divided into two parts; its aim, to articulate the entire argument of the book as a puzzle in the search for rulership over signs and language in Old Norse poetry. It is set in the period between the beginning of Scandinavian exploration westward to the Americas c. 1050 and the beginning of expansion from Iberia in the same direction c. 1500 ad. The first part of the GMS, ‘The History: Books I to VII’, describes the founding in 1051 of Kerrigarðr, the kingdom lasting four-and-a-half centuries, the rise of its most formidable ruler Queen Skulváði Úlfr and her battles to sustain Kerrigarðr’s borders at the turn of the sixteenth century. As each Book opens with a preamble delivering the narrative focus of that Book, shortened summaries are provided below.
In Book I ‘Dágazar’s Dreams’ Norwegian Earl-poet Dágazar Kerrigánsson relates his dreams of securing land in Vinland or Green Woods on an oath sworn to his dying father Kerrigan Kerrigánsson in 1050. Dágazar’s journey takes him and his fellow Vikings further south than planned, into the Caribbees Sea or into Muspellsheimr as Dágazar sees it. Retreating from a fateful raid on the North American eastern seaboard, the Vikings and three Cherokee captives are plunged into a storm that strands survivors on the shores of the island of Ximayaca (shown as Jamaigua of the Antilhas del Rey de Castella or New Spain on the Cantino World Map (1502)). Survivors take ten years to establish a kingdom and achieve alliances with Ximacan rulers who preceded their arrival on the island.
Book II ‘Heyeoahkah’s Tales’ is set during the reign of Hauskuld One Arm (r. 1180). The stories are told in King Hauskuld’s presence at a Dísablóð ←xvi | xvii→or Blood Sacrifice Feast. The Dísablóð is a major post-harvest feast to celebrate the keeping away of bad luck and ghosts from the past. At first, feigning reluctance to entertain with a story, Heyeoahkah uses the occasion to resurrect the history of her Cherokee heritage and to praise the heroic deeds of Dágazar’s successor, Viglid the Mad Poet Prince.
In Book III ‘Oþýla’s Lays’ aspiring sword-smith Oþýla Anzusdóttir tells her story of being sent by King Logram the Red (r. 1405–1420) on a mission to rescue her cousin Frieda from hills ruled by rebel Kerrigash led by Radnir the Black. Her undertaking introduces her to the most powerful Chief of Ximayaca, Cebanex, and has far-reaching effects for the ruling Houses of Kerrigarðr and Ximayaca, for Logram’s successor, his son Kerrigan, and for Frieda’s child, Skulváði Úlfr.
Book IV ‘Helga’s Lament for Kerrigan’ (c. 1425) written by the young poet, Helga, maps the rise to fame of Logram’s son, Kerrigan, and his complex relationship with Skulváði Úlfr with whom he falls in love. During the first half of his reign, Kerrigan deepens alliances with Ximaca House, headed by Chief Cebanex, and gains a son in the process. But his successes will be remembered in Skulváði’s name.
Book V ‘Kerrigan the Fearless’ is set in the year 1450. After many years as King, Kerrigan Iron Hand turns first to Dragonþing rune stone for answers to the illusiveness of his total rule over Muspell’s Lands, then to his court adviser Íva Sand Reader of the Ívaldi priestess clan. With a cryptic message from the rune stone about a place called ‘Gíld-rac’ and Íva’s revelation of Skulváði’s secret maps of places where ‘treasures … hide the ground’, Kerrigan discovers a way to the under-grounds of Hel, an extensive cave-system beneath the surface of the island. He returns from the journey with experiences which increase his fame and fortune and finally bring him a bride. Part 1 and the first lay of Part 2 appear to have been written by Kerrigan himself; the second lay of Part 2, by Íva. The rest of Part 2 does not reveal its author or authors except for ‘How the Fearless came to Crown the Wolf’ which bears the name of the author of Book IV, Helga. Part 3 is an ancient lay about the historical travels around 1030–1050 of a Swedish adventurer named Nadlan.
Book VI ‘The Rise of Skulváði Úlfr’ gives accounts of Skulváði’s rise to power and of aging King Kerrigan’s loss of his hold over the Kerrigash. ←xvii | xviii→It begins with a duel between the King and Forskarlar giants, events which bring to Kerrigarðr, Síswyo, a powerful medicine woman and Pocheta or trader. Parts 1 to 3 are in the Queen’s words; the remainder, as marked, written by Síswyo and Modlog.
Book VII ‘Síswyo’s Songs of the Wolf’ relates events between 1480 and 1504 when the arms of Skulváði Úlfr’s trading empire spread across Muspellsheimr, northwards, to encompass the lands of the Sherakí, Ásatekr, Viro Cochar and Cama Zotzur. In Part 1, Síswyo relates how the Queen’s encounter with the Hulðrac brings her to the remarkable Mœhrn, Amarr, builder and repairer of bridges. In Parts 2 and 3, the Queen tells how the meeting leads her to the discovery of new territories. Parts 4, 5 and 6 tell of the wars to save Kerrigarðr; first, from Móir of Suamox and, second, to support Kerrigash allies, the Meaning-priests of Itzámál, against Móir’s ally Nemenquene of the Bacatá in disguise as Bölverkr. The wars raise the name ‘Skulváði Úlfr’ to ‘Járnsaxa’ (Iron Cutlass). Authorship of Parts 4, 5 and 6 is unknown.
The second part of the epic poem, ‘The Successors: Books VIII to X’, describes the expansion of Kerrigash influence beyond the borders of Kerrigarðr by Queen Skulváði and her successors into North America and Europe. Book VIII ‘The Argument between North and South’ opens with the imminent crumbling of the Ásatekr land-bridge empire. In response, the Kerrigash Queen urges Amarr to complete the journey to the Furthest Edge of the Last Outpost, intent on finding the mysterious ground of Gíld-rac glimpsed for the second time when Amarr closed Suamox from the Rest of The World. They travel towards the Furthest Edge from Blue-faced Gap, where Caul-smiths and War-poets are on the verge of civil war. An argument, threatening to harvest ‘The Great Calamity’, has broken out between the two sides about How to Measure the Edge of The World, threatening the completion of a ‘Map of Grand Proportions’. To avert the disaster, the Kerrigash Queen insists on raising an army known as the Crew of Blades of the legendary ship ‘Skiðblaðnir’ (Folding Ship of Wood Blades) to defend the Stone-Key under threat even if it means risking the secret route to Gíld-rac. Sundafyllir’s account (Parts 1 and 2) describes the untimely arrival of the Kerrigash Queen’s expedition in the lands of ←xviii | xix→Skaldcaps and Tremblers. A poet known as ‘Gauju’ is believed the author of Part 3. The author of Part 4 is unknown.
Book IX ‘The Law-suit’ relates how the Queen faces a challenge from Vella and Fafnir, sons of Móir or Bermejo of Sugamuxi (of the Muisca Confederation), who launch a law-suit on behalf of Vella’s son for his right to the ‘Fertile Fields’ or shortest route to Gíld-rac. Referring to his son, Wormling, as ‘nephew’, Vella makes a famous plea to gain property for the child he has with Lagrim, Fafnir’s wife (the child publicly acknowledged as his brother Fafnir’s son). The author of these verses is Eirinðis who refers to herself as a teller of ‘stories of whales’.
Book X ‘Lord of the Route’ gives a detailed account of what led to and followed the Queen’s remarkable journey northwest from Norway, on ‘sparks of flint’, on the way to Greenland. The verses begin with Hyndla, daughter of Skulváði and Otti and now married to Chief Hallmundr the Frail, returning home to Norway after many years away testing routes to the Last Outpost to Gíld-rac. Hallmundr presses his wife, who is best at memory-games, to tell him to the smallest detail how her journey went. Her reply brings pronouncements on the implications of such a detail which, along with her husband’s last wishes, sees Hyndla out King’s Gate again before she has caught her breath. This version of the Book is held to be written by Hyndla with the exception of the verses with titles indicating their authors to be the Brewer (Ólaug) and the Haiða (Gunna).
The epic poem is intended to tell the whole argument of this book. The final test of the poem is in the reading. I encourage readers to attend to the poem first and prepare themselves with their own reading to consider the assertions in the poem’s introductory arguments in its companion reader.
I am very grateful to Peter Lang Oxford, Peter Lang Group AG, Karl Bernhardt, Graeme Davis and Laurel Plapp for the publication of this book. I would like to express my gratitude to the University of Wollongong Faculty of Creative Arts where I began work on this project towards a doctorate which I completed with funding with the support of Ron Pretty and Andrew Schultz. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the examiners Manfred Jurgensen and Christopher Wallace-Crabbe. I must thank the editors who published excerpts of versions of this project in journals in Australia, Canada, the UK and the USA. I am pleased to acknowledge collaboration on an image with my daughter Nova Brown Longhurst and thank her for permission to include her drawings resulting from the collaboration, Water Bird Icons, on the frontispiece and on page 24. I am indebted to my daughter and grandchildren for their wholehearted support while I completed this book.
Gaps and Critical Contexts
Historical Lacunae and Poetic Space presents the nature of poetic reading as that of a solitary viewer who acts as multiple readers in very specific ways. The book examines lacunae in the history, criticism and translations of Old Norse poetry into English and presents an enactment of critical approaches to that poetry in the construction of an epic poem demonstrating the complex relationship between historical gap and creative reader. The process of the enactment raises a number of questions about poetic reading. Can any examination of creative process be useful in making clear the articulation of poetic imagination? Can that process be useful to the composer or the reader? Do composers or readers need to be able to answer any of those questions if a literary creation provides room enough to sustain both composer and observer-reader regardless of the historical contexts?
A creative approach to answer those questions requires undertaking a fundamental enquiry that lies beneath the questions: ‘What is the basis of the immutability of time with regard to ideal objects or objects that appear to reside in a literary work of art?’ Roman Ingarden noted, in his introduction to The Literary Work of Art, that it remained a mystery to him as to the basis of timelessness exhibited by ideal objects in literary works.1 Ingarden wanted to understand the basis for the lack of change and fixedness of ideal ←3 | 4→objects which put them at odds with real or actual objects that are (almost) always subject to change, even though both ideal and real objects appear to exist in reality and independently (p. 10). If it is possible to propose any answers, the opportunity of an enactment of that fundamental enquiry in a creative form might go a long way towards achieving clarification on the matter, even if it arrives only with fresh questions. A poem might do so because it has the capacity to address and demonstrate the issues surrounding poetic reading and the time-immutability of ideal objects. Such an enactment would need to tell the story of the troublesome nature of rulership over that unknown territory comprising the language of such objects. Alongside that story, the work must show its historical context so it might demonstrate and test propositions raised by critical contexts in Old Norse poetry. The whole work might also give a detailed account of the phenomenological and ontological nature of encounters with that terrain, since attempts to understand Old Norse poetry demonstrate a striving to understand its unique use of words requiring readers to puzzle over what is being described. As such, its aim must be the translation of the signposts of that landscape, an empirical study of the configuration of the terrain of ideal objects and its bearing on poetic reading. Perhaps a way to begin to answer the questions is to reveal the main queries behind them, starting with an understanding of the background of historical lacunae regarding Old Norse literature.
What is historically regarded as the Viking Age lasted from 850 to 1050 ad. Viking Age expansion probably came to its real end in 1066 with the death of Hárálðr Hárðráði in battle against the English two days before William of Normandy crossed the English Channel. Johannes Brøndsted puts the end of the Viking Age, at least ‘as far as Norway itself was concerned’, a bit later, almost to the turn of the twelfth century with the rule of Hárðráði’s son, Olaf Kyrri.2 John Haywood agrees.3 Such a definitive end, however, seems unlikely for the single-minded Vikings whose travels touched the borders of the Arctic, the ‘Blueland’ of Africa or the Sahara ←4 | 5→and North America. ‘Blueland’ may also have referred to the Sahel regions of the blue-robed nomadic Tuareg or Berber. The word may also be a substitution-word [heiti] for ‘sea’. The ‘Nóregs konunga tal’ (‘List of Norway’s kings’), a thirteenth-century manuscript of unknown authorship states that Háralðr Hárðráði captured eighty towns in ‘Serkland’ or Saracen land (present-day Egypt, and the Middle East) before moving on to terrorise Sicily.4
Little survives in extant documents that credit Vikings’ achievements near the scale of the 850–1050 period much beyond the late eleventh century. Nothing of Viking North American settlement to the extent of those found in Iceland or Greenland seems to have survived in their poetry and, as Kristjánsson notes, ‘no whole poems have been preserved outside Iceland’.5 Historical documents do suggest that some contact continued between Greenland and the North American Atlantic seaboard as late as 1347, evidenced in Greenland by animal pelts indigenous to Markland (Nova Scotia?) but not to Greenland. Records of Viking expeditions across the Atlantic Ocean can be found in unreliable Old Norse-Icelandic sagas and from the evidence of L’Anse-aux-Meadows. The strongest archaeological proof of Viking settlement in North America, L’Anse-aux-Meadows in Newfoundland, raises questions such as: Did it serve ‘as a “gateway” to Vinland’, where exactly was ‘Vinland’ and does the word ‘Vinland’ refer to ‘grapes’ and ‘wine’ or ‘Fertile Land’ at all or does it mean something or some place else?6 Archaeological evidence, remnants of stones, coins and burial practices at pre-Columbian Native American sites on the North American eastern seaboard as well as in the High Arctic garners strong argument from Graeme Davis that Vikings may well have lived in North America for some time before Columbus’ arrival there.7←5 | 6→
- XXII, 604
- ISBN (PDF)
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- ISBN (MOBI)
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- Publication date
- 2022 (April)
- The history of Old Norse literature literary criticism and approaches to translations of Old Norse poetry into English Epic Poetry Beverliey Braune Historical Lacunae and Poetic Space
- Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2022. XXII, 604 pp., 60 fig. b/w.