Today we worked through lines 22- 40. From the ᚹ (wyn) ‘joy’ of lines 22-24, we moved quickly into the runes we’ve dubbed ‘threatening’. The pace moves up a gear as we go through these runes, with hail and harship each getting two hyper metric lines each, whilst ice gets an over load of adjectives.
ᚻ (Hægl) hail
byþ hwitust corna; hwyrft hit of heofones lyfte,
Wealcaþ hit wendes scuras, weorþeþ hit to wætere syððan.
ᚾ (Nyd) harship
byþ nearu on breostan; weorþeþ hi þeah oft niþa bearnum
to helpe and to hæle gehwæþre, gif hi his hlystaþ æror.
| (Is) ice
byþ oferceald, ungemetum slidor,
glisnaþ glæshluttur, gimmum gelicust,
flor forste geworuht, fæger ansyne.
In the descriptions of these phenomena, the poem turns to superlatives, and there is a sense of movement in space and between external and internal sensations. Hail is described as hwitust ‘whitest’, as it hwyrft ‘circles’ from above, and is wendes ‘whirled’ by the wind. Hardship is felt in the breostan ‘chest’.
A lot of fun can be had with the translation of the Ice passage, it’s a moment where the Old English words have some well-matched modern English equivalents. Ice is oferceald, literally ‘over cold’, slidor ‘slippery’, glæshluttur ‘glass-light’ and ‘gleaming’ like gems. It turns the floor into a forste geworuht ‘frost-wrought’ surface.
We do wonder how much to read into these runes as being ‘negative’ or ‘threatening’ as compared to the others. Did the Anglo-Saxons fear Ice or Hail? Were they associated with ill tidings or danger? We do wonder how much we are tempted to read the ‘Dark Ages’ idea of medieval lives into this poem. But, these descriptions do lead us to picturing a hall such as Heorot, standing in the darkness, protecting its inhabitants from the inhospitable, unpredictable world outside.