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The Viking Terror -- Anonymous

(Poem #109) The Viking Terror
Bitter is the wind tonight.
It tosses the ocean's white hair.
Tonight I fear not the fierce warriors of Norway
Coursing on the Irish Sea.
-- Anonymous
translated by Kuno Meyer.

I must confess I have an inordinate liking for 'Northern' poetry - from
the Icelandic Edda and Viking sagas through Old English alliterative
verse and the Welsh bardic tradition, all the way down to the present
day and good old Tolkien - there's something about epic poetry that
grabs my imagination. Today's poem is a beautifully concentrated example
of the same phenomenon - in just four short lines, the poet [1] manages
to conjure up an extraordinarily vivid atmosphere of grey northern skies
and howling winds, longboats battling through the waves, honour and
valour and courage...

Notice how direct the language of this poem is. It's an especial
characteristic of heroic verse that the words used be simple and common,
the better to express strong emotions clearly and without unnecessary
adornment. This again is the reason why much 'older' poetry (the Elder
Edda, classical Haiku, Yoruba chants) seems elegant to modern readers -
by stripping the verse to its essence, to the barest possible words, the
folk poet achieves a simplicity and honesty lost to more 'sophisticated'


[1] if indeed he was a 'professional' poet - I think it far more likely
that this fragment of verse was composed by a warrior or (even more
likely) a lover :-)

64 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Godichiabois Linda said...

Well Met,

Just a little question, can I use this poetry on my homepage? It is
Answers pleaser to
Thank you,
May all the Gods shine through you!

Berna Michael said...

I have heard this poem interpreted differently. It goes as follows...

Since tonight
The winds are high
The sea's white mane's a fury
I shant not fear
The hordes of hell
Coursing the Irish Channel

Have a great day!

Anonymous said...

I have not heard this version of "Viking Terror" before.I rather prefere this version,which I read years ago


Please comment on this and if there are more versions written on this theme
Brian Condron

tomas said...

In Thomas Keneally's book, "Now and in time to be", he quotes a ninth-century monk's quatrain:

Bitter the wind tonight,
combing the sea's hair white:
from the North, no need to fear
the proud sea-coursing warrior.

A wonderfully evocative piece of poetry that resonates today, especially in a force -nine gale on the coast of Donegal.



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