Sunday 27 February 2011

Riddles in the dark

Tomorrow I'll be making my first stop on the West of the Moon blog tour - at the enchanted, mist-haunted home of Katherine Roberts' Reclusive Muse - who's posted up a wonderful poem in honour of my arrival!  It's a riddling poem, which suits 'West of the Moon' really well because it recalls the riddling verses, called kennings, which Old Norse poets so often employed. (Incidentally, I've always thought kennings are a brilliant way of introducing children to poetry.  I always use them on school visits - children adore riddles and really enjoy the imagery.) 

I too love riddles and kennings, and I've written about them on this blog before. The Vikings thought more of a man if he could weave words: some of their most renowned warriors were also poets, like Iceland's Egil Skallagrimsson, and Grettir the Strong. The murderous Harald Silkenhair in 'West of the Moon' is a warrior poet from this tradition, and keeps his men happy by asking them riddles (here are two I made up for him):

I know a stranger, a bright gold-giver
He strides in splendour over the world’s walls.
            All day he hurries between two bonfires.
            No man knows where he builds his bedchamber.”

            “I know another, high in the heavens
            Two horns he wears on his hallowed head
            A wandering wizard, a wild night-farer,
            Sometimes he feasts, sometimes he fasts.”


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