Sunday, March 13, 2011


There are some thoughts, or lines, or things that people say that distract you. That keep nagging away. Like sand, they get under the waistband, or in the shoe, or appear on the bathroom floor, where the children climb into the bath.

And I'm chaffing. It's a mysterious series of poems in an anglo saxon reader, named Maxims II.

Maxims II.

If there is Maxims II then there must be a Maxims I. And the subtitle didn't do some much as inform as mystify. Maxims II: Gnomic poetry.

Gnomes write poems?!

Sheesh. Except that gnomes were - like dwarves - seen as not just smiths, but also as depositories of arcane knowledge.

The maxims in question are an old english form of poems that state - the sometimes obvious - at other times religious, or the aspirational. The're a little like the Havamal, where gods answer questions and the answers are the stepping stones of wisdom.

But there's poetry in the chinks, and a sense of a world view that is quite intruiging. I'm hooked. And I've got an odd sense that the opening of my books lies somewhere within the opening.

Here's the opening of Maxims I
Frige mec frodum wordum. Ne læt þinne ferð onhælne
degol þæt þu deopost cunne. Nelle ic þe min dyrne gesecgan,
gif þu me þinne hygecræft hylest ond þine heortan geþohtas.
Gleawe men sceolan gieddum wrixlan.

Which Tom Shippey translates as:
Question with wise words. But do not let your opinion remain hidden, or what you know most profoundly stay obselete. I will not tell you my secret knowledge if you hide the strength of your mind from me, and the thoughts of your heart. Men of perception ought to exchange their sayings....

(Poems of Wisdom and Learning in Old English 1976)

You can hear a recording of these, from a little later along, read by Professor Drout here
So. I'm going to sit down with these, and wait for the muse - in the form of a short and hood-dark and bearded figure, with a jerkin of singed leather, and well-muscled forearms, to come and whisper in my ear.

No comments: