Poetry and Speech

On Mother’s Day one of the things we did was go to the bookstore. I’ve been So Very Good lately, getting all of my books either from the library or BookMooch, so I felt justified in buying a few for once. In addition to a compilation (I almost typed “complication” – interesting slip) of C. S. Lewis essays on Christianity, I bought the new Tolkien, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún. It’s poetry for the Seriously Geeky, being a rewriting of ancient Eddic sagas in modern English but retaining the Old Norse meter.

That sounds rather esoteric, but it’s amazing to read. This kind of poetry is so compressed and so highly structured – a line divided into two halves with two stressed syllables in each, the third of the four stresses always carrying alliteration, to be matched by one or both of the first two, but never by the fourth (are your eyes crossing yet?) – it’s really awe inspiring that someone could create it. Here’s an example:

The Gods gathered
on golden thrones,
of doom and death
deeply pondered,
how fate should be fended,
their foes vanquished,
their labour healed,
light rekindled.

In forge’s fire
of flaming wrath
was heaviest hammer
hewn and wielded.
Thunder and lightning
Thor the mighty
flung among them,
felled and sundered.

–”Völsungakviða En Nyja” (The New Lay of the Völsungs), Upphaf (Beginning) 7-8.

Now certainly the subject matter is interesting, being some of the oldest stories of Northern Europe, but even better is to say these poems out loud! They are like the most delicious tongue twisters ever.

I’ve had a soft spot for tongue twisters since childhood. My parents bought me a book of tongue twisters that I practically wore out – it even had foreign language ones like “Six sous ces saussicons-ci?” (Six cents for these sausages? – French) or “Nama mugi, nama gome, nama tamago” (Raw wheat, raw rice, raw egg – Japanese).

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes – even more than these tongue twisters, Tolkein’s eddic poems remind me of some of the speech exercises we learned in Foundation Year at Rudolf Steiner College:

Lovable lidded lizard,
Lipping light laughter,
Lumpishly lurking,
Launching a lurch!

Clip, plop, plik, glik,
Clinked clapper quickly

Or this one from Steiner himself:

Tu-whit twinkle ’twas
twice twigged tweaker
to twenty twangy twirlings
the zinnia crisper
zither zooming shambles
this smartened smacking
smuggler sneezing
snoring snatching.

Discussions with Teachers, p. 135.

How fun are those? And how much more fun to have Tolkein put that kind of beautiful, chewy language into poetic form with an engaging plot and luscious imagery.

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3 Comments

Filed under Books, Poetry, Silliness and Mayhem

3 responses to “Poetry and Speech

  1. Lisa Zahn

    Oh, I love that poetry! How nice you show the fun side of poetry. I’ll have to look into that book.

  2. I really like the Nordic poetry too. It has been fun hearing it again through Lou.

  3. tolkein and language blow my mind on so many levels.

    i should probably expand on lewis, and i am just delving more into Steiner’s works this year.

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