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Liturgical Writing 1, Question 3

Discuss a poem of at least eight lines as to its use of poetic elements (as defined by Watkins): formulaics, metrics, and stylistics. Pay particular attention to use of meter and phonetic devices, such as rhyme and alliteration. (Minimum 100 words beyond the poem itself.)

Mersberg Spell 2: Horse Cure

Phol ende uuodan
uuorun zi holza.
du uuart demo balderes uolon
sin uuoz birenkit.
thu biguol en sinthgunt,
sunna era suister;
thu biguol en friia,
uolla era suister;
thu biguol en uuodan,
so he uuola conda:

sose benrenki,
sose bluotrenki,
sose lidirenki:
ben zi bena,
bluot zi bluoda,
lid zi geliden,
sose gelimida sin.
Phol and Odin
rode into the woods,
There Balder's foal
sprained its foot.
It was charmed by Sinthgunt,
her sister Sunna.
It was charmed by Frija,
her sister Volla.
It was charmed by Wodan,
as he well knew how:

like blood-sprain,
Like limb-sprain:
Bone to bone,
blood to blood,
Limb to limb,
As though they were glued.

I chose to focus on the Merseberg Spells for this requirement because that are a) obviously poetry, and b) interesting to me with their original Old High German language (these two are the only OHG pagan remains ever found) and their obvious magical function.

The translation is comparative rather than technical, and done by myself. It's an amalgomation of various other translations and my limited German knowledge. The translation isn't part of the actual essay, though: it's just there so that everyone knows what I'm referring to if they don't read OHG (not required to analyze a poem, really).


Particular formulae in this poem include the general theories of IE magic, where a mythical description of the precedent is offered first, the solution offered, and then the same formula used. It is, in many ways an attempt to access sympathy by comparing the situations.

Here, the situation being compared is the breaking of a horse's leg. The myth presented is a description of Balðer's foal spraining its foot. It's said then that several gods charmed it, but Woðan's charm was the one that worked. It the gives the charm, which follows a very common formula for magical spells: stating that the bone, blood, and limb are whole makes it so.

By comparing the situation to the mythical one, the current situation becomes the mythical situation, and thus the same cure works.


Perhaps the most interesting thing appears to me as the last word in each line of the first stanza. There, it seems that the first syllable is stressed, and the last unstressed, which is characteristic of Skaldic poetry, a popular form of which might be dróttkvætt¹, though there seems to be some metrical deviation from the general norms of Germanic verse, which I'm ascribing to Latin influence, noted in the next section.


The lack of any other extant pagan works in OHG makes this question an interesting one. It's obvious that the early sort if end-rhyming that is found on occasion through the poetry is not a Germanic construction, but a development from Christian Latin verse², and the fact that the poem was found in a book of Latin liturgies and obviously written by a scribe shows that it was probably changed from it's original form.

There's also a lot of alliteration going on in this poem, particularly in the last stanza. This is primarily consonance, which is common in Germanic languages and the poetry within it.


¹ - Gordon, E. V. An Introduction to Old Norse. New York: Oxford University Press. 1927, p. 317.

² - "rhyme." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 28 July 2007


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