The Drápa of Battle Cry

I look to traditional Old Norse forms for inspiration and ideas for new poems. It was perhaps inevitable that I would turn to the genre of the “shield drápa” eventually, and indeed I have. My post today features my first shield drápa, but first I shall say a bit more about what a shield drápa is, with reference to some historical examples, of course.

In the Old Norse period, finely decorated shields, often depicting scenes from the mythology, were occasionally given as gifts. If a poet received one as a gift, it was apparently expected that the poet would compose a poem about it, sometimes even in the form of a drápa. In Egil’s Saga (chapter 81), it is mentioned that a friend of Egil’s, Einar Skallaglam, came to visit him with a shield as a gift. But Egil was away. After three nights, Egil still had not returned. Since staying longer than three nights on a visit was contrary to custom, Einar left at that point, but left the shield behind as a gift. When Egil discovered it, he is reported to have said, “That scoundrel. Does he expect me to stay awake making a poem about his shield? Fetch my horse, I shall ride after him and kill him.” Egil was exaggerating a bit, as he did not actually go out and kill his friend. He is reported to have compose a drápa about the shield nonetheless, though only a single stanza of it is quoted in his saga.

Besides that, the skaldic poems Haustlöng and Ragnarsdrápa are also shield drápas and purport to describe the scenes painted on such shields. I myself have not received any such painted or decorated shields. However, the Asatru kindred that I am in, the Hearth of Yggdrasil, has received a shield as a gift. Although it is only painted with the three colors of the kindred and not any scenes from the mythology, I felt it nonetheless to be worthy of a poem, so I wrote it one. The shield itself is named “Battle Cry,” and thus the poem is simply titled “The Drápa of Battle Cry.” It is in 11 stanzas of fornyrðislag. As is customary, I have italicized the refrains. I’ve put the name of the shield in bold where it appears. Some kennings for “shield” as listed in Snorri’s Edda have been used where appropriate.

‘Tis for Battle Cry,
the carried board,
that I’ve shaped this praise
with my surest craft;
my song is solid,
as suits that shield,
for now I tell
its needful tale.

The burnished boss,
brightly gleaming,
is an inner beacon
on this board of oak.
With a band of black
it’s bound at the edge;
that cowhide wyrm
secures its world.

Its spiral pattern
spreads from center,
and three by three
are the thick gyrons,
in rightful manner;
with kindred colors
it’s carefully painted.

Leading our way
as luminous circle,
the awe of Battle Cry
is always beaming.

Gold for the Gods
we graciously honor,
whose faith we foster
and firmly hold;
The gleaming glow
of the great old ways
we seek to show
to seekers sure.

Black for the Well
that bears our wyrd,
both deep and dark,
like the depths it holds.
‘Tis firm and fast
like the famous virtues,
those guides to growth
and the good in life.

Green for the Tree,
glorious and bright
that holds the homes,
hight Yggdrasil,
and green we keep
our great kindred
that learns the ways
to live as heathens.

In its bright colors
is our bold mission:
the awe of Battle Cry
is always beaming.

Cut and crafted
by keen Levi
of Coal Center
in cold December,
‘tis a glorious gift
that will grace the Hearth
on our road ahead
of rising fortunes.

With sword it’s paired
as a powerful set
to wield with honor
and ward our frith.
Our arms and armor
we’ll always carry
while the World-Tree
is waxing green.

Hail to the gift,
hail to the giver,
and hail to the Hearth,
for holding its trust.
May fame endure
for this fortunate oak
that’s hight Battle Cry
and for the Hearth of Yggdrasil.

Copyright © 2013 Eirik Westcoat.
All rights reserved.

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