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.