A relative is being taken off a ventilator and almost certain to not survive. So I have been retreating into Old Norse literature (in translation) and have been reading Egill Skallagrimsson’s poem “Sonatorrek,” The Grievous Loss of Sons, which he composed after the deaths of two sons. It is also about the loss of relatives in general. It’s an amazing poem, full of kennings and Egill’s fierce, difficult, grieving personality. He was a terrible man, brutal and violent and avaricious. He starts the poem by saying it’s hard to compose a poem when sobbing heavily and then goes on and composes the poem. Anyway, I ended by writing a poem that riffs off Egill’s poem, and I have to footnote the damn thing, since it has at least one kenning, and a couple of references to Norse myth, also a reference to a theory put forward by an Icelandic volcanologist that the loss of country’s glaciers will result in more eruptions, after the weight of ice is gone from volcanoes.
As for Egill, after he complains that he can’t kill the sea for drowning his favorite son, and says he is giving up entirely on worshiping Odin who has betrayed him, finally ends by saying:
He who does battle
And tackles the hell-wolf
Has given me the craft
That is beyond reproach And the nature That I could reveal Those who plotted against me As my true enemies.
The craft beyond reproach is poetry. I don’t know about the second half of stanza. I think it translates as, Odin gave me wit enough to know my enemies. But Egill was such a difficult person that he was certain to make enemies. They didn’t sneak up on him. Anyway, he is satisfied with the poem, which is considered to be the greatest of skaldic poems, and says he is ready to die. He’s 80 and blind and no longer able to kill people he doesn’t like, so it isn’t as if death will be premature.