Museum pieces (2)

7 June 2010 § 2 Comments

Another poem from the British Museum, this time inspired by an Anglo-Saxon knife, called a seax, that was found in the River Thames. Dating from the 10th Century, it’s of huge archaeological importance because the blade bears the only inscription we have of all 28 letters in the Anglo-Saxon alphabet, or furthorc. The other runic word is Beagnoth, which is the name of whoever made or owned the seax. Who they were and how they were parted from this magnificent weapon, which was used for hunting and fighting, we’ll never know.

SEAX

Once, it was whetted for war and the hunt,
Its iron blade burnished. Then, abandoned, mislaid
Or hacked from a hand in the heat of a fight,
It spent long dark centuries sunk in the mud
Of the Thames. Disinterred, a lost tongue was revealed:
The furthorc, in full, finely-wrought on the blade.
A plea for protection or profitable hunting?
Unknown and unknowable. But the name, Beagnoth,
Removes the Museum glass, makes it a possession
A person once prized, and part of a story.
A shard from the shadows, time-shattered, the knife
Still pierces perceptions, and presents us a life.

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§ 2 Responses to Museum pieces (2)

  • John Stevens says:

    I thought I had posted a comment on Monday, but I must have clicked the wrong button! I meant to say that I like the alliteration in the Old English manner which feels very natural and appropriate here, and I especially like the image of the name removing the museum glass and revealing the person. Very effective and evocative!

    • gonecycling says:

      Hi John

      Lovely to hear from you, and many thanks for the positive feedback. I really enjoyed your Midsummer poem; lots of atavistic images that really made me feel I was ‘in’ the scene you described.

      The Old English style is fun to work with, but it takes a while to get the alliteration and the four stressed beats to line up sometimes! How the Beowulf poet kept it up for 3,000-odd lines is beyond me..!

      Look forward to your next piece.

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