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What Was Viking Poetry For?

What Was Viking Poetry For?

By Anthony Faulkes

Lecture given at the University of Birmingham (1993)

Introduction: I would like to make it clear to begin with that these proceedings are not the celebration of the 1200th anniversary of the first viking raid on England, which took place at Lindisfarne on 8th June AD 793.

You must climb up on to the keel,
cold is the sea-spray’s feel;
let not your courage bend:
here your life must end.
Old man, keep your upper lip firm
though your head be bowed by the storm.
You have had girls’ love in the past;
death comes to all at last.

There are various ways of taking the last two lines; I do not think the poet was thinking particularly of rape and pillage. Rather I am reminded of Sir Andrew Aguecheek: ‘I was adored once, too’, he said.

Old Icelandic has been taught in this Faculty of Arts for over a quarter of a century. Before I came here it had for several years been made available to students in the Faculty by Bernard Standring in the German Department (from about 1968) and Wyn Evans in the Library (from about 1967). It must have been because of their success and enthusiasm that in 1973 the Department of English decided that it wanted its own Icelandicist, but it was mainly due to the determination of Geoffrey Shepherd when he was professor of Medieval English in this Department that Old Icelandic was made available in the English syllabus here and a post created for it. Our presence here this afternoon is thus due, as so many good things in the arrangements in the School of English are, to the influence of Geoffrey Shepherd, to whom I owe not only my present position but also much of whatever there is of value in my understanding of the subjects I teach.

Click here to read this article from the Viking Society for Northern Research

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