Sunday, 13 March 2016

Prynne's runic poem

Prynne's runic poem

Lunchy claimed, in his review of not-you (published as a fugitive leaflet and as part of the internet angel exhaust thirteen), that the Runic Poem in Prynne's Poems 1982 was non-semantic. My transcription of the runic poem is as follows:

BBB aelu bbb sefatorn  bbb aelu
BBB-th- ciserbeam bith beobrod
Beorhtlic s g beon beobearn w
I bearu deorc beoth lifbeag ae
BBB aelu bbb sefatorn  bbb aelu

The form of the runes demonstrates them to be Anglo-Saxon (strictly, anglo-frisian), which at once suggests that the language too is anglo-saxon. I would amend aelu to alu, a magical word much used in runic bracteates; it also means ale in AS. There is a kind of rune called, in an eddic poem, ale-runes (olrunar). New Scientist (12/8/95) tells me that 'in human chromosomes for example a 282 base sequence known as "alu" occurs in about a million separate locations, comprising about 10 per cent of the entire genome': the point is that these sequences, like magical runes, are of unknown purpose. As for BBB, it is a meaningless magical string, as also much favoured in pagan inscriptions; i am inclined to compare the swaggering evocative string xxx associated with ale. The fourth group along, sefatorn, is a quote from the right hand side of the 8th century Northumbrian whalebone object known as the Franks casket, where it accompanies a picture whose meaning is unfortunately in dispute. One commentator says, 'there are few objects from the early eighth century which are as self-consciously clever as the Franks casket.' so for the top and bottom lines i translate: bbb ale (for) grief of mind bbb ale bbb. For the body text, i translate: cherry-tree is honeycomb/ bright let bee-children be/ (? In) grove dark are life-rings
     The heavy alliteration is that used in pagan runic inscriptions on objects. The target object would be, I suppose, a wooden drinking-cup, or mazer. The model is the gnomic poems, which also use this special form of the verb to be (ll. 2 and 4), which according to Heinrich Wagner comes from the welsh present-habitual (byddaf i, fe fyddaf i, etc.), opening ethnolinguistic perspectives which i will immediately close. Certainly it seems to indicate 'present-future' and 'habitual', like the Welsh tense. The link between alu and honey is that the classic intoxicant of those days was mead (bee-brew in as), whose alcohol content comes from the sugar in honey. Bee-bairns are presumably not frisky young bees, but a kenning for the product of pollination, i.e. Cherries. The link between pollination and DNA transcription is not hard to make. Lifbeag is not in the dictionary, but presumably, on the analogy of lifdagas, means annual ring; beag is a symbol of fidelity in as poems, and treow is a homophone which means both tree and faith. Beag is associated, in one of the gnomic poems, with bunum, cups: the trees drink through their phloem rings, the drink in cups is a proof (as are conventionally rings) of the lord's generosity; drinking-cups were usually wooden for the saxons, as were the mead-halls.
     It is only fair to point out that there is one letter which comes from the Scandinavian alphabet, and some spare letters which I can't fit into words. The non-AS rune is the lightning-flash sigrune rather familiar from the insignia on the collars of ss-uniforms. It is not unknown for single runes to stand for the word which is the name of that letter, as so-called ideographic runes; reading them so, the text would run:  thorn ciserbeam bith beobrod/ beorhtlic sigel gyfu beon beobearn wenne/ is bearu deorc beoth lifbeag aesc
     Allowing some of these nouns to be in oblique cases, I construe, hazardously: (?) Cherry tree is honeycomb/ brightly let cherry-fruit be joy through generosity of the sun/ (?) (ice) grove dark are life-rings of ash(wood)

This is not a satisfactory reading; I leave the aporias for someone more experienced in runic inscriptions and more fertile of conjecture than I am.
     I will add, as an anecdote, that Prynne told me that the visit to the shield on the cover of the oval window, on army land in Cumberland, involved a detour (by the army driver) to a large runic inscription on a cliff which JHP thought hadn't been recorded by anyone. This, however, was well after Poems (1982).
     The assumption that the runic poem is non-semantic is a bit wobbligato. Lunch wanted it to be non-semantic, but if you see a poem made of letters it is not automatically true that the letters don't form words.















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