From words that follow flow nothing new,
Frailty is human, despite heavenly view?
A fable for futures, a saga now past,
On winds of wonder, a prophecy cast?
The coming and going of the Aesir great,
We heard tales of beginnings and of late.
Glories of Asgard in its flower and end,
Dark lands, low sun, and Midgard then.
Bestla, wed to Bors, gave birth to Odin,
Known to other tribes as Wotan or Woden.
With sight to see ends, to learn all things,
What marvelous powers if born to be king!
Just as Jupiter was of Cronos' kin,
Would see afar though not always within.
His brothers' rights he would not forswear;
Loki, the trickster, uninclined to share.
Frigga's son Baldur, most blest of them all,
Was slain by Hodur at cruel Loki's call.
Mistletoe cherished, was the eye dart of death;
Beloved Baldur's passing left Asgard bereft.
But the blindman's dart had been cast in sport,
At the feast that day before Odin's court.
Innocent Hodur in horror took his own life,
Not Tyrfing the Valiant could counter such strife.
Baldur's brother sought Loki, hammer in hand;
Thor burst through the heavens and savaged the land.
He then at the last brought the Trickster at bay,
Heimdall bound him, chained him to the last day.
Loki's vengeance was plotted in envy and hate;
How might to his liking this bile to sate.
Allied with Frost Giants, but not finished until
He turned Angrboda, her three babes to his will.
For humankind, the message seemed unclear:
Ragnarok was, or is coming, upon the onset of years.
It might be true that these things are now all passed,
Unless the reign of the gods has not breathed its last.
Now so deep in darkness, without time or thread,
Those long undying now having gone dead!
Long peaceful lands were ruined by war,
Tired hands of the sisters were sewing no more.
Ragnarok, Creation's last gasping breath;
Foolish mankind at last hopes to cheat death?
The fabled three winters come to curse dwarf and elf,
Still men lived less by spirit than that counted wealth.
Loki broke his bonds and too soon freed his kin,
In jealousy and freedom, brought chaos again.
The Frost Giants assaulted bright Asgard in dread,
Aware the last battle would leave each and all dead.
The weight of years and the malice of deeds
Did not satisfy Loki in his sorrow or needs.
Odin perished with Sleipnir, as other gods fell;
Heimdall's hammer sent vain Loki tumbling to Hell.
Slaughter so great, so much beauty now passed;
On the plain, o'er the wall, to the chasm cast!
Then came a great clamor and rose such a sound.
Midgard Serpent cast the Bifrost Bridge down.
Heimdall had rallied for the last coming crush:
Yet many fell with Thor in the last Giants' rush.
Fenrir, the ferocious, not least of the slain,
Mythic the memory of that blood-frosted plain.
Angrboda’s whelps had devoured the light;
Heimdall led the remnant from the enveloping night.
The Rainbow to Midgard for all time now is dead,
Yet no one would take Odin’s crown to his head.
To Gimli, the Last Refuge, flew the Aesir that night,
Before the Giants had stolen the last vestige of light.
The highest point in all heaven is the last remnant realm;
Vidar guards the glimmer, gloam of Odin's living helm.
Troubles unknowing, not an end at the last:
Weakness consigns understanding to the past.
The dark and misty to scare babes in the night,
Sorrows and sagas where we judge ourselves right.
All of the heroes, in death and time unbound,
Vanish as vapors ‘neath the nose of a hound.
Stories for children, what was old may be new;
The past or the future, dare you call it untrue?
Days are raw and sunless, beer rations, big guns troll;
Harsh climes grey and joyless, there is naught to ease the cold.
Collars turned against the chill as come the cold winds’ wail;
Faces turn from freezing rain and the pelting hail.
The High Seas Fleet knifes through the dark, great ships clear for action,
The Kaiser and his officers cluck and brim in satisfaction.
Water wide and deep to drown in, scarce the scent of land or home;
No loamy earth nor lifeless trees, ground where warriors roam.
No owl’s hoot, no howl of wolf, nor lonely farmdog keening:
Only heads and hearts exploding under tons of metal screaming.
Skagerrak, to seek the Englishmen, close in battle just once more,
The King’s sailors in their great grey ships, try to kill them as before.
In spray and swell fast escorts go, pounding up and down the line;
So quickly through the breaking sea, had they wings they would be flying.
They are fast but are mere mites amid those bold but aging bruisers;
Yet even they are challenged keeping pace with shining new schlactkreuzers!
Von Hipper’s proud fast scouting force, battlecruisers they are named,
Very short on history, but with blood shall purchase fame.
Derfflinger, Lutzow, Von der Tan and Seydlitz,
Moltke last, not the least of those five most valiant ships.
Not big-gunned like HMS Tiger, nor as fast as flagship Lion,
Yet of strongest steel were they made, the sailors forged of iron.
Their turrets had rifled eleven inch guns, mounted all in pairs;
More accurate than the fifteen inch the Royal Navy had in theirs.
Some name the battle Jutland, across Heligoland Bight;
The fog and fire erupting there would last a day and night.
Beatty’s cruiser vanguard advanced in line, like an arrow strung:
His commander John Jellicoe meant to prevent Gotterdammerung.
Skagerrakschlact: flashfires, thunder; seas rang ‘neath big guns roar;
Lines of Grey Leviathans broke from the fog, a scene as none before.
Indefatigable soon was sunk; flash of fire, Queen Mary was blown up;
Beatty’s Lion fell from line disabled, Invincible would not be home to sup.
Black Prince, the Warrior, and Defence, noble ships the seabed found,
As the Kaiser’s kreuzers strong and bold, were building their reknown.
Yet Lutzow was sore hurt herself, holed by fifteen inch shell hits,
Pommern sunk holding the rear, while they fought to save Seydlitz.
There was the run down south, then the chase back north;
Beatty was defeated until Jellicoe’s battleships showed forth.
Admiral Hipper had been flush in sudden success,
Was now pressed by Sir John’s numbers under his big guns’ duress.
But the big ships of Fifth Squadron, lost all signals in the fray,
This one failing most of all, cost Admiral Jellicoe the day.
Sheer then ordered the schlactkreuzers on their famed Death Ride,
Making smoke to save his ships, run for darkness, or else hide.
Sir John still might have caught them, trapped or sunk them all at will:
In the haze he feared mines and U-boats, not just German gunnery skills.
The kreuzers at last plunged forward to make good Scheer’s escape,
King George’s ships turned sixteen points, for Scapa Flow, the Grand Fleet’s lake.
Seydlitz, sinking by the bows, might founder for want of a meter.
Her crew would not allow the sea or Brits the chance at last to beat her.
Swells rolled o’er her gunwales, and across her brick red deck,
While Hipper signaled “fleet turn” to keep the Englischers in check.
Lutzow had sunk Invincible and downed armored cruiser Defence;
But she had paid with her own life in dour Neptune’s recompense.
The Kaiser’s fast light cruisers bore much of the early battle’s cost:
Elbing, Frauenlob, Rostock, and Wiesbaden, all of them were lost.
The Royal destroyer flotilla fought heroically though soon
Disappeared into the deeps, having piped their final tune.
Tipperary, Sparrowhawk, Turbulent, and brave Nestor,
Fortune, Ardent, Nomad, that night mourned by home investors.
Jellicoe had turned away and thus did Scheer escape,
Pilloried by the Admiralty, Beatty gained the commander’s cape.
He alone, John Jellicoe had known, so clearly did it seem,
Scheer with half his numbers, the German ship-strength was no dream.
From an afternoon of folly, Sir John saved Beatty and the Fleet;
He could have lost the war in one day; he saved the ships, forestalled defeat.
Away to the Havens, the Kaiserliche Marine steamed in shame.
But Wilhelm claimed great victory despite the blood and pain.
At the last the crippled Seydlitz survived to make her port,
Having run aground, awaited tides, and was towed in last resort.
Survivors of the Jutland battle, afterward in port at bay,
Few orders heard or given with no one left to lead the way.
Nine thousand men were dead in the murk and brine that day;
Wonders of science and slaughter, skill of seamen cannot belay.
The death and terror of the trenches rose and rolled across the sea:
An industry of murder evident, while the world’s eyes looked alee.
Glory, country, God, and king, drowned heroes but who is right?
Settled now, stern or bow, blood and screams in a North Sea night?
First Armistice, then laughable peace, so rebellion found the streets;
The Entente demanded the surrender of the surviving High Seas Fleet.
Grey ghosts steamed for the Orkneys, long the Grand Fleet’s base,
Seacocks opened for scuttling, there sunk in the Englishman’s face.
‘A waste of good steel’, said a captain, ‘lying just beneath the swell’;
‘Yet to redeem them seems too costly; so, perhaps it’s just as well’.
Days and years dark and soulless, pride of nations, breaking hearts.
Harsh skies grey and joyless; full of fear in fits and starts.
Faces turn blindly from the cruel lessons of their time;
Without regret, ordered deaths, crowns or flags or chapel chimes.
Bleak grey-black shapes gone sunken, so long stricken from the lists,
A century now is come and gone in the shroud of Skagerrak mists.
I recall a thin light blue jacketed book on a trip to the library when I was 7. It wasn’t the Lives of the Saints, the Mickey Mantle Story, nor Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves. It was a world of new characters and places, powers, morality; monsters and creatures to imagine as fully as people. It was filled with beauty, death, words that needed to be heard as well as said. Norse Legends and Mythology, yes, Odin and Thor but give me Heimdall!
Heroic or epic pieces represent, to some of us, lost or forgotten realities and are not ‘looking glass’ excursions. Homer to Hiawatha, but it came together for me resounding with The Idylls of the King. The rhythm. The Grail, Arthur, the Table Round, the tales contained within; Pelleas and Ettare, The Red Knight. Jump to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight! Oaths, roasted boar, mead, feasts, noggins flying about! The Norsemen, their rich mythology, Grindl and his mum; the Great Roland of Charlemagne’s Court, and perhaps the richest and most mysterious of the Celts, proto Celts, and Gaels, the lost races of those misty isles with layers of history, legend and myth cast gently overtop each other from the Dagda to Cuchulain to the coming of St. Columba.
The Native American Culture is responsible for many beautiful, diverse stories of creation and the coming of man into the world. The depth, color, the characters! Was it the turtle or the beaver that built the earth from the flood? And there is a flood, and conflict, and jealous gods in every culture, Africa, Egypt, Mesopotamia; monsters whether the Kraken or the Golem. And whether swallowed, defeated, redeemed, for good or ill, in fate, or cursed of the gods, like Hercules, Arthur, Achilles, or Cuchulain, the heroes who made these tales human.
Patrick Loudon was born many years ago in Florida before the roads were paved, the rest areas built, when there still were publicly funded schools. He received a BA in History from the University of South Florida and currently resides clinging to a mountainside in North Carolina between Asheville and the Tennessee border. He has spent 37 years working in the brewing industry.
Editor's note: to preserve Patrick's line breaks, the second poem was published in a smaller font.