A bright guarantee

A bright guarantee

Many who have seen hope return and fears dissolve under the bright light of morning may appreciate this notion of a ‘bright guarantee of God’. ’Light came from the east,  /  bright guarantee of God, and the waves  /  went quiet.’ Source: Beowulf, Seamus Heaney...
May you not thole

May you not thole

‘Thole’ is an Old English word for ‘to suffer’ or to endure without complaint.  It also refers to a pin, typically one of a pair, fitted to the gunwale of a rowing boat on which the oar pivots, a ‘thole pin’. ‘He knew what they had tholed, the...
Care for a tarn dip?

Care for a tarn dip?

A small mountain lake, originally Middle English from old Norse: tjorn.  In Beowulf, it refers to the watery home of Grendel’s mother: ‘the tarn-hag in her terrible strength’. Source: Seamus Heaney, Beowulf,...
A wyrd fate

A wyrd fate

‘Wyrd’ originally referred to fate or personal destiny, and relates to the modern word ‘weird’. As a Middle English adjective it meant ‘having the power to control destiny’ and the Weird Sisters, later Shakespeare’s witches, originally referred to the...
A stook of grain

A stook of grain

A sight we no longer see: a group of sheaves or grain stood on end in a field. Also ‘to stook’, meaning to arrange (sheaves or grain) in a stook. It comes from Middle Low German stüke.  I like Heaney’s adoption of this to describe warrior’s...
Swingeing cuts

Swingeing cuts

‘Swingeing cuts’ usually refer to sharp budget cuts – note the ‘e’ making it a soft ‘g’ (like a ‘j’), not like the hard ‘g’ of ‘singing in the rain’. To swinge means to strike hard, or beat,...
May you never be reft

May you never be reft

‘To reave’ is an archaic verb meaning to carry out raids for plunder, or to rob somebody by force, with the past tense of ‘reft’.  There is a vestige of this in the still current words ‘bereave’ and ‘bereft’, used mostly...
Reptile-haunted rocks

Reptile-haunted rocks

This reminds me of the French word for basking in the sun, based on the word for a lizard: se lézarder. Source: Seamus Heaney, Beowulf (London: Faber & Faber, 2000), p....
Rock-piled roof

Rock-piled roof

Another structure you would hope could keep the Grendel gremlins out, ideally providing a ‘dry-stone vault’ underneath. Source: Seamus Heaney, Beowulf (London: Faber & Faber, 2000), p. 86 and...
Horn-pronged gables

Horn-pronged gables

This reminds me of some of the pointed and upturning gables and eaves in traditional Chinese and south-east Asian architecture. Source: Seamus Heaney, Beowulf (London: Faber & Faber, 2000), p....
Iron-braced door

Iron-braced door

A door to keep enemies at bay?  Except perhaps Grendel who would have torn it off by the hinges. Source: Seamus Heaney, Beowulf (London: Faber & Faber, 2000), p....
A wave-frothing vat

A wave-frothing vat

The sea as a wave-frothing vat! ‘He fell beneath his shield, / in the same gem-crusted, kingly gear / he had worn when he crossed the frothing wave-vat.’ Source: Beowulf, Seamus Heaney (London: Faber & Faber, 2000 (1999)), p....
Oneiric

Oneiric

Relating to dreams or dreaming; Greek origin: oneiros, meaning ‘dream’. ‘He is at once a stratum of the earth and a streamer in the air, no painted dragon but a figure of real oneiric power.’ Source: Seamus Heaney, Beowulf,...
Hirple

Hirple

A Scottish and N. English word meaning to walk with a limp, to hobble. Hence ‘hirpling’. ‘He is hasped and hooped and hirpling with pain, limping and looped in it.’ Source: Seamus Heaney, Beowulf,...

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