The Rune Poems
are three poems that list the letters of runic alphabet
The runic alphabets are a set of related alphabets using letters known as runes to write various Germanic languages before the adoption of the Latin alphabet and for specialized purposes thereafter...
s while providing an explanatory poetic stanza for each letter. Three different poems have been preserved: the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem
, the Norwegian Rune Poem
, and the Icelandic Rune Poem
The Icelandic and Norwegian poems list 16 Younger Futhark
The Younger Futhark, also called Scandinavian runes, is a runic alphabet, a reduced form of the Elder Futhark, consisting of only 16 characters, in use from ca. 800 CE...
runes, while the Anglo Saxon Rune Poem lists 26 Anglo-Saxon runes. Each poem differs in poetic verse, but they contain numerous parallels between one another. Further, the poems provide references to figures from Norse paganism
Norse paganism is the religious traditions of the Norsemen, a Germanic people living in the Nordic countries. Norse paganism is therefore a subset of Germanic paganism, which was practiced in the lands inhabited by the Germanic tribes across most of Northern and Central Europe in the Viking Age...
and Anglo-Saxon paganism, the latter included alongside Christian
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...
references. A list of rune names is also recorded in the Abecedarium Nordmannicum
, a 9th century manuscript, but whether this can be called a poem or not is a matter of some debate.
The rune poems have been theorized as having been mnemonic
A mnemonic , or mnemonic device, is any learning technique that aids memory. To improve long term memory, mnemonic systems are used to make memorization easier. Commonly encountered mnemonics are often verbal, such as a very short poem or a special word used to help a person remember something,...
devices that allowed the user to remember the order and names of each letter of the alphabet and may have been a catalog of important cultural information, memorably arranged; comparable with the Old English saying
A saying is something that is said, notable in one respect or another, to be "a pithy expression of wisdom or truth."There are a number of specific types of saying:...
s, Gnomic poetry
Gnomic poetry consists of sententious maxims put into verse to aid the memory. They were known by the Greeks as gnomes, from the Greek word for "an opinion".A gnome was defined by the Elizabethan critic Henry Peacham as...
, and Old Norse poetry
Old Norse poetry encompasses a range of verse forms written in Old Norse, during the period from the 8th century to as late as the far end of the 13th century...
of wisdom and learning.
The Old English Rune Poem as recorded was likely composed in the 8th or 9th century and was preserved in the 10th century manuscript Cotton Otho B.x, fol. 165a – 165b, housed at the Cotton library
The Cotton or Cottonian library was collected privately by Sir Robert Bruce Cotton M.P. , an antiquarian and bibliophile, and was the basis of the British Library...
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...
. In 1731, the manuscript was lost with numerous other manuscripts in a fire at the Cotton library. However, the poem had been copied by George Hickes
George Hickes was an English divine and scholar.-Biography:Hickes was born at Newsham, near Thirsk, Yorkshire, in 1642...
in 1705 and his copy has formed the basis of all later editions of the poems.
George Hickes' record of the poem may deviate from the original manuscript. Hickes recorded the poem in prose, divided the prose into 29 stanzas, and placed a copper plate engraved with runic characters on the left margin so that each rune stands immediately in front of the stanza where it belongs. For five of the runes (wen
, and ing
-In English:* -ing, a suffix added to English verbs to make a present active participle or a gerund* Ing, a word for a water-meadow-In old Germanic history:* Ing, Ingui or Yngvi, a Germanic god* Ingaevones, a West Germanic cultural group...
) Hickes gives variant forms, and two more runes are given at the foot of the column: cweorð
and an unnamed rune (calc
), which are not handled in the poem itself. A second copper plate appears across the foot of the page and contains two more runes: stan
Van Kirk Dobbie states that this apparatus is not likely to have been present in the original text of the Cotton manuscript and states that it's possible that the original Anglo-Saxon rune poem manuscript would have appeared similar in arrangement of runes and texts to that of the Norwegian and Icelandic rune poems.
The Norwegian Rune Poem was preserved in a 17th-century copy of a destroyed 13th-century manuscript. The Norwegian Rune Poem is preserved in skald
The skald was a member of a group of poets, whose courtly poetry is associated with the courts of Scandinavian and Icelandic leaders during the Viking Age, who composed and performed renditions of aspects of what we now characterise as Old Norse poetry .The most prevalent metre of skaldic poetry is...
ic metre, with the first line exhibiting a "(rune name)(copula) X" pattern, followed by a second, rhyming line providing information relating to its subject.
The Icelandic Rune Poem is recorded in four Arnamagnæan manuscripts, the oldest of the four dating from the late 15th century. The Icelandic Rune Poem has been called the most systematic of the rune poems (including the Abecedarium Nordmannicum
) and has been compared to the ljóðaháttr
Recorded in the 9th century, the Abecedarium Nordmannicum
is the earliest known catalog of Norse rune names (though it does not contain definitions), is partly in Continental Germanic, and also contains some distinctive Anglo-Saxon rune types. The text is recorded in Codex Sangallensis 878
Codex Sangallensis 878 is a manuscript kept in the library of the Abbey of St. Gall. It dates to the 9th century and probably originates in Fulda monastery. It contains mainly excerpts of grammatical texts, including the Ars minor and Ars maior of Aelius Donatus, the grammar of Priscian, the...
, kept in the St. Gallen abbey, and may originate from Fulda
Fulda is a city in Hesse, Germany; it is located on the river Fulda and is the administrative seat of the Fulda district .- Early Middle Ages :...
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...
- Rune Poems from "Runic and Heroic Poems" by Bruce Dickins