poetry and prose about place

keeping watch

with 4 comments

Some eleventh and twelfth century Scandanavian rune stones were established as memorials to family members.

The Bro rune stone in Uppland, Sweden, was raised by a wife, Ginnlög, in honor of her dead husband, Assur.  It also commemorates the building of a bridge (a causeway across marshy ground) in memory of Assur.

The stone is carved with two serpent bands, around an ornamental cross.  It says that Assur kept watch with a comrade Gæitir, as part of the Víkinga vorđr, a local defense force against Viking raiders.  The photo below is taken from:

Beginning in the 8th century, Viking raids were carried out regularly in England and Ireland.  Two well-known raids were on the monasteries at Lindesfarne in England (793 AD)  and Glendalough in Ireland (834 AD).

In the first stanza of the poem below is a poetic form called a ‘kenning’.  The ‘kenning’ is a figure of speech using two or more words to convey an idea or image.  It is usually associated with Norse and Anglo-Saxon poetry.  For example, ‘silver sun’ is a kenning for ‘moon’, and ‘summer smoke’ is a kenning for the windborne seeds of milkweed.

'summer smoke' of Rough Hawkweed (Hieracium scabrum Michx.)


keeping watch

                        the Bro Stone, Uppland


          bitter is the wind this night

         which tosses up the ocean’s hair so white

          merciless men I need not fear

          who cross from Lothland on an ocean clear

                                         – Irish monk, 8th century



on a calm night

under the shine of the silver sun

the shadow-self of dragon

square sail, glint of gold

swords polished and drawn



these are signs:

     blue sky

     the white belly of a gull

     lifted on the thickness of air

     stalks of milkweed bent

     their summer smoke pushed inland



no fear tonight

the wind bitter

the ocean tossed

Gætir, new leader of the watch

may sleep

I warm my hands

in Assur’s cloak, now mine

today I raised a bridge

and this sad stone

to my husband

my Víkinga vörđr

my protector from the raid



bitter this night

but safe

no dragon-kind

from the Danish shore

yet will I watch

listen to the whisper of milkweed stems

rumors of Lindesfarne

and Glendalough

where the coil of a serpent

may strangle a simple cross   


© Jane Tims 2004

Written by jane tims

October 15, 2011 at 4:58 am

4 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Wonderful post, Jane. “Keeping watch” took me back to Sigrid Undset’s tetralogy, “The Master of Hestviken.” Set in medieval Norway, whenever a character became incapacitated or gravely ill, his or her family would take turns “watching with” the one who was bedridden. Sitting by the bedside of a dying loved one was an honor and not considered a waste of time. Some of the other pursuits and plans of life were put aside, but that was the way it was done, family members taking turns so as not to leave the loved one alone. Even if a person lingered near death for years…

    Love the silver sun, the words and your drawing!


    Barbara Rodgers

    October 17, 2011 at 11:39 am

    • Hi Barbara. When I first read the Bro rune stone, the idea for ‘keeping watch’ came easily. I will have a look at the Undset books. Thanks for steering me in their direction. Jane


      jane tims

      October 17, 2011 at 7:54 pm

  2. I must say that I really enjoyed this. A beautifully written poem and a history lesson as well to boot! Thank you for sharing :-]



    October 15, 2011 at 6:26 am

    • Hi. I’m glad you liked it. I’ll have a look at your site too. Jane


      jane tims

      October 16, 2011 at 4:16 pm

I'd love to hear what you think...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: