The Song of Haeleth of the Dawn's-Light

Morgan B

‘Seven we were, and seven we fell,

seven in strength, by honour bound

now none but names, now none remain,

to light the lands of multitudes.

For while we stood, we held our ground

and seven by seven foes in rage

could not bear battle at our shields;

they fell to us, we fearless few.

But then, when Haeleth fell, we lost

not one of us but all of us;

lost all our light, our heavens’ shine,

what worth we have should we yet live?

A spear it was brought day to dusk,

in shadow threw us, we who stayed;

she was unflinching, the faultless one,

when gored by ash-wood, dropped her shield.

The blood streamed forth like sun’s rays,

pierced in the neck, her cries went forth

though once the purest tones of songcraft,

then darkened to a raven’s croak.

Since Haeleth fell, she who led us,

to the field, gave grief to many;

now Lēoma’s hall is brighter,

and we are lost, in darkness cast,

this song all that of us remains;

the sons of I’uddiff, on shores of fate.’”

  • Author: Morgan B (Offline Offline)
  • Published: July 26th, 2022 17:30
  • Comment from author about the poem: A short poem-within-the-poem from the Gyldlandsaga. The Ylfu – the ‘elves’ of my world – whilst ensconced in their mighty subterranean barrow beneath their ancient city Dofran (the OE name for Dover, complete with ‘steadfast white sea-walls’), are more precisely informed by Welsh culture, especially the bardic tradition, which underlines the poetry recited in the court of Yldfreah (the name which our narrator gives to the Ylf-lord – his name literally ‘Old lord’, which is more of a title really – cf. the Old Norse fertility god, Freyr, and probably one given to him by the narrator as a reference to his own linguistic culture). Hence the very Welsh-derived lament which the Ylfish bard Meloth sings in honour of the leader of Gifli’s expedition, this is a piece originally inspired by and modelled on the 12th Century Killing of Hywel ab Owein, the most relevant lines being as follows: While we were seven, thrice seven dared not attack us, nor made us retreat while we lived; alas, there are now but three of the seven, men unflinching in fight...Since Hywel is gone, who bore battle gladly, by whom we used to stand, we are all avowedly lost...with a spear...Hywell the Tall, the hawk of war, was pierced. (Peryf ap Cedifor, from A Celtic Miscellany, transl. Kenneth Hurlstone Jackson, Penguin, 1973). The Amazonian Ylfish swordswoman Gwearyffeth, vengeful sister to Haeleth of the Dawn’s-Light, bears the epithet ‘Hawk of Thrimilci’ - Thrimilci being the Ylfish name for the month of May (derived from the OE Đrimeolce, thus rendering Gwearyffeth an analogue to the Arthurian Gawain – who in certain traditions may be derived from the Welsh Gwalchmai, or ‘Hawk of May’. Brian Stone (in his translation of Gawain & the Green Knight, Penguin 1968) reminds us, following Robert Graves’ The White Goddess that the hawk “is of course a sun-bird” - and as Gwearyffeth’s ultimate destiny, she believes, is to destroy Fyrfax, the slayer of the beloved sun-queen Lēoma, she also represents the reborn sun-goddess-in-waiting. Like Gawain and his prototype Cuchulain, her strength grows with the rising of the sun: “The ‘Hawk of Thrimilci’, so she is known; early summer’s keen-eyed daughter; mightiest at mid-day, the blade-strong maid...” a detail which in fact accounts for the onset of the battle at dusk, and its climax occurring the following afternoon, when multiple paths of destiny intertwine – or end. Therefore, a deliberate cross-gendering of solar warrior/king→ solar warrioress/queen, endows the Ylfu with a Celtic character, an association fairly universal in British elf-legends of a certain era and further helps to contrast them completely with the patriarchal (and lunar) Ulfhednar. In this way, the Ylflands embody the purely solar end of the spectrum – the Ulfish nation the lunar opposite – and Gyldland rests in the middle. Both Gyldish and Ylfish cultures set the sun-goddess (with very different character, attributes and names) as their prime deity, though Ylfish culture venerates their goddess to the point of monotheism (any similarities to the solar cycle elements of Christ’s death and resurrection are, actually, coincidental – perhaps reflective of the universality of such themes in world mysticism). In the narrative and its dialogues, the Gyldish sun-queen Gydena is usually abstracted as Sóli, the living sun herself, and other gods – Hrefni, the storm-father and Smorian, the queen of the dead (who is not even a first-generation deity but Hretha and Mægtha’s daughter) are named and invoked far more often, as befits a narrative where storm, strife and death are writ large. Other nations and peoples do exist – such as Myrkahof, the land of the Dvargar; also the land of the Orknoís, pig-folk of distant realms (semantically related to the orcneas of Beowulf, the Orkney Islands and the Irish proper name Noíse, → ‘orcs’); see Graves (The White Goddess) on the underworld associations accorded to the hog, and the naming of the Orkneys thus, but details on these lands are sketchy. Prior to the climactic battle, the Ulfish female druids chant a grim ritual song: “War-knots cast, slaughter-spears slung, blood charms chanted, glory-wyrd wrought. The gore of slave-born greatly runs to the roots of Victory-ash in splendour; give to us our rightful dues, a feast of carnage in the field.” The charm represents the verbal component of a sacrificial process whose somatic aspect is, clearly, the killing of slaves (most likely human, to judge from previous occurrences – the first, explicitly enacted at the request of the landwihtan in Chapter XXIV; the second described briefly by Smeoru-snettru in his account of the siege of Gold-heart to Womba in Chapter XL, where he says “The Ulfhednar, the slaughter-keen, slew many slaves before the siege – an act of blood-devotion, so I’m told. Perhaps the gory deed was good; we won the day, with bow and blade...” The striking contrast between the Ylfish and Ulfish cultures is also underscored by a small but almost very significant incident, again, prior to the final battle, in which an Ylfish character carries a dead wren on a stick, a ritual derived from the real-world ‘ death of the sun’ mythical motif. In Ylfish culture the wren represents darkness, the antithesis of Leoma, and as a result is hunted and hung with reverence to the sun-queen, in a rather barbaric and primitive application of Frazerian sympathetic magic (kill the dark-associated animal to kill the dark itself – see any edition of The Golden Bough for more examples than any researcher could ever need). However, one of the Ulfish druidesses sees this and almost sparks a full-scale revolt as a result, for the wren is contrarily sacred to them, specifically because of its dark and sinister associations (I’m indebted to the entry in Stuart Gordon’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Legends for these details, including a note on the wren having fulfilled a Promethean role in French legend, by snatching fire from heaven, and its sacred status to Taliesin). In this way is the very fine balance of tolerance and intolerance between three completely disparate cultures (the Gyldish humans, the Ylfu and the Ulfish) revealed. I also liked the idea of the giant, ferocious Ulfish people holding dear not a mighty soaring eagle or flesh-tearing raven, but the smallest of birds, showing that associations and mythical symbolism need not be of the most obvious kind. Due to its cave-dwelling habits, the wren may have been identified by the very early Ulfish people when they first settled in what would become Hulthrenaark, the land of the eternal moon, as a fellow dark-dweller, and the fundamental association thereafter developed by the druid class who, despite being exclusively female in an otherwise warrior-based patriarchy, still perform essential duties of ritual, sacrifice and – assuming their druidic nature is similar enough to the Celtic reality – possess vital knowledge of the movement of the heavens (stars, we’d suspect) in order to fix significant dates, devise calendars and therefore control many of the basic regulatory functions of life: when to sow, when to harvest, and of course what counts as auspicious (or inauspicious) times for certain activities such as raiding, trading or feasting.
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  • crypticbard

    Powerful use of language. Returning to lore of my childhood, this is so good to hear. Thanks for sharing.

    • Morgan B

      Thanks so much, it was a fascinating piece to write! I think it's one of my favourite passages to date 🙂

      • crypticbard

        I understand the feeling! It's like time travel or transcendent levitation of sorts through language and lyrical phrasing.

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