Ellorgast #poetry #earthweal

The feast of Samhain
and we are gathered in the mead-hall
the warriors, drunk on mead
bellies heavy with meat
pound the long oak tables
and boast of their exploits
while my maids clear away the plates
and I glide between the protagonists
of this chaotic scene: a peace-weaver with heavy footsteps
heading for the bedchamber.
I’ll not be disturbed by him tonight
he’s far too drunk for romantic exploits
but I am disturbed
as I blow out the candlelight
by the one we have left outside
uninvited.

I hear the moan, which sounds so much like wind beneath the moonlight
and the heavy thud like tree-fall
but I know it’s him:
Grendel.
He’ll snatch a few thegns for an early breakfast
as they stumble home, hungover
just to taunt us.
We have forgotten the outsider
and as recompense
he’ll feast on us.
In time he will be torn to pieces, still
this bloody tale will not be over
the warriors, so fond of taking lives
forget the fury
of a bereaved mother
in this way
day after bloody day
vendetta lives.

© 202experimentsinfiction.com. All Rights Reserved.

Featured image: from William Blake’s notebook, Copy 1 via The William Blake Archive.

Written for earthweal

This week, Sarah Connor hosts the challenge, Approaching Samhain, in which she remarks:

I came across a beautiful notion when looking at Samhain/Halloween/Day of the Dead traditions. The word “guest” and the word “ghost” both come from the German word geist — a spirit invited to join the feasting on the Day of the Dead. That says to me that we can open our arms and our hearts to the uncomfortable and the uncanny. We can accept the dark gifts they bring — introspection, reflection, mourning, the discomfort of rebirth.

The mention of the connection between the words ‘guest’ and ‘ghost’ took me back to the Old English epic poem, Beowulf. In this poem, Beowulf’s arch enemy, the monster Grendel, is described as ‘ellorgast,’ which is usually translated as ‘alien visitor,’ but means literally ‘ghost/guest from elsewhere.’ In my poem, I wanted to give a different perspective on what is on the surface a very masculine tale of warriors vs. monsters. I think the poem is in fact much more subtle than this, so I have examined the action from the perspective of Queen Wealhtheow ‘the Peace-weaver,’ who is the only prominent female character to feature in the poem, apart from Grendel’s mother.

51 thoughts on “Ellorgast #poetry #earthweal

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  1. Oooo….this poem is so clever. Imagine living in those times….A wonderful depiction of the middle ages…I think your ancestors helped with this one…whispering in your ear LOL Wonderful !

  2. I know the basics of the Grendel myth, but I don’t know it in any detail. It’s interesting to get the perspective of a woman on this. I like the atmosphere you create. She’s smarter than her husband, isn’t she?

    1. I find it interesting that a monster should have a mother who cares for him…but why not? I think she’s a lot smarter than her husband, yes!

  3. Wonderful work, Ingrid.
    My very first impression on seeing your post was, my, Ingrid draws just like Blake!
    I love the etymology, too.
    Hope this finds you well. x

  4. Oh, I really love the ideas that both you and Sarah bring up. And so fascinating of you to focus on Queen Wealhtheow ‘the Peace-weaver,’ a character I don’t even recall.
    So much to think about with this poem and post. Thank you!

  5. As always, I’m a total ignoramus on myths, but I”m so glad you did it from a woman’s perspective. And she’s so perceptive and brave. You set the scene. I didn’t feel like I had to go and look it up to figure out the story. It’s beautifully told.

  6. I like the thread you have drawn connecting guest and ghost. Human bravado (especially of the masculine kind) not only destroys itself but closes the doors to other voices. (K)

  7. Samhain. In order to appease the gods, the Druid priests held fire rituals. Prisoners of war, criminals, the insane-animals-were burned alive. By observing how they died the Druids believed they could predict omens of the future. Ten thousand years later we’ve come no further. Samhain isn’t goblins or evil spirits. It isn’t witches or ghosts. It’s the unconscious mind. We’re all afraid of the dark inside ourselves.

  8. The voice of the Queen here for me was the omniscient narrative sprit resurrected in place for this ghastly tale. “Grendel” is primordial; it slides backwards into that stinking fen and pool where in its depth is a drowned treasure-room, the deep unconscious of Western Europe. Grendel could be Crom and his mam the witch of time’s weir. Yummy. Well done and thanks for sharing the sketch from Blake.

    1. Oh, I forgot about the sunken treasure! ‘The deep unconscious of Western Europe’ – that’s it! Thank you for your reading and interpretation.

  9. Still losing comments here. This was wonderful, like reading one of the old classic tales. I loved the peace-weaver with heavy footsteps, the ominous moan outside, the mother’s fury. So well done. Loved it.

  10. Ingrid, this poem and your recent, “All in the Blood” poem are making me nostalgic for my British Lit classroom. Just the good stuff – the actual teaching. I did enjoy teaching Beowulf, which did not include a discussion on the King’s inability to perform in his drunken state, or the Queen’s state of mind about the same. That does, however, remind me of the Porter scene in Macbeth. That made for some interesting conversations and lightbulb moments. 💡 I appreciated your exploration of the Queen’s perspective in your creative approach to the prompt. Sarah’s perspective on death, loss, and change resonated with me.

    1. Thank you Michele! I don’t think I thought about this during my study days, it’s funny that thinking back to the poem I had a clear picture in mind of a hall full of drunken men, snoring and stinking of booze!

      1. You are welcome. Thank you for referencing poems and plays I enjoy teaching. 👩🏼‍🏫 There are many layers to the epic poem, but I have to agree – the image of mead hall men boasting and boozing is a strong one, and yes a strong smell too, I imagine. 🤺 ⚔ 🍺 Thank you for responding so early (for you). Enjoy your day. 🌞

  11. Ooh loved this Ingrid .. felt I was right there and running under the bed to be safe.. great job on this. My phone is doing weird things here. Lmk if I u followed or did something weird. Something g pooped up but not sure what. Ugh! 💕

  12. I like this, and the old Grendel myth. You’ve certainly captured the essence of the old mead hall (I can hear those fists pounding on the tables) Clods and drunken warriors. The one left outside. And love the sketch….really interesting that it’s from Blake’s notebook. Wow.

    1. Thank you. It was hard to find an image to fit, because drawings specifically of Grendel didn’t look frightening enough to me. This one did!

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