Saturday, September 19, 2015

I Reddened the Greedy Eagle's Claw

Three translations of the same poem, a love poem by Rognvald Kali Kolsson:

translated by George McKay Brown

Golden one
Tall one
Moving in perfume and onyx
Witty one
You with the shoulders
Lapped in long silken hair
Listen: because of me
The eagle has a red claw.

translated by Judith Jesch

Truly excel far for the better
women, well-tasselled with Frodi’s milling
your tresses, wise lady.
The hawkland’s prop lets hair fall on
her shoulders -
I reddened the greedy eagle’s
claw – yellow as silk.

translated by George W. Dasent

Sure it is, O lady lovely,
That thy stature far outvies
Form of women whose attire
Gleams well fringed with Frodi’s meal;
Locks as soft as yellow silk,
Lets the maiden downward fall
On her shoulders; I have reddened
Eager eagles’ crooked claws.

Frodi's mill was a wonder-mill capable of grinding out anything, including gold; due to imprudence it became the reason why the sea is salt, but, of course, here it indicates gold (although perhaps also the treasure of peace, which Frodi's mill also could grind). Particularly interesting is the entangling of the images of the lady's hair and of the man's battle-prowess, mixed in with each other and both told in the language of falconry.

St. Rognvald Kali Kolsson, or St. Ronald of Orkney, is an interesting figure. In the twelfth century Kali Kolsson was made Earl of Orkney and Shetland by King Sigurd I of Norway; he took the name of Rognvald, after a very successful predecessor, for luck. There was some initial trouble taking possession of his new position, since it was already held by someone else, but with some cunning and good fortune it all turned out well, so he founded St. Magnus the Martyr Cathedral. It was only in 1151, however, when he was in his forties, that he accomplished his most famous exploit: a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. In the course of sailing there, they stopped in Narbonne, where Rognvald met the beautiful Ermengelde of Narbonne, about whom he penned the above verses. He stayed a while there while part of the rest of the pilgrim party went on, but could not be made to stay, and set out again to finish his pilgrimage. He was murdered by a band of outlaws a few years after his return to Orkney.

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