Category Archives: Uncategorized

Saving Daylight

It’s that time again, in the U.S. anyway–Daylight Savings Time ends tomorrow. It’s a nuisance, but at least this time, we get to turn the clock back and get an extra hour of sleep. The real killer is in the spring when the clock moves forward, and we celebrate by having lots of traffic accidents.
While pondering this problem recently, I came up with an ingenious plan to fix the system.
In November, nothing changes. But in March, the ‘spring forward’ will be eliminated. Instead, everyone will simply set the clock back twenty-three hours.
So, when we reach 2 a.m. on Sunday, the whatevereth of March, it instantly becomes 3 a.m. on the preceding Saturday. This accomplishes the ‘light savings’ just as well as the current system, and also gives you a do-over for that Saturday, making it a three-day holiday weekend. Or you can choose to stay in bed and sleep your way back to Sunday.
Difficult people might point out that this would create a problem over time, as we’d gain a day and every year would become, in effect, a leap year, pushing the calendar out of synch with actual solar alignments. Not to worry. We simply decree that February now will have only 27 days, and 28 in a leap year. What’s the downside of trading a day in February for an extra day in March? We’ll just have to tweak the famous rhyme a bit, which should be no problem:
Thirty days hath September,
April, June and November,
All the rest have thirty-one,
Excepting February alone–
In leap years keeping twenty-eight,
Else twenty-seven–saves a date!

Any day now, I expect to receive the accolades of a grateful nation..

Writing Like a Viking

In Egil’s Saga, it’s told how Egil fell into the power of his enemy, King Erik Bloodaxe. Egil managed to save his life by composing a 20-stanza poem of praise for Erik, overnight, and reciting it from memory the next morning.

Those were the days when poets really had to work for their living!

You couldn’t just dash off something in free verse, either. There were demanding technical rules governing how a poem could be composed.

Technical Stuff You Can Skip If You Just Want to See a Sample:

Egil’s poem was a drápa, a poem of praise–usually a longer poem, consisting of 8-line stanzas, with a periodic refrain. Each line had to meet certain requirements also. The verse forms for drápas varied, but one possibility was Dróttkvætt or “courtly metre”. This is a trochaic metre (stresses fall on the first syllable of each syllable pair, or foot). Think Longfellow’s Hiawatha–“By the shining big sea water”. The dominant form in English, back when people worried about stuff like that, was iambic, with accents falling on the second syllable. Think just about anything Shakespeare ever wrote–like “This time of year you may in me behold”.

Each verse in Dróttkvætt has 3 feet. Further requirements vary by line–for odd lines, two of the stressed syllables must alliterate with each other, and two (not necessarily the same two) must share a partial rhyme (similar consonants, different vowel sound). For even lines, the first stressed syllable must alliterate with the two alliterated syllables from the previous odd line. Then, two of the stressed syllables within the even line must rhyme with each other.

My Personal Quest:
I have been tackling the task of writing a drápa in English, using the Dróttkvætt verse form. Mine is a relatively short drápa–just 100 lines, 13 stanzas counting the refrain. Still, it’s about the hardest piece of writing I’ve ever done. In the better stanzas, though, the lines play off each other to create a distinctive music that’s hard to describe.

The Sample:

This is my 4-line refrain.

Wish-lord watches high-throned,
Wanderer still fares onward,
Found One finds the rune-hoard,
Famed the names of Odin!

My poem is a poem of praise for Odin, particularly his feat of discovering the runes. Odin
is famed for having many names, and one of the extra tasks I set myself was to include a different name of Odin in each stanza. In this, the refrain, I include four, the first three translated into English.

Wish-lord watches high-throned,
This is an odd line, the alliteration supplied by ‘wish’ and ‘watch’. The partial rhyme is also supplied by these two words–I’m fudging just a little on the word endings. ‘High-throned’ refers to Odin’s high seat, from which he can see everything that occurs on Earth. Wish-lord is one  of his more intriguing titles; Valkyries are also sometimes known as ‘wish maidens’.

Wanderer still fares onward,
The Odin-name ‘Wanderer’ of course carries on the ‘w’ alliteration from the first odd line. The two rhyming syllables (it doesn’t need to be a full word) are ‘wan’ and ‘on’. ‘Wanderer’ has an extra unstressed syllable, it’s the only place in the poem I allowed myself that particular luxury.

Found One finds the rune-hoard,
Alliteration and partial rhyme are supplied by ‘found’ and ‘finds’. ‘Found One’ seems a particularly ominous name for Odin, especially from the point of view of those evildoers who would rather not find him!

Famed the names of Odin!
‘Famed’ and ‘names’ supply the rhyme, ‘Famed’ the carry-on alliteration.
There you have it! Not too difficult, right? Now, just keep on doing that for 96 more lines…and for extra credit, be ready to recite it tomorrow morning in front of a hostile audience!

Creating Elf Habitat, Part 3

An important factor in creating elf habitat is to have the right plants growing in your yard. Sometimes these aren’t the ones you would expect. For example, consider milkweed, pictured in bloom above. Its flowers are actually quite pretty. But although I’ve seen it all my life, and pulled up hundreds of them, I never knew until recently that it flowered at all. It turns out that it’s a favorite plant of butterflies, and who doesn’t like butterflies? For sure, elves must be partial to them.

Other weeds that I’m tending to leave alone this summer include plaintain, which has seen long use as an healing herb, lamb’s quarters, which are edible, and Michaelmas daisies. Some people apparently plant these “daisies” on purpose, but they grow wild in my yard. If you burn their leaves, it’s said to drive away evil spirits.

But better to leave them standing, and attract elves instead!

Happy Thor’s Day?

My wife and I were explaining to our daughter a while back that people from all over the world know the God of Thunder. We told her several of the names he’s been given in different cultures, such as Zeus or Perkunas.

My daughter thought a moment. “And in New Hampshire,” she said, “we call him Thor.”

An interesting sidelight to this is that in our town, celebrations, festivals and events are disproportionately scheduled on Thursdays. We never understood why, but it didn’t seem impossible that it was some kind of unconscious homage to Thor.

However, recently we stumbled on a more prosaic explanation: our town, along with many others in New England, was in the 1800s and early 1900s primarily a mill town. And Thursday was payday at the mills.

Still, a great reason to raise a horn (or a glass) to the God of Thunder. Hail Thor!