The Stanzas Of The Old English Rune Poem * Gary Stanfield (2012)

What a monster work! The Old English Rune Poem (OERP) is 28 stanzas long, 84 lines, but Stanfield uses almost 700 pages to teach us something about them! Quite a while ago I got an email from the author asking if I would mind receiving a PDF of his book for review. Not knowing it would be this size, I agreed and decided to try to use my very cheap, Chinese 7″ tablet (used as internet radio) as ereader. Well, the thing is not really fit for being an ereader, so I read the work in small portions to spare my eyes and head. 700 Pages, what on earth would Stanfield tell about a short rune poem? Each poem is given in its original language and in different translations. After a wordly translation with all possibilities for every word, there is a “perfect” translation, sometimes a readable translation and a modernised translation. The “perfect” translation tries to capture the stanza’s alliteration, word-play, rhythm and layers of meaning. After this comes a detailed discussion of translating the stanza which will be interesting for people who want to learn about old English and who want to translate and/or interpret the poem for themselves. What Stanfield writes on in detail are problems with translation different words, tell us how earlier translators tackled those problems, put elements of the poems in perspective, etc. Then follow different interpretations of the stanzas. There are what the author calls “explicit stanza”s and “implicit stanza”s, which roughly equates to exoteric and esoteric interpretations. Of the latter Stanfield usually gives several. Next comes an “advice for living” and a schematic summery of the stanza. After the chapters about the stanzas follow a couple of lengthy addenda for example investigating the Gods Týr and Freyr. One addendum is about Wyrd another explains some of Stanfield’s starting points.
Stanfield is certainly very original in approach and meticulous in method. He does have a writing style that I had to get used to. Terms as “implicit stanza” look a bit odd at first. Also he names his interpretations and later refers to them as if these interpretations are someone else’s, as in: “Esoteric Practice Can Be Fun. This implicit stanza is based on “Religious Advancement and Irrational Needs”.” (p. 280) Perhaps he has been working on this book so long that every time he thinks up a new interpretation, Stanfield treats his own work like a reference book. Certainly there are several hints that the book used to be much larger with much more translations. The version that I got is the second edition.
Another reason why Stanfield is original in his approach is that his basis lays in what he calls “progressive mysticism”, a mystic basis for religion that recognises the same basis in other religions. It is unclear if Stanfield is a practicing heathen, but he is certainly not purely an academic. Maybe his approach is more like that of authors such as Mircea Eliade, Huston Smith or Joseph Campbell in being essentially religious, but seeing that essence in each religion. Certainly Stanfield likes to refer to practicing heathens as his sources are often Edred Thorsson or the brothers Wodening, but the author is certainly not uncritical. A remark that made me smile was: “The Asatrú method is to combine data from various Germanic cultures as if there were no differences, or to ignore non-Norse sources.” In similar ways Stanfield is critical to both contemporary heathens as to scholars in the field of the past and the present. In his own detailed investigations, Stanfield comes to very ‘undumézilian’ conclusions that I do often not endorse, but this massive work certainly deserves the attention of scholars and heathens alike for being not only original and groundbreaking, but mostly for being as detailed as it is. There will be something here for people interested in old English, for people interested in poetry, for people interested in translating old texts, for people interpreting old texts and certainly for contemporary heathens who are not affraid for an original look at “the lore” or the practice in daily life.
As I understand it, the plan of the author is still to publish this as a book, he is currently working on copyright. I have no idea if there is already an interested publisher. I think this should be a book, because this is a reference work and I find jumping through a book trying to find a passage a lot easier than having to try to come up with the correct wordings to find a passage. Besides, 700 pages on an electronic device proved to be (too) much for me. For the time, if you want to get the book, contact the author and he will let you know how things work. Use the Hotmail address grystf.

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