The Flyting: Provocative Prosody

What could possibly go wrong?

One aspect of Viking culture that I find particularly intriguing is the flyting.

Well, it’s not just a Viking thing – the Anglo-Saxons did it, and the tradition has carried forward in various forms since. Duels of wits and insult contests appear in Shakespeare, and we have a somewhat more familiar form today in the rap battle.

The challenge of spontaneously composing a retort, in a verse-form common at the time, was a way to test intelligence and ingenuity. It was also used as a very ritualistic test – in Beowulf, Unferth starts a flyting with Beowulf as a sort of “interview,” vetting out his claims of greatness. It was a product of cultures that valued cunning just as much as physical prowess, and some of the verse-forms (particular the skaldic forms in Viking culture) demanded a large vocabulary – one of many markers of intellect.

I’ve been interested in trying to get flytings to be a “thing” in my little slice of the SCA. Sure, exchanging insults back and forth is a time-honored bonding tradition that we all practice in our daily lives – but recreating the formal contest creates a whole different experience.

Some people are a bit gun-shy about the idea, because it does often involve some negativity (albeit good-natured) directed at one’s opponent. However, exposing oneself to such challenges also helps to build poise and confidence – one of many reasons that it may hold value. It’s all about responding to challenges, after all.

What follows is a hybrid poem that I’ve written in a skaldic form called kviðuhattr. It’s a fairly simple meter with a strictly-counted alternating 3-4 pattern of beats. Lines are linked by alliteration, and that’s really it. It leaves you free to play around with other word devices pretty freely.

The intent here is to create a conceptual bridge – I’m trying to evoke the wordplay and attitude of a modern rap battle, while using a historic form and word construction. Enjoy!

P.S. If you’re one of the SCA performers I know, consider the mic dropped. Beat that, punk.


Of dwarf-drink
I draw horn-fuls.
Oðin’s mead
I make in barrels.
Bold Kvasir’s
blood-lettings are
running free –
flooding the plain.

I drop beats
like Draupnir rings.
Foemen flee;
form relentless,
I strike strife-
stags from life-path –
my verse-form
violence slaying.

Spitting fire,
I spare no weak-
ass wordsmiths –
winning battles
with verse-shield,
a verb-hafted
spear, and mouth
of many nouns.

I stand tall
on tables flat,
kicking cups
of corpse-like ale
in foe-face,
flooding your bowl
of wheat-pap
with water of men.

I have won
wars of verses,
versus skalds
of skills renowned;
Now behold
the Har of games –
the great one
and his words’ bite.

Biting truths
tell of victory –
victims lie
with lines scattered,
scarred by harsh
hewing of verbs,
vision blurred
by blood’s falling.

Fall the skalds
skewered by wits;
witless foes
fail to return
timely blows,
blown away by
words of praise
poured not for them.

This cold blowin’
from bold rowan’s
a doom-sign
for soon-to-die
rime giants:
arrivin’ violent –
boasting rhymes –
abide the host.

Ice and snow
and Snorri’s flow,
coursing hard
in this horse-man
of iced land,
lays to waste the
wasted lines
of latest rhymes.

Hewed them all
with Havamal,
slew the wyrms
with Sigurd’s words –
no foe stood
face-to-face nor
made a space
in spate of words.

Listen well
you whelps of verse;
your verb-flames
flicker and die
meeting ice –
my meter’s cold
front serves as
frigid warning:

Your weak heat
and weaker heart
pose no threat
to Thor of verse;
sons of spring
sprinting homeward,
hear my words:
winter is coming.


Yeah, I’m on a Game of Thrones kick. So sue me. Unless you’re HBO. Then don’t sue me.


2 comments on “The Flyting: Provocative Prosody

  1. pocketbard says:

    Holy Spirit, hear my voice,
    And with your aid, I will rejoice
    In shaping words like St. Bernard
    To decimate a northern bard
    Who thought to speak without your leave
    And now the lands will see him grieve.

    Listen, Magnus, skald of ice,
    And I will demonstrate the price
    You pay for claiming you’re the peak.
    There isn’t any grand mystique
    In calling on the frigid snows
    To work your rhymes as you compose
    A paean only to yourself;
    But stand upon the frigid shelf
    And fiery tongue of Pentecost
    Will melt away the winds of frost
    You’re blowing in from northern lands,
    Until like fine Egyptian sands
    They swirl as ash before my feet
    And leave you helpless to the beat
    Of words the Spirit has supplied.
    You can stand and boast with pride
    As scholars did before the throne
    Of King Maxentius, facing lone
    St. Catherine: fifty men to one,
    But though they strived, they were undone
    By a single girl who bore my name,
    And rest assured that soon the same
    Will happen to a northern Skald
    And all who watch will be appalled
    To see a man who once was proud
    Standing with his body bowed.
    My wit’s as sharp as the sword of St. George
    Drawn by my hand, still hot from the forge
    To slice your verses verb from noun
    Until your words are stricken down
    And naught remains within the whole;
    ‘Tis then you’ll see how I control
    The battle of our words and thoughts
    And soon I’ll have you tied in knots
    Like Andrew did with his third question
    When he came in intercession
    For a bishop who by hell was snared
    When at his feast his food was shared
    With Satan, who St. Andrew bested —
    A saint of God is not contested.
    So sit you at your mead-hall feast
    And drink the grains till brewer’s yeast
    Has blurred your mind and thoughts are thick
    You jump and dance and make to kick
    The cups that sit upon the table,
    While I am out ensuring fables
    Spread to all the worldly quarters
    Where you’ll find my firm supporters:
    South as far as St. Moses’ home
    North to the lands where St. Bridget roamed
    East to St. Barlaam, west to St. James,
    There you’ll find that knights and dames
    Have heard my word-fame, know my works,
    And while you sit with your berserks
    And boast about the lands of frost
    I think perhaps you may be lost
    For out my window, snow has vanished
    Like your rhymes, it has been banished
    To the realms where no men live
    And so I think we must forgive
    That you don’t know it’s Pentecost season
    And folk are not all bundled and freezin’
    But warmed by sun as snows disappear
    My words are fire and summer is here!

  2. QueenOfCats2013 says:

    Magnus, your words are inspiring to me as I compose a battle-song for the An Tir/ West War in July.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s