A Clerk of Oxford: ‘Unwinding the water’s chains’: Spring, Thaw, and Some Anglo-Saxon Poems

Excerpts from ‘Unwinding the water’s chains’: Spring, Thaw, and Some Anglo-Saxon Poems by A Clerk of Oxford blogspot. I’ve also added a footnote with an observation on the similarities between the Anglo Saxon Metod, and the Ancient Egyptian god Shai

 

 

 

 

 

 

The diagram above is from BL Harley 3667, a manuscript made at Peterborough Abbey in the twelfth century. It was designed by the monk Byrhtferth of Ramsey, and shows the correspondences between the four seasons of the year, the months, elements, winds, astrological signs, and more, as well as the seasons of human life, from childhood to old age.

It’s a work of art as well as a clever act of synthesis; the course of the year is a complex interweaving of patterns, and the intricacy of the arrangement has a beauty of its own. To begin to appreciate this view of the world is to see all the universe as interconnected, with pattern and order running through it like those ‘veins’ of rivers which thread across the earth. In this view all the seasons of human existence have their correspondences in the heavens and in the year, and our lives, which can seem so random and meaningless, are part of a great pattern as ancient and as huge as the universe.

Frost must freeze, fire burn up wood,
the earth grow, ice form bridges,
water wear a covering, wondrously locking up
shoots in the earth. One alone shall unbind
the frost’s fetters: God most mighty.
Winter shall turn, good weather come again,
summer bright and hot. The never-resting sea,
the deep way of the dead, will be the longest hidden.
(from a poem known as Maxims I)

*Metod is a common epithet for God in Old English poetry, but it’s not a straightforward one: it seems to mean something like ‘the one who metes out’, the force which controls not just frosts and times and seasons but the shape and duration of human lives. You can translate it as ‘the Measurer’, the one who controls fate and time and all the mysterious chaos of the never-resting waters.

The world with its rivers and seas, from an 11th-century map (BL Cotton Tiberius B V)

Source: A Clerk of Oxford: ‘Unwinding the water’s chains’: Spring, Thaw, and Some Anglo-Saxon Poems

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*personal note from me – Metod – The Measurer brings to mind the Egyptian god “Shai”, who was also deemed to be the god who controlled fate, and the shape and duration of human lives. Even Akhenaten, who is hailed in modern times as the first monotheist, stated that “the Aten is the Shai who gives life”.  They believed Shai was born with each person at their birth and remained at their side until they faced their final judgement before Osiris in the underworld (the duat). He was an ambivalent deity who could protect or damn a person as he offered a true account of each life in the Hall of Judgement. ~ Jaq

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