Beacons – Brands – The Loki Stone

DANIEL GUSTAFSSON has published volumes of poetry in both English and Swedish, most recently Fordings (Marble Poetry, 2020). Much inspired by the beauty and history of both his native and adoptive shores, exploring themes of cultural and spiritual regeneration derived from Blake and Scruton, among others, Daniel’s increasingly formal work also shows an interest in alliterative verse. Recent related work appears in The North American Anglican and in Black Bough Poetry’s Deep Time Volume 1. With a PhD in Philosophy, Daniel also makes occasional contributions to academic journals and conferences. He lives in York. Twitter: @PoetGustafsson  


We saw it come. The low,                           

lengthening shade emerged at summer’s close   

to stalk the hogweed, stem the rose,

and leech the commons clean 

of light. Through meadows, mown, and fields

with little left to glean,


the prey was run to ground.

We saw the once unchallenged sun beset;

his trailing robes, resplendent yet

though stained with ochres, snag

on bramble-thorn; his even course

begin to list and lag. 


We knew what darkened lanes

ensued, yet saw the sparks enkindled there;                      

how, birch to quickbeam, beacons flared

to raise the late alarm,        

presaging pathways lined with rust

and ash: a call to arms


for each of autumn’s sons

to carry fire, linking lanterns, hips

with crimsoned haws; an ill-equipped

and self-defeating quest

to halt this great diminishing

that haunts the waning west.


The streets are overrun

with marchers; banners climb the righteous tide;

while those who err on caution’s side

remain some way apart,

upholding those unflagging words

the crowd won’t take to heart. 


We’ve seen it all before: 

how slogans, slander, slag of language, smear

the public square. Even so, here    

in this beleaguered town,

a moneyed mob, brought up in arms

to tear its elders down,


declares the end has come,            

the zero sum of all offending years:

the stakes are raised to frenzied cheers

as strawmen take the blame.

Though fury is the fashion now

and all are fans of flame,


this too will fizzle out;                                

through smoke of sleepless nights’ utopian dreams,

the slanting rays and broken beams

when dawning crawls around        

will find us less enlightened still               

for loss of common ground.


(Fragment of a 10th Century Anglo-Scandinavian cross-shaft;

Kirkby Stephen, Yorkshire)   

While this stone is standing,

still untoppled, pillar                             

guarding grace and order;

guileful Loki yoked here, 

finely patterned fetters

foil him, sinuous coils of                       

bramble; horned-one humbled,           

hate’s designs frustrated;   


threads not loosed yet; these en-

thralling drystone-walls and                     

hog-backed ridges, hedgerows

hooping, bindweed looping, 

braiding streams and bridges;

bands of lore, a landscape’s                  

tropes of love entrap him,

trothless, bound to nothing;


till these tethers wither,

torn at last, unfastened,

reins of roots and vines un-

ravelled, freeing havoc;

columns, ash and elm, up-

ending, arches rending;

rock of ages racked though       

raised for glory; praise it.  


This poem is composed of three dróttkvætt stanzas. Essentially each stanza contains eight lines with three trochaic feet in each line. The odd-numbered lines have two alliterating staves which alliterate with the first syllable in the even-numbered lines. Within the odd-numbered lines, two of the stressed syllables share half rhymes (of consonants with dissimilar vowels; stone-stand, pattern-fetter); while within the even-numbered lines, two of the stressed syllables rhyme (though not necessarily at the end of a word; still-pillar, foil-coils). In the case of both odd- and even-numbered lines, the second partial or full rhyme always falls on the penultimate syllable of the line (the stressed syllable in the third trochaic foot).