D. Jonathan Jones
3 Paths Through Midgard: A Rune Poem
Portland, Or.: Ravenshalla Arts, 2010
D. Jonathan Jones
Introduction by Ian Read
Foreword by Collin Cleary
Portland, Or.: Ravenshalla Arts, 2013
D. Jonathan Jones’ two volumes of poetry, 3 Paths Through Midgard and The Songs, both powerfully express something of the numinous apprehension experienced by those who perceive the world through the prism of Germanic spirituality. The fact that we can be consciously aware of seeing the world through any sort of prism at all is a sad consequence of the dearth of spirituality in the modern world. For our ancestors, as for all Traditional people, the sacredness of the land, the presence of the gods, and the workings of magic were facts of life. They could not be discarded or swapped for alternative ways of seeing any more than their belonging to a particular tribe or nation could be (and the ease with which this is done in the modern world is a malady related to the spiritual one). For our rootless contemporaries, all traditions are interchangeable with all others, so that they are not really traditions in any meaningful sense of the word at all, but commodities to be bought online and lived virtually as totemic expressions of taste or inclination.
All of us are subject to this disruption of identity whether we like it or not. It is no longer possible to be born and raised in a homogeneous society where identity is so secure that it would be difficult even to articulate alternatives to it. What this means is that even the most identitarian and Traditionalist among us cannot simply slip back into old ways of being as though a great rupture had not occurred. It is necessary to raise the prism to our eyes and to try and refocus to bring back into sharp relief those ways that were almost lost. In doing this we must be extremely careful that we do not emulate those more superficial seekers after the spiritual: those Solomon Grundy neophytes who consult the Kabbalah on Monday, the Tarot on Tuesday, the runes on Wednesday. Our sacred ways are not a consumer choice amongst many other commodities; they are the substance of our breath and the songs of our blood. They are not subject to the imperatives of a consumerist society; they are the tested matrix through which all things can be experienced. They embody a totality of being. As Carl Jung put it, “the life of the individual, as a member of society and particularly as part of the State, may be regulated like a canal, but the life of nations is a great rushing river which is utterly beyond human control, in the hands of One who has always been stronger than men”
Such preliminary considerations are necessary to establish how sacred art should position itself in the 21st century. What we would hope to see is art that belongs to the greater flow of the river, guided by the perspective of the gods. But this is not the same thing as a reconstructed medievalism or an anachronistic subject matter. In short, we would hope to find the eternal wisdom spoken in a contemporary language. To be sure, both of the volumes under consideration here are dealing directly with concepts drawn from ancient myth and magic so they both have a certain timeless quality to them. But they also have the distinct ring of a 21st century poet’s voice.
3 Paths Through Midgard is a rune poem after the fashion of the Anglo-Saxon, Icelandic and Norwegian rune poems. That is to say that there is a verse dedicated to each of the runes found in the futhark. Jones here follows the elder futhark of 24 runes which is probably the most familiar form the runes appear in nowadays. Each verse is nine lines long and each line contains nine syllables, infusing the work with sacred numerology. This metrical scheme does not correspond with those of the ancient rune poets. In fact, poetic meter is most usually measured by the position of stressed syllables rather than just the number of syllables per line. As an innovation Jones’ metrical structure is entirely justified because it helps to revivify the runic message in a way that wouldn’t necessarily work if he had followed the formal alliteration of, for example, Anglo-Saxon poetry. He is not tinkering with the structure of the poetry for egotistical reasons, nor for novelty value. Instead he is imposing a new form of discipline to the language and basing this discipline on the sacredness of the number nine. It might be called a Traditional innovation. Ultimately, this form works because the verses sound right and convey clear meaning when read aloud.
The three titular paths through Midgard are the path of the magician, the path of the warrior and the path of the yeoman. Each path corresponds to one of the aetts (set of eight runes) of the futhark. The path of the magician conveys the process of awakening to magical potential and discovering the presence of the gods. This process leads to the transcendence of the ego in the realization of higher self beyond the individual. The path of the warrior, by contrast, seeks to realize the self through externalization, by defining the self through conflict with another: “Knew we our borders through their breaching” (Hagalaz) and, “I know not me till I find a foe” (Eihwaz). This path leads to transcendence through death in combat. The path of the yeoman describes how the farming of the land and the growth of the family both channel the same runes of fertility. This path grants the gift of inheritance and the endurance of identity through the family line.
Even from such a brief description it may be apparent that these rune poems are not concerned with superficial interpretations of rune meanings but rather with how man comes to terms with the great and endless cycle of becoming and passing away. As a poetry cycle, 3 Paths Through Midgard is less an updating of the ancient rune poems than an intrusion of the eternal power of the runes into the current vernacular.
The poems in The Songs take the same form as those in 3 Paths Through Midgard: nine by nine. This time there are 27 poems and we travel with the poet through the nine worlds, through the elements, and into other miscellaneous subjects. The volume begins with Warning Song containing this ominous caveat: “Dip not deep in this broth of lay borne,/ Lest you wish to eat and be eaten.” It is a fair assessment of the verses that follow because, behind the almost gnomic turns of phrase that flow through these poems, there is an astute sense of remove that is able to describe the great flow of all things into their next becoming. Consider this description of fire: “Sat beside, warm as breast, sleep luller,/ Fills bellies with food, turns death to meat,/ Hearth, pyre, forge, will to change is our way” (Fire Song). The initial maternal language is undercut with “turns death to meat,” reminding us of the constant transformations that nourish us through life, and also reminding us that when it is our time we will become nourishment for the earth once more.
So, whilst these poems work well as a sort of illustration of some of the tropes of Germanic lore, they also do much more than that. They address the individual seeker and challenge him to locate himself as part of a much greater whole: “No simple wood the vessel of man,/ Complex echo of a greater tree” (Ship Song). Poised between our ancestors and our descendants, and comingling animal and godly urges, man is a brief nexus of conflict. Jones invites us to enjoy the battle.
To be fair, there are occasional lapses into archaic or antiquated, language (‘neath, twixt), and such instances are evidently necessitated by the strict nine-syllable rule. None of these instances are false or jarring and they do no harm to the meaning of the verses but I would be very interested to see what D. Jonathan Jones could do with a less constrained metrical system.
Both of these volumes are attractively illustrated. 3 Paths Through Midgard features a selection of black and white prints and The Songs is interspersed with a series of figurative sketches by the artist Danny Pockets. Each is a slim volume that can be read quickly but it would be unwise to read them only once. In addition, both volumes contain interesting prefatory material by Ian Read, and The Songs also has a Foreword by Collin Cleary.
1. C. G. Jung, Wotan (Stockholm: Cymophane Publishing, 2001), 11-12.