Translating Hægl

The Rune Poem’s stanzas vary in length. Each of the first eight stanzas consist of three lines containing four beats of stressed syllables: twelve beats total. Then we get an abrupt shift toward brevity with a pair side by side, Hail and Need, which have two lines each. They are shorter, but their words beat out the same number of stresses as the previous three line stanzas: still twelve beats total. Sing it. To get all twelve beats into two thirds the space, your song has to speed up. The stressed words come fast, as does hail and need when they storm down suddenly on your head and destroy your abundance.

There’s more math going on here too. The Rune Poem is traditionally divided into three groups of eight stanzas with five extra vowels tacked onto the end as necessary accommodations for sound changes over time. Hail starts the second group of eight. The first group traditionally belongs to Freyr and Freya, and begins with the cattle that pulls their cart. The third set of eight is presided over by Tiw, whose stanza starts that group. Some deduce from this setup that Hægl must have been a deity too. There is zero evidence for this, but we do have very little to go on otherwise. Perhaps there is some god here? There’s other unnamed gods in the Rune Poem, so why not here. Who might this god be? There’s plenty of weather in this set of eight runes; Hail, Ice, the Sun, and Year all have something to say about the forces of nature. Perhaps there is a storm deity lurking here, or a creation god having something to do with seasonal changes? We don’t know. It adds up to a mystery. Gods are mysteries.

What we do know is that this hail that can destroy a crop and with it a season’s work and food security for the winter, is described as a grain. Hail is the hwitust corna, the whitest of the corns. When hail comes, one crop you want gets pelted by another you don’t, and then they both melt away. The stanza gives two words to describe how this whitest grain plants itself all over a growing field: it will hwyrft, which is a turn or a revolving, and it wealeaþ, which means also to turn, as well as to billow or roll. Hail rolls in out of a whirlwind. Hailstorms are no joke. Wealeaþ also means to turn something over and over in your mind, to reconsider something. It’s the thinking you’ll have to put into your change of plan when the hail swiftly pummels your fields of abundance into a wasteland of need just like that. Don’t worry. You’ll turn it around. Hail melts siððan, soon. Maybe your troubles will do the same?