When Skalds Say ‘Ma’am’
The Southern African Society for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (SASMARS)
The professional poets of medieval Norway and Iceland composed for great kings and warriors, fixing memory in stanzas that would outlast time. In the rituals of our academy, official praise can take the form of a Festschrift, in which the scholar so honoured finds her accomplishments sung by all and sundry, powerless to dam the flow or prevent familiar mention of her name. Rules of address are particularly tricky. Think of Emily Dickinson’s calling on God: Papa Above! Regard a Mouse. Early eleventh-century skalds preferred extended apostrophes, and I shall follow their lead. ‘Architect of enduring works, gem of the Witwatersrand, the riven granite, scaler of the citadel of Milton and Blake, guardian of Chaucerian rampart and ditch, nourisher of the perennial conference groves, pie-master, wordwizard, mother of four, launcher of a thousand smiles, beautiful, deep-minded prop of the headdress (=woman), Eugenie R. Freed, you rule OK.’ ‘I liked that,’ said Ellie, ‘sing it again.’
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