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Poetry Guide: Rune Poems

The rune poems list the letters of a runic alphabet with a short verse characterizing each one. Three different rune poems have been preserved, an Icelandic, a Norwegian and an Anglo-Saxon one. The Icelandic and Norwegian poems both give the order of the sixteen runes of the Younger Futhark, ᚠ ᚢ ᚦ ᚬ ᚱ ᚴ ᚼ ᚾ ᛁ ᛅ ᛋ ᛏ ᛒ ᛘ ᛚ ᛦ, with slightly differing letter names, while the Anglo-Saxon poem has ᚠ ᚢ ᚦ ᚩ ᚱ ᚳ ᚷ ᚹ ᚻ ᚾ ᛁ ᛄ ᛇ ᛈ ᛉ ᛋ ᛏ ᛒ ᛖ ᛗ ᛚ ᛝ ᛟ ᛞ ᚪ ᚫ ᚣ ᛡ ᛠ, i.e. 29 runes, with an order clearly related to the scandinavian ones, but with some runes having variant shapes to the Younger Futhark, some taken from the Older Futhark, and some that have no Scandinavian counterpart at all.

There is yet another rune poem, the Abcedarium Nordmannicum, known from a 9th century manuscript.


The word fe for wealth is cognate to English fee and originally meant "cattle" (German Vieh, Sanskrit pashu).


The name of the rune was preserved, but associated with different meanings. The name of Gothic 𐌿 u is urus.


The only rune to have permanently entered the Latin alphabet, Þ, for the writing of Old English and Icelandic. It was introduced to Icelandic orthography in the 12th century work The First Grammatical Treatise (see Icelandic alphabet).




Similar to the case of Ur, the rune kept its name in Anglo-Saxon, but with a different meaning associated to it.


The shape of the Anglo-Saxon rune is closer to the Old Futhark ᚺ.









The three names have similar meanings. The corresponding Gothic letter 𐌻 l is called lagus.


C. f. Anglo-Saxon Yr ᚣ: one of the additional runes, with the shape a variant of Scandinavian Ur.

There is an Anglo-Saxon rune whose name means "yew": ᛇ Eoh. It is taken from the Old Futhark, and neither its shape nor its sound is related to the Scandinavian Yr rune.

The Yr rune ᛦ is a modification of the *Algiz rune ᛉ, originally for Proto-Germanic final z, Proto-Norse final R, Old Norse final r and eventually y.

Anglo-Saxon only runes

While the Younger Futhark has reduced the original inventory of 24 runes, the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc has expanded it: to 29 runes in the rune poem, and later to a total of 33.

The fact that some Anglo-Saxon runes were given names of trees (ᛇ Eoh "yew", ᚪ Ac "oak", ᚫ Æsc "ash", c. f. also AS thorn vs. Norse thurs) may be related to the names of the Ogham signs, all of which are called after trees.

Gyfu, Wynn

The rune appears in the Older Futhark with the same shape. The corresponding Gothic letter is 𐌲 g, called giba.

Also taken from the Older Futhark. Corresponds to Gothic 𐍅 w winja.

Ger, Eoh, Peordh, Eolh

Ger corresponds to ᛃ "jera" of the Older Futhark. The corresponding Gothic letter is 𐌾 j, named jer.

Also in the Older Futhark. The meaning of the name is unclear, and apparently related to 𐍀 p pairþra of the Gothic alphabet. It is glossed as:

Peorð byþ symble plega and hlehter / wlancum [on middum], ðar wigan sittaþ / on beorsele bliþe ætsomne.
"Peorð is a source of recreation and amusement to the great, where warriors sit blithely together in the banqueting-hall."

Etymologically possible, although not very credible, is a meaning "fart" (interpreting the verse in the sense that farts arouse merriment in the banquet hall).

Eolh-secg eard hæfþ oftust on fenne / wexeð on wature, wundaþ grimme / blode breneð beorna gehwylcne / ðe him ænigne onfeng gedeþ.
"The Eolh-sedge is mostly to be found in a marsh; it grows in the water and makes a ghastly wound, covering with blood every warrior who touches it."

In both shape and position, the rune corresponds to Older Futhark ᛉ "algiz". The rune is a special case insofar that the reconstructed name is not acrophonic, because the sound expressed by it in the Old Futhark only appears word-final: continuing Proto-Germanic z, it is transliterated as Proto-Norse R, becoming Old Norse r. For this reason, the rune became superfluous and was dropped in the Young Futhark, while it was assigned a new sound value in Anglo-Saxon.

This rune suffers the same translation problems of algiz but may, like algiz, mean Elk. Elk-Sedge may be, considering the description, a form of sawgrass.


Also in the Older Futhark.

Ing, Ethel, Daeg

Corresponds to Older Futhark ᛜ "ingwaz".

Appears as the final rune (after ᛞ) in the Older Futhark. Gothic 𐍉 o oþal.

Daeg "day"

Also in the Older Futhark. Gothic 𐌳 d dags.

Ac, Ash, Yr, Ior, Ear

Five additional runes expressing Anglo-Saxon vowels:

See also Yr above.

Yr byþ æþelinga and eorla gehwæs / wyn and wyrþmynd, byþ on wicge fæger / fæstlic on færelde, fyrdgeatewa sum.
"Yr is a source of joy and honour to every prince and knight; it looks well on a horse and is a reliable equipment for a journey."
Iar byþ eafix and ðeah a bruceþ / fodres on foldan, hafaþ fægerne eard / wætre beworpen, ðær he wynnum leofaþ.
"Iar is a river fish and yet it always / feeds on land; it has a fair abode / encompassed by water, where it lives in happiness."

Abecedarium Nordmannicum

A short poem found in the Codex Sangallensis 878, kept in the St. Gallen abbey, probably originating in Fulda, written down in the 9th century.

Feu forman / Ur after / Thuris thriten stabu / Os ist imo oboro / Rat end os uuritan / Chaon thanne / Hagal / Naut habet / Is / Ar / endi Sol / [Tiu] / Brica / endi Man midi / Lagu the leohto / Yr al bihabet

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