Adventures in alliterative verse

Cerridwen taught me that Awen is like grain and bards must sieve to work with it. I have always lauded her as the ogyrwen, the goddess of various seeds in my prayers to her so I want to use her teachings.

I spent the last twelve years writing prose, so it was my first foray into creating my own myths. I’m finding as I connect with the bardic arts and ancestors, I’m starting to prefer poetry as a means to tell a story. This is something I am being nudged quite insistently to do ever since Cunomaglos came into my life.

So I want to write some epic poetry. I want to do it in Gaulish or Common Brittonic. Welsh too one day.

For this I used Nouigalaticos, a reconstructed Gaulish dialect. More information on it can be found here.


I started by looking at the elements which felt the most important to the story at hand. I err on the side of too much when I write prose, so the teachings of Cerridwen really come in handy here. In writing it looks like this.

Maponos wakes from his dream, his consciousness lies in a valley stream that is crisp and ice-cold. Salmon swim upstream around him even if is not their season, as if curious about the young god. He is in a foreign land. The snow is whiter, the air is wet and he knows in his heart the summers are shorter here. 

Last he remembers, he was being held by the protective, overwhelming presence of Epona. His mother, the Great Queen and Sacred Mare, has always watched over him dutifully. Maponos is a young fortuitous force, whose consciousness emerges from the shared energies of the Sky-father and Earth-mother. The divine son who grants strength within the perils of youth and whose cradle-songs inspire bards throughout the land. 

But last dusk, long after his father thundered and sent rain and storm to the Veneti people, Maponos lay awake. The smoke from their sacrifices rose into the dense atmosphere. The rocking of their ships had almost lulled him to sleep– Almost. That was when he began to hear the soft chanting of strange words, a taboo name among men. A soft, sad melody as if each pluck of the harp drew tears, punctured only by the howl of a wolf.

His dream:

In the north was a bitter cold in the mountains, in a gathering by the fire played a finely-strung harp. A murder ballad of a merciless war, praise be to the King. A warm and humid feeling descends on the gatherers as they congregate and dance. The whispers of an ancestor, or a common memory

Cunomaglos has been insistent I compose this tale in alliterative verse. I made vows to be his oracle, his earthly mouthpiece. Now we must tell stories together.

This is his favourite poetic form for me to write in and it’s becoming one of mine as well.

Alliterative verse in the Germanic and Old English sense has many rules so I am going with the very basics. Typically it will have four stressed words, three of which alliterate. There is a pause, a caesura, between the first and last two. They are indicated here using || or extra spaces.

In the presence of the deuoi I find much fulfillment to write alliterative poetry in the languages I’m learning. It’s not a bad way to practice and I find it challenging yet fun. I started in Modern English to warm up a bit. Alliterative verse isn’t supposed to rhyme, but I find it’s a useful exercise sometimes.

Alliterative verse, Modern English

When he wakes || in waters cold
Habrêna’s haunting || home foretold
Salmon splashing || swim upstream
As snowdrifts sparkle || by sunrise gleam
Child of clearness || child of light
Wildly wandr’ing through || the frost so white
From earth and equines || his errant stray
Left lost and long || from lightning’s ray

This felt a little stiff but it gave me an idea on how I’ll organize concepts with a limited vocabulary. I sometimes learn different things from them:

In prose I never specified the Severn, just a valley stream. But when I must alliterate and describe the location, the words Habrêna’s home came to me from the seeds of Awen. And of course it would be fitting for Maponos to awaken in the Severn.

Another thing I learnt was the warband Maponos dreams of is in retreat rather than victory. It was revealed to me too, and now a later part of the story makes more sense.

The poem is ongoing and will be for quite some time but this is what I came up with for the prose in this entry. While I’m writing it I hear the Gaulish words being uttered in my head, by a voice that isn’t my own. That is usually how I tell I’m on the right track.

alliterative verse, Gaulish

Sounos sioxtinâ   mapos sentês
Obo! Oinâcos   ac Sabrêna ougrâ
Entar ercos   excîtos snâmiâs
Aros Albiê   urittosaieliuindâs allati

Sleep no further || treasured son
Ah! Reunion || with cold Habrêna
Among salmon || swiftly swimming
Albion’s snow || meeting foreign sunlight

Mapað mâronerti   Mapað leuci
Ritus rêdon   ris reusos albâ
Exepa ercâ   suetextiâs exnerti
Tanco temenon   tiounna etic leucetios

Child of great power || child of light
Nomadic racing || toward white frost
With no speckled horse || unsure journey
Ominous peace || removed from rain and lightning

Noxtiûr ac negli   sounnos nemeton:
Taranus tanxtos   dûcî cuno tamâtos
Naudâ nadeti   nerti sembrenxti nigron
Uai uailos uailon   uasis ris gritos!

Last night with clouds || a sacred dream:
Sworn thunder || like biting dogs
Valley of refuge || brought humbled warriors
Alas wretched wolf || crying for dawn!

I’m unsure why the deuoi asked me to write this down but admittedly, my drafts here are full of entries they pushed me to write. I don’t think alliterative verse is a widely used form these days from what I could see, but legends such as Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight were written using it. So I feel it is worth shedding some light on.

7 thoughts on “Adventures in alliterative verse

Add yours

      1. No problem hope it’s helpful! One of my biggest inspirations is Gallo-Brittonic religion and mythology (or what we know of it) so I began learning Gaulish and Brittonic to connect with it better! But I’m generally interested in old languages so writing poetry in them seemed like it’d be fun to do 😄

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Wow you’re learning Welsh, too? That’s awesome! I know nothing about the Cymric language – nevertheless I attempted to translate a Welsh apocryphal text once and… it was a disaster! Lololol.
        You should write articles about Gaulish deities on your blog! I’ve been slowly dipping my toes into the subject, taking particular interest in the Gaulish phenomenon of depicting the gods in male/female pairs and likening it to Irish MSS. For example, in a 10th/11th c Finn Cycle tale used to explain marriage laws, the author depicts the proper ordering of festivities in terms of male/female pairings, including “craftsmen and their craft”. I find it interesting that a tradesman’s craft is his female counterpart. It’s reminiscent of the Irish Sovereignty topos; the ruler receives his right to rule at the behest of a female personification of rulership. It also reminds me of Julius Caeser’s famous description of the popular Gaulish gods: Mercury the invented of crafts and Minerva the ~teacher~ of crafts. But I’m just blathering now… anyway should I ever get around to writing it I’ll link to your great blog!
        Take care!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I apologise for the late reply, I was traveling and thought I responded before I left! I’ve been learning Welsh on and off over the years as I spent a lot of my childhood there, my paternal family is from South Wales. I have a long way to go I’m afraid, but one day I’d like to be good enough to write poetry in Welsh. Hopefully one day!

        If you ever write about that please do share with me! That very much aligns with what I know of the male/female pairs- Mercury (who I personally believe to be Lugus) and Rosmerta are often depicted as a divine pair in such a way. I believe abundance/provider goddesses like she, and the Brittonic Cuda, also have a role in sovereignty. It’s really interesting to learn about the Irish counterpart and see these age-old connections!


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