Photo: Seana Fenner, Volcano, Hawaii.

Book Review of The Heathen Anthology by Osred Jameson


Photo: Seana Fenner, Volcano, Hawaii.

Photo: Seana Fenner, Volcano, Hawaii.

Think poetry is not for you… an increasingly irrelevant noise in a world that becomes more chaotic each day? Well, think again. Weapons and wolves abound on heathen internet sites, but the effectiveness of such things to create a spiritual bond with your ancestors is, at best, limited. Here is a means to satisfy that hunger we feel to be connected to our kindred. You will be comforted, inspired, and become a living vital part of the great heritage to be found in this magnificent, first of its kind, anthology of heathen verse.

Osred Jameson’s new book, The Heathen Anthology, is truly a gift of beauty and deeply felt convictions about what it means to be a Heathen. In its pages, we find a treasury of verse by poets both major and minor, all bearing the unmistakable stamp of our culture and religion. He gently reminds us that the word “Heathen” does not mean uncouth or barbaric, but rather translates the Latin word “Pagus” which refers to those pious, Roman aristocrats who retreated from the increasingly alien barbarism of the cities to the rural districts.

In his introduction, Osred  establishes his selection criteria as being tilted toward making a poem’s art ascendant over its morality, The poems are arranged topically, and include some of the noble virtues that Odinists revere, such as courage and truth, as well as the timeless topics – love and death; betrayal and trust; heroes and heritage. Be assured that all is not somber and serious, as lyrical beauty abounds alongside of humorous parody and clever satire.

For this reviewer, one of the most delightful aspects of the collection is seeing, for the first time, selections that are outside of the established canon. Robert Burns’ “Holy Willie” pokes fun at Christian hypocrisy with such devastating accuracy that it could only be published after his death. Another selection with a little known work by a famous poet is “Harp Song of the Dane Women” by Rudyard Kipling. Here the poet who once defined women as “a rag , a bone, and a hank of hair” shows a softer side. He considers the grief felt by the Danish women when their husbands and lovers “sicken” of home and hearth and feel a swelling desire to depart for that “old grey widow maker”, the sea.

Some of the poem pairings lead to a consideration of deeper musings, such as the nature of death and whether or not there is really a great distance between us and the departed. Yeats’ “The Valley of the Black Pig” is accompanied by Wordsworth’s “Milton”. Yeats has a waking dream vision of the flying spears of ancient ancestral warriors locked in combat, while Wordsworth longs for the return of heroes such as Milton to release England from its “stagnant fen ” of “altar, sword and pen”.

In Bryant’s “Thanatopsis “, Death is seen as a union with all of earth’s elements… the insensible rock… the rolling rivers, but the Heathen concept of Death preserves the soul as something far more human and imperishable. Then, as now, we yearn for the truth and vitality of these former days and reading these carefully chosen poems unexpectedly makes us willing partners in that impetus.

And herein lies the special charm of this anthology- one feels the companionship of the author as we embark on this pleasant journey of discovery. It is not the cold, impersonal editorial presence so common in such anthologies, but rather,  welcoming, insightful comments such as a dear friend might make, sprinkled like little jewels, as you read together with mutual appreciation of shared treasure.

Sharon Hodder-Fenner

 ©2010 Odinia


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