657AD. Northumbria, one of the seven warring Anglo Saxon kingdoms, where Celtic and Roman Christianity, old pagan beliefs and magic clash. Oswin, a monk from the monastery of Herutea travels to Streonshalh bearing secret letters from the Abbess Hild. This means treading a path across a volatile wilderness where faith, history, myth and folklore intertwine to form the threads of the Wyrd. Written in a powerful mix of Old English, modern English and northern dialect forms, Leásungspell is a narrative epic poem about a pre-Modern world. It is a tale of twisting digressions, dreamscapes and stories within stories. It is also an anti-epic, a fool’s yarn, the small tale of a nobody wandering alone through the Dark Ages.

A recording of parts of Leásungspell with musical accompaniment by Sara Dennis, SJ Forth, Kev Howard and Peter Lagan is now available at http://www.leasungspell.com.

Sample Poem

Leásungspell: Part I

‘For the gate is narrow
and the way is hard that leads to life,
and those who find it are few.’
Matthew 7:13-14

Huisht, lads, haad ya gobs
the lǽgens namd this Dunum Sinus
touh this fayer dai tar beo sliht segn
o’ thor mihtig stone burg wid the byh scimerian
gelic a sylfur scutel, blinden the eye
as God’s awn leoht, te sceaw me the gan
fram the Horne o’ Heortness stician streahtan
te the wafe-swell lic a beald hope fore firmnesse.

’touh in triewd I fele alyhtnys
te be ootsyde its fritgeard; an’ the festeran
stenc o’ mislice spellion widin
the flocc o’ God’s giefan scipo.

Mi arende beo hard ’touh nadinc ofermicel,
fram sculdor te lyfted fingors in faerness,
but thri dais trec at most, ’touh frecendlic –
la so ficol, fyl o’ hydden pliht,
beset wid demon an’ haden.

For ’touh Cyning Oswui fylgat the triewe fad,
hafd oferdrifen the pagans undra Penda The Dragon
this wild land is stil scoured bie tidy wargangs
clingan te the auld, deorc trod
lic tics te a rottan sceap; Angles,
hwo wrangle wid the Loffe o’ the Christ,
The Word o’ God, an’ mud-howlds o’ inboren,
here afore the gigants an’ thor wealles,
weordscippan thor awn uncud gods –
healf beast, healf mann
te hwylc sum haf hamcyme
in the Christ’s lang missan.

i crosed the Slake afore Uhtsang.
afore the fyrst lairc tuc te lyft.
afore mi slap hladan bredren
scuc af the drofan scinns o’ driemes.

Anlic the Gōd Eorl abuf bore witnys
an’ a feawe wrecced ceorls rummagen
amang the mynster’s wearme waste pytts.

Land an’ watters seote wid ealle ghost folc:
elfs, hobs, orcs, walers, wyll-o-the-hwisps
hwo wolde luer me, wicced, fram the pat
inti sum bottmless letch
te sweloh me hyel widoot a rack.

i rubb the ceorfan wudun rood hangian
on a strap aboot mi hnecc, hwispra a prayer
to God’s Bearn in Heofon that he
wyll loc on me an’ heald me hale.

The iegstream’s gob beo clatd in driften hase,
sa-freet, wendan scawers, scietan hydung
trails an’ sciftan sand balcs, ’touh
’twixt ’em i spie hylls yonside,
afore the hrycg o’ miststrung morlond,
hwylc i nied cros ar i rach Streonshalh.

Hu beit, i hafd geared mesen wel for this arendeit
beo a greate weort te beo bearan the writ
o’ wor Mistress Hild; Holy Wif, so we mag sprad
The Will of Almightig God ealle o’er tese ieglands
fling hagwyrms fram tose clifs looman o’er the wafe-hus,
bringan His tidung o’ frid an’ blis te the woruld.

An’ i hafd scoured this flasc afore mine gannen,
giefan mesen o’er fyllie te the Loffe o’ wor Halend
so that He mag scoor mi synnes o’ eordbund angra,
lust an’ gylt; an’ tred wid me thruh the Wildeoren.

Mi gan beo wearded bie the prayers an’ bletsunge
o’ Hild of Heretua hirsen, that alc fotstepe
be sundfyll, mi eyes an’ ahers cene an’ triewe.

Croswinds beatan hreods an’ lang grasses,
chyrn watters o’ tese burns an’ sealtwals
hwar i startel a stilt-bridd wadan in schalowes
hefod dippen an’ suppen its fede thruh
the scimmer of itsylf, but hwylc fluttors
te lyft in a flurrie o’ nihtsceadowe an’ slete,
its beorht blad o’ a nebb piercen the stilnesse
wid pipedriemes as it glides te the farre strand,
settels itsylf, spradan wid its wings in a warnung
an’ glars at me as if i be the Dēofol himsylf.

i moste fylge tese wendan tracs upstream
te hwar the boatmann wahts te tac me ofer
te the suderne strand, te Cynedom o’ Derenrice;
tar beginnan me trod thruh wudu,
te the auld ac graf wid thor Herned hefods
an’ holhow heorts hwar a Glōm-Smittan mann
miht wade thru fearn frod, stupe widin te stand
amang the creopan wrinclods o’ Grene-tyme;
the auld ac dead in his breost-hord
touh lifan-wel widoot, an’ tu widin,
hwasan, suppan deaw, greowan
an’ rottung: stedefast in forgytelnes.

I’ll na beo laggan lang tar, but clymmen up
te East Nab, hwar synne-fyrs bremme at Beltane,
Hlafimase, at Samhain – La, Eorl Abuf,
i hafd beheold tose farre byrnings at niht
fram the mynster windor an’ hwanne
on’t wind, i heorcn thor wild hylsung
an’ horns i crosed mesen te weard af thor yfel.

The glowaren hungrig hyllfyrs brort bac the byrnings
i seo after the lang fierding inti Rheged hwenne i was
grene-eyed an’ bare hleoran, in Heah Cyning Oswui’s
fyrd, feohtan wid The Sons of Owein, hwar
i toc the life of anoder mann an’ seo his spiritus
fleon his bone-hus, staling sum ting of mi awn
sāwl wid it, hwar Alffin ap Owain was hacced
te dead, his thegns draged inti thralldom; hwar
the slahtr an’ war-fyrs spildan thruh rain-drencced
dalls for dais entil Oswui was wislic he hafd
smorthred anig smolderan hope for Hen Ogled
widin tose wracmacgs hwo hafd aspedat.

The Cyning geaf his sige-sprec atop his hengest,
scaran his drieme of a cynedom o’ brodorscipe
undra the garding hand o’ Nordanhymbria.
In memorie of Oswald Lamnguin
we raised Tunor, rattlelan swords gainst scields
scaccan wor spere hefods at the peacs.

But on mi ham-cyman i fund that i was
nae the mann hwo hafd gan, mi nerfs reaw,
mi slap fylled wid the cwellan i hafd seon;
the felds an’ braes fyl o’ blodig manscrag
laft for crawes’ beacs an’ wulfs’ maws.

Adrieme on’t sands o’ wendan watterwegs
gra seolhs sunne-bathe, idel, gelic tide-smedian roccs,
an’ hu thie honc, hu thie beorc te an anoder,
wisccars abristel, coal eyes atrendle hwenne afer thie
finde mi passen, an’ i wundor hwat driemes floe
ynneside thor flod-dog sculls. Sum say sum seolhs
are nae triewe seolhs at ealle but schyftars hwo hafd clatd
’emsylfes in fur, cheosan te dwell healf thor lifes
as deor that dyf thruh isceald bryne an’ iegstream watters,
gnagan reaw fisc an’ hlahh at gods an’ mancynn;
touh tese be but leasspell for gorks an’ bearns.

Rader, i recon thie war anes beons wid sāwls
hwo befeall sum greate bane or bliht o’ hearm
an’ syddan lifian widin The Glōm for so lang
widoot sumyan te stier ’em fram that trod,
hwo haf forgietan thor lincs te mancynn
an’ cheose a life apart in the sealt sa-tides,
on’t blac ecges o’ the woruld’s teahor ducts.

The mann i sloh in Rheged hafd oft huntede mi breost-hord
for altouh we bot feaht bealdlic wid spere an’ scield
for widercynings he was nae mi triewe foemann. i ken nae
his name, nawter wyrre-craft macod me sigoriend
an’ him woruld-dead, but rader luc, God otte wyrd;
an’ slippian te soden grund wid a blodie gasc mi spere
hafd oppened in his crag i seo mesen thruh his dead-mist,
feolt a wearme wyllspring o’ mynd-floe o’ heah,
ruggig beorgas, steap wudu an’ scieldtrum dalls
spillan inti his inborn eord, an’ anlic tanne de i see hu
we ealle, as blostm o’ eord, berst otte rot te gan ham.

So that thruh his dead i fund a pat te fadfylness
for hwylc i hafd oft gifen tancs un te him
an’ prayed he beon Heofon wid the Cyning o’ Cynings.

The sciets o’ mist ticcen an’ gobbel land an’ sa
an’ ealle sunds are bundled in swatian clates.
i oft stumbel in slab an’ cald hreodwatter,
an’ ma tan thrice leos mi weg, hitte a dead ende
an’ hafd to bacplod te fand anoder pat.
The gannen beo slaw. Hwenne i cyum up on a bulder
laian lic a wyfren’s egg i clymme on it te reste
a tyme te waht for the feld o’ mists te rid.

Widin bylowen hwiteness scuccum an’ scinnum hwyrl,
meld inti a tusend scieps an’ miscieps that dwindel,
tings i cannae ken; the wracage o’ sa hengests alc
as bigg as a burg, wiccerworc dragons strung togadere
bie hommen fiscod twine, loomian o’er the eord’s hyd,
striccan bie sum Seocnes God’s side, spradde te vellum
bie grund-fastened pinns micelness a gigant’s teoh.

Mi mynd hafd a lang sufferen hant o’ rasan aweg
an’ as a bearn i was o’er scaired o’ deorcnysse.


‘Here’s a fool’s tale you can trust. The world of Leásungspell gives back to us our own – with all its metaphysical, political and psychological complexity intact.’

Gillian Allnutt

‘A work of sustained visionary imagination the like of which is rarely encountered in contemporary English poetry. The language rings like the clashing of broadswords – this poem must be read out loud – and from that energy and violence, a vivid new world, at once both archaic and strangely contemporary, emerges.’

Steve Ely

‘One of the most linguistically ambitious long poems published in quite some time.’

The Recusant