Wealth is a comfort to every man,
although every man must share it out greatly
if he would obtain a portion of the Lord’s glory.

The ox is single-minded and over-horned,
most savage beast, fighting with his horns,
well-known moor-stepper. That is a proud creature.

Thorns are severely sharp. To any thane
seizing it is an evil, measurelessly cruel
to every man who comes to rest upon it.

The mouth is the beginning of all speech,
a support to wisdom and a comfort to the wise,
and a prosperity and trust to every earl.

Riding is a comfort to every warrior
in the hall, and very trying to those who sit upon
a powerful courser over the mile-paths.

A torch is known by every living being to be on fire,
white and bright, most often burning
where the nobles rest themselves within.

Gifts are an honor and praise of men,
a support and a distinction, and to every wretch
mercy and meat to those who are free from other possessions.

Joy is enjoyed by those who little know of woe,
pains and sorrow, and to those who have of themselves
profit and bliss and also many citadels.

Hail is the whitest of grains. It comes down from heaven’s breeze,
the wind’s showers rolls it down, and after it becomes water.

Need is a constraint on the breast, although it often comes to the sons of men
a help and a healing of every one, if they hearken to his demands before.

Ice is really cold, measurelessly slippery
glistening clear as glass, most like gemstones
a floor created by frost, and a fair face.

The new year is the hope of men, when God allows,
the Holy Heaven’s King, the earth to give
her bright fruits to rich and poor alike.

The yew is an unsmooth tree without,
hard, fixed to the earth, a warden of fires,
supported by its roots, a joy in the home.

Peorth is always a play and laughter
to the proud where warriors sit
in the beer-hall, happy together.

Elk-sedge keeps its home most often in the swamps,
it grows in the water, and grimly wounds,
it burns the blood of any man who grasps it.

The sun is ever a hope to seamen,
when they carry themselves over the fishes’ bath,
until their brine-horses bring them to shore.

Tir is a certain token, it keeps its troth well
with noble men. It is always on its journey
over the clouds of night, never wandering.

Birch lacks fruit, even though it bears
shoots without seed. It is lovely in its branches,
high in its crown and fairly adorned,
laden with leaves, pressing into the breeze.

Horses are for earls the joy of noblemen,
a steed proud in its hooves, where the heroes about him,
prosperous on horseback, weave their speech,
and ever a comfort to those on the move.

Man is in mirth, dear to his brother;
though every one must depart to another place,
because the Lord wishes, through his own doom,
that our wretched flesh be commended to the earth.

The waters seem to men to be broad,
if they should venture upon an unstable ship,
and the sea-waves terrify them so,
and the brine-horse cares not for his bridle.

Ing was first among the Eastern Danes
seen by men, until he soon afterwards
departed over the ways, a wagon running after him.
Thus bold men named this hero.

A homeland is very dear to every man,
if there he may enjoy in his household
what is right and fitting, very often with its fruits.

The day is the Lord’s message, dear to men,
the renowned light of the Measurer, a mirth and troth
to the prosperous and the wretched, useful to all.

The oak is fodder for flesh on earth
for the sons of men. It frequently ferries
over the gannet’s bath. The spear-waves test
whether the oak possesses reliability for noble men.

The ash is very tall, dear to men,
stout in its trunk, its hilt is rightfully fixed,
although it fights against many men.

A bow is for every noble and earl
a joy and an honor. It is fair on horseback,
support on a journey, some part of a warrior’s tackle.

The gar is a river-fish, and though he takes
his food on land, he owns a lovely home
surrounded by water, where he lives in joy.

The grave is terrible to every earl,
when the fixed flesh begins,
the corpse cooling, to choose the earth
paleness as its bedmate. Fruits fail,
joys depart, mankind ceases to be.


  • “Wealth is a comfort to every man, though every man may not have it. Riches are like the strength-giving sun, but the rune-staves are of no help to him who has diseases.”
    Each stanza of the poem contains enigmatic and metaphorical descriptions of the runic letters, often alluding to the natural world or to aspects of Anglo-Saxon culture and mythology. The poem is one of the primary sources of knowledge about the runic alphabet and provides insight into the way that the Anglo-Saxons understood and used these letters in their daily lives.

    • (Here I go – I always seem to do this…)

      I’d agree with the enigmatic & metaphorical aspect of these stanzas, but it is very uncertain what they actually mean. They read more like riddles & are full of possible puns & double meanings. However, I’d only concede that the “Rune Poem” mobilizes antiquarian interest in this ancient script, most likely late in pre-Norman England (tenth century, I’d guess). It’s impossible to say for sure when this poem was written because the manuscript that supposedly recorded was lost (I think in the 1731 Cotton Library fire that damaged the Beowulf MS). What text we have is taken from a hand-made copy made in the 17th century.

      There is no evidence that ancient Germanic runes were used for supernatural & spiritual purposes before the 19th century, with its popular medievalisms & Romantic enthusiasm for creating a “English folk past.” Their uses in Old English manuscripts, especially among the Exeter Book riddles, is almost entirely literary, as an alternate script preserved among the learned or as fun “code play.”

      The continued interest in runes among New Age practitioners does not mean there is any continuity with any ancient anything, at least historically. Doesn’t mean folks can’t make what meaning they like from them, but it will never have much to do with “lost” pre-Christian spiritualities or cultures.

      • “There is no evidence that ancient Germanic runes were used for supernatural & spiritual purposes before the 19th century…”

        What about the weapon-enchanting inscription of dual Tyr runes described in the Sigrdrífumál?
        And archaeologically speaking, what about the ALU inscriptions and what about the Kragehul lance shaft? Etc.

        Is there a more satisfactory explanation to these than religious significance?

        Thank you, Mr. Hostetter.

        • Hi, it’s Dr. Hostetter :)

          The problem is that the word rūn in OE or rúnar in ON are more complicated that our modern usage, which is more influenced by English Romantic enthusiasms for pre-Christian spiritualities and the legacy of high fantasy literature. In these older languages, they could mean “secret” or “whisper” as well as a letter in a mysterious script. The older, wiser man in “The Wanderer” who sits “sundor æt rune” (l. 111) might just be mumbling to himself. While their use is still up for debate, runes are most likely not used in the Exeter Book Riddles as anything more than a playful letter code. Cynewulf, one of a very few known OE poets, uses runes to cleverly sign his name while not breaking the verse. The Frank’s Casket or Ruthwell Cross, two very early pieces of English writing, have runes that just tell a story.

          I don’t know much about the latter two references you cite, but in the case of the Sigrdrífumál, there are lots of runes cited there — most seem to signify secrets or wisdom rather than magic. And even inscribing the T-rune (Tyr) on a sword isn’t a lock for spirituality. Recent research suggests that pre-Christian Scandinavian practices were not a religion by modern definitions. Folks were superstitious, & maintaining a continuity with ancestral practice might have been seen as a way to bring on good luck & avoid bad. I see as the equivalent of drawing a V for victory on something.

          Also, the Sigrdrífumál may not be as ancient as it seems, the Poetic Edda that contains it wasn’t put in a manuscript until the 13th century, in the time of Snorri Sturluson, when the Icelandic Commonwealth was destroying itself, & 200 years after the Icelanders had converted to Christianity & were already misunderstanding aspects of their former practices. So to some extent its contents are becoming fictionalized.

          Perhaps my first statement was a bit glib or over-general, I think I meant to say that there’s no evidence of any continuity between very ancient runes & modern ideas. “Casting the Runes” for instance, isn’t used in English until 1829 (per the OED). But also, I stand by my statement the word is more complex in ancient usage & translation are apt to mislead.

          Thanks for your question!

      • While I agree that runes being used in divination is a modern concept, there are examples of runes being used for magical purposes in the Edda, the Icelandic Sagas, and on archaeological evidence.

        In Egil’s Saga, Egill Skallagrímsson meets a bedridden young girl on his journeys – in her bed he finds a small piece of whale bone with runes carved on it; these runes were intended to be a love spell and were carved by a young suitor who placed the rune-inscribed bone in her bed for it to take effect. But because the suitor had carved the runes incorrectly they caused her to become sick.

        A similar rune charm used to make someone fall in love with the person carving the magic charm is found on the Bergen rune charm, inscription number 257 of the Bryggen inscriptions. It has been dated to ca. 1335: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bergen_rune-charm
        The article draws comparisons between the rune charm and the poem Skírnismál (https://heimskringla.no/wiki/Sk%C3%ADrnism%C3%A1l) in the Poetic Edda, where Freyr’s messenger, Skírnir, threatens to carve runes that will drive Gerðr, Freyr’s love interest, insane with want and lust unless she agrees to Freyr’s proposal.

        The practice of erecting a níðstang is also well attested; a wooden pole with a runic inscription – a curse – with the head of a horse impaled on top, in order to curse an enemy.

        No doubt there are several examples a scholar could point to – the Ribe healing stick, dated to ca. 1300. But even as a complete amateur with an interest in the topic the examples above immediately came to mind. So the statement that the runes were not used for “supernatural & spiritual purposes before the 19th century” is simply baffling and deserves a correction/retraction.

        • My dude, you need to read downthread…

          I have acknowledged that my previous statements here were overly general. What was not made painfully clear to all & sundry is in the context of rūnas on this page is that I’m only talking about early England.

          I appreciate the directions to various appearances of runes in classic Icelandic literary sources, none of which were recorded before the 13th century. They’re great cites, but again not really what I’m talking about.

          Also, see above regarding the complexity of the word rúnar & rūn, which mean more —and more interesting things— than just stick figures carved on stuff.

          Have a lovely day, fake email guy!

      • Hate to burst your bubble but in fact: RUNES WERE used as magic.
        Coming from the Well of Wyd and Odin himself why not?
        Look at archeology bones: have been discovered with rune commands such as RISE And SPEAK.
        They believed in raising the dead was real a bit of necromancy.

        • “Hate to burst your bubble but in fact: RUNES WERE used as magic.”

          So you say–

          “Coming from the Well of Wyd and Odin himself why not?”

          Neither of those things are real — so how could anything come from them. Also, “wyd” usually means “what you doing?”

          “Look at archeology bones: have been discovered with rune commands such as RISE And SPEAK.
          They believed in raising the dead was real a bit of necromancy.”

          Do you have citations for any of this? Do you mean bones recovered from any where at any time? Who is the “they” in “they believed”?

          You sound passionate about the subject, but this is a scholarly website. That means if a commenter has a counter-argument, they are responsible for providing citations & evidence for those arguments. Otherwise, you’re only offering static. So please do better.

  • So happy to have stumbled across this translation and this site. Your disclaimer page was also a very worthwhile read and I appreciated the points you made there (so much I had to leave a comment somewhere to say… thank you!!!) I am just a random student with a personal interest in the futhorc but I know I’ll make great use of this archive! Thanks

  • this poem is of great help to us witches too, runes have many uses from Divination to spellcraft. I am copying it to my book of shadows

  • The word ear in the last stanza may be better translated as spike because the tip of an ear of grain looks like the tip of a spear. The word spike itself is derived from the word spicus which in latin means ear of grain. It was common in ancient languages to describe the spike of a spear as like an ear of grain.

    “sp?ca f (genitive sp?cae); first declension

    (of grain) A head, ear, spike”

    • Hi Patrick, thanks for the input — You mean the “ear” which is the name for the rune in the stanza. It is usually interpreted as “earth” — that’s the diphthong at the start of the Germanic word (it’s eorth in OE). Here, the context seems clear that the poem means the earth to which we all return, or the grave. I’m not seeing any way it means “ear” based on context alone. Also, the B-T Dictionary gives an “ear” (w/ short diphthong) as “ear [of grain] and “ear” (w/ long diphthong) as the name of the rune.

  • You have a nice gift for poetry. I’ve seen every other scholarly translation of the Rune Poem, I think. I’m glad you’re doing Metres of Boethius. I found your site just now, scouting for a translation of ‘Soul and Body,’ in reference to Ursula Dronke’s notes on Atlakavida 2/6 on the significance of the word ‘cold.’ You might try your hand at translating Völundarkviða – The Lay of Völund, you know. In Saga book XXIII published by the ‘Viking Society for Northern Research’* John McKinnell established convincingly that Völundarkviða was most likely written in tenth or 11th century Yorkshire or Cumbria and then transferred to Iceland where it pops up in Codex Regius, a view McKinnell has never wavered from. The poem would benefit from your gift with a fluid terseness, which suits it. Cheers for the site. Marnie Tunay

  • Thank you for your wonderful translation! I used this poem – giving credit where it’s due, I assure you! – as an example of Anglo-Saxon poetry for a poetry class at the University of Georgia. Though I’m still curious: where does the title come from? Is it purely descriptive, as in this poem was carved in runes somewhere, or is there an underlying meaning?

    Thank you for your work, and for making it available to us students!

    • The poem describes the various runes in the old Danish alphabet. Look at each stanza: the ox, thorns, etc. being discussed are runes. Hence the name of the poem.


      • B.S. The Danish futhorc is not the origin of the AS runic alphabet. The poem was most likely a fleshed out mnemonic poem based on an earlier version whomever composed this felt lacked detail. And the poem is simply called ‘Rune Poem’ from a need to call it something. What is it? A poem about runes. Rune Poem it is. The only version we have of it is a brass rubbing copy from Georges Hickes ‘Linguarium Vett.’ which lacks any title.

        • Like I said before, be polite in your comments, or you will be blocked. Pedantry does not help anybody learn. That there is most likely a previous incarnation of the runes is not really in question. Futhork and Old English runes are just more recent versions of that older version. Sure. If you want to make a counter-claim, then suggest a book to read or provide a link. Don’t just snark at people genuinely coming into this material for the first time. It makes you look like a jerk. ASNPP has no time for jerks.

          • Spreading misinformation isn’t polite either. JAM shouldn’t have made that claim with such confidence when he clearly didn’t know what he was talking about.

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