tidarbrot.tif // On the Brink of a Novel Perception of Time?

By Ain! From the future, Omid’s friend received the image file tidarbrot.tif! “What in the blazes could this be?”, she wondered, “Tíðarbrot ought to mean something to the effect of fragment of time?” It turned out to be a digital scan of a runic inscription, executed in the runic script of the Middle Ages, with alternating east- and westward drooping and interwoven staves.


Omid's friend immediately turned to a vacant terminal, which she put to the task of transcribing and latinizing the inscription, a pursuit that yielded the following result:

tidarbrot deciphered.png

“Clearly this is skaldic verse in the complex drottkvætt meter. I wonder if its obscure meaning will allow itself to be deciphered in the present?” She handed the terminal the following three commands:
Convert to prose word-order
Translate with kennings marked and deciphered.

These were the results:

Ǽ kallask ellilyfs
ǫnd eða tíðar rǫnd
mun miðmundi landa
miskunnar fisks ok stríðs.
Þessi stund þandi ár
þá er skáld sá aldir
allar senn. Dǿmi ǫll
eru svaðað þaðan.

Prose word-order:

Miðmundi miskunnar ok stríðs fisks landa mun ǽ kallask ǫnd ellilyfs eða rǫnd tíðar. Þessi stund þandi ár þá er skáld sá aldir allar senn. Dǿmi ǫll eru þaðan svaðað.


The point of equal distance between [[the land fish's] mercy and struggle] may be called the [breath of the old-age-remedy] or [time's rim]. This moment outstretched years when the poet saw all ages at once. All examples from thence have slid.
  • [[The land fish’s (=serpent)] mercy (=summer) and struggle (=winter)]

  • [The serpent’s mercy and struggle (=summer and winter)]

    Unresolved. Manual examination required:

  • [breath of the old-age-remedy (=?The point of equal distance between [[the land fish’s] mercy (=summer) and struggle (=winter)]

  • [time’s rim (=?The point of equal distance between [[the land fish’s] mercy (=summer) and struggle (=winter)]

”What an oddity! The stanza seems to take a poke at time itself!”, said Omid's friend, “‘But before we take a closer look, one should probably say a few words about the kennings.” The interpretation of the first kennings appears fairly certain. We find an ordinary serpent kenning in landa fiskr “the fish of the land” (Cf. Meissner 1921: 112). It is said that there is no need to mourn at the serpent or the eel's funeral, as these creatures glide most effortlessly between the worlds — could there be a relation? Meissner explains why the summer is called the serpent's mercy, and the winter its struggle in Die Kenningar der Skalden:

Winter und Sommer werden bei den Skalden fast immer durch die Schlange bezeichnet. Die Winter ist die Krankheit, das Leid, der Schrecken, der Vernichter der Schlangen [...] Der Sommer erbarmt sich wieder der Schlangen [...]

The skaldic poets consistently refer to 'winter' and 'summer' by the (base-word) 'snake'. Winter is the illness, the suffering, the horror, the destroyer of snakes. The summer again is merciful to the snake. (ibid: 109, my translation)

Omid's friend began to interpret: The first helming (i.e. Half stanza) may be characterized as a description of a sort of non-perspective of time in mythological terms. The helming's word-order is shuffled in accordance with the typical heavy drottkvætt style, as well as one (or two, depending on how we count it) multi-layered kenning. If, for the sake of simplicity, we ignore the kennings, it says that “The point of equal distance between summer and winter may be called the breath of the old-age-remedy or time's rim”. What is the middle point between summer and winter? Is the poet trying, with this peculiar expression, to point towards a time outside of time? That this point can be called rǫnd tíðar – “time’s rim” seems like a reasonable claim, provided we accept the foundation of such a “moment” in the first place, but what does it mean that we can also call it ǫnd ellilyfs – “the breath of the old-age-remedy”? I'll have to leave that unanswered for the time being.

The second helming has a prose-like syntax and no kennings. Apart from a rather artificial application of the verb tenja, the contents are fairly straight-forward considering the circumstances. The first sentence, Þessi stund þandi ár þá er skáld sá aldir allar senn, “This moment outstretched years when the poet saw all ages at once”, begs the question “which moment?” Here, it is reasonable to imagine ourselves looking at the non-time that the poet provided a general description of in the first helming, from a more personal point of view, perhaps from a certain moment in the poet's life where he observed it. The last sentence, Dǿmi ǫll eru svaðað þaðan, “All examples from thence have slid.” Sliding, slithering like the old serpents perhaps? Once again the poet adopts a general perspective. It is tempting to read this through the eyes of Plato: All realizations of phenomena (dǿmi “examples”) pour into time from a place outside of it (þaðan “thence, from that place” in the context of the stanza), but this is probably a forced interpretation. As long as the future remains uncertain, so will tíðarbrot's underlying concepts continue to baffle us.

Contents licensed under Creative Commons.
Conceived and executed by F. Th. Øverland
Developed and translated by E. Storesund