Queen Wealhtheow: Cup-Bearer

I watch her pacing the patterned floor,
Passing the cup to punch-drunk brawlers,
Side-stepping swords, the too-familiar fumble.
A mead-hall manoeuvre so mechanical
I can tell: sheโ€™s done this before.

And tomorrow? Until the footfalls measure out
Another winter, when enough will still be too little,
And the chink of a blade sets frosty tempers stirring,
Spoiling for a fight. That familiar footfall spells shelter.

Left out, sleet-struck, a single sparrow scoffs.
This, here, is what you should fear. The ritual dark.



Laura Varnam is the Lecturer in Old and Middle English Literature at University College, Oxford. Her creative work is inspired by the medieval poetry that she teaches, in particular the Old English epic Beowulf.