The Rune of the Finland Woman

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One of the most mysterious and wonderful characters in the Snow Queen story is the Finland woman who lives at the very border of the South Pole where the Snow Queen’s dreadful citadel is to be found. And she’s the last person Gerda finds on her journey. Gerda is riding the reindeer given to her by the robber girl, carrying a message from the Finland woman’s friend, the Lapland woman, written on a piece of dried cod which the Finland woman reads and then cooks the dried cod because she never wastes anything. The reindeer then whispers to the Finland woman, who was something of a witch, something of a shaman, something of a wise person whose powers we really never know. “You are so wise,” the reindeer said, “you could bind the winds of the world in a single strand. Why don’t you use your magic and help her?” At which the Finland woman says, “Well she’s come so far on her own, she can help herself.”

This poem is called “The Rune of the Finland Woman,” and it’s for a friend of mine who lives almost at the borders of the South Pole, at least at the other side of the world, in Budapest. Her name is Sára Karig, and this is “The Rune of the Finland Woman” which was written for her.

 

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THE RUNE OF THE FINLAND WOMAN

She could bind the world’s winds in a single strand.
She could find the world’s words in a singing wind.
She could lend a weird will to a mottled hand.
She could wind a willed word from a muddled mind

She could wend the wild woods on a saddled hind.
She could sound a wellspring with a rowan wand.
She could bind the wolf’s wounds in a swaddling band.
She could bind a banned book in a silken skin.

She could spend a world war on invaded land.
She could pound the dry roots to a kind of bread.
She could feed a road gang on invented food.
She could find the spare parts of the severed dead.

She could find the stone limbs in a waste of sand.
She could stand the pit cold with a withered lung.
She could handle bad puns in the slang she learned.
She could dandle foundlings in their mother tongue.

She could plait a child’s hair with a fishbone comb.
She could tend a coal fire in the Arctic wind.
She could mend an engine with a sewing pin.
She could warm the dark feet of a dying man.

She could drink the stone soup from a doubtful well.
She could breathe the green stink of a trench latrine.
She could drink a queen’s share of important wine.
She could think a few things she would never tell.

She could learn the hand code of the deaf and blind.
She could earn the iron keys of the frozen queen.
She could wander uphill with a drunken friend.
She could bind the world’s winds in a single strand.

 

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