Week 408: I Am Roerek, by Sheenagh Pugh

Roerek was a minor king of Norway in the saga times, and the first settlers in Iceland, not counting a few Irish monks, were emigrants from Norway who were, according to tradition, fleeing from civil strife brought about by the rule of King Harald I. And that’s all you really need to know to enjoy this poem by Sheenagh Pugh, who has a delightful gift for retrieving characters that have fallen through the cracks of history.

I Am Roerek

I am Roerek: I was king
of a little scrap of Norway;
large or small, I would not part
with what I had.

I fought a man whose luck
swallowed mine; he blinded me,
but being a good Christian
he wouldn’t kill me,

just kept me about his court,
where I spent my spare time
earnestly attempting his life.
After the third try

he said: don’t you ever give up?
and shipped me to Iceland.
I stayed a winter with this man
and that: we always quarrelled.

Now I lie under a hill,
hear the muffled wind shifting
over the grass, uneasy
like the sea in a shell.

I am the only king
to lie in a land too stubborn
for kings; an edgy country.
it suits me well,

for I am one who would not
co-operate; tailor my wants
to fit reality. Roerek: king
and cosmic nuisance.

Sheenagh Pugh