Painting by Edward Robert Hughes, a Pre-Raphaelite painter who chose a rather diaphanous vision of the job of the Valkyries.


The father, the ring master, watches with pride
The butchery on the battlefield.
His daughters, casqued and armed,
Winged mounts snorting in the chill high air,
Watch as he does, with practiced eye,
The dead and dying and the yet to die.
He points here and there,
Casually selecting the noble deaths,
Disregarding the agony of less honourable wounds.
White robed, white mounted they swoop,
And gather up their prizes from the bloody ground,
Carry their hacked and dripping burdens back to bliss.
Awakened eyes, prize-winning wounds healed,
Warriors gape at the monumental feasting,
The endless benches of bearded heroes,
Eating and drinking,
Belching and vomiting
Their way to forgetfulness and eternity.
Their white robes soaked in red blood,
Hands gore slippery,
The women lead their mounts away,
To cleanse the snow white coats of human misery,
To wash their hands and wash their hands and wash,
But never the din of battle fades away,
Nor the screams of the dying,
The grieving of widows and orphans,
Mothers and lovers.
The white women wash their hands in silence
And glance down at the empty beds in dark houses,
At the hay uncut in the meadows,
The unploughed fields,
And turn deaf ears to the sound a child’s empty belly makes.
The sound of roistering covers the keening,
And beer dribbled down drunken chins
Is the nearest the noble warriors come
To weeping tears.

Published by

Jane Dougherty

I used to do lots of things I didn't much enjoy. Now I am officially a writer. It's what I always wanted to be.

12 thoughts on “Valhalla”

    1. Sometimes they got it just right, sometimes their women look like death warmed over. I have a soft spot for them too, and some of their paintings are absolutely sumptuous. Glad you liked the poem 🙂

    1. The glorification of an honourable death in battle is one I find hard to stomach. Not meaning to belittle bravery and courage on the battlefield, as far as I know, in German/Norse mythology, to get the best out of the afterlife you had to be a war hero. As if it didn’t need courage and bravery to struggle on against starvation with a brood of kids on your hands!

  1. Oh… Heart-wrenching, haunting poem, Jane. The imagery is too difficult for me to watch, not simply because I’m not feeling well enough to do so. They watch. They don’t forget. They long for tears but cannot cry. Other generations never seem to learn. They stand by their children and their children’s children. They spend centuries turning the darkness of such a history into light. They cannot help but remember. They are never separate from their families who follow them into the other world.

    1. Thank you, Éilis, I’m glad the poem resonated with your own feelings, though I’m sorry you’re not well at the moment. You’re right; we don’t seem to learn anything from past suffering. We praise our heroes and gloss over the tragedy they leave in their wake.

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