Between Niflheim and Muspellsheim
(The lands of extreme cold and extreme heat in Norse mythology)
By Tyler Madsen
The seasons change with mighty ire;
Consuming ice, eternal fire.
I’m forever fated to tread the line
‘Tween Niflheim and Muspellsheim
Niflheim, the land of cold,
Rivers of ice blocks snap and fold.
Teeth of ice in rock-hard snow;
Blizzards howl and ice winds blow.
Muspellsheim, the land of heat,
Brimstone falls in a flaming sleet.
Lava blasts from melting crags.
Famished fire leaps up in jags.
Every November Niflheim comes.
It tweaks the nose and then the thumbs.
Snow-laden winds begin to howl
In darkest night as Jack Frost prowls.
Then, creeping slowly o’er the land,
Niflheim stretches an icy hand.
Snow falls by inches, then by feet.
Dark ice awaits on every street.
When the land is all under its ice,
Niflheim tightens its frozen vice.
It breaches the mind; it grinds the soul,
And of the weak it takes a toll.
Just before the cold breaks even the strong,
There comes a burst of fair birdsong.
For no clear reason, winter’s grip sags,
And Niflheim retreats to high icy crags.
The land then proves that Gaea’s green
By Niflheim can’t be contravened.
Crocuses, peonies, grape hyacinths
Arise amid tulips and narcissus.
But Niflheim ended his frigid stay
Because another power had forced him away.
Descending on channels of blazing sunshine
Comes the cruel tyrant, Muspellsheim.
Blazing heat pours from the sky
Dazzling even the lowered eye.
Muspellsheim siphons all the land’s water
At temperatures high in the nineties or hotter.
Muspellsheim then completes the attack,
In the blazing light of a thunderstorm’s crack.
Thousands of volts dive down from the cloud,
Instantly igniting all that is around.
In this moment when Muspellsheim airs all his wrath,
Only the trees stand blocking his path.
They keep the air cool and spread a leafy sheet
‘Bove those taking shelter from Muspellsheim’s heat.
He reigns for three months, then walks back his old path,
Raging and blazing in boiling wrath.
During this respite from stifiling heat,
The land brings from hiding a delicious treat.
During the summer, all flora and vine
Absorbed the energy thrown by Muspellsheim.
They used that energy to make presents for man:
Corn, pumpkins, squash, tomatoes, and yams.
But soon all the harvesting joy is cut short.
Giant snow-laden clouds descend from the north.
They are the heralds, and their message is blackness:
Niflheim returns from his far northern fastness.
And so on it goes, the two mighty hands
Wrestle each other for control of the land.
Muspellsheim’s fire and Niflheim’s ice
Pound the earth endlessly with their avarice.
Yet between the two powers is the place where I sing.
For autumn and springtime both lie in-between.
For surely life’s joy is to tread the line
Between hot Muspellsheim and cold Niflheim.
Tyler wrote this poem in 2008 for a high school poetry slam. It took first place.
What is your favorite season? Who are you more afraid of: Niflheim, or Muspellsheim?
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