Okay, so you know how Vikings didn’t have books, TVs, computers or mobile phones? What did they do all day? Probably a spot of longship building, wild boar hunting, weapon repairing, some DIY-ing around the hut, plus a bit of pillaging, plundering and running amok as seen here in an advert from my youth.
But surely these activities don’t fill a whole day. Primitive tribes generally work fewer hours than modern man so Vikings must have had lots of leisure time. What did they do with it all?
Did they talk to one another while idly throwing pebbles into the cold North Sea? Did they watch the clouds rolling in from the Atlantic and take an interest in the changing weather? Did they stare at the hills and the rivers and listen to animals calling? Maybe they gazed at their weapons and wondered how they could either improve them or decorate them.
Perhaps they stood in front of their huts and felt the air getting colder and the light fading as night and winter came on, or watched their semi-tame dogs sleeping, or heard them give a single inexplicable yelp out in the darkness. They probably lit fires and gazed into them. Perhaps they listened to the trees and the grass rustling in the breeze. Or were Vikings like the characters in the short story, Everything ravaged, everything burned?
But what I really want to know is whether their lives felt more real than mine. I know our lives are much longer, safer, healthier and more comfortable than those of Vikings and I don’t want to give any of that up. I also know that there is a tendency to romanticize the primitive life when in reality it was rough, dangerous and smelly. But was it more real, less dream-like than mine?
You see, I spend lots of time in the virtual world of my gadgets and books and it is starting to worry me. Sometimes it feels like I’m living a dream. I look up from my book or computer screen and realise I have been away from reality for a long time. Then I go back to my virtual world. More and more time is spent this way. At least a Viking’s life must have felt like a proper life, even if it was nasty, brutish and short.
Several months later. I have just come across a poem by Wordsworth which expresses the same sentiment more poetically.
The world is too much with us
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.