Peorth / Peorð has been rendered as “pear tree”, “apple tree”, “dice cup”, “Well of Wyrd”, and “a woodwind instrument”. It is only described in the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem, and though it may have an equivalent in Gothic pairthra / qairthra, its meaning remains elusive. What is known for certain is that it appears on the Kylver Stone (400 CE), and is found linguistically on St. Cuthbert’s coffin (698 CE), and the Westeremden yewstick (750 CE) (1). However, when considering the various translations, none of them offer any explanation when reading the singular verse:
Peorð byþ symble plega and hlehter
wlancum [on middum], ðar wigan sittaþ
on beorsele bliþe ætsomne.
Peorth is ever play and laughter
Proud the warriors sitting
On beerhall blithely together.
If the previous examples can be said to be correct, then the sentence would read:
-‘Pear/apple tree is ever play and laughter.among warriors’; or,
-‘Dice cup is ever play and laughter.among warriors’, and so forth.
What does seem to make sense is another option, Indo-European per-(3), which means, “to try, risk; to lead over, press forward”. In Old English this word was faer, meaning, “danger, sudden calamity”, then in Germanic, ferar, meaning, “danger” (2). As a suffix, we see it today in Latin peril and perilous, which originally meant, “clever, shrewd”. Yet another Latin suffix is perclum, meaning, “trial, danger”, and *per-yo, meaning, “experience, expert; to try, learn by trying”. Finally, the suffix *per-ya is seen in Greek peira, meaning, “trial, attempt”. In all, this seems more fitting to the “play and laughter” of warriors as they sit, boasting and bragging in beerhall fellowship. As an aside, the word blith is purely Germanic in origin and denotes a condition of being, specifically, a shared affection with others that creates a pleasing state of mind.
Havamal 2 mentions being “on trial..for boldness”:
Hail the Givers! Comes in a guest. Where shall they sit to see?
Much haste that one who shall at fireside be –
one’s self on trial for such boldness.
Therefore, in that the Germanic Männerbünde was considered a “shame culture”, the idea of trying / testing, as a definition of Peorth, seems fitting (3):
Trying, testing and putting to proof is ever play and laughter
for the proud warriors sitting blithely together in the beerhall.
1-Kylver Stone: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kylver_Stone.
2-Or, “shrewd trials”. Germanic ferar, feral?, as in “ferocious, brutal”.
3-Dr. George Jones’, Honor in German Literature.