General Bardic Studies for Liturgists 1: Requirement 2
Compare and contrast examples from the work of three poets in one cultural tradition from at least two historical eras.
(minimum 300 words of the student's original essay material beyond the verses provided, at least one poem per poet)
For this essay, I will provide part of the work of the unnamed poet who
wrote a poem from the Elder Edda, a poem by Snorri Sturluson, and a poem
attributed to Egil. Here, the "historical eras" I'm working from are
pre- and post-conversion in Iceland.
1. Eddic Poetry: Voluspá
Hear me, all ye hallowed beings,
both high and low of Heimdall's children:
thou wilt, Valfather, that I well set forth
the fates of the world which as first I recall.
I call to mind the kin of etins
which long ago did give me life.
Nine worlds I know, the nine abodes
of the glorious world-tree the ground beneath.
In earliest times did Ymir live:
was not sea nor land nor salty waves.
Neither was earth there nor upper heaven,
but gaping nothing, and green things nowhere.
Was the land then lifted aloft by Bur's sons
who made Mišgarth, the matchless earth;
shone from the south the sun on dry land,
on the ground then grew the greensward soft.
(Original Old Norse version may be found
here, and will be referred to some)
Eddic poetry has a very particular form, one that is not reflected in the
next two examples. Primarily, it is simple, both in diction and in style
(despite the poets working centuries apart).¹ The strophic form of the
poems is also interesting, with each stanza being divided into two vísuhelmings
or "half-stanzas". Interestingly, this structure is particularly
inconsistent in the oldest works, but becomes more structured as time goes on.²
The basic unit of the verse is the "half-line", is tied to the next
half-line by alliteration of an initial consonant and any vowel (e.g., ta-
and to- would alliterate in this verse). The alliteration, though, always
appears at the beginning of a stressed syllable.³
Some similarities you'll see is the use of kenning, such as "Valfather"
meaning "father of Valhalla" or "Ošin", "Bur's
sons" meaning "Vili, Ve, and Ošin", and "Heimdall's
children" as "the classes of men." Still, eddic poetry never
really approaches the level of skaldic poetry when it comes to usage of this
poetic device.† Also, there is the use of alliteration (seen best in the
original Old Norse) and a lack of end-rhyme.
¹ - Hollander, p. xxi
² - Hollander, p. xxiii
³ - Hollander, p. xxiv
† - Hollander, p. xxii
2. Skaldic Poetry: Snorri Sturluson
|Fellr of fúra stilli
fleinbraks limu axla
Hamdis fang thar er hringum
hylr ættstudill skylia.
Holt felr hildigelti
heila bæs ok deilir
gulls í gelmis stalli
gunnseid skörungr reidir.
|Hamdir's tunic falls around the
operator of the fire of the spear-clash
where the upholder of the king's dynasty
protects the limbs of his shoulders with
rings. The outstanding one covers the
hill of the dwelling of the brain with a
battle-boar and the distributor of gold
brandishes the battle-fish in the hawk's
The English translation (trans. Faulkes) above is not in verse, but it
will help give an idea about the kennings mentioned above.
In this poem, Snorri is providing an example of how one can convey almost all
concepts by using kennings. "Hamdir's tunic" is a coat of mail;
"operator of fire of the spear-clash" is someone wielding a sword;
"upholder of the king's dynasty" is again the warrior; "limbs of
his shoulders" are arms; and the "rings" are mail again.
"The outstanding one" is the warrior again; the "hill of the
dwelling of the brain" is, of course, the top of the skull;
"battle-boar" is a helmet (a reference to helms decorated with boars,
I imagine); "distributor of gold" is the king; "battle-fish"
is a sword; and "hawk's perch" is the hand.¹
It is easy to see how carried away the skaldic poet might have gotten, and
indeed they seem to have delighted in trying to confound one another with these
More important, though, is the use of alliteration and the lack of end-rhyme
¹ - Sturluson, p. 168
2. Skaldic Poetry: Egil (attributed)
|Skalat maðr rúnar rísta,
nema ráða vel kunni,
þat verðr mörgum manni,
es of myrkvan staf villisk;
sák á telgðu talkni
tíu launstafi ristna,
þat hefr lauka lindi
langs ofrtrega fengit.
|No man should carve runes
unless he can read them well;
many a man goes astray
around those dark letters.
On the whalebone I saw
ten secret letters carved,
from them the linden tree
took her long harm.
The English is translated by Bernard Scudder.¹
In chapter 73 of Egil's Saga, Egil comes across a sick woman. When he looks
her over, he finds the source of her sickness: a whalebone carved with
Here, we find a much lighter use of kennings by the author (the author of
Egil's Saga is unknown, possibly being Snorri himself, but the style is
different enough from the above poem and I'm giving Egil the benefit of the
doubt). There are few in
the poem, the most prominent one being the "linden tree", which is a
kenning for woman. Also, "secret letters" and "dark letters"
are also kennings for runes. This poetry, then, while being skaldic, is markedly
different than the example given above by Snorri.
Again, we find alliteration to connect the various lines and ideas, and the
lines do not rhyme (though there is an accidental end-rhyme in this piece: kunni
and manni, lines 2 and 3).
¹ - Egil's Saga, p. 141
Anonymous. "Egil's Saga" in The Sagas of the Icelanders.
Trans. Scudder, Bernard.1997
Anonymous. "Voluspa" in The Poetic Edda. Trans. Hollander,
Lee M. 2001
Sturluson, Snorri. "Hattatal" in Edda. Trans. Faukes,
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