Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Poetic Edda

Hello fellow history lovers. It has been a wild couple of months for me, and I have to admit that I have been slacking in my reading. I'm slowly making my way through Egil's Saga, which is very good but kind of slow. In between I have been reading the Poetic Edda, the sister and companion to the Prose Edda, as well as a birthday gift from my sister and brother-in-law.

I was excited to read the Poetic Edda because of how much I enjoyed the Prose Edda. In Snorri's Prose, they reference different prophecies and poems and such. But once I started to get into the first piece of the Poetic Edda, The Prophecy of the Seeress, I realized that the Prose Edda is really a sort of sparknotes for the Poetic Edda. The Prophecy is so hard to understand, especially with the countless kennings you find. A kenning is a characteristic and essential part of Icelandic poetry. It is a simple metaphor. An example is instead of saying Odin's name, one might say the son of Suttung. That's it. But because I don't have the cultural context or a list of all the things that is familiarized with different things, it's hard to follow.

There is good news, though. Following the Prophecy is The Sayings of Har, which resemble more of a Book of Proverbs than anything else. Except it is a little more loose and kind of goofy, not to mention totally pagan. In the introduction, the editor talks about how he tried to translate as best as they could. Even in English, I think this poem is written beautifully. I am going to write out a few lines so you can experience this wonder. During this part of the poem, Har is advising us who and what we should not trust. Incidentally, women keep showing up. Wonder why!?! But I am going to throw you in the middle here at my favorite part.



Fell wood in the wind, in fair weather row out to sea,
dally with girls in the dark-- the day's eyes are many--
choose a shield for shelter, a ship for speed,
a sword for keenness, a girl for kissing. . .


. . .A brittle bow, a burning fire,
a gaping wolf, a grunting sow,
a croaking crow, a kettle boiling,
a rising sea, a rootless trea,

A flying dart, a foaming billow,
ice one night old, a coild-up adder,
a woman's bed talk, a broken blade,
the play of cubs, a king's scion,

A sickly calf, a self-willed thrall,
the smooth words of a witch, warriors fresh-slain,

Thy brother's banesman, though it be on the road,
a half-burned house, a speedy horse--
worthless the steed if one foot he breaks--
so trusting be no one to trust in these!

-The Sayings of Har, Stanzas 82, 85-88

It's funny to think about these. When you read the Book of Proverbs, it all seems like common sense and words of wisdom that we all know but yea, it's helpful to be reminded. These may have been very similar in a totally isolated culture. Well, I guess not isolated because eventually the people spread across the globe. But far from the Roman reaches and before the Christian conversion. Women must have caused a lot of trouble back then because they area continually warning against their tricks.

Stupid women.

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