THE STRUCTURES OF DRËTTKVĂTT
A short introduction

1. Stanzas. Half-stanzas. Pairs. Odd and even lines.

Each stanza of drˇttkvŠtt consists of eight lines (vÝsuor­), and is divided into two half-stanzas (helmingar) of four lines each. There is always a syntactic break between the two half-stanzas. A distinction must be made between odd lines (1,3,5,7) and even lines (2,4,6,8), because of their structural differences (see below). An odd line forms a pair with a succeeding even line.

2. Syllables. Stress. Positions.

DrˇttkvŠtt is basically a syllabic meter. Normally, each line consists of six syllables, three of which are stressed. The last two syllables always form a distinctive unit, composed of a strong (long, stressed) syllable and a weak (short, unstressed) one, but the rhythm of the first four syllables can vary considerably. The simplest type of line consists of a regular alternation of strong (S) and weak (w) syllables, Sw Sw Sw:

1:3 DRJ┌GR var LOPTR at LJ┌Ga

with stressed syllables in the first, third, and fifth positions; unstressed syllables in the second, fourth, and sixth positions (Type A).

While the last two syllables always conform to this rhythmical pattern (Sw), which might be considered as trochaic, the first part of the line can exhibit a great variety of rhythmical possibilities. There is no agreement among scholars regarding these possibilites. See Appendix.

3. Alliteration. In-rhyme.

The drˇttkvŠtt meter employs both alliteration and assonance. The alliteration binds the lines into pairs, while the assonance (in-rhyme) occurs within the same line.

3a. Alliteration.

Each odd line contains two alliterating stu­lar ("props"), which furthermore alliterate with the h÷fu­stafur ("main staff") in the next even line, forming a pair of lines:

1:1 Flugstalla rÚ­ Felli
1:2 Fj÷rnets go­a at hvetja

1:3 drj˙gr var Loptr at Lj˙ga
1:4 L÷gseims fa­ir heiman

The latter of the two stu­lar almost invariably falls in position five (the penultimate syllable), while the h÷fu­stafur always occupies the first syllable of the line. Any vowel (or diphthong) can alliterate with any other vowel. Initial J- is treated as a vowel. Identical consonants alliterate, and the groups SP-, ST-, and SK- are treated as single phonetic units.

2:7 Endr til Ymsa kindar
2:8 I­ja setrs frß Ůri­ja

8:7 Jar­ar skafls af Afli
8:8 ss hretvi­ri blßsin

9:5 hß­u STßli STrÝ­an
9:6 STraum hrekkmÝmis ekkjur

3b. In-rhyme.

Each line of drˇttkvŠtt contains two internal rhymes (hendingar: frumhending and vi­urhending). The second of these (vi­urhending) almost invariably falls in position five (the penultimate syllable), while the position of the first (frumhending) varies. Typically, there is a difference between the in-rhymes of odd and even lines. The odd lines usually contain half-rhymes (skothendingar), while the even lines contain full-rhymes (a­alhendingar):

9:5 h┴đu STßli STr═đan
9:6 STraum hrEKKmÝmis EKKjur

2:7 ENDr til Ymsa kINDar
2:8 IđJa setrs frß ŮrIđJa

However, full-rhymes may be found in odd lines:

1:3 drJ┌Gr var Loptr at LJ┌Ga

8:7 Jar­ar skAFLs af AFLi

It must be noted that reflexes of the u-umlaut (a, ja > ÷, j÷) were considered to rhyme fully with their non-umlauted counterparts:

5:2 vANN fetrunnar NÍNNu

4. Word order. Imbedded and intertwined sentences. Tmesis.

The drˇttkvŠtt meter is notorious for its convoluted word order and fragmented sentences. One sentence may be embedded within another, and even intertwined with another sentence in a manner that defies logic. Combined with other complexities of the form (e.g. kennings), this often results in stanzas which can be interpreted in multiple ways.

This convoluted word order (including an embedded sentence) is clearly demonstrated by the following:

2:1 ge­strangr of lÚt g÷ngu
2:2 gammlei­ ١arr sk÷mmum
2:3 [fřstusk ■eir at ■rřsta
2:4 Ůorns ni­jum] sik bi­ja

which, in prose, would read:

ge­strangr ١arr of lÚt gammlei­ sk÷mmum bi­ja sik g÷ngu; ■eir fřstusk at ■rřsta Ůorns ni­jum.

The above example is fairly normal. In the below example we find a main clause and a subordinate clause intertwined with each other in a devious manner:

7:5 ■verrir lÚt [nema ■yrri]
7:6 [Ůorns] barna sÚr m÷rnar
7:7 [snerriblˇ­] til [svÝra]
7:8 sal■aks megin vaxa

which, in prose, would read:

■verrir m÷rnar barna lÚt sÚr megin vaxa til sal■aks, nema snerriblˇ­ svÝra Ůorns ■yrri.

This principle of fragmentation could also apply to composite words, which could be split into their components (tmesis), as the following example demonstrates. The split word is gallˇpnis:

3:6 gall- mantŠlir halla
3:7 -ˇpnis ilja gaupnum

5. Kennings.

The poets of drˇttkvŠtt employed an intricate system of metaphoric circumlocution, usually referred to by its original name, kenning ("paraphrase"). A simple kenning is defined as a phrase, consisting of a base noun (stofn "stem"), qualified by another noun in the genitive (kennior­ "qualifier"). The qualifier typically transforms the meaning of the stem:

svanr blˇ­s "swan of blood" = raven

Here, the stem svanr "swan" could be replaced by any bird's name, but the qualifier blˇ­s "of blood" turns the swan into a raven, the typical carrion-bird (bird of the battle-field) of the kenning-system.

The qualifying noun (blˇ­s) was easily replaced by new kennings, thus:

svanr sveita sver­s "swan of sweat of sword" = raven
svanr sveita sßra "swan of sweat of wounds" = raven

Here, blood is paraphrased as "sweat of sword", and "sweat of wounds". Both are perfectly permissible: blood may be compared with sweat, either as dripping from a sword, or as dripping from a wound.

In an actual drˇttkvŠtt stanza, we find:

svanr sveita ■orns sßra "swan of sweat of thorn of wounds" = raven

This is equivalent to svanr sveita sver­s (above). The sword has been replaced by a new kenning ■orn sßra "thorn of wounds".

The above example, svanr sveita ■orns sßra "swan of sweat of thorn of wounds", has been chosen to illustrate the problems of interpreting kennings in drˇttkvŠtt. The four words: svanr, sveita, ■orns, sßra, could occur anywhere within a half-stanza, not obviously related to each other. An attempt to read svanr sveita sßra "swan of sweat of wounds" would leave the word ■orns unaccounted for (and tempt the reader to relate it to another, unrelated part of the half-stanza). The reader might also be tempted to interpret sveiti sßra ■orns in a totally different manner. Ůorn is often used to mean "giant", and is equivalent to ■urs. In the system of kennings, any giant's name could be replaced with any other giant's name. Thus, sveiti sßra Ůorns "sweat of wounds (blood) of the giant" could easily be a kenning for the ocean, which mythologically originated from the blood of Ymir, the primeval giant. Such an interpretation would leave the word svanr unaccounted for (and tempt the reader to relate it to another, unrelated part of the half-stanza).

The intricacies of the system of kennings cannot possible be dealt with in a short introduction. Let us finish this superficial treatment with an exaggerated (but real) example:

gimsl÷ngvir drÝfu gÝfrs hlÚmßna blakks nausta = warrior

i.e. "fire-brandisher of snowstorm of troll of protection-moon of horse of boat-shed". Working backwards, blakkr nausta "horse of boat-shed" = ship. The ship's hlÚmßni "protection-moon" = shield. The shield's gÝfr "troll" = sword. The sword's drÝfa "snowstorm" = battle. The battle's gim "fire" = sword. The sword's sl÷ngvir "brandisher" = warrior. (Gimsl÷ngvir is equivalent to sl÷ngvir gims).

6. Appendix: The metrics of drˇttkvŠtt.

At the end of the 19th century, and in the beginning of the 20th, a number of scholars participated in a lively (and sometimes vitriolic) debate regarding the metrics of drˇttkvŠtt. Eduard Sievers, Andreas Heusler, Finnur Jˇnsson, E. A. Kock, Konstantin Reichardt, and Hans Kuhn, were the major players. After the tempest, the scholars' interest seems to have dwindled drastically, until Kuhn published his Das DrˇttkvŠtt in 1983. His analysis has hardly met any serious challenges. Kristjßn ┴rnason offered a new interpretation in his The Rhythms of DrˇttkvŠtt and Other Old Icelandic Metres in 1991. The most recent, and most important analysis, however, is Kari Ellen Gade's The Structure of Old Norse DrˇttkvŠtt Poetry (1995).

It is interesting to note that Sievers' analysis is still very much alive. Kuhn's analysis (1983) is basically an extention of it; ┴rnason's interpretation relies on it; and Gade, even though she is extremely critical of Sievers, Kuhn, and ┴rnason, chooses to present her analysis within the framework of the Sievers/Kuhn model.

It is my opinion that Sievers' model of the five basic types is still quite valid, even though it is by no means a final, acceptable analysis of the drˇttkvŠtt meter. Kuhn, ┴rnason, and Gade, have pointed out the flaws; but the fact remains that Sievers, despite the criticisms of his model, still remains the best "starting-point" for anyone who wants to delve into the murky regions of the metrics of drˇttkvŠtt.

Below, I will attempt to show how Sievers' five types (A, B, C, D, E) can be applied to any line of ١rsdrßpa. It must be noted that Sievers hardly paid any attention to alliteration and in-rhymes, which must have added an additional pattern of stresses. Kuhn (1983) revised Sievers' model extensively, and Gade (1995) reformulated it in a more satisfactory manner. Unfortunately, Gade omitted ١rsdrßpa from her analysis, deeming it "too corrupt for a sensible reading without too many conjectures" (pp. xii, 267).

Definitions of the metrical symbols used.

A long syllable.
A short syllable.
Any typically unstressed syllable.
A long syllable, which carries the main stress of the metrical foot.
A long syllable, which carries a secondary stress.
A short syllable, which carries the main stress of the metrical foot.
A short syllable, which carries a secondary stress.
A symbol, which divides a line into three metrical feet.

A long syllable can contain a short vowel, if it is followed by two or more consonants.
A short syllable can contain a long vowel, if it is followed by another vowel.
Neutralization: =
Elision = Neutralization, with a vowel immediately followed by another vowel.
Resolution: =

All examples are taken from ١rsdrßpa.

TYPE A:
 
 
 
 
Neutralization in the 2nd foot:
 
 
 
 
 
 
01:3 drj˙gr var Loptr at lj˙ga
01:7 vilgi tryggr til veggjar
02:3 fřstusk ■eir at ■rřsta
02:7 endr til Ymsa kindar
02:8 I­ja setrs frß Ůri­ja
07:5 ■verrir lÚt nema ■yrri
TYPE A2k:
 
 
 
 
Elision in the 2nd foot:
 
 
 
 
 
 
01:4 l÷gseims fa­ir heiman
02:2 gammlei­ ١arr sk÷mmum
02:6 GandvÝkr skotum rÝkri
04:2 gunn- vargs himint÷rgu
04:6 brag­mildr Loka vildi
02:2 fj÷rnets go­a at hvetja
TYPE B:
 
 
 
[not in ١rsdrßpa]
06:7 en fellihryn fjalla
TYPE C:
 
 
 
Neutralization in the 1st foot:
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
05:1 ok veg■verrir varra
16:7 til ■rßmˇ­nis ■r˙­ar
04:1 ok Gangs vanir gengu
06:3 ne hvÚlv÷lur hßlar
07:3 gatat ma­r njˇtr hin neytri
18:5 komat tvÝvi­ar tÝvi
TYPE D:
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Resolution in the 1st foot:
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
03:2 farmr meinsvßrans arma
04:8 gall- mantŠlir halla
08:3 setrs vÝkingar snotrir
12:2 dˇlg SvÝ■jˇ­ar kˇlgu
01:6 Gauts her■rumu brautir
01:8 viggs Geirr÷­ar liggja
14:7 hlßtr-Elli­a hellis
07:6 ■orns barna sÚr m÷rnar
17:5 Ýtr gulli laust Ullar
02:4 ■orns ni­jum sik bi­ja
06:1 ■ar Ý -m÷rk fyrir -markar
TYPE E:
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
01:1 flugstalla rÚ­ felli
02:1 ge­strangr of lÚt g÷ngu
07:1 har­vaxnar lÚt her­ar
15:2 fjar­eplis konr Jar­ar
01:5 ge­reynir kva­ grŠnar
03:1 g÷rr var­ Ý f÷r fyrri
04:4 frumseyrir kom dreyra
05:6 stiklei­ar veg brei­an