Translation, reading and some commentary on the strophes of Hávamál often called something like Rúnatal Óðins. Also an overview of previous translators.
This is a bit of a hotch-potch project. It contains the following aspects.
i) A new English translation (my own) of the eight strophes of Hávamál often called something
like Rúnatal Óðins.
ii) Commentary on the same.
iii) The original of the poem from Bugge's edition along with my normalizations
into "standard" Old Norse and Modern Icelandic.
iv) My reading of the two versions. Knowing that the "Old Norse" version will be
horribly pretentious I make an effort at making the "Modern Icelandic" version equally
v) Previous English translations of the poem.
vi) My review of the same as regards ACCURACY of translation (not aesthetic quality
or other aspects).
It is this last part that was the primary motivation for the whole project.
This has its roots in discussions on the Norse Course mailing list. Many people would,
for various reasons, like to have an accurate translation of the Eddaic material.
Rephrasing that, they would like to know which of the various translations is the
most accurate. It seemed to me that even a limited survey could be helpful in ranking
|Veit ec at ec hecc||Veit ek at ek hekk||Veit ég að ég hékk|
|vindga meiði a||vindga meiði á||vindga meiði á|
|nætr allar nío,||nætr allar níu,||nætur allar níu,|
|geiri vndaþr||geiri undaðr||geiri undaður|
|oc gefinn Oðni||ok gefinn Óðni||og gefinn Óðni,|
|sialfr sialfom mer,||sjálfr sjálfum mér||sjálfur sjálfum mér,|
|a þeim meiþi,||á þeim meiði||á þeim meiði|
|er mangi veit||er manngi veit||er manngi veit|
|hvers hann af rótom renn.||hvers hann af rótum renn.||hvers hann af rótum rennur.|
I know that I hung, on a windy tree, for all of nine nights, wounded with a spear, and given to Óðinn,
myself to myself, on that tree, which no man knows, from what roots it runs.
This is a fairly lucid strophe. There is one word which is not otherwise attested in
Old Norse, 'vindga', but there can be little doubt that it is a form of an adjective 'vindugr'
and means "windy". An emendation to 'vingameiðr' does not seem warranted. Note that 'renn'
could as well be translated "springs" or "glides". There is a minor syntactic problem in the
last line; as it is it could be translated "from whose roots it runs".
An emendation of 'hvers' to 'hverjum' has been suggested.
|I wot that I hung on the wind-tossed tree|
|all of nights nine|
|wounded by spear, bespoken to Óthin,|
|bespoken myself to myself,|
|[upon that tree of which none telleth|
|from what roots it doth rise].|
Hollander notes that the last two lines probably belonged originally to Fjölsvinnsmál.
He may be right but it has been noted that stock-phrases could appear in more than one poem
transmitted by oral tradition. Fjölnismál may well contain lines which originally stood here as well.
In any case the translation is fairly accurate. He clearly has "telleth" instead of "knoweth" for the
sake of alliteration. Perhaps innocent enough but inaccurate nevertheless.
|I trow I hung on that windy Tree|
|nine whole days and nights,|
|stabbed with a spear, offered to Odin,|
|myself to mine own self given,|
|high on that Tree of which none hath heard|
|from what roots it rises to heaven. |
Bad. New words added out of nowhere ("days", "heaven", "given") and others
imprecisely translated; "stabbed" should be "wounded".
|I know that I hung on a windy tree|
|nine long nights,|
|wounded with a spear, dedicated to Odin,|
|myself to myself,|
|on that tree of which no man knows|
|from where its roots run.|
Fairly accurate. While I see no reason to translate 'allar' as
"long" that is hardly a big problem. Her "where" in the last line is
not the most literal translation and will be counted against her in
this nit-picking exercise. The original could mean that it is the
nature of the roots rather than their location which
is unknown to Man.
|I know that I hung,|
|on a wind-rocked tree,|
|nine whole nights,|
|with a spear wounded,|
|and to Odin offered,|
|myself to myself;|
|on that tree,|
|of which no one knows|
|from what root it springs.|
Pretty good. My only complaint is with the singular 'root' in the last
line. A not altogether insignificant error.
|I ween that I hung on the windy tree,|
|Hung there for nights full nine;|
|With the spear I was wounded, and offered I was|
|To Othin, myself to myself,|
|On the tree that none may ever know|
|What root beneath it runs.|
About as good as Thorpe's translation with the same root-problem.
There is little reason to translate 'veit' as "ween" as it has no
|I know that I hung on a high windy tree|
|for nine long nights;|
|pierced by a spear --Odin's pledge--|
|given myself to myself.|
|No one can tell about that tree,|
|from what deep roots it rises.|
Inaccurate. Words out of nowhere and others imprecisely translated.
|Wounded I hung on a wind-swept gallows|
|For nine long nights,|
|Pierced by a spear, pledged to Odhinn,|
|Offered, myself to myself|
|The wisest know not from whence spring|
|The roots of that ancient rood|
And now the tree has become gallows...
- - -
Somewhat surprisingly Hollander seems to have carried the day
for this stanza.
|Við hleifi mic seldo||Við hleifi mik seldu||Við hleifi mig seldu|
|ne viþ hornigi,||né við hornigi,||né við hornigi,|
|nysta ec niþr,||nýsta ek niðr,||nýsti ég niður,|
|nam ec vp rvnar,||nam ek upp rúnar,||nam ég upp rúnir,|
|opandi nam,||oepandi nam,||æpandi nam,|
|fæll ec aptr þatan.||fell ek aptr þaðan.||féll ég aftur þaðan.|
They did not gladden me with a loaf or a horn. I peered down. I took up runes,
screaming I took them. Again I fell from there.
Somewhat more difficult than the previous strophe. We have two thorny problems.
The first is that it seems to make very little sense to keep 'seldu' in the first
line. It has been defended recently with a suggested meaning of "I did not sell myself for bread or a horn"
[see Gísli Sigurðsson 1998]. I'm not sure how that's supposed to work out grammatically.
Presumably either Óðinn refers to himself in the 3rd person plural or we should emend
'seldu' to 'seldi'. We seem to be rather better off by emending to 'sældu',
(actually not much of an emendation since /æ/ is often written 'e') or 'soeldu' for
"gladdened" or "refreshed" respectively.
The second problem has to do with the verb 'nema' which
can mean either "take" or "learn". As far as I know this is the only case where it
occurs with the adverb 'upp' which makes the meaning somewhat less than clear.
Óðinn may have taken the runes "physically" or "mentally". There is clearly more than
one possibility for translating and indeed this is one of the cases where you can't
translate without interpreting at the same time.
We might also mention that there is something unusual going on with the
metre in the last line. A prop seems to be missing.
I am not familiar with 'falla aptr' as a phrasal verb meaning "fall back".
Nor do the dictionaries seem to and indeed Lexicon Poeticum explicitly translates
this phrase as "falde igen ned (fra træet)" [fall down again (from the tree)].
Nevertheless I won't say "fall back" is an impossible translation.
|Neither horn they upheld nor handed me bread;|
|I looked below me-|
|aloud I cried-|
|caught up the runes, caught them up wailing,|
|thence to the ground fell again.|
I wonder if this is based on emending 'seldu' to 'heldu'.
In any case the first line seems somewhat off target. I also have
a problem with "ground" in the last line - inserted out of nowhere
to alliterate with "again".
|No bread did they give me nor a drink from a horn|
|downwards I peered;|
|I took up the runes, screaming I took them,|
|then I fell back from there.|
I'm guessing this is based on an unemended version ('seldu') but
'selja við + dat' cannot mean "give" as far as I know. The words "a drink from"
are added out of nowhere. The context _does_ suggest a drinking horn but
I can't see any reason not to leave that to the reader to figure out.
She adds "then" in the last line but that is surely excusable.
|Bread no one gave me,|
|nor a horn of drink,|
|downward I peered,|
|to runes applied myself,|
|wailing learnt them,|
|then fell down thence.|
The same applies as with Larrington in the first two lines.
I didn't expect "applied myself" for 'nema upp'; Thorpe is obviously thinking
of the "learn" meaning of 'nema'. I don't know what to say. Most commentators
seem to prefer a meaning close to "take" for the phrase. I don't think "down" is
possible for 'aptr' in the last line. (Or perhaps he translates 'fell' as "fell down"
and omits 'aptr'?)
|None refreshed me ever with food or drink,|
|I peered right down in the deep;|
|crying aloud I lifted the Runes|
|then back I fell from thence. |
Again Bray adds something that isn't there; in this case "in the deep".
His first line is based on 'soeldu' which I can't protest. He translates
lines 4-5 rather freely.
|None made me happy with loaf or horn,|
|And there below I looked;|
|I took up the runes, shrieking I took them,|
|And forthwith back I fell.|
Here we have a text based on 'sældu'. That's the same version
I picked. I don't see any "forthwith" in the original.
|They brought me no bread, no horn to drink from,|
|I gazed towards the ground.|
|Crying aloud, I caught up runes;|
|finally I fell.|
A first line based on 'seldu'. There's no "ground" or "finally"
in the original and the repetition of 'nema' is omitted.
|They gave me no bread,|
|They gave me no mead,|
|I looked down;|
|with a loud cry|
|I took up runes;|
|from that tree I fell.|
Again 'seldu'. There's no "tree" in the last line. Nor is there
a "loud" cry. This all seems rather free.
- - -
This is a tough one to call. It seems Bellows might be closest to
my idea of a precise translation. But it's hard to say when the meaning
of the original is so far from evident.
|Fimbvllióð nío ||Fimbulljóð níu||Fimbulljóð níu|
|nam ec af enom fregia syni ||nam ek af inum frægja syni||nam ég af hinum fræga syni|
|Baulþors Bestlo faudvr; ||Bölþórs, Bestlu föður,||Bölþórs, Bestlu föður,|
|oc ec dryc of gat ||ok ek drykk of gat||og ég drykk of gat|
|ens dyra miaðar ||ins dýra mjaðar||hins dýra mjaðar|
|ausinn Oðreri.||ausinn Óðreri||ausinn Óðreri|
Nine grand poems I learnt from the famous son
of Bölþórr - Bestla's father; and I, sprinkled with
Óðrerir, got a drink of the precious mead.
A somewhat difficult strophe.
I agonized a bit over how to translate
'fimbul'. As far as I know it occurs in the following compound nouns:
'fimbulljóð', 'fimbulþulr', 'fimbulvetr', 'fimbulfambi'. I'd prefer to
translate it with the same word each time so I went for "grand". Thus;
'grand poems', 'grand sage', 'grand winter', 'grand idiot'. Of course
there's no reason not to translate with 'great' but I fear rather many
words might end up translated by 'great' suggesting a certain monotony
in the original texts which isn't there at all.
From a grammatical standpoint "Bestla's father" can be either
Bölþórr or his son - an ambiguity that would ideally be preserved
in a translation.
But the real problem here is the last line. There seem to be at least
The first is to take 'ausinn Óðreri' to go with 'ek'. This makes
perfect sense grammatically and yields the translation above. (In this
case we probably understand Óðrerir to be some sort of liquid.)
The second is to take 'ausinn Óðreri' to go with 'mjaðar'.
Such a construction with 'ausa' is otherwise unknown but this yields
the more conservative sense "I had a drink of the precious mead,
poured from Óðrerir".
One more possibility, suggested to me by Eysteinn Björnsson, would
be to take 'ausinn Óðreri' as being an accusative object of 'gat'.
One could translate this with "I got a drink of the precious mead:
the poured Óðrerir."
I do not have an example of such a use of the participle/adjective
'ausinn' but from both the standpoints of grammar and sensible meaning
this seems to be as least as good as the other two theories.
I chose the first translation merely because it is the one that
springs most readily to my mind. Which meaning was originally intended
is probably a case of ignoramus et ignorabimus.
|From the son of Bolthorn, Bestla's father,|
|I mastered mighty songs nine,|
|and a drink I had of the dearest mead,|
|got from out of Óthroerir.|
Not that bad although simply leaving out the problematic 'ausinn'
word is not my idea of a good solution. The word 'frægja' is also absent
|Nine mighty songs I learned from the great
|son of Bale-thorn, Bestla's sire;
|I drank a measure of the wondrous Mead,
|with the Soulstirrer's drops I was showered.
Sure. And if you're going to do name translations this is probably
the right way to do them - translate those names that seem to have a fairly obvious
meaning (Bölþorn, Óðrerir) and leave the opaque ones behind (Bestla).
There are other ways to understand 'Óðrerir', though.
|Nine mighty spells I learnt from the famous son|
|of Bolthor, Bestla's father,|
|and I got a drink of the precious mead,|
|poured from Odrerir.|
I disapprove of "spells" for 'ljóð'. While the "grand poems"
are probably magical in nature the word 'ljóð' is perfectly
mundane (song, lay, poem etc.). I have no other complaint.
|Potent songs nine|
|from the famed son I learned|
|of Bölthorn, Bestla's sire,|
|and a draught obtained|
|of the precious mead,|
|drawn from Odhrærir. |
Very decent - if not absolutely literal.
|Nine mighty songs I got from the son|
|Of Bolthorn, Bestla's father;|
|And a drink I got of the goodly mead|
|Poured out from Othrörir.|
I think "learned" is better than "got" for 'nam'.
The word 'frægja' is omitted in the translation.
|Nine mighty songs I learned from the son|
|of Bolthorn, Bestla's father,|
|and I came to drink of that costly mead|
|the holy vessel held.|
Translating (or rather, paraphrasing) 'Óðrerir' as "holy vessel"
is quite inaccurate.
|Nine lays of power|
|I learned from the famous Bolthor, Bestla' s father:|
|He poured me a draught of precious mead,|
|Mixed with magic Odrerir.|
The word "magic" is added. So is the subject in the third line.
- - -
This one goes to Thorpe, no two ways about it.
|Þa nam ec frovaz||Þá nam ek froevast|
|oc froþr vera||ok fróðr vera|
|oc vaxa oc vel hafaz;||ok vaxa ok vel hafast|
|orð mer af orði||orð mér af orði|
|orz leitaði,||orðs leitaði|
|verc mer af verki||verk mér af verki|
|vercs leitaþi.||verks leitaði.|
Then I started to become fertile and to be wise and to grow and thrive well;
[one] word from [another] word sought a word for me, [one] work from [another] work
sought a work for me.
Konrad Oddsson suggested this translation to me:
|Then made fertile I was,|
|and wise I became,|
|waxed and did well.|
|A word from a word|
|a word for me sought.|
|A work from a work|
|a work for me sought.|
It would be as least as accurate and perhaps more so to ignore the auxiliary
verb in the first sentence and translate with: "Then I become fertile and wise."
There are no English words that exactly cover the semantic fields of
'orð' and 'verk'. The former can be "utterance" and the latter can be,
among other things, "deed" and "poetic composition". When I have nothing
else to go by I choose the cognates. Translated ad sensum this
probably means something like "one word led me to the next, one work led
me to the next".
It has been suggested that 'fróðr' is not the normal word meaning "wise, learned"
but a homophone, nowhere else attested in West Norse, meaning "fertile".
I find this unlikely and unnecessary.
|Then began I to grow and gain in insight,|
|to wax eke in wisdom:|
|one verse led on to another verse,|
|one poem led on to the other poem.|
The first two lines are not literal and "thrive" is
missing. His version of the last two lines seems as good
as any other.
|Ere long I bare fruit, and throve full well,|
|I grew and waxed in wisdom;|
|word following word, I found me words,|
|deed following deed, I wrought deeds. |
I much prefer "then" to "ere long" but while there is
still some "waxing in wisdom" going on at least "thrive" has
entered the building.
|Then I began to quicken and be wise,|
|and to grow and to prosper;|
|one word found another word for me,|
|one deed found another deed for me.|
I think "quicken" is a bit off for 'frævast'. The
rest doesn't seem too bad.
|Then I began to bear fruit,|
|and to know many things,|
|to grow and well thrive:|
|word by word|
|I sought out words, |
|fact by fact|
|I sought out facts.|
Somewhat free but not bad at all. It should be noted, though, that
'leitaði' is a third person form of the verb and cannot be first person.
One wonders if Thorpe was mislead by the modern grammar.
|Then began I to thrive, and wisdom to get,|
|I grew and well I was;|
|Each word led me on to another word,|
|Each deed to another deed.|
His first two lines are fairly straightforward. I take issue with
lines 3-4, though. It seems to me that since the two sentences there exactly
mirror each other in the original this should also be done in the translation.
|Thus I learned the secret lore,|
|prospered and waxed in wisdom;|
|I won words from the words I sought,|
|verses multiplied where I sought verse.|
Same problem as Bellows has with the last two lines but here the first line,
in addition, is far off the mark.
|Learned I grew then, lore-wise,|
|Waxed and throve well:|
|Word from word gave words to me,|
|Deed from deed gave deeds to me. |
The first line could be criticized. The rest is good.
- - -
I think it's Thorpe again.
|Rvnar mvnt þv finna ||Rúnar munt þú finna |
|oc raðna stafi, ||ok ráðna stafi|
|mioc stóra stafi, ||mjök stóra stafi|
|mioc stinna stafi, ||mjök stinna stafi|
|er fáþi fimbvlþvlr ||er fáði fimbulþulr|
|oc gorðo ginnregin ||ok gerðu ginnregin|
|oc reist hroptr ra/gna. ||ok reist Hroptr rögna.|
You will find runes and explained staves, very large staves, very stiff staves,
which the grand sage painted and the exalted gods made and Hroptr carved
among the gods.
Perhaps "interpreted" is better than "explained".
Here we have another strengthening prefix, 'ginn-'. As far as I know it
only occurs in two words in Old West Norse; 'ginnheilagr' and 'ginnregin'.
To this may be added 'ginnrúnar' which can be seen on a Swedish runestone.
It seems that 'ginnregin' originally was not a completely general
term for "gods" but applied specifically to the Vanir family.
The prefix might originally have meant something like "magical"
but that is too uncertain for me to translate it like that.
I'll try "exalted", if only to avoid translating a very rare word
with common and generic ones like "great" and "very" (double-plus-good?).
Now to the problems. The 'ráðna stafi' in the second line is somewhat
surprising but doesn't seem impossible. Another translation possibility would be
"read staves". An emendation to 'roðna stafi' ("smeared letters") has been
suggested but although tempting it does not seem necessary. It is not certain
that the verb 'fá' still had the meaning of "colour/paint" by the time of this
strophe. It may have acquired a more general meaning of "carve runes".
In my opinion the choice of words in this strophe strongly suggests that
the 'stafir' are physical objects rather than abstract forms. The adjective
'stórr' almost exclusively applies to physical size and 'stinnr' is a common
everyday word for "stiff". The translators seem to render 'stinnr' as "mighty",
"powerful", "potent" but I don't see why. Although a word with such a meaning
might fit the context here the Hávamál were not written by Humpty-Dumpty and
'stinnr' has, to my knowledge, no such implications.
In the last line Hroptr is a well-known name of Óðinn. The syntax is rather
problematic and, indeed, a common noun would fit better there. This has led many
to posit a common noun 'hroptr' of uncertain meaning. We can see some of the results
below. In my opinion it is more sensible to understand the words as
"Hroptr among the gods" - a rare genitive construction but not completely without
|Runes wilt thou find, and rightly read,|
|of wondrous weight,|
|of mighty magic,|
|which that dyed the dread god,|
|which that made the holy hosts,|
|and were etched by Óthin,|
Hollander notes that "dyed" refers to blood. He may assume so if he wishes but it is
not necessary. Aside from that lines 2-3 are dubious paraphrases. So is "dread god" for
'fimbulþulr'. Rendering 'Hroptr' as "Óthin" might be permissable but leaving out 'rögna'
|Hidden Runes shalt thou seek and interpreted signs,|
|many symbols of might and power,|
|by the great Singer painted, by the high Powers fashioned,|
|graved by the Utterer of gods. |
The word "hidden" appears out of nowhere. The second line is a bad
paraphrase. The first line is rendered as if it were a command. I suppose
"great Singer" is more silly than inaccurate but how he divines "Utterer"
from 'Hroptr' I do not know.
|The runes you must find and the meaningful letter,|
|a very great letter,|
|a very powerful letter,|
|which the mighty sage stained|
|and the powerful gods made|
|and the runemaster of the gods carved out.|
This is pretty bad. The 'munt' in the first line does not mean "must"
but "will" (Larrington consistently translates this incorrectly).
The word 'stafr' occurs three times, always in plural, but Larrington
always translates it with the singular; a grave error. Picking "great" for
'stóra' and "powerful" for 'stinna' further serves to distance this translation
from the literal meaning. The word 'runemaster' seems extra-silly for 'hroptr'
in the last line.
|Runes thou wilt find,|
|and explained characters,|
|very large characters,|
|very potent characters,|
|which the great speaker depicted,|
|and the high powers formed,|
|and the powers' prince graved.|
Considerably better even though my notes about lines
4 and 7 still apply.
|Runes shalt thou find, and fateful signs,|
|That the king of singers coloured,|
|And the mighty gods have made;|
|Full strong the signs, full mighty the signs|
|That the ruler of gods doth write.|
Not good. "Fateful" seems a bit off for 'ráðna',
as does "singer" for 'þulr'. A simple preterite 'gerðu' is
unnecessarily rendered with pluperfect "have made". For some
reason Bellows changes the order of the lines. In the last line
another preterite, 'reist', is changed to present, "doth write".
The word 'stórr' does not mean "strong".
|You will find runes and read staves rightly,|
|the strong magic,|
|the mighty spells|
|that the sage set down,|
|that the great gods made,|
|wisdom of Odin.|
Very inaccurate. Even if 'stinnr' meant "mighty" the word 'stafir' can surely not
mean "magic" in line 2 and "spells" in line 3. A mere "sage" seems too
little for 'fimbulþulr'. The last line bears little relation to the original.
I wonder if the first line is based on an emendation to "ráða stafi"
(which makes a certain degree of sense) or just Terry's usual liberties.
|Runes you will find, and readable staves,|
|Very strong staves,|
|Very stout staves,|
|Staves that Bolthor stained,|
|Made by mighty powers,|
|Graven by the prophetic god,|
As much as I like the first three lines I'm going to have to report
"Bolthor" for 'fimbulþulr' as something outside the scope of accurate
translation. And here we have yet another theory about poor 'hroptr' in
the last line - this one no better (or worse) than the others.
- - -
I think it's Thorpe again.
|Oþinn meþ asom ||Óðinn með ásum|
|enn fyr alfom Dainn, ||en fyr álfum Dáinn|
|Dvalinn oc dvergom fyr, ||Dvalinn oc dvergum fyr,|
|iotnom fyr, ||jötnum fyr,|
|ec reist sialfr svmar. ||ek reist sjálfr sumar.|
Óðinn with the æsir but Dáinn before the elves and Dvalinn before the dwarves;
Ásviðr before the giants. I carved some myself.
For reasons of metre and sense it has been suggested that a line is missing.
That may be so but we will probably never know. In any case the meaning of the strophe
as it is is straightforward.
|Óthin among Æsir, for alfs, Dáin,|
|Dvalin for the dwarfs,|
|Alsvith among etins, (but for earth-born men)|
|wrought I some myself.|
Hollander notes that "but for earth-born men" is an emendation.
|For gods graved Odin, for elves graved Daïn,|
|Dvalin the Dallier for dwarfs,|
|All-wise for Jötuns, and I, of myself,|
|graved some for the sons of men. |
This is based on the same emendation. The word
'Dallier' is added (probably supposed to be the meaning of Dvalinn).
|Odin for the Æsir and Dain for the elves,|
|Dvalin for the dwarfs,|
|Asvid for the giants,|
|I myself carved some.|
Since there are two prepositions ('með' and 'fyr') in the
original I'd prefer to see two in the translation. This goes for the
other translations as well. Other than that small nit this is fine.
|Odin among the Æsir,|
|but among the Alfar, Dáin,|
|and Dvalin for the dwarfs,|
|Ásvid for the Jötuns:|
|some I myself graved.|
No real complaint.
|Othin for the gods, Dain for the elves,|
|And Dvalin for the dwarfs,|
|Alsvith for giants and all mankind,|
|And some myself I wrote.|
Again we have an emendation - but this one has Alsviðr carving for
men. To each his own.
|Odin for the Aesir, Dain for the elves,|
|Dvalin for the dwarfs,|
|Asvid for the giants,|
|I made some myself.|
I'd prefer "carved" for 'reist'; "made" is surely too generic.
|For the gods by Odhinn, for the elves by Dain,|
|By Dvalin, too, for the dwarves,|
|By Asvid for the hateful giants,|
|And some I carved myself:|
The word "hateful" is added.
- - -
Thorpe and Larrington carry this one.
|Veiztv hve rista scal? ||Veiztu hvé rísta skal?|
|veiztv hve raþa scal? ||Veiztu hvé ráða skal?|
|veiztv hve fá scal? ||Veiztu hvé fá skal?|
|veiztv hve freista scal? ||Veiztu hvé freista skal?|
|veiztv hve bidia scal? ||Veiztu hvé biðja skal?|
|veiztv hve blóta scal? ||Veiztu hvé blóta skal?|
|veiztv hve senda scal? ||Veiztu hvé senda skal?|
|veiztv hve soa scal? ||Veiztu hvé sóa skal?|
Do you know how to carve? Do you know how to read?
Do you know how to paint? Do you know how to try?
Do you know how to ask? Do you know how to sacrifice?
Do you know how to send? Do you know how to waste?
Most seem to agree that the verbs in this strophe are
technical terms applying to some sort of heathen rituals.
This makes any translation rather difficult. The most difficult
word is probably 'sóa' whose normal prose-meaning of "waste"
seems inappropriate here. Based on some cognates one might
venture to guess that it means 'appease' but any translation
|Know'st how to write, know'st how to read,|
|know'st how to stain, how to understand,|
|know'st how to ask, know'st how to offer,|
|know'st how to supplicate, know'st how to sacrifice?|
I suppose Hollander's ideas about the metre led him to
leave "know'st" out in the fourth question.
|Dost know how to write, dost know how to read,|
|dost know how to paint, dost know how to prove,|
|dost know how to ask, dost know how to offer,|
|dost know how to send, dost know how to spend?|
This seems fine.
|Do you know how to carve, do you know how to interpret,|
|do you know how to stain, do you know how to test out,|
|do you know how to ask, do you know how to sacrifice,|
|do you know how to dispatch, do you know how to slaughter?|
|Knowest thou how to grave them?|
|knowest thou how to expound them?|
|knowest thou how to depict them?|
|knowest thou how to prove them?|
|knowest thou how to pray?|
|knowest thou how to offer?|
|knowest thou how to send?|
|knowest thou how to consume?|
Thorpe apparantly takes the first four lines to refer to 'runes' adding
a pronoun for them. This could be defended since English has less tolerance
than Old Norse for pronoun drop.
|Knowest how one shall write, knowest how one shall rede?|
|Knowest how one shall tint, knowest how one makes trial?|
|Knowest how one shall ask, knowest how one shall offer?|
|Knowest how one shall send, knowest how one shall sacrifice?|
I suppose I should insist on "knowest how one shall make trial" to be consistent
with some of my previous nitpicking.
|Do you know how to write? Do you know how to read?|
|Do you know how to paint? Do you know how to prove?|
|Do you know how to wish? Do you know how to worship?|
|Do you know how to summon? Do you know how to sacrifice?|
I think "summon" for 'senda' is really going out on a limb.
|Know how to cut them, know how to read them,|
|Know how to stain them, know how to prove them,|
|Know how to evoke them, know how to score them,|
|Know how to send them, know how to destroy them,|
Auden understands all the verbs to apply to the runes, adding
a pronoun. He translates 'veiztu' as if it were imperative which is
not accurate. I think he picks interesting words - in particular
"destroy" for 'sóa' might be right on the mark.
Since no-one knows what this strophe really means I'll refrain
from grading the translators; Bray, perhaps, is the most straightforward.
|Betra er obeþit ||Betra er óbeðit|
|enn se ofblotiþ, ||en sé ofblótit;|
|ey ser til gildis giof; ||ey sér til gildis gjöf.|
|betra er osennt ||Betra er ósent|
|enn se ofsóit. ||en sé ofsóit.|
|Sva Þvndr vm reist ||Svá Þundr um reist|
|fyr þioþa ra/c, ||fyr þjóða rök|
|þar hann vp vm reis ||þar hann upp um reis|
|er hann aptr of kom. ||er hann aptr of kom|
Better not asked than over-sacrificed. A gift always [expects something] as a payment.
Better not sent than over-wasted. So Þundr carved before the fate
of peoples, where he rose up when he came back.
It seems plain that we have the words from the last strophe again
in their technical meaning. I think it is right to insist that they are
translated the same way in both strophes.
The word 'rök' is always difficult to translate. It can mean many
things, for example: "reason", "history", "destiny", "doom". I choose
"fate" as being the most generic English word. Others may differ.
|'Tis better unasked than offered overmuch;|
|for ay doth a gift look for gain;|
|'tis better unasked than offered overmuch:|
|thus did Óthin write ere the earth began,|
|when up he rose in after time.|
It is patently ridiculous to translate two quite significantly
different phrases with exactly the same one. Hollander's last two lines
are also rather imprecise.
|Better ask for too little than offer too much,|
|like the gift should be the boon;|
|better not to send than to overspend.|
|Thus Odin graved ere the world began;|
|Then he rose from the deep, and came again. |
The first three lines are not too bad. Bray is completely
consistent with his earlier translations of the technical terms.
I take issue with "ask for too little" for 'óbeðit'; I would
prefer "not ask at all".
In the last two lines "ere the world began" is rather free for
'fyr þjóða rök' and "from the deep" is added from the deep.
|Better not to pray, than to sacrifice too much,|
|one gift always calls for another;|
|better not dispatched than to slaughter too much.|
|So Thund carved before the history of nations,|
|where he rose up, when he came back.|
Translating '(ó)beðit' as "pray" here is inconsistent with Larrington's
earlier translation of 'biðja' as "ask". I think "nations" might be
a bit misleading, "peoples" is surely better.
|'Tis better not to pray|
|than too much offer;|
|a gift ever looks to a return.|
|'Tis better not to send|
|than too much consume.|
|So Thund graved|
|before the origin of men,|
|where he ascended,|
|to whence he afterwards came.|
The first five lines are excellent! The rest is also good; I'm not entirely
sure what he means with "to whence" but the original is also unclear to me.
|Better no prayer than too big an offering,|
|By thy getting measure thy gift;|
|Better is none than too big a sacrifice,|
|So Thundr of old wrote ere man's race began,|
|Where he rose on high when home he came.|
Again we have the same terms as in the strophe above translated quite
differently. I'm unforgiving with this. The last two lines are not that
bad but "of old" and "on high" are added.
|Better no prayers than too many presents,|
|gift ever looks for gift;|
|rather be forgotten than fed too much.|
|Thus wrote Odin before the world began,|
|when he rose up when he returned.|
It almost looks as if Terry is intentionally trying to obscure the
connection with the previous strophe. How has "summon" become "forgotten"
and "sacrificed" "fed"? Again I find "before the world began" for 'fyr þjóða rök'
to be far-fetched.
|Better not to ask than to over-pledge|
|As a gift that demands a gift"|
|Better not to send than to slay too many,|
|Thund, before man was made, scratched them,|
|Who rose first, fell thereafter|
Inconsistent again. We also see that some of the translators
don't feel the last two lines really belong in this strophe - Auden
went farthest in actually moving them to another one (143). The obscure
last line is translated ad sensum - whether or not it is the
right sensus I cannot say.
- - -
Thorpe's translation is the best one here by far.
|Hollander: 6 |
|Larrington: 7 |
|Thorpe: 9 |
|Bray: 7 |
|Bellows: 6 |
|Terry: 5 |
|Auden: 7 |
Grading other people's work like that is, of course, quite an arrogant thing
to do. It can be argued, and I'll agree, that I'm not fully qualified to do so.
Nevertheless I hope this little exercise is of some use.
Before I started this I had the preconceived notion that Thorpe would score
very high. That turned out to be true. I also thought Larrington would probably
have a lower score than some of the others. That did not turn out to be true.
But of course it shouldn't be surprising that the prose translations (Thorpe
and Larrington) seem to be more accurate than the poetic translations (the rest).
I was somewhat pleasantly surprised by the Bellows translation. It seems to me to
be more straightforward, better poetry and perhaps slightly more accurate than Hollander's
It must be remembered that the various translations have virtues and vices that I have
not looked at. Hollander is fond of archaisms. Auden may have been the best poet
of the lot. Larrington's translation is so plain that it's almost vulgar, and sometimes
Tentatively I recommend Thorpe as the most accurate translation and Bellows
as the most accurate poetic translation.
My thanks go to Eysteinn Björnsson and Konrad Oddsson for much helpful
commentary and discussion.