Líknarbraut ‘The Way of Grace’ (Anon Líkn) is an anonymous late C13th Icel. devotional drápa in dróttkvætt metre celebrating Christ’s Passion and the virtues of the Cross. In the prologue (upphaf, sts 1-12), the poet prays for poetic inspiration (‘sprinkle my mind’s land with precious heavenly seed’ 5/1-4), acknowledges sins of the tongue (he is ungr ‘young’ 2/7 and impetuous of speech), appeals to ‘brothers and sisters’ for supportive prayers (8/1-4), and explores the commingling of joy and sorrow that his subject evokes in him (9-10). St. 12 concerns the Nativity, and in the next st. the poet, as if present, offers Christ a hátt stef ‘sublime refrain’ as a gift as he begins the central ‘narrative’ refrain section (stefjabálkr, sts 13-29). The four-l. stef extolling the power of the Cross recurs in every fourth st. (13, 17, 21, 25, 29) as the poet depicts the Passion, Harrowing of Hell, Resurrection, and the appearance of the Cross at the Last Judgement. Sts 30-45 constitute an adoratio crucis ‘adoration of the Cross’ and draw heavily on that portion of Good Friday liturgy. The poet alludes to ‘creeping to the Cross’ (30/1), quotes the recurrent phrase Popule meus ‘O my people’ (mín þióð 45/1) from the Reproaches, and borrows details from the Cross hymns of Venantius Fortunatus, Pange lingua and Vexilla regis, both used in the rite. Several sts (31-7) of this section are devoted to exegetical figures of the Cross (key, flower, ship, ladder, bridge, scales, and altar). Sts 46-52 contain the elements usually associated with the slœmr ‘conclusion’: the poet confesses his unworthiness, requests a blessing as a reward, and names the poem in the penultimate st. (51/4), as is done in his C12th models Harmsól and Leiðarvísan (Gamlkan Has and Anon Leið). The title is also given at the beginning in the right margin of the sole medieval ms., B (see below).
An oddity of Líkn is its apparently lopsided structure (upphaf 12 sts, stefjabálkr 17, slœmr 23), lacking the second stef ‘refrain’ one finds in other Christian drápur, including its models Has and Leið. A possible explanation for this is that the poet, by evoking in the adoratio crucis section (sts 30-45) the richly polyphonic texture of the liturgical rite — with its elaborately interwoven phrases (including the use of st. 8 of Pange lingua as a two-part refrain) — calls attention to its intricate patterns of recurrence through contrast, by omitting the stef in the corresponding section of the poem. Sts 30-45 would then function — as they seem to do — as the equivalent of a second stefjamél ‘refrain section’. If so, the poem’s structure is both more symmetrical — 12-33(17+16)-7 (like most Christian drápur, for instance, Has 20-25-20, Leið 12-21-12) — and based on symbolic numbers (see Tate 1978). The high frequency of ár ‘(year’s) abundance’ may support de Vries’s suggestion (1964-7, II, 76) that the total number of sts (52) may represent the weeks of the year.
The poem gives evidence of the range of the anonymous poet’s learning: earlier skaldic poetry, Icel. homilies (one of which, on the Cross, he follows closely in sts 38-41), and Lat. liturgy, hymns, and exegetical literature, such as a passage by Honorius Augustodunensis from which he draws the image of the Cross as a ladder whose side-poles represent ‘twofold love’ (34/1-4). The poet was probably a cleric (possibly a monk), and the poem’s close connection to Good Friday liturgy suggests that it may originally have functioned, like ESk Geisl (1152/3), as a verse sermon. (On the literary milieu generally see Guðrún Nordal 2001.)
The dating of the poem is based on its borrowings from Has and Leið (later C12th), its influence on C14th drápur (most especially Árni Jónsson’s Guðmundardrápa, Árni GdIV mid-C14th), on formal elements suggesting transition (reduction in kenning frequency, averaging 1.9 per st., 3 with none, 14 with only one), on linguistic features such as full rhyme of historical œ : æ in brœðr: kvæði (8/2), and on its iconographic and emotional concord with contemplative Franciscan Passion poetry of the late C13th and C14th (see Tate 1974, 28-33; Holtsmark 1965, 554).
The normalised text is based upon the sole medieval ms., AM 757 a 4° (B), c. 1400 (probably from northern Iceland), which has many lacunae and other defects. Most of the approximately 70 restorations are based upon an early C19th transcription, arranged in verses, by Jón Sigurðsson (and others), JS 399 a-b 4°ˣ, made when B was in a better condition than now; many of these restorations are supported by alliteration or internal rhyme. Lbs 444 4°ˣ, a transcription (including the notes) of 399a-bˣ, with additional marginal annotations in preparation for Sveinbjörn Egilsson’s 1844 edn, has also been consulted and is occasionally cited in the Notes. (Sveinbjörn Egilsson’s printer’s copy also exists as Lbs 1152 8°ˣ.)
Among Christian drápur, Líkn is unusual in having been twice set to music: in excerpts by Nystedt 1975 (Nådvegen) and in its entirety by Plagge 2000, both employing Norw. translations. (The poem was translated into English verse by Pilcher in 1954, first published in Barwell and Kennedy 1994, 47-59.)
Introduction adapted by permission from Tate 1986. At an earlier stage of this edn the ed. has benefitted from helpful comments by Roberta Frank, James W. Marchand, and Maureen Thomas.