This interface will soon cease to be publicly available. Use the new interface instead. Click here to switch over now.

Cookies on our website

We use cookies on this website, mainly to provide a secure browsing experience but also to collect statistics on how the website is used. You can find out more about the cookies we set, the information we store and how we use it on the cookies page.

Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

login: password: stay logged in: help



Vol. I. Poetry for Scandinavian Rulers 1: From Mythological Times to c. 1035

5. Metres and poetic diction

5.1. Metres
5.2. Poetic diction

(Vol. I. Poetry for Scandinavian Rulers 1: From Mythological Times to c. 1035 > 8. Volume Introduction > 5. Metres and poetic diction > 5.1. Metres)

5.1. Metres

The intricate dróttkvætt ‘court metre’ is the dominant metre in the skaldic corpus as a whole, and it is fitting that it also predominates in the present volume, dedicated chiefly to formal encomiastic poetry. Accordingly, in the Introductions to individual poems, the metre is noted only where it is not dróttkvætt. Nonetheless, the encomia do employ a diversity of metres, both ‘skaldic’ and ‘eddic’, and partly owe their differing characters to those, and the kings’ sagas also preserve non-encomiastic poetry in a range of metres. This section gives a brief overview of the metres represented in SkP I.


The classic skaldic metre has a line with six metrical positions (and normally six syllables), patterned according to distinct principles, while pairs of lines are linked by alliteration and by alternation of hendingar or internal rhyme: skothending or consonantal rhyme in the odd line and aðalhending or full rhyme in the even. The earliest instances are preserved outside the kings’ sagas (see Bragi RdrIII, Þjóð HaustlIII), but within this volume Þorbjǫrn hornklofi’s Glymdrápa (Þhorn Gldr) represents a stage at which some metrical licence in the incidence of hendingar is still observable. A number of poems or stanzas employ the dróttkvætt variant munnvǫrp ‘mouth-throwings’, i.e. ‘improvisations’, in which the pattern of hendingar is less demanding: the lausavísur Torf-E Lv 1-5, Bárðr Lv and Anon (Hhárf) and the forty-five-stanza Jómsvíkingadrápa by Bjarni Kolbeinsson (Bjbp Jóms). Another long historical poem, Hallar-Steinn’s Rekstefja (HSt Rst), by contrast uses the more demanding tvískelft ‘twice-trembled’ or ‘double-shaken’, in which the alliteration is normally placed early in each odd line, producing a heavy onset.


The ‘old story metre’ is closely related to the Germanic alliterative long-line and is used in a wide range of eddic poetry as well as skaldic. In this metre, half-lines containing four metrical positions are linked by alliteration to form long-lines. Fornyrðislag is found in a number of lausavísur in the present volume: those attributed to Vitgeirr seiðmaðr (Vitg Lv), Þorleifr skúma (Þskúm Lv), Óláfr Tryggvason (ÓTr Lv 2), Stefnir Þorgilsson (Stefnir Lv 1), Einarr þambarskelfir (Eþsk Cpt), Óláfr helgi (Ólhelg Lv 1, 3), Óttarr svarti (Ótt Lv 2), Halldórr Rannveigarson (HalldR Lv), and the anonymous Anon (Fsk) and Anon (Vǫlsa) 1-2, 4-13.


This ‘songs’ form’ or ‘songs’ metre’ is a uniquely Nordic metre in which the odd line consists of a pair of alliterating half-lines like those of fornyrðislag (but sometimes hypometric), while the even line is a full line with different alliteration (and sometimes hypermetric). Three important early ‘eddic’ encomia alternate ljóðaháttr stanzas with málaháttr stanzas (see below).


This ‘speeches’ form’ or ‘speeches’ metre’ is a variant of fornyrðislag with five rather than four metrical positions per half-line. It is frequently mixed with fornyrðislag or ljóðaháttr, and is difficult to tell apart from fornyrðislag with occasional hypermetric lines. Three early encomiastic poems in SkP I which form a distinct group on the basis of their use of dialogue form, as well as of mythological and legendary content, are also united by their combination of ljóðaháttr and málaháttr: Þorbjǫrn hornklofi’s Haraldskvæði or Hrafnsmál (Þhorn Harkv, where the metres are combined within each of sts 18-23), Eyvindr skáldaspillir’s Hákonarmál (Eyv Hák) and the anonymous Eiríksmál (Anon Eirm), all from the ninth and tenth centuries. Ljóðaháttr is deployed for the mythological scenes depicting valkyries in Eyv Hák 1-2 and for the heroes’ reception in Valhǫll in Anon Eirm 3-9 and Eyv Hák 9-21. Þrándr Kredda is also in málaháttr.


Kviðuháttr ‘poem’s form’ or ‘poem’s metre’ is a catalectic variant of fornyrðislag. The even line has four metrical positions as in fornyrðislag, but the shortened odd line only three. It is associated especially with extended genealogical and memorial compositions, the earliest known being the ninth-century Ynglingatal of Þjóðólfr ór Hvini (Þjóð Yt) in this volume. Eyvindr skáldaspillir Finnsson’s Háleygjatal (Eyv Hál) and Þórarinn loftunga’s Glælognskviða (Þloft Glækv) are from the tenth and eleventh centuries respectively.

The syntax in kviðuháttr poetry frequently has concatenation of clauses which obscures the boundaries between helmingar and eight-line units, and hence points to a more fluid structure than the tight eight-line stanzas favoured in dróttkvætt and other skaldic metres (Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson, ÍF 26, xxxvii; Gade 2005). Stanza divisions have not been stable in the editorial tradition, and the present edition, following the syntax rather than imposing eight-line stanza boundaries, diverges at some points from Skj and other editions. This applies to the long kviðuháttr poems in this volume, as well as to two important kviðuháttr poems from the later period edited in SkP II: Anon NktII, c. 1190 (clearly influenced by Þjóð Yt and Eyv Hál) and Sturl HákkvII, c. 1263.


Tøglag ‘journey metre’ is a variant of fornyrðislag with internal rhyme. It is possible that it takes its name from Þórarinn loftunga’s Tøgdrápa ‘Journey-drápa’ (Þloft Tøgdr), an encomium of c. 1028 addressed to Knútr inn ríki, and it has been suggested that the metre arose at Knútr’s court in England, though a much earlier example is attributed to Bragi Boddason (see Section 4.3 of General Introduction). Tøglag is also the metre of Sigvatr’s Knútsdrápa (Sigv Knútdr). The date of this poem, and therefore whether it or Þloft Tøgdr came first, is uncertain.


Runhent ‘end-rhymed’ is a general term used for a variety of skaldic metres employing end rhyme rather than internal rhyme. Þorkell Gíslason’s twelfth-century historical poem Búadrápa (ÞGísl Búdr), the sole example in this volume, is composed in an end-rhymed version of Haðarlag ‘Hǫðr’s metre’, which in turn is a skaldic variant of málaháttr.

Other metres and mixed metres

Þjóðólfr ór Hvini’s Poem about Haraldr hárfagri (Þjóð Har) blends fornyrðislag, kviðuháttr and málaháttr, and the couplet Brúlf Lv 1 combines a fornyrðislag line with a Haðarlag line. On other early poems in blended metres see málaháttr above.

© Skaldic Project Academic Body, unless otherwise noted. Database structure and interface developed by Tarrin Wills. All users of material on this database are reminded that its content may be either subject to copyright restrictions or is the property of the custodians of linked databases that have given permission for members of the skaldic project to use their material for research purposes. Those users who have been given access to as yet unpublished material are further reminded that they may not use, publish or otherwise manipulate such material except with the express permission of the individual editor of the material in question and the General Editor of the volume in which the material is to be published. Applications for permission to use such material should be made in the first instance to the General Editor of the volume in question. All information that appears in the published volumes has been thoroughly reviewed. If you believe some information here is incorrect please contact Tarrin Wills with full details.

This is a backup server for Any changes made here will be lost.