Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Ólhelg Lv 9I

Russell Poole (ed.) 2012, ‘Óláfr inn helgi Haraldsson, Lausavísur 9’ in Diana Whaley (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 1: From Mythical Times to c. 1035. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 1. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 528.

Óláfr inn helgi HaraldssonLausavísur

Ár stóð eik in dýra
jarladóms með blómi
harðla grœn, sem Hǫrðar
hvert misseri vissu.
Nú hefr bekkjar tré bliknat
brátt Mardallar gráti
(lind hefr) laufi bundit
(línu jǫrð í Gǫrðum).

Ár stóð {in dýra eik jarladóms} harðla grœn með blómi, sem Hǫrðar vissu hvert misseri. Nú hefr {tré bekkjar}, bundit laufi, bliknat brátt {gráti Mardallar}; {lind línu} hefr jǫrð í Gǫrðum.

Formerly {the precious oak of the jarldom} [WOMAN] stood intensely green with blossom, as the Hǫrðar knew each season. Now {the tree of the bench} [WOMAN], wreathed with foliage, has grown pale fast {with the weeping of Mardǫll <= Freyja>} [GOLD]; {the linden-tree of the headdress} [WOMAN] has land in Russia.

Mss: Flat(123ra) (ÓH)

Readings: [1] eik: ok Flat    [2] jarla‑: ‘j’ Flat    [4] hvert: hvatt Flat    [8] nu jǫrð: ‘limuord’ Flat

Editions: Skj AI, 222-3, Skj BI, 212, Skald I, 111, NN §§609, 610; Fms 5, 200, Fms 12, 110, ÓH 1941, II, 820, Flat 1860-8, III, 341.

Context: The stanza follows Lv 8 with minimal introduction. An evaluation of the benefits of Óláfr’s relationship with Ingigerðr for both him and her closes the episode.

Notes: [All]: The stanza makes elaborate and witty use of woman-kennings with ‘tree’ as the base-word, in a way reminiscent of Lv 2. The imagery contrasting flourishing greenness with paleness in that stanza is also recalled. — [1, 2] eik jarladóms ‘oak of the jarldom [WOMAN]’: The status of eik ‘oak’ and the function of the cpd jarladóms ‘of the jarldom’ within the helmingr have proved difficult to pin down. (a) In this edn jarladóms is construed as the determinant in a woman-kenning whose base-word is eik. Such a combination would provide a parallel to the woman-kenning tré bekkjar ‘tree of the bench’ in l. 5 and would belong to a rare kenning pattern where the determinant denotes a social or territorial unit. Examples, referring to men, are Egill St 21/5, 7V (Eg 92) askr ættar ‘ash-tree of the family’ and kynviðr ‘wood of the kindred’, and Glúmr Gráf 2/5, 6 Freyr foldar ‘Freyr of the land’ (NN §255; cf. ÍF 26, 156). (b) In this and interpretations (c) and (d), eik ‘oak’ is understood as an outright metaphor (‘woman’ as ‘tree’) rather than as the familiar skaldic kenning or corrected metaphor with determinant. Finnur Jónsson (Skj B) emends Hǫrðar in l. 3 to hirðar, thus bringing the words sem hirðar jarladóms vissu ‘as the keepers of the jarldom knew’ together in a syntactic unit, but with jarladóms distant from the rest of the sem-clause. (c) Kock (NN §609) rejected Finnur Jónsson’s emendation and word order and construed l. 2 as a syntactic unit, jarladóms með blómi, which he explained variously as i jarladömets blomstring ‘in the flowering of the jarldom’ and i furstlig fägring ‘in princely beauty’. (d) Frank (1978, 175) suggested construing jarladóms as a gen. of place, ‘in the jarldom’. — [3-4] sem Hǫrðar vissu hvert misseri ‘as the Hǫrðar knew each season’: This identification of a specific regional population within Norway, the people of Hordaland, no doubt indicates the origins of the woman. The phrase hvert misseri ‘each season’ (with necessary minor emendation of hvatt to hvert) could belong either in this intercalated clause or in the main clause. — [5] tré bekkjar ‘the tree of the bench [WOMAN]’: This kenning extends the licence seen in viðr valklifs ‘tree of the falcon-cliff [ARM > WOMAN]’ in Lv 2/5-6 (see Note), in that here the base-word is n., not m. For further discussion see following Note. — [5-6] bliknat brátt gráti Mardallar ‘grown pale fast with the weeping of Mardǫll <= Freyja> [GOLD]’: Freyja wept tears of gold for her absent husband Óðr, and Mardǫll is among her alternative names (Gylf, SnE 2005, 29). Golden finery is similarly associated with the wearer’s skin gleaming or growing pale (blikna) in SnSt Ht 45/5-6III, which also has a metaphorical tree, this time in a kenning. Finnur Jonsson in Skj B assumes the following word order here: Nú hefr tré bliknat brátt laufi í Gǫrðum; bekkja lind hefr bundit línu-jǫrð Mardallar gráti ‘Now the tree has rapidly paled as to its foliage in Garðaríki; the woman has bound a gold band round her head’. By separating the images of paleness and gold this solution produces a more direct parallel to Lv 2, but it is unnecessarily complicated, both syntactically and semantically. — [7, 8] lind línu hefr jǫrð í Gǫrðum ‘the linden-tree of the headband [WOMAN] has land in Russia’: The words línu jǫrð ‘of the headband ... land’ are an adaptation of Sveinbjörn Egilsson’s explanation of ms. ‘limuord’ (LP (1860): lína). (a) Finnur Jónsson in Skj B and Kock in Skald both follow Sveinbjörn in combining the two words to produce ‘land of the linen headdress’, a kenning for ‘head’. Finnur then combines bekkjar ‘bench’ in l. 5 with lind ‘linden-tree’ in l. 7 to give a woman-kenning, leaving tré ‘tree’ as a half-kenning or uncorrected metaphor matching his interpretation of eik ‘oak’ in l. 1. (b) The present edn follows Kock (NN §610) in letting simplicity of word order dictate that bekkjar tré, as adjacent words, should be construed together as a woman-kenning. The noun lind is treated by Kock as a further uncorrected metaphor, but línu is a suitable determinant: words for ‘headdress’ or ‘veil’ are common in woman-kennings (Meissner 416). (c) Accepting this, Frank (1978, 174-6) varies the emendation of ms. ‘limuord’ to obtain línu vǫrðr and interprets ll. 7-8 lind hefr laufi bundit | línu vǫrðr í Gǫrðum ‘the ruler in Russia has bound the linden of the linen headdress [WOMAN] with [gold] leaf’. — [7, 8] hefr jǫrð ‘has land’: The combination hafa jǫrð interchanges with eiga jǫrð as the standard expression for ‘to own land’ (NGL I, 73, 76, 149). Adopted in this edn is the interpretation that the woman has land in Russia (see Poole 1985a, 124-9). A bride’s acquisition of land as part of the marriage contract was familiar practice; Hkr mentions in its account of Ingigerðr’s marriage that she asked Jaroslav for estates before giving her consent (ÍF 27, 147). Others have taken jǫrð as part of a kenning (see previous Note). — [7] bundit laufi ‘wreathed with foliage’: This describes tré bekkjar ‘tree of the bench [WOMAN]’, possibly referring to the headdress of leaves worn by the bride (and bridegroom) at an Eastern Orthodox wedding (Poole 1985a, 128). The references to gold in Lv 2/3, including golli merkð ‘distinguished with gold’, could refer to the same wedding.


  1. Bibliography
  2. Skj B = Finnur Jónsson, ed. 1912-15b. Den norsk-islandske skjaldedigtning. B: Rettet tekst. 2 vols. Copenhagen: Villadsen & Christensen. Rpt. 1973. Copenhagen: Rosenkilde & Bagger.
  3. Fms = Sveinbjörn Egilsson et al., eds. 1825-37. Fornmanna sögur eptir gömlum handritum útgefnar að tilhlutun hins norræna fornfræða fèlags. 12 vols. Copenhagen: Popp.
  4. Skald = Kock, Ernst Albin, ed. 1946-50. Den norsk-isländska skaldediktningen. 2 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  5. NN = Kock, Ernst Albin. 1923-44. Notationes Norrœnæ: Anteckningar till Edda och skaldediktning. Lunds Universitets årsskrift new ser. 1. 28 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  6. Meissner = Meissner, Rudolf. 1921. Die Kenningar der Skalden: Ein Beitrag zur skaldischen Poetik. Rheinische Beiträge und Hülfsbücher zur germanischen Philologie und Volkskunde 1. Bonn and Leipzig: Schroeder. Rpt. 1984. Hildesheim etc.: Olms.
  7. LP (1860) = Sveinbjörn Egilsson, ed. 1860. Lexicon poeticum antiquæ linguæ septentrionalis. Copenhagen: Societas Regia antiquariorum septentrionalium.
  8. Frank, Roberta. 1978. Old Norse Court Poetry: The Dróttkvætt Stanza. Islandica 42. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.
  9. Flat 1860-8 = Gudbrand Vigfusson [Guðbrandur Vigfússon] and C. R. Unger, eds. 1860-8. Flateyjarbók. En samling af norske konge-sagaer med indskudte mindre fortællinger om begivenheder i og udenfor Norge samt annaler. 3 vols. Christiania (Oslo): Malling.
  10. NGL = Keyser, R. et al., eds. 1846-95. Norges gamle love indtil 1387. 5 vols. Christiania (Oslo): Gröndahl.
  11. ÓH 1941 = Johnsen, Oscar Albert and Jón Helgason, eds. 1941. Saga Óláfs konungs hins helga: Den store saga om Olav den hellige efter pergamenthåndskrift i Kungliga biblioteket i Stockholm nr. 2 4to med varianter fra andre håndskrifter. 2 vols. Det norske historiske kildeskriftfond skrifter 53. Oslo: Dybwad.
  12. ÍF 26-8 = Heimskringla. Ed. Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson. 1941-51.
  13. Poole, Russell. 1985a. ‘Some Royal Love-Verses’. MM, 115-31.
  14. SnE 2005 = Snorri Sturluson. 2005. Edda: Prologue and Gylfaginning. Ed. Anthony Faulkes. 2nd edn. University College London: Viking Society for Northern Research.
  15. Internal references
  16. Kari Ellen Gade 2009, ‘Heimskringla (Hkr)’ in Kari Ellen Gade (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 2: From c. 1035 to c. 1300. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 2. Turnhout: Brepols [check printed volume for citation].
  17. Not published: do not cite (GylfIII)
  18. Not published: do not cite (Egill St 21V (Eg 92))
  19. Diana Whaley (ed.) 2012, ‘Glúmr Geirason, Gráfeldardrápa 2’ in Diana Whaley (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 1: From Mythical Times to c. 1035. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 1. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 249.
  20. Kari Ellen Gade (ed.) 2017, ‘Snorri Sturluson, Háttatal 45’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 1154.

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