Dedicant's Work

Study Program











Pagan Student Association

CafePress Shop


General Bardic Studies for Liturgists 1: Requirement 2

Compare and contrast examples from the work of three poets in one cultural tradition from at least two historical eras. (minimum 300 words of the student's original essay material beyond the verses provided, at least one poem per poet)

For this essay, I will provide part of the work of the unnamed poet who wrote a poem from the Elder Edda, a poem by Snorri Sturluson, and a poem attributed to Egil. Here, the "historical eras" I'm working from are pre- and post-conversion in Iceland.

1. Eddic Poetry: Voluspá

Hear me, all ye   hallowed beings,
both high and low   of Heimdall's children:
thou wilt, Valfather,   that I well set forth
the fates of the world   which as first I recall.
I call to mind   the kin of etins
which long ago   did give me life.
Nine worlds I know,   the nine abodes
of the glorious world-tree   the ground beneath.
In earliest times   did Ymir live:
was not sea nor land   nor salty waves.
Neither was earth there   nor upper heaven,
but gaping nothing,   and green things nowhere.
Was the land then lifted   aloft by Bur's sons
who made Mišgarth,   the matchless earth;
shone from the south   the sun on dry land,
on the ground then grew   the greensward soft.

(Original Old Norse version may be found here, and will be referred to some)

Eddic poetry has a very particular form, one that is not reflected in the next two examples. Primarily, it is simple, both in diction and in style (despite the poets working centuries apart).¹ The strophic form of the poems is also interesting, with each stanza being divided into two vísuhelmings or "half-stanzas". Interestingly, this structure is particularly inconsistent in the oldest works, but becomes more structured as time goes on.² The basic unit of the verse is the "half-line", is tied to the next half-line by alliteration of an initial consonant and any vowel (e.g., ta- and to- would alliterate in this verse). The alliteration, though, always appears at the beginning of a stressed syllable.³

Some similarities you'll see is the use of kenning, such as "Valfather" meaning "father of Valhalla" or "Ošin", "Bur's sons" meaning "Vili, Ve, and Ošin", and "Heimdall's children" as "the classes of men." Still, eddic poetry never really approaches the level of skaldic poetry when it comes to usage of this poetic device.† Also, there is the use of alliteration (seen best in the original Old Norse) and a lack of end-rhyme.

¹ - Hollander, p. xxi
² - Hollander, p. xxiii
³ - Hollander, p. xxiv
† - Hollander, p. xxii

2. Skaldic Poetry: Snorri Sturluson

Old Norse


Fellr of fúra stilli
fleinbraks limu axla
Hamdis fang thar er hringum
hylr ættstudill skylia.
Holt felr hildigelti
heila bæs ok deilir
gulls í gelmis stalli
gunnseid skörungr reidir.
Hamdir's tunic falls around the operator of the fire of the spear-clash where the upholder of the king's dynasty protects the limbs of his shoulders with rings. The outstanding one covers the hill of the dwelling of the brain with a battle-boar and the distributor of gold brandishes the battle-fish in the hawk's perch.

 The English translation (trans. Faulkes) above is not in verse, but it will help give an idea about the kennings mentioned above.

In this poem, Snorri is providing an example of how one can convey almost all concepts by using kennings. "Hamdir's tunic" is a coat of mail; "operator of fire of the spear-clash" is someone wielding a sword; "upholder of the king's dynasty" is again the warrior; "limbs of his shoulders" are arms; and the "rings" are mail again. "The outstanding one" is the warrior again; the "hill of the dwelling of the brain" is, of course, the top of the skull; "battle-boar" is a helmet (a reference to helms decorated with boars, I imagine); "distributor of gold" is the king; "battle-fish" is a sword; and "hawk's perch" is the hand.¹

It is easy to see how carried away the skaldic poet might have gotten, and indeed they seem to have delighted in trying to confound one another with these kennings.

More important, though, is the use of alliteration and the lack of end-rhyme still.

¹ - Sturluson, p. 168

2. Skaldic Poetry: Egil (attributed)

Old Norse


Skalat maðr rúnar rísta,
nema ráða vel kunni,
þat verðr mörgum manni,
es of myrkvan staf villisk;
sák á telgðu talkni
tíu launstafi ristna,
þat hefr lauka lindi
langs ofrtrega fengit.
No man should carve runes
unless he can read them well;
many a man goes astray
around those dark letters.
On the whalebone I saw
ten secret letters carved,
from them the linden tree
took her long harm.

The English is translated by Bernard Scudder.¹

In chapter 73 of Egil's Saga, Egil comes across a sick woman. When he looks her over, he finds the source of her sickness: a whalebone carved with poorly-understood runes.

Here, we find a much lighter use of kennings by the author (the author of Egil's Saga is unknown, possibly being Snorri himself, but the style is different enough from the above poem and I'm giving Egil the benefit of the doubt). There are few in the poem, the most prominent one being the "linden tree", which is a kenning for woman. Also, "secret letters" and "dark letters" are also kennings for runes. This poetry, then, while being skaldic, is markedly different than the example given above by Snorri.

Again, we find alliteration to connect the various lines and ideas, and the lines do not rhyme (though there is an accidental end-rhyme in this piece: kunni and manni, lines 2 and 3).

¹ - Egil's Saga, p. 141


Anonymous. "Egil's Saga" in The Sagas of the Icelanders. Trans. Scudder, Bernard.1997

Anonymous. "Voluspa" in The Poetic Edda. Trans. Hollander, Lee M. 2001

Sturluson, Snorri. "Hattatal" in Edda. Trans. Faukes, Anthony. 2001


Content © 2003-2007, Michael J Dangler
Updated on 07/28/2007. Site Credits / Email Me!
Basic site design from
(Yes, I stole it!)