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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Note to stanza

3. Rǫgnvaldr jarl and Hallr Þórarinsson, Háttalykill, 28 [Vol. 3, 1036]

[6] almr sparn malma … hjalma ‘the elm-bow kicked arrows … of helmets’: This line is difficult to reconstruct. (a) The phrase almr sparn ‘the elm-bow kicked’ also occurs in sts 40/7 and 64/7 and in both instances sparn ‘kicked’ (inf. sperna) is construed with a prepositional phrase (st. 40/7 til unda ‘towards wounds’; st. 64/7 til hjalma ‘towards helmets’) and an instr. dat., but the verb occurs with an acc. object rather than with an instr. dat. in Bjbp Jóms 27/3I almr sparn af sér odda lit. ‘the elm-bow kicked away from itself arrow points’. Hl also abounds with rhymes on alm- : malm- : hjalm- (see sts 9-10/20, 24/6, 40/2, 41/2, 54/4, 58/2, 76/8, 77/8; see also Anon Krm 8/10VIII, 9/6VIII), and quite often malmr refers to a sword or an arrow causing damage to a helmet (hjalmr; see, e.g. sts 24/6, 40/2, 76/8). In the present line, however, both malma and hjalma can be construed as either acc. pl. or gen. pl. (the endings are ensured by the rhyme), and malma could conceivably be taken as the acc. object of sparn (almr sparn malma ‘the elm-bow kicked arrows’; cf. Bjbp Jóms 27/3I cited above), but that leaves a dangling hjalma ‘helmets’ or ‘of helmets’. It is possible that the missing word(s) in metrical positions 3-4 could have been a prepositional phrase and that hjalma was a determinant in a kenning (if taken as gen. pl.), e.g. almr sparn til klifs malma hjalma, i.e. almr sparn malma til klifs hjalma ‘the elm-bow kicked arrows towards the cliff of helmets [HEAD]’, but that remains a conjecture (for other examples of such metrical fillers, see Gade 1995a, 100; for similar kennings for ‘head’ see Meissner 127). (b) In Skj B, Finnur Jónsson takes hjalma (gen. pl.) as a determinant in a kenning for warrior (almr hjalma ‘the elm-tree of helmets’) and malma ‘arrows’ as the acc. object of sparn. He does not attempt to speculate about the missing word(s) in the line. Almr does not otherwise occur as a base-word in a kenning for ‘man, warrior’ in Hl; rather, the word always means ‘elm-bow’ and it is found twice in that meaning as the subject of sparn (see (a) above). (c) Jón Helgason (Hl 1941) offers the following reading: almr sparn drifi malma hjalma, i.e. almr sparn hjalma drifi malma ‘the elm-bow kicked helmets with a blizzard of metal (en malmbyge)’. That construction is metrically unlikely: an inflected verb may occur in metrical position 1 in even lines of Type A2k, but not in position 2 directly preceding a noun (see Gade 1995a, 122-3).


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