Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Sigvatr Þórðarson (Sigv)

11th century; volume 1; ed. Judith Jesch;

2. Nesjavísur (Nesv) - 15

Skj info: Sigvatr Þórðarson, Islandsk skjald, o. 995-o. 1045 (AI, 223-75, BI, 213-54).

Skj poems:
1. Víkingarvísur
2. Nesjavísur
3. Austrfararvísur
4. En drape om kong Olaf
5. Vestrfararvísur
6. Et kvad om Erlingr Skjalgsson
7. Flokkr om Erlingr Skjalgsson
8. Tryggvaflokkr
9. Et digt om dronning Astrid
10. Knútsdrápa
11. Bersǫglisvísur
12. Erfidrápa Óláfs helga
13. Lausavísur
14. Et par halvvers af ubestemmelige digte

Sigvatr or Sighvatr Þórðarson (Sigv) is said (ÍF 27, 54) to have been the son of Þórðr Sigvaldaskáld ‘Poet of Sigvaldi’, an Icelander who served, in succession, Sigvaldi jarl Strút-Haraldsson, leader of the Jómsvíkingar, his brother Þorkell inn hávi ‘the Tall’, who campaigned in England, and Óláfr Haraldsson, later king of Norway (r. c. 1015-30) and saint. Þórðr is listed as one of Sigvaldi’s skalds in Skáldatal (SnE 1848-87, III, 259, 268), but none of his poetry survives. The family tradition of poetry can also be traced in Óttarr svarti ‘the Black’, said to have been Sigvatr’s sister’s son (ÍF 27, 144; ÓH 1941, I, 203). Sigvatr was brought up by a certain Þorkell, at Apavatn in south-west Iceland. When nearly fully grown he sailed to what is now Trondheim, where he met up with his father and joined King Óláfr’s retinue. According to Snorri (ÍF 27, 54-6; ÓH 1941, I, 81-3), Sigvatr recited Lv 2-3 at this time, and he interceded with the king on behalf of Icelandic merchants forced to pay a heavy tax in Norway (cf. Sigv Lv 4). It is also likely that this is when Þórðr provided Sigvatr with the material for Víkv (see Introduction to Sigv Víkv), which may be the poem referred to in the prose introduction to Sigv Lv 2 (Fidjestøl 1982, 118). There is no evidence that Sigvatr ever returned to Iceland, and according to the anecdote in which Sigv Lv 11 is preserved, he died on the island of Selja in north-western Norway and was buried at Kristskirkja (Kristkirken) in Trondheim. His poetry records his various journeys to Sweden, England and the Continent, as well as incidents in Norway. We know nothing of Sigvatr’s private life, except that he had a daughter called Tófa, who had King Óláfr himself as her godfather (Sigv Lv 19).

Sigvatr’s surviving poetic oeuvre is both large and remarkably diverse, encompassing different kinds of encomia not only on King Óláfr (Sigv Víkv, Sigv Nesv, Sigv Óldr, Sigv ErfÓl), but also on King Knútr of Denmark (Sigv Knútdr) and the Norwegian nobleman Erlingr Skjálgsson (Sigv Erl, Sigv Erlfl). Sigvatr was godfather to King Magnús inn góði ‘the Good’ Óláfsson and composed some avuncular words of advice to the boy-king (Sigv BervII). All of these patrons are recognised in Skáldatal (SnE 1848-87, III, 252-4, 258, 260-2, 269), where Sigvatr is also credited with having composed for the Swedish king Ǫnundr Óláfsson (although no such poetry survives, cf. Sigv Knútdr 4/6) and the Norwegian chieftain Ívarr inn hvíti ‘the White’ (cf. Context to Sigv Lv 8). Sigvatr also composed a poem on the Norwegian pretender Tryggvi Óláfsson (Sigv Tryggfl) and is unique in having composed in dróttkvætt in praise of a woman, Óláfr Haraldsson’s widow Ástríðr Óláfsdóttir (Sigv Ást). Several of Sigvatr’s poems are more or less loosely connected sequences of stanzas rather than more formal compositions, and encompass both travelogue (Sigv Austv) and political commentary (Sigv Vestv, Sigv BervII). The latter genre is also well represented in his lausavísur, which also include some remarkably personal stanzas expressing his grief at the death of King Óláfr (Sigv Lv 22-4). Sigvatr’s status as a hǫfuðskáld ‘chief skald’ was recognised in the twelfth century (cf. Esk Geisl 12/8VII). His versatility as a poet has clearly inspired a number of anecdotes focusing on the composition of poetry, mostly of doubtful authenticity (cf. Contexts to Sigv Lv 1, 8, 11, 27; also Introduction to Ótt Hfl). Apart from two fragments preserved in SnE (Sigv Frag 1-2III), Sigvatr’s poetry is transmitted in a wide range of texts within the tradition of the kings’ sagas and is therefore edited in this volume or (in the case of the late Sigv Berv) in SkP II. For general studies of Sigvatr’s life and works, see Paasche (1917), Hollander (1940) and Petersen (1946).

Nesjavísur (‘Vísur about Nesjar’) — Sigv NesvI

Russell Poole 2012, ‘(Introduction to) Sigvatr Þórðarson, Nesjavísur’ 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. 555.

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Skj: Sigvatr Þórðarson: 2. Nesjavísur, 1016 (AI, 228-32, BI, 217-20); stanzas (if different): 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 14

in texts: Flat, Fsk, Gramm, Hkr, ÓH, ÓHHkr, ÓHLeg, Skm, SnE, TGT

SkP info: I, 555

notes: ms. refs separated from first cards

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance references search files

 

1 Fór ór Vík á vári
válaust konungr austan,
— þeir kníðu blô báðir
borð — en jarl kom norðan.
Kannk sigrviðum segja,
sund*, hvé þeira fundir,
œrin skil, þeims ôrum,
at bôrusk, þar skôru.
The king set forth, without doubt, from the east out of Vík in spring, and the jarl came from the north; they both urged on the black planks. I am able to tell the victory-trees [WARRIORS], those who cut the sea there with their oars, sufficient information as to how their encounters took place.
2 Veitti sókn, þars sótti,
siklingr firum mikla
— blóð fell rautt á Róða
rein — í hǫfn at Sveini.
Snjallr helt at, sás olli,
eirlaust konungr, þeira,
en Sveins liðar, sínum,
saman bundu skip, fundi.
The king gave the men a great onslaught, where he advanced into the harbour against Sveinn; blood fell red on the strip of land of Róði <sea-king> [SEA]. The brave king, who brought about their encounter, steered on relentlessly with his [ships], and Sveinn’s supporters tied the ships together.
3 Þat erumk kunnt, hvé kennir
Karlhǫfða lét jarli
odda frosts fyr austan
Agðir nær of lagðan.
It is known to me, how the master of the frost of points [BATTLE > WARRIOR] had Karlhǫfði (‘Man-head’) put in position near the jarl to the east of Agder.
4 Vasa sigmána Sveini
sverða gnýs at frýja,
gjóðs né góðrar hríðar
gunnreifum Ôleifi,
þvít kvistingar kosta
— koma herr í stað verra —
ôttu sín, þars sóttusk
seggir, hvárirtveggja.
There was no cause [lit. it was not] to reproach Sveinn for the din of swords [BATTLE], nor the battle-glad Óláfr for the good storm of the osprey of the battle-moon [SHIELD > RAVEN/EAGLE > BATTLE], because both parties had to strive for the maiming of each other, where men attacked; the army never came into a worse place.
5 Teitr, sák okkr í ítru
allvalds liði falla
(gerðisk harðr) of herðar
(hjǫrdynr) svalar brynjur.
En mín at flug fleina
falsk und hjalm inn valska
(okkr vissak svá, sessi,)
svǫrt skǫr (við her gǫrva).
Teitr, I saw chill mail-shirts fall over the shoulders of us both in the glorious war-band of the mighty ruler; a hard sword-din [BATTLE] was waged. And my black hair hid itself under the Frankish helmet at the flight of barbs [BATTLE]; bench-mate, I knew us both to be thus prepared against the army.
6 Fekk meira lið miklu
mildr an gløggr til hildar,
hirð þás hugði forðask
heið þjóðkonungs reiði.
En vinlausum vísa
varð, þeim es fé sparði,
— háðisk víg fyr víðum
vangi — þunnt of stangir.
The generous one [Óláfr] gained a much greater force for the battle than the mean one [Sveinn], when the illustrious retinue thought to escape the wrath of the mighty king. But for the friendless leader [Sveinn], he who scrimped on payment, it became sparse around the standards; war was waged off the broad plain.
7 Stǫng óð gylld, þars gengum
Gǫndlar serks und merkjum
gnýs, fyr gǫfgum ræsi,
greiðendr á skip reiðir.
Þági vas, sem þessum
þengils, á jó strengjar,
mjǫð, fyr malma kveðju,
mær heiðþegum bæri.
The gilded standard advanced before the noble king, where we, suppliers of the din of the shirt of Gǫndul <valkyrie> [MAIL-SHIRT > BATTLE > WARRIORS], went enraged onto the ships under the banners. It was not then on the horse of the rope [SHIP], before the greeting of metal weapons [BATTLE], as if a maiden were bringing these retainers of the prince mead.
8 Vér drifum hvatt, þars heyra
hátt vápnabrak knátti,
— rǫnd klufu roðnir brandar —
reiðir upp á skeiðar.
En fyr borð, þars bǫrðusk,
— búin fengusk skip — gengu
— nár flaut ǫrt við eyri
ófár — búendr sárir.
We pressed, enraged, keenly up on to the ships, where the loud clash of weapons could be heard; reddened blades split the shield. And wounded farmers went overboard, where they fought; the well-appointed ships were captured; not a few corpses floated swiftly by the land-spit.
9 Ǫld vann ossa skjǫldu
(auðsætt vas þat) rauða,
(hljóms) þás hvítir kómu
(hringmiðlǫndum) þingat.
Þar hykk ungan gram gǫngu
(gunnsylgs), en vér fylgðum,
(blóðs fekk svǫrr) þars slæðusk
sverð, upp í skip gerðu.
Men made our shields red, that came there white; that was obvious to the sharers of the sword-clamour [(lit. ‘sword-sharers of clamour’) BATTLE > WARRIORS]. There I think the young king made his advance up on to the ship, where swords were blunted, and we followed; the bird of blood [RAVEN/EAGLE] gained a battle-draught [BLOOD].
10 Sjalfr bað svartar kylfur
Sveinn harðliga skeina
— nær vas áðr í óra
auðvôn róit hônum —,
þás til góðs, en gjóði
gǫrt fengusk hræ svǫrtum
Yggs, lét herr of hǫggvit
hrafni skeiðar stafna.
Sveinn himself commanded the black stem-fittings be cut off ruthlessly — previously the rowing was close to him in our expectation of riches —, when [his] army had the stems of the ship hewn off, to the benefit of the raven, and corpses were provided amply for the black osprey of Yggr <= Óðinn> [RAVEN/EAGLE].
11 Þess getk meir, at missi
morðôrr, sás fór norðan,
harða margr í hǫrðum
heimkvômu styr þeima.
Sǫkk af sunda blakki
sunnu mǫrg til grunna
(satts, at Sveini mœttum)
samknúta (vér úti).
I declare this, moreover, that very many a battle-envoy [WARRIOR], who travelled from the north, will be missing out on his homecoming in that hard battle. Many a one joined with the sun sank from the dark steed of the sounds [SHIP] to the bottom; true it is, that we met Sveinn offshore.
12 Frýrat oss í ári
innþrœnzk, þótt lið minna,
— gǫrt hugðak svá — snertu
snotr mær, konungs væri.
Brúðr mun heldr at háði
hafa drótt, þás framm sótti,
— fold ruðum skers — ef skyldi,
skeggi, aðratveggju.
The wise inner-Trøndelag maiden does not reproach us for our effort in a hurry, although the king’s force was less; I thought so decidedly. The woman will rather hold in derision the company that lunged forward with their beards, if she should [deride] one or the other; we reddened the land of the skerry [SEA].
13 Né hœfilig, hreifa,
hykk dróttinssvik þóttu,
elds, þeims allvel heldu
orð sín, viðir, forðum.
I do not think, trees of the fire of the hand [GOLD > MEN], betrayal of one’s lord seemed becoming to those who kept their word very well in the past.
14 Afli vex, þvít efla
Upplendingar sendi
— Sveinn, funduð þat — þenna
þilblakks konung vilja.
Raun es hins, at Heinir
(hrælinns) megu vinna
(þeir œxla frør) fleira
fjǫlrekks an ǫl drekka.
[His] strength increases, because the Upplendingar want to support this launcher of the plank-horse [SHIP > SEAFARER = Óláfr] as king; Sveinn, you discovered that. There is proof of this, that the Heinir can do more than drink the ale of the man with many warriors; they augment the frost of the corpse-snake [SWORD > BATTLE].
15 Hirð Ôleifs vann harða
hríð, en svá varðk bíða
(peitneskum feltk) páska,
palmsunnudag (hjalmi).
Óláfr’s following won a hard battle on Palm Sunday, and thus I had to await Easter; I put on a Poitou-made helmet.
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