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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Rǫgnvaldr jarl Kali Kolsson (Rv)

12th century; volume 2; ed. Judith Jesch;

Lausavísur (Lv) - 32

Skj info: Rǫgnvaldr jarl kali Kolsson, Orknøsk jarl og skjald, d. 1158. (AI, 505-28, BI, 478-87).

Skj poems:
Lausavísur [33-35]

Rǫgnvaldr Kali Kolsson, jarl of Orkney, is known primarily from Orkn, in which he is one of the main characters, but he is also mentioned in other texts, including Hkr (ÍF 28, 324-5) and Icel. annals (Storm 1888, 20-1, 60, 113-14, 116, 120, 321-2, 324). He was born Kali Kolsson, the son of a Norw. nobleman from Agder, Kolr Kalason, and Gunnhildr, the sister of the martyred S. Magnús of Orkney (ÍF 34, 101-2). Orkn recounts various episodes from Rǫgnvaldr’s youth, in Norway and elsewhere, several of them associated with lvv. (see below). Though we are not told how and when he learned the skaldic art, his grandfather Kali Sæbjarnarson is said to have been good at poetical composition (ÍF 34, 95) and indeed Orkn preserves one st. by him (Kali Lv). Kali Kolsson was given the name Rǫgnvaldr by King Sigurðr jórsalafari Magnússon when he also made him joint jarl of Orkney with Páll Hákonarson. There are relatively few lvv. associated with Rǫgnvaldr’s assumption of power in Orkney and subsequent political affairs, though both are recounted at length in the saga. Rǫgnvaldr is remembered for his poetry, especially that composed during his crusade to the Holy Land in 1151-3, and for instigating the building of the cathedral in Kirkwall, dedicated to his uncle S. Magnús. Rǫgnvaldr was killed in Caithness in an ambush by political opponents in 1158 (according to the Icel. annals, but 1159 according to the internal chronology of Orkn, cf. ÍF 34, xc) and is remembered as a saint. His relics were translated in 1192 (according to the Icel. annals) and a skull and some bones found in St Magnus Cathedral may have been his (Jesch and Molleson, 2005). There are thirty-five lvv. attributed to Rǫgnvaldr, of which thirty-two are preserved in mss of Orkn and edited here. Three further lvv. (Rv Lv 33-5III) are edited in SkP III, along with Háttalykill (RvHbreiðm HlIII), a poetical guide to metres composed by Rǫgnvaldr jointly with Hallr Þórarinsson breiðmaga.

Vol. II. Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 2: from c. 1035 to c. 1300 > 8. Introduction > 5. Biographies > 2. Biographies of Other Dignitaries > e. Rǫgnvaldr Kali Kolsson

Jarl Rǫgnvaldr Kali Kolsson of Orkney is not commemorated in praise poetry, and his biography is therefore not included here. For his life and poetic works, see his skald Biography.

Lausavísur — Rv LvII

Judith Jesch 2009, ‘ Rǫgnvaldr jarl Kali Kolsson, Lausavísur’ 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, pp. 575-609. <> (accessed 20 September 2021)

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Skj: Rǫgnvaldr jarl kali Kolsson: Lausavísur (AI, 505-12, BI, 478-87); stanzas (if different): 33 | 34 | 35

SkP info: II, 583-4

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

7 — Rv Lv 7II

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Judith Jesch (ed.) 2009, ‘Rǫgnvaldr jarl Kali Kolsson, Lausavísur 7’ 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, pp. 583-4.

Hengik hamri kringðan
(hanga rjúfum) tangar
(Grímnis sylg) á galga
ginnungs brúar linna.
Svá hefr glóraddar gladdan,
gagfellis, mik þella,
lóns, at leikk við mínar
lautir, hellis Gauta.

Hengik {linna {brúar ginnungs}}, kringðan hamri, á {galga tangar}; rjúfum {sylg {Grímnis hanga}}. {Þella {glóraddar {Gauta hellis}}} hefr gladdan mik svá, at leikk við {mínar lautir {gagfellis lóns}}.

I hang {a snake {of the bridge of the hawk}} [ARM > ARM-RING], made round by the hammer, on {the gallows of the tongs} [ARM]; we [I] reveal {the drink {of the Grímnir <giant> of hanged ones}} [= Óðinn > POETRY]. {The fir-tree {of the gleaming-voice {of the Gautar of the cave}}} [GIANTS > GOLD > WOMAN] has gladdened me so much, that I play with {my hollows {of the backward-bending feller of the lagoon}} [OAR > HANDS].

Mss: Flat(139rb), R702ˣ(43r) (Orkn); papp10ˣ(44r), 2368ˣ(99), 743ˣ(77v) (LaufE, ll. 1-4)

Readings: [2] rjúfum: rjúpu all    [3] sylg: sylgs R702ˣ, papp10ˣ, 2368ˣ, 743ˣ    [4] ginnungs: ginnung R702ˣ, ginnung corrected from ‘ginnungs’ 743ˣ    [6] gag‑: galg R702ˣ;    ‑fellis: so R702ˣ, fells Flat    [7] lóns: so R702ˣ, ‘loms’ Flat;    mínar: so R702ˣ, mína Flat    [8] lautir: ‘laurir’ R702ˣ;    Gauta: gaura R702ˣ

Editions: Skj: Rǫgnvaldr jarl kali Kolsson, Lausavísur 7: AI, 506, BI, 480, Skald I, 235, NN §489; Flat 1860-8, II, 474, Orkn 1887, 149, Orkn 1913-16, 217, ÍF 34, 195-6 (ch. 85), Bibire 1988, 228-9; LaufE 1979, 279, 357.

Context: This st. is cited by Orkn after the description of the shipwreck in Shetland (see Context of st. 8) but before the other sts (sts 8-11) which more obviously refer to that shipwreck. It may be misplaced (ÍF 34, 196 n.). The saga relates that Rǫgnvaldr was cheerful, played with his fingers and kept on composing poetry. In LaufE, the first half-st. is cited as an example of kennings for hringr ‘ring’ and mistakenly attributed to Arnórr (jarlaskáld; Arn).

Notes: [All]: Frank 1972 develops an elaborate interpretation in which this st. is not about a woman, but about Rǫgnvaldr’s ship Hjǫlp, as he ironically gives it a gold ring while it sinks. This interpretation does help to situate the st. in its prose context better than any other, but it depends on a double ofljóst ‘too transparent’ and Frank acknowledges that there is ‘no recognized double-entendre linking women and ships in Old Norse poetry’ (1972, 231). — [All]: This st. is introduced by Hann dró fingrgull af fingri sér [R702ˣ adds með vǫrrunum] ok kvað vísu ‘He pulled a golden ring from his finger [with his lips] and spoke a verse’. De Geer (1985, 222-4) considers the possibility that the episode alludes to the playing of a musical instrument. — [1-4]: As Bibire (1988, 229) notes, ‘Overall interpretation of the verse is uncontroversial, although the two major kennings in the first half-strophe are in any interpretation difficult’. The interpretation here largely follows that of Kock (Skald; NN §489). Skj B links hanga with galga and tangar to give a hand-kenning (hanga-galga tangar translated as den nedhængende hånd ‘the dangling hand’) and emends ms. rjúpu ‘ptarmigan’ to a verb, réttum lit. ‘we straighten’, which, taken together with Grímnis sylg, gives an intercalated statement jeg gör et lige vers ‘I make a straight verse’ (presumably ironic). While protesting at Finnur’s methods, Kock (NN §489) also comes up with a solution that refers to the composition of poetry: he takes hanga ‘of hanged ones’ with Grímnis and assumes an otherwise unrecorded verb rjúpum to give jag rycker åt mig gudadrycken ‘I pull the divine drink towards me’. Finnbogi Guðmundsson (in ÍF 34, following a suggestion by Ólafur M. Ólafsson) takes hanga with ms. rjúpu and construes hanga rjúpu. According to that interpretation, rjúpu hanga ‘of the ptarmigan of the hanged one [WOMAN]’ is an obscene pun, in that gás ‘goose’ (and thereby any f. bird-word) can refer to the vagina (cf. Fritzner: gás), while ‘hanged one’ is a reference to a penis. The problem with that construction is that ‘the vagina of the penis’ cannot be a kenning for ‘woman’, since ‘vagina’ in itself would be a pars pro toto expression for ‘woman’ and ‘penis’ is not a determinant. — [2] rjúfum ‘we [I] reveal’: Ms. rjúpu ‘ptarmigan’ (f. sg. oblique) is otherwise not attested in poetry (except in the þulur; see LP: rjúpa). According to Fritzner the verb rjúfa can mean røbe, aabenbare ‘display, reveal’ (rjúfa 4), used of written texts. According to the Orkn prose, on the occasion when Rǫgnvaldr recited this st., he was so cheerful that he played with his fingers ok orti nær við hvert orð ‘and composed almost with every word’ (see Context above and Note to l. 8 below), i.e. he revealed the mead of poetry and created a poem. — [2, 4] sylg Grímnis hanga ‘the drink of the Grímnir <giant> of hanged ones [= Óðinn > POETRY]’: So Kock (NN §489). This kenning is not unproblematic, because Grímnir is a name for Óðinn, and ‘the drink of Grímnir <= Óðinn> of hanged ones’ is hyperdetermined. But as Kock points out (NN §489), there are such parallels as geir-Skǫgul ‘spear-Skǫgul’ i.e. ‘valkyrie’ (where Skǫgul is also the name of a valkyrie; for other examples, see Meissner 397), and Grímnir is also the name of a giant (LP: Grímnir 2; the solution preferred in this edn). — [5, 6, 8] þella glóraddar Gauta hellis ‘the fir-tree of the gleaming-voice of the Gautar of the cave [GIANTS > GOLD > WOMAN]’: The identity of this woman is obscure. Finnbogi Guðmundsson (ÍF 34, 196 n.) suggests that the st. could have been misplaced and that the woman who gladdened Rǫgnvaldr was the mistress of the farm who presented him with a leather garment after the shipwreck (see st. 9 below). The ‘gleaming voice of giants’ refers to the myth in which a giant’s gold was measured in mouthfuls (SnE 1998, I, 3). — [6] gagfellis ‘of the backward-bending feller’: This refers to a sword, which is pulled up and back before striking the blow that fells. Cf. gagr adj. ‘bent or thrown backwards’, and fellir as a sword-heiti in Þul Sverða 6/1III, 9/1III. — [8] lautir ‘hollows’: Although this is sometimes translated ‘fingers’ (e.g. Skj B), the meanings of this word suggest rather the palms of the hand. This can be reconciled with the prose context (hann lék við fingra sinna ‘he played with his fingers’) by assuming that he is drumming on the palm of one hand with the fingers of the other. It is conceivable that the action represents the poet keeping track of his rhymes and syllables while composing a st. — [8] Gauta ‘of the Gautar’: Gautar (OE Geatas) are the inhabitants of Götaland in Sweden, but Gauti and Gautr are also names of Óðinn, in keeping with several Odinic references in this st.

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