Cite as: Hubert Seelow (ed.) 2017, ‘Hálfs saga ok Hálfsrekka 51 (Hrókr inn svarti, Hrókskviða 1)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 345.
Hrókskviða ‘Poem of Hrókr’ (Hrkv) is the longest cohesive sequence of stanzas in Hálf. It is a dramatic monologue uttered by Hrókr inn svarti ‘Rook the Black’, one of the Hálfsrekkar who has survived the hall fire and finds himself at the court of a foreign king, Haki, in Skåne (ON Skáney), where his true identity as a great warrior is unknown and he is paid little respect. The poem is addressed to the king’s daughter Brynhildr, and the immediately preceding prose narrative describes the circumstances of its performance: while the men of the court were out hunting, and the women gathered nuts, Brynhildr comes upon a big man alone under a tree, and overhears him recite this poem. At the end of his performance (according to the prose text) she comes to realise the man’s identity, and that Hrókr had been talking about himself and the deeds of the Hálfsrekkar, as well as of his love for her. Evidently the poem has the desired effect in that Hrókr is immediately elevated to a position of honour at court, married to Brynhildr, and is then able to dispatch troublesome rivals for her hand. Eventually he and Haki join up with other Hálfsrekkar and their supporters to kill King Ásmundr in revenge for the burning of Hálfr and his men.
Hrkv is an interesting combination of an ævikviða ‘life poem’ or autobiography, in which a speaker reviews his own life, often upon the point of death (though this is not the case here), with a retrospective encomium of the life and mores of Hálfr and his warrior band, the Hálfsrekkar. Stanzas 57-9 enumerate the rules that Hálfr established for his men to follow, a subject treated briefly in the prose text (Hálf 1981, 177-8), while sts 62-7 form a catalogue of the names of individual members of the Hálfsrekkar, largely corresponding (though not quite in the same order of naming) to a list given in ch. 5 of the prose text (Hálf 1981, 177-8).
The primary function of Hrkv within the plot of Hálf is its connection to the theme of revenge. Although only three sts (69-72) deal explicitly with this theme, the majority of stanzas in Hrkv bear upon Hrókr’s ultimate goal of achieving revenge for his dead leader. By concealing his identity and having it revealed indirectly, Hrókr gains prestige at court, and this enables him to be considered a fitting wooer for Brynhildr. The unstinting praise of Hrkv for the bravery and nobility of Hálfr and the Hálfsrekkar has the effect of making it more urgent and more meaningful that revenge for their killing should be carried out, while Hrókr’s marriage to Brynhildr assures him of the support of Haki on the revenge expedition against Ásmundr.
Another distinguishing characteristic of Hrkv, which is not paralleled elsewhere in Hálf, is its representation of the complexity of Hrókr’s psychological states, his wishes, hopes and reflections on his life and fate, especially in sts 69, 70 and 74-6.
context: This stanza is introduced by the words: Brynhildr kóngsdóttir sá, hvar maðr stórr
stóð við eik eina. Hún heyrði, at hann kvað ‘Brynhildr the king’s daughter saw where a tall man
was standing by an oak tree. She heard that he said’.
notes: There is more than a trace of the mannjafnaðr in this and the following stanza of Hrkv, in that Hrókr compares King Haki and later Vifill, his rival for Brynhildr’s hand, unfavourably with himself and his father in terms of courage. — [3-4]: In the phrase eðli okkart
bræðra ‘the parentage of us two brothers’, it should be noted that
grammatically okkart qualifies eðli, not bræðra.
texts: ‹Hálf 51›
editions: Skj Anonyme digte og vers [XIII]: E. 6. Vers af Fornaldarsagaer: Af Hálfssaga IX 1 (AII, 265; BII, 286); Skald II, 150; Hálf 1864, 31, Hálf 1909, 120, FSGJ 2, 124, Hálf 1981, 133, 190; Edd. Min. 44.