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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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6. Metres, Poetic Diction and Normalisation

 

(subheadings only)

 
1. Dróttkvætt

The bulk of the poetry contained in SkP II is composed in dróttkvætt ‘court metre’, which also formed the backbone of Háttatal and was the foundation for Snorri’s prose commentary. A dróttkvætt stanza contains eight lines with six metrical positions in each line. The odd lines (i.e. lines 1, 3, 5 and 7) have two alliterating staves which alliterate with the first syllable (hǫfuðstafr) in the even lines (i.e. lines 2, 4, 6, and 8). Unlike other Germanic alliterative poetry, dróttkvætt lines also contain internal rhyme, which involve the vocalic onset and the postvocalic environment of a syllable. The odd lines have skothending ‘inserted rhyme’, in which the vocalic onsets of the two rhyming syllables can be different but the postvocalic environments must be identical (e.g. -áð- : -éð-), whereas the even lines have aðalhending ‘noble rhyme’, which requires both identical vocalic onsets and postvocalic environments (e.g. -áð- : -áð-). Each line ends in a cadence (a word consisting of long plus a short syllable), and the second skothending or aðalhending always falls on the long syllable in metrical position 5. Consider the following half-stanza (Hharð Lv 14/1-4; the alliterating staves appear in bold and the syllables with internal rhyme are italicised here and passim):

Krjúpum vér fyr vápna
(valteigs) brǫkun eigi,
(svá bauð Hildr) at hjaldri,
(haldorð) í bug skjaldar.

Vér krjúpum eigi í bug skjaldar at hjaldri fyr brǫkun vápna; svá bauð haldorð Hildr valteigs. ‘We [I] do not creep into the hollow of the shield in battle because of the crash of weapons; thus the faithful Hildr <valkyrie> of the falcon-field [arm > woman] commanded.’

Dróttkvætt was the most popular and prestigious skaldic metre, and it is used in both praise poetry and lausavísur throughout the period covered by the SkP II editions (c. 1035-1300). In the individual SkP II editions, no mention is made of the metre if the poetry is composed in dróttkvætt.

A variant of dróttkvætt that does not contain internal rhyme, and where the main stave (hǫfuðstafr) in the even lines falls on the first stressed position and need not be fixed in position 1, is háttlausa ‘lack of form’. Steigar-Þórir’s kviðlingr (SteigÞ Kv, c. 1094) and an anonymous stanza from Knýtlinga saga (Anon (Knýtl), c. 1080) are composed in that metre.

 
2. Hrynhent

Hrynhent ‘flowing rhymed’ is an expanded version of dróttkvætt in which each line consists of eight rather than six metrical positions. Alliteration and internal rhymes are distributed as in dróttkvætt, as is shown by the following couplet from Arnórr’s Hrynhenda (Arn Hryn 3/1-2):

Magnús, hlýð til máttigs óðar;
manngi veit ek fremra annan;

Magnús, hlýð til máttigs óðar; ek veit manngi annan fremra. ‘Magnús, hear a mighty poem; I know no other [to be] more outstanding.’

That poem, a panegyric in the honour of King Magnús inn góði ‘the Good’ Óláfsson (r. 1035-47), is the first poem in hrynhent metre that is edited in SkP II, and this metre was also used in Markús Skeggjason’s Eiríksdrápa (Mark Eirdr, c. 1105), Óláfr Þórðarson’s Hrynhenda (Ólhvít Hryn, c. 1240), Sturla Þórðarson’s Hrynhenda (Sturl Hryn, c. 1262), as well as in an anonymous encomium to King Magnús lagabœtir ‘Law-mender’ Hákonarson (Anon Mlag, c. 1280) and in three anonymous lausavísur from Sverris saga (Anon (Sv) 4-5, 1198) and Hákonar saga Hákonarsonar (Anon (Hák) 3, 1236).

 
3. Fornyrðislag

Fornyrðislag ‘old story metre’ is the Old Norse version of the Germanic alliterative long-line, with four metrical positions in each half-line, with alliteration but without internal rhyme, as in the following half-stanza from Haraldr harðráði ‘Hard-rule’ Sigurðarson’s Lv 13 (Hharð Lv 13/1-4):

Framm gǫngum vér        í fylkingu
b
rynjulausir    und bláar eggjar.

Vér gǫngum framm í fylkingu, brynjulausir, und bláar eggjar. ‘We go forth in battle ranks, without byrnies, beneath dark sword-blades.’

Fornyrðislag is an eddic metre,[28] and in SkP II it is usually found in more informal poetry (lausavísur), such as Þflekk Lv, Hharð Lv 13, SnH Lv 2, 7, Hjǫrtr Lv 2-3, Anon Harst, Anon (Ólkyrr) 2 (all from the eleventh century), Ingimarr Lv, Eiríkr Lv, Anon (Msona) 2, Anon (Sv) 1, 6 (all from the twelfth century) and Snæk Lv (from the thirteenth century). During the twelfth century, three longer encomia were composed in fornyrðislag, namely, Gísl Illugason’s poem about King Magnús berfœttr  ‘Bare-legs’ Óláfsson (Gísl Magnkv, c. 1102), Halldórr skvaldri’s Útfararkviða (Hskv Útkv, after 1111) and Ívarr Ingimundarsson’s Sigurðarbálkr (Ív Sig, c. 1139).

 
4. Kviðuháttr

This metre is a catalectic variant of fornyrðislag, in which the odd lines have three metrical positions and the even lines correspond to the even lines of fornyrðislag, as in the anonymous Nóregs konungatal (Anon Nkt, c. 1190). Consider the following half-stanza from that poem (st. 4/1-4):

Tók kappsamr
við konungsnafni
Haraldr brátt
inn hárfagri.

Kappsamr Haraldr inn hárfagri tók brátt við konungsnafni. ‘Vigorous Haraldr inn hárfagri (‘the Fair-haired’) at once received the title of king.’

In addition to Anon Nkt, Sturla Þórðarson’s Hákonarkviða (Sturl Hákkv, c. 1264) and two lausavísur by Oddi inn litli (Oddi Lv 4-5) are also composed in kviðuháttr.

 
5. Tøglag and hagmælt

Tøglag ‘journey metre’ and hagmælt ‘skilfully spoken’ are two variants of fornyrðislag with internal rhyme, here exemplified by st. 3 of Einarr Skúlason’s Haraldsdrápa II (ESk Hardr II; hagmælt, c. 1135):

Alls varð Ellu
ungr geitunga
lofaðr lífgjafi
lands ráðandi.

Ungr, lofaðr lífgjafi Ellu geitunga varð ráðandi alls lands. ‘The young, celebrated life-giver of Ælle’s <Northumbrian king’s> birds [eagles > warrior] became the ruler of the entire country.’

Einarr’s Hardr II is the only poem in SkP II that is composed in hagmælt. Þórarinn stuttfeldr’s Stuttfeldardrápa (Þstf Stuttdr, c. 1112) and Hjǫrtr Lv 1 (c. 1066) are in tøglag, in which the metrical restrictions are more relaxed and the odd lines need not contain skothendingar.

 
6. Málaháttr and Haðarlag

Málaháttr ‘speech metre’ and Haðarlag ‘Hǫðr’s metre’ are variants of fornyrðislag with five rather than four metrical positions per half-line. Haðarlag has internal rhyme, as in dróttkvætt. Consider the following half-stanza in Haðarlag from Sturla Þorðarson’s Hrafnsmál (Sturl Hrafn 1/1-4, c. 1264):

Sóttu sóknhvattar
sveitir háleitan
geira glymstæri
glyggs ór Finnbygðum.

Sóknhvattar sveitir sóttu háleitan glymstæri glyggs geira ór Finnbygðum. ‘Battle-keen companies sought the sublime din-increaser of the storm of spears [battle > warrior] from the settlements of the Saami.’

Sturla’s poem is the only poem in Haðarlag among the poetry edited in SkP II, while an anonymous lausavísa from Hákonarsaga Hákonarsonar (Anon (Hák) 3, c. 1233) is in málaháttr.

 
7. Runhent

Runhent is a subset of skaldic metres employing end rhyme rather than internal rhyme. Most commonly the rhymes are attached to the ends of alliterative fornyrðislag lines, as is shown by st. 4 of Einarr Skúlason’s Runhenda (ESk Run, c. 1155):

Funi kyndisk jótt,
en ýði skjótt
Hísingar herr,
sás hafði verr.

Funi kyndisk fljótt, en herr Hísingar, sás hafði verr, flýði skjótt. ‘Fire was kindled quickly, and the people of Hisingen, who had the worst of it, fled fast.’

Other poems and lausavísur in SkP II composed in runhent with four metrical positions are Þjóðólfr Arnórsson’s praise poem to King Haraldr harðráði Sigurðarson (ÞjóðA Run) and Sneglu-Halli’s (SnH) Lv 11 (both from the eleventh century). End rhyme could also be added to alliterative hexasyllabic metres (i.e. replacing the internal rhymes in dróttkvætt), and that is the case in five lausavísur from the twelfth century, namely, Anon (Hsona) 1, Rv Lv 31, Hbreiðm Lv, Árm Lv 3 and BjKálfs Lv. Consider lines 1-4 of BjKálfs Lv:

Fant sék hvern á hesti,
hérs nú siðr inn vesti
leið eigum vér langa
en lendir menn ganga.

Sék hvern fant á hesti, en lendir menn ganga; hérs nú inn vesti siðr; vér eigum langa leið. ‘I see every servant on a horse and the district chieftains are walking; now here’s the worst habit; we have a long way [to go].’

 
8. Other metres and mixed metres

Other metres that are attested sporadically in the corpus of poetry edited in SkP II are hálfhneppt ‘half-curtailed’ (see Technical Terms at the front of this volume) and a variant of inn skammi háttr ‘the short verse form’, a metre in which the odd lines are in fornyrðislag, and the even lines consist of two short-stemmed disyllabic words bearing internal rhyme (see Anon (HSig) 5, which does not have internal rhyme, however). In some informal poetry the lines display features of more than one metre, such as the lausavísur of Magnús inn góði Óláfsson (Mgóð Lv 1, c. 1046; fornyrðislag, málaháttr and hálfhnept), Haraldr harðráði Sigurðarson (Hharð Lv 2, c. 1046; hálfhnept and fornyrðislag) and Sigurðr slembidjákn Magnússon (Slembir Lv, c. 1038-9; fornyrðislag and tøglag).

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