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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Anonymous Poems (Anon)

III. Málsháttakvæði (Mhkv) - 30

not in Skj

5: Málsháttakvæði (‘Proverb poem’) — Anon MhkvIII

Roberta Frank 2017, ‘ Anonymous, Málsháttakvæði’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 1213. <> (accessed 5 August 2021)

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Skj: Anonyme digte og vers [XIII]: A. [1]. Málsháttakvæði, Et orknøsk(?) digt, omkr. 1200. (AII, 130-6, BII, 138-45)

SkP info: III, 1225

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

11 — Anon Mhkv 11III

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Roberta Frank (ed.) 2017, ‘Anonymous Poems, Málsháttakvæði 11’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 1225.

Stefjum verðr at stæla brag,
— stuttligt hefk á kvæði lag —
ella mun þat þykkja þula
þannig nær, sem ek henda mula.
Ekki var þat forðum farald;
Finnan gat þó œrðan Harald;
hánum þótti sólbjǫrt sú;
slíks dœmi verðr mǫrgum nú.

Verðr at stæla brag stefjum – hefk stuttligt lag á kvæði –, ella mun þat þykkja þula, þannig nær, sem ek henda mula. Ekki var þat farald forðum; Finnan gat þó Harald œrðan; hánum þótti sú sólbjǫrt; mǫrgum verðr nú dœmi slíks.

Poetry has to be fitted with refrains – I have an abrupt verse-form in this poem – else it will seem a rigamarole, almost as if I were grabbing at crumbs. It wasn’t a malady in the old days; still, the Saami girl drove Haraldr out of his mind; to him she seemed bright as the sun; instances of such happen to many now.

Mss: R(54v), Flat(78ra) (ll. 5-8)

Readings: [5] var þat: so Flat, varðat R    [6] þó: þá Flat    [7] þótti: sýndisk Flat    [8] mǫrgum: mǫrgu Flat

Editions: Skj: Anonyme digte og vers [XIII], A. [1]. Málsháttakvæði 11: AII, 132-3, BII, 140-1, Skald II, 75; Flat 1860-8, I, 583; Möbius 1874, 6, Wisén 1886-9, I, 74.

Context: In Flat, ll. 5-8 (the poem’s refrain) is transmitted at the end of Hauks þáttr hábrókar, in the section Fra yfirlitum Haralldz konungs ok vexti ‘Concerning King Haraldr’s appearance and stature’, which describes Haraldr’s sorrow at the death of Snjófríðr (see Note to ll. 5-8 below).

Notes: [1-4]: The poet warns his hearers that the central section (stefjabálkr) of the poem is imminent, that the first occurrence of the refrain (stef) is approaching. Such notification is otherwise restricted to the great Christian drápur: cf. Fúss emk vanda stef ‘I am eager to compose a refrain’ (ESk Geisl 18/1, 4VII), Emk fúss smíða … fritt stef ‘I am eager to compose an attractive refrain’ (Anon Pl 11/1, 2, 4VII), Róm skyldir vanda greitt stef ‘We are obliged to fashion a free-flowing refrain’ (Gamlkan Has 20/1, 3, 4VII) and Hátt stef skal smíðat … fljótt ‘A loud refrain shall be made quickly’ (Anon Leið 13/1, 3, 4VII). See Kreutzer (1977, 211). — [1] stæla ‘be fitted’: Lit. ‘steel, hammer steel into’. A technical term in smithing, referring to strengthening weapons with inlays. For its rhetorical counterpart, see SnSt Ht (SnE 2007, 121, 146, 150: hjástæltr ‘abutted’; stál ‘inlaid (parenthetical) statement’; stæltr ‘inlaid, intercalated’). This is the first attestation of the word in poetry. — [2] lag ‘verse-form’: Technical term used five times in the last half of SnSt Ht (SnE 2007, 30, 33, 38-9). Stuttligt lag ‘an abrupt verse-form’ in this stanza could refer to the abrupt syntax (most lines contain one clause) or to the fact that each line contains seven rather than eight metrical positions (as in hrynhent). — [3] þula ‘a rigamarole’: In court poetry, the contrast is usually between a flokkr (poem without refrains) and a drápa. For the term þula, see Introduction to Anon Þul. — [4] mula ‘crumbs’: M. nom. sg. muli; OIcel. moli, Shetland muli ‘bits, crumbs’ (see AEW: moli). The use of [u] for normal OWN [o] has been interpreted as an Orcadian feature (Marwick 1929, xli). — [5-8]: These lines constitute the stef or ‘refrain’ of Mhkv and appear again at sts 14/5-8, 17/5-8, and 20/5-8. The refrain also occurs in Flat (Flat 1860-8, I, 583) at the end of Haralds saga hárfagra, which tells of the king’s bewitchment by the beautiful Snjófríðr (Snæfríðr ‘snow-beautiful’). The text of the two refrains differs slightly here, suggesting that the scribe of Flat may have written it out from memory. The story of Snjófríðr is told in Ágrip (Ágr chs 3-4, ÍF 29, 5-7) and Haralds saga hárfagra (HhárfHkr ch. 25, ÍF 26, 125-7); see Mundal (1997). See also Hhárf SnædrI. On the relationship between these tales and Ormr Woman, see Poole (1982); on Saami in Old Norse literature, Hermann Pálsson (1997 and 1999b). — [5] farald ‘a malady’: Only here in poetry (AEW: farald). The rhyme farald : Harald might not have struck that king as comic. The word farald (n.) is a cognate of OE færeld ‘journey, course, passage’, and must originally have meant ‘that which travels around’ (cf. ON landfarasótt ‘plague, typhus’, lit. ‘illness that spreads throughout the land’). See also Heggstad et al. 2008: farald 1-2. For lovesickness as a decease, see Wack (1990). — [6] Finnan ‘the Saami girl’: Weak f. noun (Finna) with the def. art. Finnar was the Old Norse name for Saami (earlier ‘Lapps’). — [6] œrðan ‘drove … out of his mind’: This is p. p. m. acc. sg. of œra ‘daze, drive crazy’. The adj. is attested in poetry only here. — [7] sólbjǫrt ‘bright as the sun’: Lit. ‘sun-bright’: The adj. is used of two other women in eddic poetry: HHund II 45/7 (Sigrún); Fj 42/3 (see LP: sólbjartr). Cf. sólhvít ‘sun-gleaming’ (Hávm 97/3). — [8] dœmi ‘instances’: The sense of the line is that ‘now many suffer the same fate’ or ‘now an example of such (love-sickness) comes to many’.

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