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Runic Dictionary

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Anonymous Poems (Anon)

III. Málsháttakvæði (Mhkv) - 30

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 22 September 2021)

stanzas:  1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11   12   13   14   15   16   17   18   19   20   21   22   23   24   25   26   27   28   29   30 

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

SkP info: III, 1227

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

12 — Anon Mhkv 12III

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Roberta Frank (ed.) 2017, ‘Anonymous Poems, Málsháttakvæði 12’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 1227.

Skips láta menn skammar rár;
skatna þykkir hugrinn grár;
tungan leikr við tanna sár;
trauðla er gengt á ís of vár.
Mjǫk fár er sér œrinn einn;
eyvit týr, þótt skyndi seinn;
gǫfgask mætti af gengi hverr;
gǫrva þekkik, sumt hvé ferr.

Menn láta rár skips skammar; hugrinn skatna þykkir grár; tungan leikr við sár tanna; trauðla er gengt á ís of vár. Mjǫk fár er sér œrinn einn; eyvit týr, þótt seinn skyndi; hverr mætti gǫfgask af gengi; þekkik gǫrva, hvé sumt ferr.

Men say the ship’s sailyards are short; the heart of magnates seems grey; the tongue plays with the aching tooth; it is scarcely safe to walk on ice in spring. Very few are sufficient in themselves; it helps not at all though the slow one hastens; each man could gain stature from the company he keeps; I recognise fully how some things go.

Mss: R(54v)

Readings: [3] tungan: ‘tvgan’ R

Editions: Skj: Anonyme digte og vers [XIII], A. [1]. Málsháttakvæði 12: AII, 133, BII, 141, Skald II, 75, NN §§3154, 3271; Möbius 1874, 6, Wisén 1886-9, I, 74.

Notes: [1-4]: The same rhyme is carried over four lines, as in sts 13/1-4 and 19/1-4. — [1] láta (3rd pers. pl. pres. indic.) ‘say’: The verb could also be taken in the sense ‘let, allow’ (‘men let the ship’s sailyards be short’). — [1] rár (f. acc. pl.) ‘sailyards’: Sailyards are horizontal arms supporting the sail, and the was typically long and slender (see McGrail 1998, 232; Jesch 2001a, 162). The meaning of the adage, which also occurs in Hávm 74/3, is disputed. This short yardarm has a long bibliography, beginning with Eiríkr Magnússon (1888, 334), who proposed as context a shipwreck in which a drowning man, clutching a floating yardarm, would wish it longer. Björn Magnússon Ólsen (1915b, 78) made the sensible equation: small sailyard = slow ship. Falk (1922, 174) noted that a short yardarm was a good thing when battling gusts in a fjord. Heusler (1915-16, 115) returned to the improbable reading (CPB II, 365) of ON rár ‘nooks’ as ‘cabins’: ‘scant (i.e. cramped) are a ship’s berths.’ In HHund I 49/4 (NK 137), rár langar ‘long sailyards’ are a good thing. Hermann Pálsson (1999a, 202) recalled the double-entendre proverb in which reiði means both ‘anger’ and ‘(ship’s) tackle’: stutt (or skömm) er skipsmanna reiði ‘short is the anger/equipment of sailors’. See also Ísl. Málsh.: reiði; skipmaður. — [2] hugrinn skatna þykkir grár ‘the heart of magnates seems grey’: The adj. grár ‘grey’ is most likely used in the sense ‘hostile, malicious’ here (cf. Heggstad et al. 2008: grár 2 and Note to st. 6/3). For a discussion of hugr ‘mind, thought, disposition, soul, heart’, see Þul Hugar ok hjarta, Note to l. 1. — [3] sár tanna ‘the aching tooth’: Lit. ‘pain of the teeth’. An international proverb (semper cum dente remanebit lingua dolente ‘the tongue always remains with the aching tooth’), deployed in courtly-love contexts by at least five early troubadours; cf. Bishop Folc of Marseille (Schulmann 2001, 186-7): ‘I know, as “Toward the toothache turns the tongue,” I turn to the lady who snarls at me’. — [4]: Cf. proverbs in Ísl. Málsh.: ís. — [5]: Cf. Ísl. Málsh.: einhlítur; fár 2. — [6]: See Ísl. Málsh.: seinn; cf. the reverse proverb in Njáls saga (Nj ch. 44, ÍF 12, 114): kemsk, þó at seint fari ‘all will come in good time’. — [7]: SnSt Ht 26/8 cites this proverb (vex hverr af gengi ‘each gains from his following’) in a stanza illustrating orðskviðu háttr ‘proverb’s form’; cf. gengileysi ‘lack of a retinue’ (Egill St 9/8V (Eg 80)), referring to the falling away of the skald’s friends and supporters.

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