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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Hallvarðr háreksblesi (Hallv)

11th century; volume 3; ed. Matthew Townend;

Knútsdrápa (Knútdr) - 8

Skj info: Hallvarðr háreksblesi, Islandsk skjald, 11. årh. (AI, 317-18, BI, 293-4).

Skj poems:

Hallvarðr (Hallv) is an obscure figure, and the poem edited here is his only extant work. In Skáldatal he is listed once, amongst Knútr Sveinsson’s (r. 1018-35) poets (SnE 1848-87, III, 258, 267, 282), and he also appears to be mentioned only once in saga-sources, namely in Tómasskinna’s account of Knútr’s attempt to recruit Þormóðr Kolbrúnarskáld to his service (ÓH 1941, II, 803): Þormodr þackade honum fyrer bodit. enn kuozt eigi fær til ath ganga j stad haufud skalldanna er uerit haufdu med Knuti konungi. Þorarins loftungu eda Halluardz eda Ottars eda Sighuatz ‘Þormóðr thanked him for the invitation, but he said he was not able to take the place of the chief poets who had been with King Knútr: Þórarinn loftunga or Hallvarðr or Óttarr or Sigvatr’. The significance of Hallvarðr’s nickname, which is attributed to him in ÓH (ÓH 1941, I, 477), Hkr (ÍF 27, 311) and Knýtl (ÍF 35, 103), is unclear: blesi means ‘blaze (on a horse’s head)’ and the word occurs mostly as a masculine nickname, but who Hárekr was, and why Hallvarðr should be ‘Hárekr’s blaze’, is unknown (see Finnur Jónsson 1907, 170, 198 and Lind 1920-1, col. 136).

Knútsdrápa (‘Drápa about Knútr’) — Hallv KnútdrIII

Matthew Townend 2017, ‘ Hallvarðr háreksblesi, Knútsdrápa’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 230. <> (accessed 2 July 2022)

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Skj: Hallvarðr háreksblesi: Knútsdrápa (AI, 317-18, BI, 293-4); stanzas (if different): 4 | 5

in texts: Flat, Hkr, Knýtl, LaufE, ÓH, ÓHHkr, Skm, SnE

SkP info: III, 230

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance references search files


Hallvarðr háreksblesi’s poem in honour of Knútr inn ríki ‘the Great’ Sveinsson (Hallv Knútdr) is found predominantly in Skm (SnE; five helmingar and an apparent stef). Mss R and contain sts 1-2, 4-5, 7-8, W has sts 1, 4, 8, U sts 4 and 8, A sts 1-2, 4-5, B (and 744ˣ) sts 7-8, and sts 2, 4-5 and 7 are preserved in C. Ms. R is chosen as base ms. in this edition, though A also offers a good text for those stanzas which it contains. Stanza 3 is preserved in Knýtl (mss JÓ (main ms.), 20dˣ, 873ˣ, 41ˣ) and st. 6 in ÓH and Hkr (see mss there); it is Knýtl that gives the poem the title of KnútsdrápaDrápa about Knútr’ (ÍF 35, 103). All stanzas are attributed to Hallvarðr (but see Note to st. 5 [All]). The sequence of the stanzas is inevitably conjectural: the sequence followed here is Jesch’s (2000) slight modification of Skj, rather than Fidjestøl’s (1982, 172) more radical re-ordering (which is followed in Frank 1994b). Metrically, Hallvarðr’s poem is unusual in being composed in the dróttkvætt variant skjálfhent ‘tremble-rhymed’ (see RvHbreiðm Hl 81-2; SnSt Ht 28, 35). According to Snorri (SnE 2007, 18), in skjálfhent the first and third syllables alliterate in the third line of each helmingr. Snorri also draws a distinction between in forna skjálfhenda ‘the ancient tremble-rhyme’ (SnSt Ht 35) and in nýja skjálfhenda ‘the new tremble-rhyme’, which seems to be that in the former the skjálfhent line has aðalhending, whereas in the latter it has skothending (see SnE 2007, 16, 18-20). In Knútdr Hallvarðr uses both forms (for discussion of skjálfhent, see Hofmann 1955, 98-100, Faulkes in SnE 2007, 56-9, 81 and Gade 1995a, 57-9; see also HSt RstI). The likely date for Hallvarðr’s Knútsdrápa is c. 1029, as it postdates Knútr’s annexation of Norway in 1028 and his return to England in 1029, but st. 6 suggests that Norway is only a recent addition to Knútr’s empire (see Townend 2001, 151-2). Hallvarðr’s Knútsdrápa thus comes late in the body of poems composed about the king, and, as will be seen from some of the Notes below, draws on earlier panegyrics for Knútr by poets such as Óttarr svarti ‘the Black’ (Ótt KnútdrI) and Þórarinn loftunga ‘Praise-tongue’ (Þloft HflI). In terms of content, the poem as preserved, and as reconstructed here,  presents Knútr’s voyage westwards to England (sts 1-3), a battle scene (st. 4), Knútr’s dominion over England, Denmark and Norway (sts 5-6), his piety and generosity (st. 7) and his Christian kingship (st. 8, probably the poem’s stef ‘refrain’). Stanzas 1-3 are in the past tense, 4-8 in the present tense (though see Note to 6/1, 2). One of the most remarkable features of the poem is Hallvarðr’s juxtaposition of Christian idioms and ideas with kennings and properties drawn from Norse pagan mythology (see e.g. sts 5, 6, 7) – all the more remarkable when one considers that Knútr was a king famed for his Christian piety, and that Hallvarðr’s poem may well have been performed in the ecclesiastical city of Winchester (see Townend 2001, 168-78). Helpful parallel texts and discussions of the poem can also be found in Frank (1994b) and Jesch (2000).

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