Kari Ellen Gade 2017, ‘Metre’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols [check printed volume for citation].
As pointed out in Sections 2 (above) and 8 (below), much of the poetry edited in the present volume is metrically irregular, and it is often difficult to put a label on the metre in which a stanza is composed because the same stanza may consist of half-lines in fornyrðislag, kviðuháttr, málaháttr and ljóðaháttr. Hence the present section will not attempt to assign each stanza and poem to a specific metre, but rather try to give an overview of the metrical developments that can be detected within this poetic corpus and offer tentative explanations for the plethora of metres the stanzas display.
Because the manuscripts in which the poetry is preserved are young (see Section 4 above), the extant manuscripts have usually gone through several stages of reworking, with individual scribes often miscopying or changing the text to incorporate later linguistic forms and new metrical features. Sometimes such changes are fairly easy to detect. For example, even though scribes still recognised a form such as the negative clitic ‑at appended to a finite verb, they would routinely modernise and replace the clitic with the negation eigi/ei or ekki. Syntactic simplification, especially the insertion of personal pronouns, is also extremely common. The following line from Hálf serves to illustrate this: Hálf 57/1 Bað hann ekki við dauða. This Type A3*-line is hypermetrical (málaháttr), but if we delete the pronoun hann ‘he’ and replace the negation ekki ‘not’ with the clitic ‑at, the line becomes a regular Type A3 fornyrðislag line: Baðat við dauða. Sometimes a scribe would change a word in an odd half-line, which would result in another change in the following, even half-line. In the earliest manuscript (603) of Svart Skauf, for example, st. 3/7-8 reads as follows: þrír yrmlingar | og þeira dóttir (Types D, aA2). In the later manuscript of the same poem, Rask87ˣ, the alliterating numeral þrír ‘three’ has been replaced by the adjective armastir ‘the most miserable’, probably to achieve double alliteration in an odd line, which prompted the insertion of the numeral ein ‘one’ in the even line to preserve the alliteration between the two half-lines. The new long-line, armastir yrmlingar | og ein þeira dóttir, defies metrical classification.
It is clear that, at least during the fourteenth century, alliteration was losing its structuring power and had been reduced to a mere adornment. Words belonging to lexico-grammatical categories that normally would be too weakly stressed to alliterate, such as the conjunction at ‘that’, are used in stressed positions, as in Heiðr 36/3-4 at þér skuluð | allir liggja (Types A2k, A2). Often alliteration is found on the second rather than on the first lift, as in Frið 30/1-2 Hafa skal ek baug | ór beggja höndum (Types E, aA), and there is an increasing amount of double alliteration in even lines (e.g. Hálf 17/1-2 Ásmundr hefir | oss um unnit). In some cases, such double alliterations are demonstrably scribal, as in Svart Skauf 5/4 where ms. 603 reads sem eftir sitja (Type aA2), which has been changed to sem eftir eru (a ljóðaháttr half-line) in the younger manuscript Rask87ˣ. To be sure, alliteration on the second lift in odd and even lines, double alliteration in even lines and, occasionally, alliteration on words that ought to be weakly stressed all occur in the poetry in the Poetic Edda as well (see Suzuki 2014, 339-41), but by no means with the frequency encountered in the fornaldarsögur poetry. In some cases alliteration is found in even lines only, and there is no alliteration between the two half-lines, as in HjǪ 38/1-4 Statt upp, Hástigi, | ok gef rúm gestum | mönnum velbornum | furðu farmóðum, and in other instances we appear to be dealing with rhythmical prose, with or without alliteration: Heiðr 116 Eigi gera Húnar oss felmtraða, | né hornbogar yðar; HjǪ 22/1-4 Hver ertu, | þrifnust fljóða, | hýrlunduð með kinn | ok fagra lokka?
As far as phonetic changes are concerned, the change that had the greatest impact on metre was desyllabification of final ‑r after a consonant (-r > ‑ur | C–), which took place during the fourteenth century, although the overt representation of excrescent ‑u- only gradually becomes widespread in the manuscripts (see ANG §161). Desyllabification added new syllables and new metrical positions to a line, which can be illustrated by Ǫrv 54/1 Gekk skarpr Þórðr. This is a catalectic kviðuháttr Type C-line with three metrical positions, but if skarpr is desyllabified to skarpur, we achieve a fornyrðislag Type B-line (Gekk skarpur Þórðr), if Þórðr rather than skarpr is desyllabified, the line becomes a fornyrðislag Type C-line (Gekk skarpr Þórður), and if both words are desyllabified, the line turns into a málaháttr Type aA-line with anacrusis (Gekk skarpur Þórður). After desyllabification, a fornyrðislag B-line, such as GunnLeif Merl I 9/5 Hét yngva vinr, would be transformed into a ljóðaháttr half-line, Hét yngva vinur, ending in a short-stemmed disyllable, as would an E/D4-line such as Merl I 39/6 mannfjǫlða kemr (> mannfjǫlða kemur). In the poetic corpus edited in the present volume, clear instances of desyllabification can be confirmed for Svart Skauf (also corroborated by the date of this poem), and for the stanzas attributed to Hreggviðr in Gǫngu-Hrólfs saga (GHr sts 1-3), which must also date from the fourteenth century.
Below follows a brief outline of the metres used in the poetry edited in this volume, namely, dróttkvætt with variants, fornyrðislag, kviðuháttr, málaháttr and ljóðaháttr (for a more detailed discussion, see Section 4 of the General Introduction in SkP I, li-lxvii). Two stanzas, Frið 9 and Sǫrla 1, are composed in runhent and Haðarlag respectively (see SkP I, lix-lx, lxiv-lxv, lxvii).
A dróttkvætt stanza consists of eight lines that are usually divided metrically and syntactically into two four-line half-stanzas (helmingar), and each dróttkvætt line consists of six metrical positions, with two alliterative staves in the odd lines alliterating with the first stressed syllable (hǫfuðstafr ‘main stave’) in the following even line (see SkP I, lx-lxi, lxv-lxvii). Each line ends in a cadence – a long syllable followed by an enclitic short syllable – and each line contains two internal rhymes (hendingar) that consist of different vowels and similar post-vocalic environment (skothending) in odd lines and similar vowels and post-vocalic environment (aðalhending) in even lines. The second hending in each line always falls on the long syllable in the cadence. Consider the following couplet (internal rhymes are italicised):
Annat var, þá er inni.
Ormr at Hildar stormi
Very few of the stanzas edited in this volume are composed in regular dróttkvætt (e.g. Gautr 7, ÞJ 1-2); rather, they show irregularities in the distribution and quality of internal rhymes found in the dróttkvætt variants háttlausa ‘formless’ (SnSt Ht 67III) and munnvǫrp ‘mouth-throwings’ (SnSt Ht 66III). See, e.g. Án 1, 3, Frið 2-3, 5-7, 10, 12-13, 15, 28-9, 31, 33, 37, OStór 2, 4-8, 11. All stanzas in Ragn (and RagnSon st. 1), aside from sts 38-40, which are in fornyrðislag, are in variants of dróttkvætt, and these stanzas constitute the bulk of the stanzas with six metrical positions. Anon Krm (Ragn) is very regular metrically (aside from the use of internal rhyme, see Introduction to Anon Krm), and, judging from the metrical types and metrical fillers used in that poem, it was not composed by the same poet(s) who composed the other stanzas in Ragn (which is also supported by the manuscript evidence; see Introduction to Anon Krm).
This is the Norse variant of the Germanic long-line, in which each half-line has four metrical positions and alliteration – one or two staves in the odd lines alliterating with (usually) the first stressed syllable in the even line, which has one alliterative stave as in dróttkvætt (see SkP I, lii-lv, lxiv-lxvii):
GunnLeif Merl II 7/1-2 Illr es annarr; | allir svelta
The bulk of the poetry in the fornaldarsögur is based on fornyrðislag, but in many cases the metre is highly irregular, and we often find catalectic lines and kviðuháttr lines, málaháttr lines, and ljóðaháttr half-lines interspersed with fornyrðislag. Of the longer poems, GunnLeif Merl I and II 1-61, 68 are in fornyrðislag, as is most of Starkaðr’s Víkarsbálkr (Gautr 9-24, 33-41), Ǫrvar-Oddr’s so-called Ævidrápa (Ǫrv 71-141) and Svart Skauf, although the latter also contains quite a few hypermetrical lines and some hypometrical lines, and shows clear signs of a late date of composition. Some of the odd fornyrðislag lines in GunnLeif Merl I-II are rather peculiar, because they are characterised by a tendency for the second alliteration in Types E and B (and C2) to fall on the second lift rather than the first, as in Merl I 31/1 stór verða rǫk (see also Merl I 38/1, 52/7, 86/1, 91/7, 96/1, 101/7, Merl II 4/5, 44/5). This is unusual in such an early poem, and it could be a conscious choice by Gunnlaugr (placing additional stress right before the metrical casesura) and also explain why he switches to catalectic kviðuháttr at the end of Merl II (sts 62-7). Both Merl I (st. 43/5, 7) and Merl II (sts 46/5, 7, 9, 11, 47/3) also contain kviðuháttr lines interspersed with fornyrðislag.
This metre is a variant of fornyrðislag in which all odd lines are catalectic and have three metrical positions, while the even lines have four metrical positions and the same structure as even fornyrðislag lines (see SkP I, lx, lxv-lxvii):
There are no separate poems in kviðuháttr edited in the present volume, but GunnLeif Merl II 62-7 and part of Starkaðr’s Vík (Gautr 25-32) are in kviðuháttr. Like Merl I-II, the latter also has kviðuháttr lines mixed with fornyrðislag (sts 9/1, 3, 10/7, 11/1, 14/3, 18/3, 23/3, 35/3, 37/3, 5, 7, 38/7, 40/3, 41/3, 7). Other stanzas in kviðuháttr are Hrólf 7 and Ǫrv 37, and, as mentioned above, many of the stanzas in fornyrðislag contain kviðuháttr lines.
Málaháttr is an expanded variant of fornyrðislag with five (rarely six) metrical positions and alliteration usually falling as in fornyrðislag, although the main stave in even lines may occur further back than the first stressed syllable (see SkP I, lv-lvii):
Ket 5/5-6 Fríðmálum mæla | mun ek eigi við Finn ragan
The metre is characterised by an increase in the inventory of lines with anacrusis and by more syllables both in anacrusis and in internal dips, many of which carry secondary stress. Because of the scribes’ (and poets’) tendency to insert additional words into poetic lines (see above) and linguistic changes taking place during the fourteenth century, such as desyllabification of final ‑r (see above), many of the lines which earlier may have been fornyrðislag or kviðuháttr lines were turned into málaháttr during manuscript transmission. Hence, even though there are very few stanzas in the present corpus that are composed in fairly ‘pure’ málaháttr (see, e.g. HjǪ 8-9, 17, 20, 24, 30, 40-42b, 44, 46, Ket 5, 14-15, 17, 26, 34-41), málaháttr lines in general abound in poetry from the fornaldarsögur.
This metre, which is unique to Scandinavia, is characterised by the sequence of two alliterative half-lines, with alliteration as in fornyrðislag, kviðuháttr and málaháttr, followed by a full line with (usually) internal alliteration. The full line ends either in a monosyllable or in a disyllable with a short stem, unless the line-final word is a compound (see SkP I, lvi-lvii):
Gautr 3/1-3 Allar vættir, | er í jörðu búa,
vilja Fjölmóðar fé fara
A good deal of scholarly attention has been devoted to the structure of the full line (cf. Sievers 1879, 353-72; 1893, 83-9; Heusler 1956, 239-40; overview in von See 1967, 54-5; Suzuki 2014, 577-625), but so far without yielding a satisfactory description of the metrical structure of ljóðaháttr half-lines, which is very free (cf. Sievers 1879, 372-4; 1893, 89-90; Heusler 1956, 236-9; Suzuki 2014, 665-739). In general, all metrical types found in fornyrðislag, kviðuháttr and málaháttr odd and even half-lines can also occur in odd and even ljóðaháttr half-lines, but in addition, this metre allows half-lines that have no correspondence in the other Old Norse alliterative metres, such as lines consisting only of two syllables (Hávm 76/1 (NK 29) Deyr fé ‘Cattle dies’), lines that are longer than in other metres (Hávm 108/4 (NK 33) ef ec Gunnlaðar né nytac ‘if I do not enjoy Gunnlǫð’), and, above all, half-lines that contain an abundance of short-stemmed, stressed disyllables that mirror the line-end of full lines, such as Hávm 15/1 (NK 19) Þagalt oc hugalt lit. ‘silent and thoughtful’, Vafþr 10/4 (NK 46) ofrmælgi mikil ‘abundant chatter’, Vafþr 23/4 (NK 48) himin hverfa ‘travel the sky’, Hávm 18/4 (NK 19) hverio geði ‘what kind of sense’ and Vafþr 8/5 (NK 46) hefi ec lengi farit ‘I have travelled for a long time’ (see also Gautr 3/2 er í jörðu búa above). Most of these disyllables were likely resolved, and if so, many are in violation of the rule that the second lift in alliterative half-lines ought not to resolve.
There are around sixty stanzas in ljóðaháttr consisting of two half-lines plus a full line in the poetic corpus from the fornaldarsögur, and almost half of those stanzas come from Gestumblindi’s Heiðreks gátur (Heiðr 48-53, 55-63, 65-73, 77, 79, 81). The remaining ljóðaháttr stanzas are found in Gautr (sts 1-6), HjǪ (sts 4-5, 10-11) and Ket (sts 4, 13, 16, 18, 22-3, 27-33). All of these sequences of ljóðaháttr stanzas are recited in connection with gnomic poetry (Heiðr) and encounters between a protagonist and supernatural beings (HjǪ, Ket; cf. the so-called Hrímgerðarmál in HHj 12-30); in the satirical Dalafíflar episode with semi-proverbial content in Gautr, the metre may have been used consciously to underscore the parody that plays out.
What seems to have escaped attention, however, is that a number of lines in the fornaldarsögur poetry (and in such late poetry as Svart Skauf) that are often regarded as metrically irregular are similar in structure to ljóðaháttr half-lines, and particularly to the lines with two short stressed syllables given above. Consider the following lines, which will have to suffice as examples of this: Fríð 1/3 gamanferðum, GrL 7/5 nauðig gefin, Hálf 3/8 granir þínar, Heiðr 111/5 Þar opt Gotar, HjǪ 32/6 þeir sem beztir eru, HjǪ 29/8 búaz mega, Ket 20/6 á hólm til sela; cf. Svart Skauf 1/3 leingi búið, 24/3 upp og ofan, 21/6 ferlíki mikið, 31/7 rifið af þönum, 10/7 en að höndum kominn, 12/3 sem seggir munu, 41/4 hart til bana.
It would appear, then, that the development that took place linguistically and in the course of the written and oral transmission of the stanzas in the fornaldarsögur (i.e. syllables added through desyllabification of final -r, insertion of personal pronouns, negations, etc.) not only served to relax metrical rules, but the lines that were generated through these changes could easily be accommodated by metrical patterns that already existed, such as those found in the hypermetrical málaháttr and in the ljóðaháttr half-lines. The new patterns most likely reinforced the use of these metrical types and contributed to later poets availing themselves of them in their poetic compositions when they augmented the corpus of fornaldarsögur poetry, often creating a mixture of metres within one poem.
The question is whether metrical analysis, despite all uncertainties, can tell us anything about the unity of the longer poems in the fornaldarsögur and about the age of the poetry these sagas contain. In the following, we shall take a brief look at two longer poems, Starkaðr’s Vík (Gautr sts 9-41) and Ǫrvar-Oddr’s Ævdr (Ǫrv sts 71-141), as well as the poetry in Ásmundar saga kappabana (Ásm sts 1-6, 7-10), and attempt to shed some light on these issues.
The first sixteen stanzas of Vík (Vík 1-16 (Gautr 9-24)) are composed in fairly regular fornyrðislag with some lines in kviðuháttr (see above). That is also the case with the last eight stanzas (Vík 25-33 (Gautr 33-41)), although the final stanza (Gautr 41) is metrically highly irregular, and Gautr 24 and 33 also contain metrically suspect lines. The middle section of the poem, Gautr 25-32, is composed in kviðuháttr, however, and earlier editors have considered these stanzas interpolations in Vík, particularly because they are found in only one manuscript (ms. 590b-cˣ; see ‘Introduction to Vík 17-24 (Gautr 25-32)’ and Section 2 above). The kviðuháttr section of Vík is metrically very regular, and verbal echoes from such longer kviðuháttr poems as Þjóðólfr’s Ynglingatal (Þjóð YtI) and Nóregs konungatal (Anon NktII), show that the poet who composed these stanzas must have been familiar with this type of genealogical poetry: Gautr 27/7 echoes Nkt 39/5II sá réð einn and Gautr 28/1, 30/1, 32/1 echoes Þjóð Yt 26/5I Réð Ôleifr. Hence the kviðuháttr stanzas in Vík appear to have been composed by one poet, and it is likely that they belonged to the same poem. If we look at the transitional stanzas between the sections in fornyrðislag and the kviðuháttr part, Gautr 24 and 33, both stanzas contain lines that are metrically suspect: st. 24/1 Sneidda ek honum is a ljóðaháttr half-line, and st. 33/2 valamálm is a kviðuháttr odd line with suspended resolution in metrical positions 1-2. In addition, st. 33/7 is repeated as st. 34/1. Vík appears to end in medias res (see Note to Gautr 41 [All]), and the last stanza is also highly irregular: l. 2 er mik sjá is catalectic and there is no alliteration between ll. 1 and 2; l. 3 ljótan skolt is kviðuháttr, as is l. 7 hrjúfan háls, and l. 6 hár úlfgrátt is also catalectic. From a metrical point of view, then, it looks as though the extant Vík indeed consisted of at least two poems, one (or more) in fornyrðislag and one in kviðuháttr, and that these poems were sewn together at a later stage by someone who composed Gautr 24 and 33 to bridge the gaps, and who possibly added a final stanza (Gautr 41) to conclude the poem.
The seventy-one stanzas of Ǫrvar-Oddr’s Ævdr (Ǫrv sts 71-141) are distributed unevenly across the manuscript witnesses and not all appear in all manuscripts (see ‘Introduction to ǪrvOdd Ævidrápa 1-71 (Ǫrv sts 71-141)’ and the table there). All stanzas are composed in fornyrðislag, but whereas Ǫrv 71-123 are fairly regular metrically, sts 124-33 display metrical features that distinguish them from the earlier and later stanzas in the poem. In sts 71-123 there are lines that correspond structurally to ljóðaháttr half-lines (e.g. sts 81/6, 90/4), but a section of the poem that is preserved only in the younger manuscripts, Ǫrv 124-33 (see Note to Ǫrv 124 [All]), abounds in metrical irregularities, beginning with st. 124, in which ll. 5-8 (see Note there) appear to have been adapted from HHund II 43. There is a wealth of hypermetrical aA-lines (Ǫrv 126/3, 127/4, 128/8, 129/4, 132/7), one hypermetrical D*-line (Ǫrv 133/7), ljóðaháttr half-lines (e.g. Ǫrv 125/2, 126/2, 132/8, 133/6) and hypometrical lines (e.g. Ǫrv 125/1, 126/5, 127/2, 130/7, 133/1, 5), some of whose metricity may be restored if we assume desyllabification. Other lines are simply unmetrical: st. 131/5 félaga hans níu, st. 132/4 gekk skegg af flagði, and there is no alliteration between ll. 1-2 in st. 129. Ǫrv 134-41 are again quite regular metrically, displaying none of the features that characterise Ǫrv 124-33. There can be no doubt that we are dealing with different poets and different layers of transmission here, and even if we take textual corruption into account (a few manuscripts show significant variants), it is quite unlikely that Ǫrv 71-123/134-41 and Ǫrv 123-33 were composed at the same time.
Ásmundar saga kappabana (Ásm) contains ten stanzas (Ásm sts 1-10) allegedly composed by the two half-brothers Ásmundr (Ásm sts 7-10) and Hildibrandr (the so-called ‘Hildibrandr’s Death-song’; Ásm sts 1-6), and all stanzas are preserved in one vellum manuscript, ms. 7 (see Introduction to the saga). All stanzas are composed in fornyrðislag. Ásm sts 1-6 are extremely tight and regular metrically, and they clearly belong to the same poem. Stanza 4 contains an echo from the Old High German Hildebrandslied (see Note to st. 4/1-2), and st. 5/1-2 echoes Sigsk 65/1-2. Metrically, sts 1-6 bear all the marks of belonging to an older poem (see also Introduction to the saga). The remaining stanzas (Ásm sts 7-10) are composed in fornyrðislag as well, but they are by no means as regular metrically as sts 1-6. Stanzas 7/2 and 8/5 are ljóðaháttr half-lines, st. 7/3-4 are texually corrupt and cannot be restored, sts 8/1 and 9/3 are in málaháttr (Types B* and C*), and st. 10/2 is hypometrical. Hence we can only conclude that the stanzas in Ásm were composed at different times and by at least two different poets. While sts 1-6 must belong to one older poem, sts 7-10 display features that are younger, and they must have been composed at a later point in time.
We see, then, that in some instances close metrical analysis may yield valuable information about the unity and the age of the poetry in the fornaldarsögur, despite the metrical difficulties compounded by the young manuscripts and textual corruption. Yet it is equally clear that the use of metrical criteria for establishing dates and provenance for this poetic corpus will in most cases prove futile.
Here and in the following, alliterating letters are emphasised (bolded). For the metrical types referred to in this section, see the overview in the General Introduction to SkP I, liii-liv.