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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Heilags anda drápa — Anon HeildrVII

Anonymous Poems

Katrina Attwood 2007, ‘(Introduction to) Anonymous, Heilags anda drápa’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 450-67.


Heilags anda drápaDrápa about the Holy Spirit’ (Anon Heildr) is partially preserved on fol. 10r of AM 757 a 4° (B). Fourteen full sts and four helmingar remain, representing part of the stefjabálkr of a substantial skaldic drápa. The opening is lost in a lacuna before fol. 10r, and B’s text breaks off at 10r, l. 38, at the beginning of Anon Leið. It is not possible to determine the extent of the missing text, though the abbreviated refrains (stef) in sts 2, 10 and 18 suggest that the poem originally had at least two refrains, each of which would have occurred at least three times with seven refrainless sts between them, giving a stefjabálkr of at least forty sts. If the poem was constructed on the model of the C12th Christian drápur, we can postulate an approximate ratio of upphaf : stefjabálkr : slœmr of 1:1.5:1, which would give a total length of some 94 sts, arranged 27:40:27.

The poor state of B means that it has been necessary to rely heavily on previous transcriptions and eds of the poems, in particular the transcription in JS 399 a-b 4°ˣ (399a-bˣ), a collection of transcripts of the Christian poems preserved in B made in the middle of C19th. The transcription of Heildr, unlike those of all of the other B poems, is in two hands, one of which is probably that of Brynjólfur Snorrason, an Icel. student at the Arnamagnæan Institute in Copenhagen from 1842-50 (see Attwood 1996a, 32-3 for a fuller discussion of this attribution). Finnur Jónsson identifies the other hand as that of Jón Þorkelsson (Attwood 1996a, 32). This transcript has been cited selectively in the Readings, where B is defective. Finnur Jónsson’s own diplomatic edn of Heildr in Skj A has also been cited selectively in the Readings, designated BFJ and some use has also been made of Rydberg’s transcription (1907, 1-4), designated BRydberg. Both these eds were made when B was more legible than it is now.

Sveinbjörn Egilsson included Heildr in his edn of Fjøgur gømul kvæði (1844, 52-6), which was prepared as a teaching text for the Lat. School at Bessastaðir. His text made extensive use of the 399a-bˣ transcript. In addition to a conservative, diplomatic transcription of the six poetic texts preserved on fols 10r-14v of B and a detailed discussion of the ms.’s preservation and paleographical features, Hugo Rydberg’s thesis (Rydberg 1907) includes normalised prose arrangements of four of the poems, with Heildr on pp. 45-7. Heildr is also edited by Finnur Jónsson in Skj AII, 160-3 and by E. A. Kock in Skald II, 92-4. An annotated diplomatic transcript of the text in B is presented on pp. 55-60 of the doctoral thesis, Attwood 1996a, and a normalised edn on pp. 151-70. Although the following edn draws on that presented in the thesis, there are significant differences.

The poem’s title is editorial, and was bestowed in the form Heilags anda vísur ‘The Holy Spirit’s vísur’ by Sveinbjörn Egilsson (1844, iii). It has been renamed Heilags anda drápa for this edn, as it is clear that what is left of the poem is part of a drápa with refrain. Heildr itself provides scant dating evidence. A terminus ante quem is provided by B, which can be dated to the late C14th. Although there are few direct borrowings from earlier poems, some aspects of the diction seem to be inspired by the great C12th Christian drápur (see Notes to 2/1 and 10/4), and the poet’s use of the two-refrain drápa structure is also likely to be inspired by these poems. This ed. follows Einar Ólafur Sveinsson in assigning the poem to the later C13th. This dating depends largely on the poem’s subject-matter and on the presence of rhymes such as bryst : þosta (8/7), er : sár- (12/7) and ver : forð- (15/5). Finnur Jónsson (LH II, 112 and n. 1) considered it likely to be slightly later than Anon Líkn. Einar Ólafur has demonstrated (1942) that sts 11-16 are a direct translation of the Lat. Pentecost hymn Veni Creator Spiritus, which is usually ascribed to Hrabanus Maurus (d. 856). The translation is highly accurate and intricate, and is the only example of a metrical work being translated into dróttkvætt verse. Attribution to the later C13th, the period in which, as the dissemination of the Second and Third Grammatical Treatises demonstrates, both knowledge of Lat. poetry and an interest in reproducing it in the vernacular were emerging in scholarly (and therefore religious) contexts in Iceland, seems reasonable.

Heildr is a prayer of praise to the Holy Spirit. It is in dróttkvætt throughout. The tone is elevated, and there are several latinate echoes of biblical or liturgical phrases, such as the rather complex phrase in 3/5-8, where the Spirit is said to have grænkat geðfjöll snjöllu liði blómi siðferðar ‘made green the mind-mountains for wise people with the bloom of moral conduct’, which possibly recalls the Postcommunion Sentence of the Mass for Pentecost. Elsewhere, as in the parallel God-kennings frömuðr hölda, rennir ranns hátunnu regns ‘promoter of men, setter in motion of the house of the high barrel of rain’ (5/2-4) the phrasing recalls, and perhaps outdoes, that of earlier Christian drápur. There are numerous kenning-like periphrases for the Holy Spirit in the poem (see Introduction to this volume), unparalleled elsewhere in the skaldic corpus, which has very few periphrases that can be said to refer specifically to the Holy Spirit (Meissner, 371).

Recent work by Sverrir Tómasson on the influence of music on the composition of skaldic poetry in this period (2003, 87) raises the tantalising possibility that the hymn might have been sung in this translation, but, as Sverrir indicates, this is ultimately unprovable.


  1. Bibliography
  2. Skj A = Finnur Jónsson, ed. 1912-15a. Den norsk-islandske skjaldedigtning. A: Tekst efter håndskrifterne. 2 vols. Copenhagen: Villadsen & Christensen. Rpt. 1967. Copenhagen: Rosenkilde & Bagger.
  3. Skald = Kock, Ernst Albin, ed. 1946-50. Den norsk-isländska skaldediktningen. 2 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  4. Meissner = Meissner, Rudolf. 1921. Die Kenningar der Skalden: Ein Beitrag zur skaldischen Poetik. Rheinische Beiträge und Hülfsbücher zur germanischen Philologie und Volkskunde 1. Bonn and Leipzig: Schroeder. Rpt. 1984. Hildesheim etc.: Olms.
  5. Attwood, Katrina. 1996a. ‘The Poems of MS AM 757a 4to: An Edition and Contextual Study’. Ph.D. thesis. University of Leeds.
  6. Rydberg, Hugo, ed. 1907. ‘Die geistlichen Drápur und Dróttkvættfragmente des Cod. AM 757 4to.’. Ph.D. thesis. University of Lund. Copenhagen: Møller.
  7. LH = Finnur Jónsson. 1920-4. Den oldnorske og oldislandske litteraturs historie. 3 vols. 2nd edn. Copenhagen: Gad.
  8. Sveinbjörn Egilsson, ed. 1844. Fjøgur gømul kvæði. Boðsrit til að hlusta á þá opinberu yfirheyrslu í Bessastaða Skóla þann 22-29 mai 1844. Viðeyar Klaustri: prentuð af Helga Helgasyni, á kostnað Bessastaða Skóla. Bessastaðir: Helgi Helgason.
  9. Internal references
  10. Katrina Attwood 2007, ‘(Introduction to) Anonymous, Leiðarvísan’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 137-78.
  11. George S. Tate 2007, ‘(Introduction to) Anonymous, Líknarbraut’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 228-86.

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