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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Brúðkaupsvísur — Anon BrúðvVII

Anonymous Poems

Valgerður Erna Þorvaldsdóttir 2007, ‘(Introduction to) Anonymous, Brúðkaupsvísur’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 527-53.


BrúðkaupsvísurVísur about a Wedding’ (Anon Brúðv) is an anonymous poem belonging to the corpus of Christian skaldic poetry about miracles of the Virgin Mary. Other poems in this category are Anon Gyð, Anon Vitn and Anon Mv I-III. Brúðv is based on a legend in Maríu saga (Schottmann 1973, 354-7; ÍM II, 128). The legend existed in various versions in the Middle Ages. According to Schottmann, the poem is largely based on the D-version of the legend, printed in Unger’s edn of Maríu saga (Mar) (Mar 1871, 118-20) but uses motifs from several other versions as well (Schottmann 1973, 355-6). A wealthy young man has devoted himself to Mary and spends hours each day singing her praise. (In the D-version of the prose legend, and in several others, he is said to be a klerkr ‘cleric, scholar’, and Brúðv seems to follow this line to some extent.) His kinsmen urge him to get married and finally manage to persuade him to betroth himself to a girl from a rich family. On the way to the wedding feast, the young man stops to pray to Mary in a church, but falls asleep during the service. (In the D-version of the prose text, he is actually at the wedding ceremony when he remembers he has not sung his service in honour of Mary, and he goes off to church, telling the wedding party to wait for him.) Mary appears to him in a dream, accusing him of having broken all his promises to her and betrayed her. She tells him to choose between herself and his human fiancée. On waking up, the young man calls off the wedding and goes into the wilderness to devote himself to a life in service of the Virgin.

Brúðv comprises 33 sts, of which the first and last seem to echo one another. The poem starts with an invocation to God in the first helmingr and to Christ in the second. The poet alludes to the story of Creation with the phrase sá er skóp þjóð ‘who created people’ (1/2), clarifying that by jöfurr aldar ‘prince of men’, he is referring to God rather than Christ. References to the impending Doomsday and the end of the world are found at the very end of the poem, in st. 33, where the poet again calls upon Christ and God. The beginning of the poem is linked to the Creation; with the help of the Holy Father and Son, the poet will create his work. The end of the poem is linked to Doomsday and the end of the world, as the poet asks God and Christ to make his ‘words of glory last as long as the world exists’ (dýrðar orð endaz meðan veröld stendr), until God invites all men to join him on Judgement Day. The poem thus reflects the history of the world, from the day of Creation until Doomsday. There are verbal similarities in the two sts as well: the poet plays with the words orðfall ‘lack of words’ in st. 1 and fall ‘end of the poem’ in the final l. of st. 33, linking the two sts even more closely. In st. 2 he dedicates the poem to Mary and asks her to help him compose as best he can. The legend itself is introduced in st. 3, and the characteristics of the young man in sts. 4-8. The story proper is told in sts. 9-14, followed by Mary’s monologue in sts. 15-20. The young man wakes up in st. 21 and the narrative continues until st. 27 where it ends with the young man leaving his friends and family and devoting his life to Mary in the desert, away from human society and earthly matters. The poet addresses women in his audience in st. 28 and prays to Mary and Christ to grant him more time to sing their praise in poetry. The next sts, 29-31, are a prayer to Mary, while in st. 32 the poet advises his fellow men to direct their prayers to the holy mother and her son, Jesus Christ, before turning to Christ and God himself in the final st.

Schottmann (1973, 357-9) expressed a rather negative view of the poem’s literary merits, considering that the narrative was broken up into Momentbilder ‘momentary images’ and was full of tautologies, partly on account of its many kennings, mostly for men, women, the Virgin Mary, God and Christ (cf. Jón Helgason’s listing in ÍM II, 128-9).

The author of Brúðv is unknown, and its date of composition can only be determined from evidence from within the poem. Jón Helgason (ÍM II, 128) pointed out that there are old forms of pronouns and adjectives, as well as older forms of verbs, suggesting that the original version of the poem should be dated to the C13th. Here, however, the poem has been judged to date from the C14th. Most of the features that Jón Helgason considered early involve rhymes that would have worked in the C13th, but not later (e.g. 5/7, 17/2, 17/3, 17/8, 20/2, 21/5, 22/8). Against this, and in support of a C14th date, are the many oddly-formed kennings, inaccurate rhymes and metrical violations, as well as the presence of vocabulary not attested elsewhere until after the Middle Ages (e.g. fráleit 23/6, var 30/3). Late or inaccurate rhymes are at 2/6, 19/1, 20/8, 21/5, 25/8, 26/8 and 28/6. An additional, but extrinsic argument in favour of a C14th date for Brúðv is its Marian context; most extant skaldic versions of Marian legends date from this period. Brúðv is not included in Finnur Jónsson’s Skj, although it is a skaldic poem, nor in Wrightson’s edn of Fourteenth-century Icelandic Verse on the Virgin Mary, on the grounds that it was most likely composed later, in the mid or late C15th (Wrightson 2001, xv).

The poem is preserved in AM 721 4° (721, c. 1500-25) on fols 14v-15r. The writing is fairly clear and easy to read, but parts of the leaves have been damaged so that some words or parts of ll. are illegible. Three paper mss derive from 721. AM 1032 4°ˣ (1032ˣ, c. 1700-25), is a paper copy of 721, written for Árni Magnússon. The ms. is a collection of Christian poems from before the Reformation in the 1550s. The poems are written on the verso side, leaving the recto side blank. Brúðv is on pp. 97v-112v. That part of the ms. was probably originally a part of AM 710 4°ˣ (Kålund 1888-94, II, 125; ÍM II, 127). JS 399 a-b 4°ˣ consists of two parcels of paper transcriptions of miscellaneous Christian poetry, written in the C18th and C19th by various scribes. Brúðv was written in the C19th by Jón Sigurðsson in JS 399 b 4°ˣ (399a-bˣ). His transcription is a normalised text of the poem and seems to be largely based on 1032ˣ. Jón suggested alternative readings in the margin or gives the reading of 1032ˣ in the margin, if he chose another reading for the main text. Lbs 2166 4°ˣ (2166ˣ) is also a collection of poetry and other writings, written by three hands from 1885-1920. The text of Brúðv is written by Jón Þorkelsson and seems to be based on 399a-bˣ. The text is normalised as in 399a-bˣ. Often the variants in the margins of 399a-bˣ are chosen for the main text, but the original reading is mentioned in the margin. Jón has tried to archaise his text, e.g. by correcting words like eg, og, þig and to ek, ok, þik and at. Since 721 is by far the oldest ms., and all the other mss are derived from it, it has been chosen as the main ms. for this edn. The paper copies have been used selectively when 721 is defective.

The title ‘Af einu ævintýri Brúðkaupsvísur’ is written in a C17th hand on top of fol. 14v in 721, but the poem starts at mid page. The title is found in the other mss as well, with slight variations. In 399a-bˣ the title is af einu æfintýri Brúðkaupsvísur ‘From a certain tale – Verses about a Wedding’ (Jo᷎fur gefi upphaf, o.s. frv.) but 2166ˣ gives it as Maríuvísur (Af einu æfintýri brúðkaupsvísur) ‘Verses about Mary (From a certain tale – Verses about a Wedding)’.

The poem was edited by Jón Helgason in ÍM II and Jón Þorkelsson (1888, 98) printed the first st. As far as can be established, the present edn is the first to offer a translation of the poem into any modern language.

Brúðv is in the difficult hálfhneppt (‘half-curtailed’) metre. There can be five, six or seven syllables in each l., but the word preceding the final syllable in a l. must be either a monosyllable or a disyllabic word with a short stem (SnE 1999, 32; Metr.; Turville-Petre 1976, xxxi-xxxii).


  1. Bibliography
  2. Schottmann, Hans. 1973. Die isländische Mariendichtung. Untersuchungen zur volkssprachigen Mariendichtung des Mittelalters. Münchner germanistische Beiträge 9. Munich: Fink.
  3. Turville-Petre, Gabriel. 1976. Scaldic Poetry. Oxford: Clarendon.
  4. Wrightson, Kellinde, ed. 2001. Fourteenth-Century Icelandic Verse on the Virgin Mary: Drápa af Maríugrát, Vitnisvísur af Maríu, Maríuvísur I-III. Viking Society for Northern Research Text Series 14. University College London: Viking Society for Northern Research.
  5. ÍM = Jón Helgason, ed. 1936-8. Íslenzk miðaldarkvæði: Islandske digte fra senmiddelalderen. 2 vols. Copenhagen: Munksgaard.
  6. Jón Þorkelsson [J. Thorkelsson]. 1888. Om digtningen på Island i det 15. og 16. århundrede. Copenhagen: Høst & søns forlag.
  7. Kålund, Kristian. 1888-94. Katalog over den Arnamagnæanske håndskriftsamling. 2 vols. Copenhagen: Gyldendal.
  8. SnE 1999 = Snorri Sturluson. 1999. Edda: Háttatal. Ed. Anthony Faulkes. Rpt. with addenda and corrigenda. University College London: Viking Society for Northern Research.
  9. Internal references
  10. Not published: do not cite (RunVI)
  11. Katrina Attwood 2007, ‘(Introduction to) Anonymous, Gyðingsvísur’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 515-26.
  12. Kari Ellen Gade 2007, ‘(Introduction to) Anonymous, Vitnisvísur af Máríu’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 739-57.
  13. Not published: do not cite ()

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