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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Anon Lil 87VII

Martin Chase (ed.) 2007, ‘Anonymous Poems, Lilja 87’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 659-60.

Anonymous PoemsLilja

text and translation

Máría, kreistu mjólk ór brjóstum,
mín drotning, fyrir barni þínu!
Dreyrug föðurnum sýn þú sárin,
sonr Máríu, er naglar skáru!
Eg vænumz, að ykkrum þjóni
eingi kvöl megi drotna leingi,
miskunnar þá er mjúkust renna
merkin slík um himnaríki.

Máría, kreistu mjólk ór brjóstum, mín drotning, fyrir barni þínu! {Sonr Máríu}, er naglar skáru, sýn þú föðurnum dreyrug sárin! Eg vænumz, að eingi kvöl megi leingi drotna þjóni ykkrum, þá er slík mjúkust merkin miskunnar renna um himnaríki.
‘Mary, press milk from your breasts, my queen, in the presence of your child! Son of Mary [= Christ], whom the nails cut, show the Father your bloody wounds! I hope that no torment may long rule over your servant, when such very gentle signs of mercy spread [lit. run] through the kingdom of the heavens.

notes and context

The image of Mary as Our Lady of Mercy pressing milk from her breast was common in the late Middle Ages in both visual art and literature. Cf. the hymn for the feast of the Assumption, Gaude, felici gaudio: O Maria, considera, / Quod propter nos puerpera, / Sis, et quod tua ubera / suxit, qui regit aethera ‘O Mary, consider that for us you became a mother, and that he who rules the heavens sucked your breasts’ (AH 15, 104). Mar 1871, 797 (see also Widding and Bekker-Nielsen 1961-77) contains an anecdote about a sinful monk who is assisted by Mary at his judgement – precisely the situation in which the poet places himself: Guds modir reis þa vpp ok fell a kne fyrir hasæti sins sonar, hon berar sin briost ok talar sua til hans: ‘Minn kęri son, nv verd ek nærri sem skylldut at fylgia framarr miskunn enn rettlęti, þuiat ek ma eigi venda min eyrv fra harmi ok grat þessa vesla mannz, er bidr til min … Vend ægi þinni asionv fra mer, se her þann kuid, er þik bar, se þau briost, er þv saugt, se þessar hendr, er þer þionudv ‘God’s mother then rose up and fell on her knees before the throne of her son: she bares her breast and speaks thus to him: “My dear son, I come nearer, as is appropriate, to advocate mercy rather than justice, because I cannot close my ears to the sorrow and weeping of this wretched man, who prays to me … Do not turn your face away from me, look here at the womb that bore you, look at the breasts you sucked, look at these hands that served you”’. Paasche (1915, 34-5) notes a visual parallel on a C15th altarpiece in Forssa, Sweden, where Mary points to her exposed breast and says to her son in a text banner: Kære son, see uppa brysten min | Myskunda tik offuer værlden for pyna tin ‘Dear son, look upon my breasts; have mercy on the world for the sake of your sufferings’. Jesus says in turn: O fader, for my under | forlat mænnisu syna sunder ‘O Father, for the sake of my wounds, forgive men their sins’. The visual motif was a popular theme for late medieval wall paintings in Scandinavian churches, e.g. Fanefjord Church in Denmark, where a C15th series depicts the Virgin showing her breast to Jesus (as the Man of Sorrows), who then shows his wounds to the enthroned Father (see the online database [, fanefjord p.6/7, image 6]; Saxtorph 1986, 152). The earliest extant visual representation of the iconography combined with text is in a 1370 epitaph in Heilsbronn (Lane 1973, 16). Such depictions first appeared in the North, but their popularity spread south as far as Italy (Williamson 2000, 49-50). The literary source appears to be C12th Libellus de laudibus of Arnaud of Chartres (Ernaldus Bonaevallis, cols 1726-7; Lane 1973, 10). This widely disseminated text was later attributed to S. Bernard and incorporated into the Legenda Aurea (Lane 1973, 10).



Text is based on reconstruction from the base text and variant apparatus and may contain alternative spellings and other normalisations not visible in the manuscript text. Transcriptions may not have been checked and should not be cited.

editions and texts

Skj: Eysteinn Ásgrímsson, Lilja 87: AII, 391, BII, 413, Skald II, 226.


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