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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Anon Lil 98VII

Martin Chase (ed.) 2007, ‘Anonymous Poems, Lilja 98’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 673-5.

Anonymous PoemsLilja

text and translation

Sá, er óðinn skal vandan velja,
velr svá mörg í kvæði að selja
hulin fornyrðin; trautt má telja;
tel eg þenna svá skilning dvelja.
Vel því að hier má skýr orð skilja,
skili þjóðir minn ljósan vilja;
tal óbreytiligt veitt að vilja;
vil eg, að kvæðið heiti Lilja.

Sá, er skal velja vandan óðinn, velr að selja í kvæði svá mörg hulin fornyrðin; trautt má telja; tel eg, þenna dvelja skilning svá. Því að hier má vel skilja skýr orð, skili þjóðir ljósan vilja minn, óbreytiligt tal veitt að vilja; eg vil, að kvæðið heiti Lilja.
‘He who must execute the elaborate poem chooses to put into the verse so many obscure archaisms one can hardly count them; I say that he thus impedes understanding. Because one here can understand clear words well, let people understand my transparent intent, this ordinary speech given freely; I desire that the poem be called ‘Lilja’.

notes and context

The skald cannot completely free himself of the aesthetic that elegant poetry (vandan óðinn) requires hulin fornyrðin ‘obscure archaisms’, which hinder understanding (dvelja skilning), but he firmly states his own intent to strive for light and clarity (Lie 1952, 78). This st. has sometimes been regarded as a rejection of the use of kennings, but as Meissner (1922, 48-9) points out, the kennings of the poetry of post-conversion Iceland were simple and presented no obstacle to understanding. The impediments to clarity were rather kennings that presented images irrelevant to or in disharmony with the theme of the poetry, and the unnatural w. o. that the use of kennings often necessitated. Foote comments (1982, 123): ‘We may pause to note how this condemnatory st. is dunhent (i.e. with anadiplosis); has end-rhymes aaaa bbbb, where a and b are themselves half-rhymes; has the usual obligatory internal rhymes in each line; has an internal rhyme sequence and a semantic repeat in lines 4 and 5 ... so that in spite of the regular syntactic break between them the two helmingar are intimately linked; and has more music in the last couplet, which has an extra half-rhyme and full rhyme (-breyt-, veit-, heit-) as well as the expected ones (tal, vil-, Lil-). This is a tour de force by which Eysteinn demonstrates how artful poetry can be without recourse to esoteric language’.



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 98: AII, 394-5, BII, 416, Skald II, 228, NN §2629 G.


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