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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Ólhelg Lv 4I

Russell Poole (ed.) 2012, ‘Óláfr inn helgi Haraldsson, Lausavísur 4’ in Diana Whaley (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 1: From Mythical Times to c. 1035. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 1. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 521.

Óláfr inn helgi HaraldssonLausavísur

Vandfœrra es várrar
varrbliks fyr Stað miklu
— þreyk of aldr — til eyjar
aurborðs, an vas forðum.
Nús fyr hǫfn, þás hafna
hlyn* sævar mák æva,
Gunnr hvítinga, grjóti
geirþorps boða orpit.

Es miklu vandfœrra aurborðs fyr Stað til várrar {eyjar {varrbliks}}, an vas forðum; þreyk of aldr. Nús grjóti orpit fyr hǫfn {boða {geirþorps}}, þás mák æva hafna {hlyn* sævar}, {Gunnr hvítinga}.

It is much harder for the plank [ship] to pass in front of Stad to {our [my] island {of the wake-glitter}} [GOLD > WOMAN] than it was formerly; I yearn through my lifetime. Now rock is dumped in front of the harbour {against the messenger {of the spear-settlement}} [SHIELD > WARRIOR = Óláfr], when I can never beach {the maple of the sea} [SHIP], {Gunnr <valkyrie> of drinking-horns} [WOMAN].

Mss: Flat(187ra) (ÓH)

Readings: [2] varr‑: ‘var‑’ Flat    [6] hlyn*: hlunn Flat    [7] Gunnr: gunn‑ Flat

Editions: Skj AI, 221, Skj BI, 211, Skald I, 110, NN §§597, 1110, 2773B; Fms 5, 231-2, Fms 12, 114, ÓH 1941, II, 686, Flat 1860-8, III, 239-40.

Context: This stanza occurs as a sequel to Óláfr’s meeting with the merchants (see Context to Lv 2). During a voyage along the Norwegian coast north of Staðr (Stad), Óláfr passes the estate of Þorvarðr galli. His men ask if he wishes to land and meet Steinvǫr, his former beloved. The king replies with this stanza.

Notes: [2] Stað ‘Stad’: Presumably Stad, or Stadlandet, a headland in Sogn og Fjordane, Norway, close to a notoriously dangerous passage for ships. The localisation of the girl in this story (Steinvǫr) is not entirely consistent. Anon Liðs 9/8, also preserved in the Styrmir extracts (Flat 1860-8, III, 238), places her to the north of Staðr when she is residing with her father or guardian, whereas Styrmir’s prose narrative has her moving to reside there after her marriage (ibid., 237). Taken in itself, the present stanza dwells on the separation of lovers without specifying the exact geography. — [2, 3] eyjar varrbliks ‘island of the wake-glitter [GOLD > WOMAN]’: (a) Adopted here, following Kock (NN §597), is the minor emendation or normalisation of ms. ‘var’ to varr-, the combination form of vǫrr ‘wake of a ship, oar-stroke’, which is quite common in kennings (see LP: 2. vǫrr). (b) Finnur Jónsson appears to take the word as vǫr ‘landing-place, land’, forming a sea-kenning with aurborðs ‘ship’s plank’ (LP: 1. aurborð, ey, varblik), though this stanza is not cited in LP: 2. vǫr f. ‘landing-place’; see further Note to l. 4.  — [3] þreyk of aldr ‘I yearn through my lifetime’: Utterances similar to this are encountered frequently in skaldic mansǫngr (love-song; cf. the citations by Bjarni Einarsson 1961, 23-37). — [4] aurborðs ‘for the plank [ship]’: Lit. ‘gravel-plank’, apparently the strake of a ship’s hull that ‘rests on the ground when a ship is beached’ (Jesch 2001a, 141, cf. LP: aurborð), hence ‘ship’ by pars pro toto. (a) This is taken here as an adverbial gen. dependent on the comp. adj. vandfœrra ‘harder to pass’ (cf. NS §136-8). It could alternatively be an adverbial gen. of place, ‘on the ship’. (b) Finnur Jónsson takes aurborðs together with eyjar varbliks to obtain ‘island (eyjar) of the glitter (-bliks) of the landing-place (var-) of the ship (aurborðs) [SEA > GOLD > WOMAN]’ (Skj B; LP: 1. aurborð, ey, varblik). This is also possible. Kock’s construal (NN §597) is similar, though since he understands var- as ‘oar-stroke, wake’, aurborðs ‘(ship’s) plank’ is superfluous in the kenning. — [6] hlyn* sævar ‘the maple of the sea [SHIP]’: Sveinbjörn Egilsson’s emendation of ms. hlunn (LP (1860): hlunr), to yield a kenning for ‘ship’, has been adopted by all subsequent eds. — [7] Gunnr hvítinga ‘Gunnr <valkyrie> of drinking-horns [WOMAN]’: Interpretation has been hampered by the wide variety of possible meanings for the heiti hvítingr. (a) Sveinbjörn Egilsson retains the Flat reading ‘gunn huítínga’ (where the line break falls after ‘gunn’), taking Gunn hvítinga as ‘valkyrie of swords’. He explains the r-less nom. Gunn as an apocopated form (LP (1860): gunnhvítínga); see also LP (1860): hvítíngr 3, 7. (b) In this edn, gunn is emended to gunnr (i.e. the proper name Gunnr) and construed as vocative in a standard poetic address to a woman, here no doubt the inaccessible beloved. In view of the use of a valkyrie-heiti for a woman, rather than the more usual heiti for an ordinary female deity, one might be tempted by Sveinbjörn Egilsson’s interpretation of hvítinga as ‘swords’. But valkyrie-names do occur in kennings for ordinary women (Meissner 406) and the most straightforward interpretation of hvítinga in context is as ‘drinking-horns’ (cf. LP: hvítingr 2). This would evoke the traditional reception of the returning warrior by a woman bearing a horn, perhaps ironically here, since the lover is in fact being prevented from making his return and receiving a welcome. (c) Finnur Jónsson in Skj B emends to gný-hvítinga ‘clamour-fish’, which he combines with geirþorps boði (emended from boða) to obtain geirþorps hvítinga gný-boði ‘messenger of the fish of the clamour of the spear-settlement [(lit. ‘clamour-messenger of the fish of the spear-settlement’) SHIELD > SWORDS > BATTLE > WARRIOR]’, construed as a vocative (see LP: 2. boði, geirþorp, gnýhvítingr). (d) Kock (NN §1110; cf. Bjarni Einarsson 1961, 25) interprets gunnhvítinga as gen. pl. ‘of swords’, apparently governing grjóti ‘rock’, but does not explain the meaning of this phrase. — [7] grjóti ‘rock’: This mention of stones that have blocked off the harbour may indirectly allude to Steinvǫr’s name (‘stone landing-place’ (?), and see Note to Lv 2 [All]), or alternatively her name may have been inferred from this and related motifs. The idea of blocked access may also have sexual connotations. — [8] boða geirþorps ‘the messenger of the spear-settlement [SHIELD > WARRIOR]’: Cf. NN §1110, and see Note to l. 7 Gunnr hvítinga for Finnur Jónsson’s interpretation. The selection of boði as base-word of the warrior-kenning, rather than the usual ôrr ‘envoy, messenger’ (Meissner 272-3), together with the overall setting and context of the stanza, may suggest paronomasia on boði ‘breaker, wave breaking at shore-line’.


  1. Bibliography
  2. Skj B = Finnur Jónsson, ed. 1912-15b. Den norsk-islandske skjaldedigtning. B: Rettet tekst. 2 vols. Copenhagen: Villadsen & Christensen. Rpt. 1973. Copenhagen: Rosenkilde & Bagger.
  3. Fms = Sveinbjörn Egilsson et al., eds. 1825-37. Fornmanna sögur eptir gömlum handritum útgefnar að tilhlutun hins norræna fornfræða fèlags. 12 vols. Copenhagen: Popp.
  4. Skald = Kock, Ernst Albin, ed. 1946-50. Den norsk-isländska skaldediktningen. 2 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  5. NN = Kock, Ernst Albin. 1923-44. Notationes Norrœnæ: Anteckningar till Edda och skaldediktning. Lunds Universitets årsskrift new ser. 1. 28 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  6. 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.
  7. LP = Finnur Jónsson, ed. 1931. Lexicon poeticum antiquæ linguæ septentrionalis: Ordbog over det norsk-islandske skjaldesprog oprindelig forfattet af Sveinbjörn Egilsson. 2nd edn. Copenhagen: Møller.
  8. LP (1860) = Sveinbjörn Egilsson, ed. 1860. Lexicon poeticum antiquæ linguæ septentrionalis. Copenhagen: Societas Regia antiquariorum septentrionalium.
  9. Bjarni Einarsson. 1961. Skáldasögur: Um uppruna og eðli ástaskáldasagnanna fornu. Reykjavík: Bókaútgáfa Menningarsjóðs.
  10. Jesch, Judith. 2001a. Ships and Men in the Late Viking Age: The Vocabulary of Runic Inscriptions and Skaldic Verse. Woodbridge: Boydell.
  11. Flat 1860-8 = Gudbrand Vigfusson [Guðbrandur Vigfússon] and C. R. Unger, eds. 1860-8. Flateyjarbók. En samling af norske konge-sagaer med indskudte mindre fortællinger om begivenheder i og udenfor Norge samt annaler. 3 vols. Christiania (Oslo): Malling.
  12. NS = Nygaard, Marius. 1906. Norrøn syntax. Kristiania (Oslo): Aschehoug. Rpt. 1966.
  13. ÓH 1941 = Johnsen, Oscar Albert and Jón Helgason, eds. 1941. Saga Óláfs konungs hins helga: Den store saga om Olav den hellige efter pergamenthåndskrift i Kungliga biblioteket i Stockholm nr. 2 4to med varianter fra andre håndskrifter. 2 vols. Det norske historiske kildeskriftfond skrifter 53. Oslo: Dybwad.
  14. Internal references
  15. Russell Poole (ed.) 2012, ‘Anonymous Poems, Liðsmannaflokkr 9’ in Diana Whaley (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 1: From Mythical Times to c. 1035. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 1. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 1027.

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