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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Ásb Ævkv 1VIII (OStór 4)

Peter Jorgensen (ed.) 2017, ‘Orms þáttr Stórólfssonar 4 (Ásbjǫrn, Ævikviða 1)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 608.



The following nine stanzas have conventionally been termed ‘Ásbjǫrn’s death-song’ and have similarities to a sub-group of long poems attested mostly from fornaldarsögur, termed ævikviður ‘life poems’ or (erroneously, because they have no conventional refrain) ævidrápur ‘life-lays’ in Modern Icelandic, that purport to be the dying words of a hero, usually composed and recited in extremis (see further Introduction to Volume VIII, Sections 7.1 and 7.2). The sub-group is characterised by its autobiographical review of salient events in the hero’s life and, often, as here, by the speaker’s request that the poem be sent as a final greeting to a relative, in this case Ásbjǫrn’s mother. Other poems of this kind are Hildibrandr Lv 1-6 (Ásm 1-6), Hjálmarr Lv 4-19 (Ǫrv 14-29), Ǫrvar-Oddr Ævidrápa 1-71 (Ǫrv 71-141), Anon Krm (Ragn), Hallmundr, Hallmundarkviða 1-6V (Hallkv 1-6 (Gr 51-6)) and Grettir Ásmundarson’s ævikviður (Grett Ævkv I, 1-3V (Gr 22-4) and Grett Ævkv IIV (Gr 39-42)), the three last-named occurring in Grettis saga, which, although usually classed among the sagas of Icelanders, bears a strong resemblance to fornaldarsögur in this and many other respects.

It is likely that the composer of Ásb Ævkv knew and imitated other poems of this type, and possible verbal and metrical parallels are pointed out in the Notes. The metre of most of the stanzas is an irregular dróttkvætt (for details, see Introduction and Notes to the stanzas).

According to OStór, Ásbjǫrn delivered his ævikviða while the giant Brúsi tore out his intestines and wound them round an iron pillar (for a discussion of this method of torture and death, see Faulkes 2011b, 94 n.). After he had finished the poem, he is said to have died ‘with great courage and nobility’ (með mikilli hreysti ok drengskap). The stanzas are presented one after the other in the saga text without any intervening prose.

text and translation

Segiz þat minni móður;
mun hon ei syni kemba
svarðar láð í sumri
svanhvít í Danmörku.
Hafði ek henni heitit,
at ek heim koma munda;
nú mun segg á síðu
sverðs egg dregin verða.

Segiz þat minni móður; hon, svanhvít, mun ei kemba {láð svarðar} syni í sumri í Danmörku. Ek hafði heitit henni, at ek munda koma heim; egg sverðs mun nú verða dregin á síðu segg.
‘Let it be told to my mother; she, swan-white, will not comb the land of the scalp [HEAD] of her son this summer in Denmark. I had promised her that I would come home; now the sword’s edge will be drawn against the warrior’s [my] side.

notes and context

The first of nine stanzas spoken by Ásbjǫrn after the giant Brúsi has torn out Ásbjǫrn’s intestines and wound them round an iron pillar. The stanzas are introduced with the words Ásbjörn kvað þá vísur þessar jafnframmi ‘Ásbjǫrn spoke these verses at the same time [as his intestines were being wound round the pillar]’.

[5]: This line has three alliterating staves.



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: Anonyme digte og vers [XIII], E. 18. Vers af Fornaldarsagaer: Af Orms þáttr Stórólfssonar IV 1: AII, 342, BII, 365, Skald II, 197; ÓT 1689, 13, Fms 3, 218 Flat 1860-8, I, 528, Þorleifur Jónsson 1904, 212, Guðni Jónsson 1935, 183 (ch. 7), Guðni Jónsson 1946-9, 11, 457-8 (ch. 7), Faulkes 2011b, 69 (ch. 7) (OStór).


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