Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Hfr ErfÓl 6I/8 —  ‘the yard-arm’

Herskerðir klauf harðan
— hann gekk reiðr of skeiðar —
svarðar stofn með sverði
sunnr eldviðum kunnum.
Kunni gramr at gunni
— gunnþinga jarnmunnum
margr lá heggr of hǫggvinn —
holdbarkar sarka.

Herskerðir klauf harðan stofn svarðar kunnum eldviðum með sverði sunnr; hann gekk reiðr of skeiðar. Gramr kunni sarka holdbarkar at gunni; margr heggr Gunnþinga lá of hǫggvinn jarnmunnum.

The army-diminisher [RULER] split the hard stump of the scalp [HEAD] of famous sword-trees [WARRIORS] with a sword in the south; he went angry through the warships. The prince knew how to redden the yard-arm of flesh-bark [MAIL-SHIRT > SWORD] in battle; many a cherry-tree of meetings of Gunnr <valkyrie> [BATTLES > WARRIOR] lay chopped down by iron mouths.


[8] holdbarkar rô: hold barkaðra 54, hold barkaðrar or ‘hold barkaðrra’ Bb, ‘hollbarkat ra’ A


[8] rô holdbarkar ‘the yard-arm of flesh-bark [MAIL-SHIRT > SWORD]’: The whole of l. 8 presents considerable difficulties, not least the word sarkat (variant sarka), which the helmingr is ostensibly introduced into SnE to explain (see Note below). (a) The ms. readings (‘barkaðra’ 54, Bb, ‘barkat’ A) suggest the word beginning barka- is a p. p. It is interpreted as such by Sveinbjörn Egilsson: [h]rá-sarka barkat hold, and explained by him as ‘to give a raw wound to barked (mail-clad) flesh’ (SHI 2) or as ‘to denude barked flesh, to strip the armour from a mailed body’ (LP (1860): barkaðr, rásárka). But barka means not ‘to cover with bark’ but ‘to strip the bark from’ (cf. Engl. ‘gut’) or ‘to tan with bark’ (Fritzner IV: barka). Even if we instead postulate barkat hold ‘tanned, i.e. toughened flesh’ (Finnur Jónsson 1907, 316: barkaðr), hrár ‘raw, sappy’ usually applies to meat or vegetation, rather than wounds. The lack of initial <h> is also problematic, as the only other instance of this spelling, in Hávm 151/6 (NK 42), is doubtful (Evans 1986, 138-9). (b) Harðbarkliga ‘very boastfully’, suggested by Krijn (1931, 54), is a radical emendation, and involves an emended version of the ÓT mss’ hjǫr þunnum in l. 6 in place of jarnmunnum (see Note above). (c) The best solution seems to be to interpret the words preceding sarkat/sarka as a series of nouns comprising a kenning, of which the base-word is ‘yard-arm’, and the determinant is either holdbarkar ‘of flesh-bark’ (Gísli Brynjúlfsson 1857, 189-90; SnE 1848-87, III; Skald; NN §2450) or holbarkar ‘of hollow-bark’ (Skj B; LP: holbǫrkr). Holdbǫrkr ‘flesh-bark’ has at least one parallel (bark nǫkkva bœnar ‘bark of the ship of prayer [BREAST > MAIL-SHIRT]’ Hallv Knútdr 6/3, 4III; cf. also barklaust birki bǫðserkjar ‘barkless birches of the battle-shirt [MAIL-SHIRT > WARRIORS]’ Hfr Óldr 2/5, 6), whereas Finnur Jónsson’s idea of the mail-shirt as bark encircling the empty interior of the body (LP: holbǫrkr) has none.




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