Viking Poems on War and Peace

Viking Poems on War and Peace: A Study in Skaldic Narrative

R.G. POOLE
Volume: 8
Copyright Date: 1991
Pages: 217
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442683082
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  • Book Info
    Viking Poems on War and Peace
    Book Description:

    The Old Norse and Icelandic poets have left us vivid accounts of conflict and peace-making in the Viking Age. Russell G. Poole's editorial and critical analysis reveals much about the texts themselves, the events that they describe, and the culture from which they come.

    Poole attempts to put right many misunderstandings about the integrity of the texts and their narrative techniques. From a historical perspective, he weighs the poems' authenticity as contemporary documents which provide evidence bearing upon the reconstruction of Viking Age battles, peace negotiations, and other events.

    He traces the social roles played by violence in medieval Scandinavian society, and explores the many functions of the poet within that society. Arguing that these texts exhibit a mind-style so vastly different from our own present 'individualism,' Poole suggests that the mind-set of the medieval Scandinavian could be termed 'non-individualist.'

    The poems discussed are the 'Darradarljód,' where the speakers are Valkyries; 'Lidsmannaflokkr,' a rank-and-file warrior's description of Canute the Great's siege of London in 1016; 'Torf-Einarr's Revenge'; 'Egil's Duel with Ljótr,' five verses from the classicEgils saga Skallagrimssonar; 'A Battle on the Health,' marking the culmination of a famous feud described in a very early Icelandic saga, theHeidarviga saga; and two extracts from the poemSexstefia, one describing Haraldr of Norway's great fleet and victory over Sveinn of Denmark, and the other the peace settlement between these two kinds.

    The texts are presented in association with translations and commentaries as a resource not merely for medieval Scandinavian studies but also for the increasingly interwoven specialisms of literary theory and anthropology.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8308-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. Introduction

    • Lausavísur and Other Verses
      (pp. 3-23)

      When we attempt to study the longer poem in Old Norse, ‘longer’ meaning anything over five or six stanzas, we are not well served by the surviving evidence. Astonishingly few poems of any extent survive, either complete or nearly complete. Many apparent examples in the standard edition, Finnur Jonsson’sDen norsk-islandske skjaldedigtning,are in reality a set of fragments, painstakingly but sometimes very misleadingly reassembled into a semi-coherent poem. If they ever existed, medieval anthologies of poetry in the more elaborate metres and stanza forms have not come down to us. Especially in the period before 1000 the very few...

    • Excursus: The Present Historic Tense in Poetry
      (pp. 24-56)

      In the previous chapter we saw thatlausavísurand excerpted verses are not easily distinguished. We also saw that there existed a tendency to interpret verses as if they were composed at the time of the events they describe. This mode of interpretation has resulted in a still-prevalent belief that present-tense narration in poetry is a mark oflausavísastyle: the poet composes as the events unfold and therefore naturally uses the present tense (cf Finnur Jónsson inEdda Snorra Sturlusonar III(1880- 7:582). Correspondingly, when present-tense narration occurs in longer poems it is often explained as denoting an enduring or...

  7. The Poems

    • Ijóđólfr Arnórsson: The Battle of the River Nissa (from Sexstefja)
      (pp. 59-72)

      Skeid sák framm at flcedi,

      fagrt sprund, ór ǫ́ hrundit;

      kenndu, hvar liggr fyr landi

      lǫng súd dreka ens prúda:

      orms glóar fax of farmi

      fráns, síz ýtt vas hǫ́num -

      bǫ́ru búnir svírar

      brunnit gull -af hlunni.

      (IF28: 141;SkjA 381, V 18)

      Fair lady, I saw the ship launched out of the river into the high you see where the long clinker-planking of the proud dragon [ie the longship] lies before the land.The mane of the shining serpent glistens above the cargo,since the ship was launched from the roller; the ornamented stem bore pure gold.

      slyngr...

    • ‘Friđgerđarflokkr’: The Peace Negotiations between Haraldr and Sveinn
      (pp. 73-85)

      InHeimskringlaSnorri tells how Haraldr harđráđi and Sveinn Úlfsson met off the coast of modern-day Sweden, after years of war between their countries, to negotiate a peace. When these negotiations were crowned with success, a poet commemorated them in six stanzas, which Snorri quoted in the course of his own narrative:

      Norđr lykr gramr, sá’s gerctđir

      grund, frá Eyrarsundi –

      hrafngcelir sparn hæli

      hǫfn – langskipa stǫfnum:

      rísta gulli glaestir

      gjalfr, en hlýđur skjalfa,

      hvasst und her fyr vestan

      Hallandi framm brandar.

      (ÍF28:159 v 138;SkjA 401)

      The king [Sveinn], who blocks access to his land, forms a barrage...

    • ‘Lidsmannaflokkr’: The Campaigns of Knútr and Porkell in England
      (pp. 86-115)

      Gpngum upp, ádr Engla

      aettlǫnd farin rǫndu

      mords ok miklar ferdir

      malmregns stafar fregni:

      verum hugrakkir Hlakkar,

      hristum spjót ok skjótum,

      leggr fyr órum eggjum

      Engla gnótt á flotta.

      (SkjA 422 v 1)

      Let us go ashore, before warriors [‘malmregns stafar’] and large militias [‘mords ferdir’] learn that the English homelands are being traversed with shields: let us be brave in battle, brandish spears and hurl them; great numbers of the English flee before our swords.

      Margr ferr Ullr í illan

      oddsennu dag penna

      frár, par’s foeddir órum,

      fornan serk, ok bornir:

      enn á enskra manna

      ǫlum gjód Hnikars...

    • ‘Darradarljođ’: A Viking Victory over the Irish
      (pp. 116-156)

      Vitt er orpit

      fyrir valfalli

      rifs reidiský:

      rignir blódi.

      Nú er fyrir geirum

      grár upp kominn

      vefr verpjódar,

      ervinur fylla

      raudum vepti

      Randves bana.

      Sja er orpinn vefr

      yta ^Qrmum

      ok hardkljadr

      h9fdum manna;

      eru dreyrrekin

      dgrr at sk9ptum,

      jarnvardr yllir

      en Qrum ?/z^ladr?.

      Skulum sla sverdum

      sigrvef J)enna.

      Gengr Hildr vefa

      ok Hjpr^rimul,

      Sanngridr, Svipul,

      sverdum tognum:

      Far and wide

      with the fall of the dead

      a warp ['rifs reidisky'] is set up:

      blood rains down.

      Now, with the spears,

      a grey woven fabric

      of warriors is formed,

      which women friends

      ?of Randver's killer?

      complete with a red...

  8. Three Reconstructed Poems

    • ‘Torf-Einarr’s Revenge’
      (pp. 161-172)

      InOrkneyinga sagaa group of five stanzas is attributed to a very early figure in those islands’ history, Torf-Einarr (IF34:12-16 vv 2-6). Some of the stanzas also appear inFagrskinnaandHeimskringla.InOrkneyinga sagaandHeimskringlathey are presented as improvisations, composed over a period of some months during and after Einarr’s revenge of his father Rognvaldr. Klaus von See has contended that in this matter the sagas give a false impression and that originally Einarr’s verses constituted a single poem; at some point, perhaps with the writer ofOrkneyinga sagain its extant form, this poem...

    • ‘Egill’s Duel with Ljótr’
      (pp. 173-181)

      About midway throughEgils sagathe hero engages in single combat with Ljótr, a berserk from Sweden. While depriving the luckless Swede of his leg and life, Egill also makes up five verses:

      Esa Fridgeiri fceri –

      fǫrum holms á vit, sǫrvar;

      skulum banna mjok manni

      mey - ørlygi at heyja

      vid bann’s bitr ok blótar

      bǫnd élhvptud Gpndlar -

      alfeigum skýtr cegir

      augum - skjold at baugi.

      (SkjA 56 v 28;IF2:202-3 v 37)

      Fridgeirr is not capable of fighting a battle with a man who bites his shield at the rim and makes sacrifices to the gods....

    • Eiríkr Viđsjá: A Battle on the Heath
      (pp. 182-194)

      In 1014 a battle was fought on a heath in the west of Iceland between factions from Borgarfjǫrctr and Breictafjorctr (pórdarson 1937-9:98;iF3:cxv). The latter part ofHeidarviga sagadescribes this event, focusing on the figure of Bardi Gudmundsson, a man from the north of Iceland, not far from the Breictafjǫrctr district, who seeks vengeance for the death of his brother. With five men, he descends on his prospective victims, the Gíslungar, while they are mowing hay; two of them escape, but the third, Gísli, is killed. Feeling that this is an inadequate revenge, Bardi’s men disregard his command...

  9. Conclusions
    (pp. 195-198)

    The poems discussed in the previous seven chapters constitute, in my opinion, a special genre, where the mode of narration is running commentary. The main march of events is indicated by the present tense, while normally the preterite or perfect are reserved for actions that precede the stage currently reached in the narrative. This genre can be divided into two subtypes. In one, unvarying use is made of the present tense to denote the progression of events: in this group belong the three poems attributed respectively to Torf-Einarr, Egill, and Eiríkr vidsjá. In the other, running-commentary narration is to some...

  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 199-210)
  11. Index
    (pp. 211-218)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 219-219)