Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Poetic Edda: Voluspa - The Wise Woman's Prophecy

Short information:
The Poetic Edda is a collection of Old Norse poems primarily preserved in the Icelandic mediaeval manuscript Codex Regius. Along with Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda, the Poetic Edda is the most important extant source on Norse mythology and Germanic heroic legends, and from the early 19th century onwards has had a powerful influence on later Scandinavian literatures, not merely through the stories it contains but through the visionary force and dramatic quality of many of the poems. It has also become an inspiring model for many later innovations in poetic meter, particularly in the Nordic languages, offering many varied examples of terse, stress-based metrical schemes working without any final rhyme, and instead using allitterative devices and strongly concentrated imagery. Poets who have acknowledged their debt to the Poetic Edda include Vilhelm Ekelund, August Strindberg, Ezra Pound and Karin Boye.

I have chosen the last verses 44-66 from Voluspa  ( The Wise Woman's Prophecy)
Especially these last verses are the ones I  remember from school: " Now Garms howls loud before Gnipahellir" - this  really gave me a thrill, a sinister image about  this big howling wolf outside the cave of Hell gave me nightmares........
The words are still impressive, violent, gruesome, simple and grand - and in the final verses some optimism : " the unsowed fields wil bear riped fruit" and the wise woman says a couple of times: 
" would you know yet more?" and she ends the prophecy by simply saying " must I sink".

Norse Mythology, Yggdrasil, Silkeborg Museum.
The Wise Woman's Prophecy

Now Garm howls loud before Gnipahellir,
The fetters will burst and the wolf run free;
Much do I know, and more can see
Of the fate of the gods the mighty in fight.

Brothers shall fight and fell each other,
And sisters' sons shall kinship stain;
Hard is it on earth, with mighty whoredom;
Axe-time, sword-time, shields are sundered,
Wind-time, wolf-time, ere the world falls;
Nor ever shall men each other spare.

Fast move the sons of Mim and fate
Is heard in the note of the Gjallarhorn
Loud blows Heimdall the horn is aloft,
In fear quake all  who on Hel-roads are.

Yggdrasil shakes,  and shiver on high
The ancient limbs, and the giant is loose;
To the head of Mim does Othin give heed,
But the kinsman of surt shall slay him soon.

How fare the gods?  how fare the elves?
All Jotunheim groans, the gods are at council;
Loud roar the dwarfs by the doors of stone,
The masters of the rocks:  would you know yet more?

Now Garm howls loud before Gnipahellir,
The fetters will burst, and the wolf run free
Much do I know, and more can see
Of the fate of the gods the mighty in fight.

From the east comes Hrym with shield held high;
In giant-wrath does the serpen writhe;
O'er the waves he twists, and the tawny eagle
Gnaws corpses screaming;  Naglfar is loose.
Norse Mythology, The serpent, Silkeborg Museum
O'er the sea from the north there sails a ship
With the people of Hel at the helm stands Loki;
After the wold| do wild men follow,
And with them the brother of Byleist goes.

Surt fares from the south  with the scourge of branches,
The sun of the battle-gods  shone from his sword;
The crags are sundered,  the giant-women sink,
The dead throng Hel-way and heaven is cloven.

Now comes to Hlin yet another hurt,
When Othin fares to fight with the wolf,
And Beli's fair slayer seeks out surt,
For there must fall the joy of  Frigg.

Then comes Sigfather's mighty son, 
Vithar, to fight with the foaming  wold;
In the giant's son does he thrust his sword
Full to the heart:  his father is avenged.

Hither there comes the son of Hlothyn,
The bright snake gapes  to heaven above;
. . . . . . . . . .
Against the serpent goes Othin's son.

In anger smites the warder of earth, --
Forth from their homes must all men flee;-
Nine paces fares the son of Fjorgyn,
And, slain by the serpent fearless he sinks.
- the hot stars from heaven are whirled...
The sun turns black, earth sinks in the sea,
The hot stars down  from heaven are whirled;
Fierce grows the steam  and the life-feeding flame,
Till fire leaps high  about heaven itself.

Now Garm howls loud before Gnipahellir,
The fetters will burst, and the wolf run free;
Much do I know,  and more can see
Of the fate of gods the mighty in fight.
- and the eagle flies...
Now do I see the earth anew
Rise all green  from the waves again;
The cataracts fall, and the eagle flies,
And fish he catches  beneath the cliffs.

The gods in Ithavoll meet together,
Of the terrible girdler of earth they talk,
And the mighty past they call to mind,
And the ancient  runes of the Ruler of Gods.

In wondrous beauty once again
Shall the golden tables stand mid the grass,
Which the gods had owned in the days of old,
. . . . . . . . . .

- the fields unsowed bear riped fruit.........
Then fields unsowed bear ripened fruit,
All ills grow better, and Baldr comes back; 
Baldr and Hoth dwell in Hropt's battle-hall,
And the mighty gods: would you know yet more?

Then Hönir wins the prophetic wand,
. . . . . . . . . .
And the sons of the brothers of Tveggi abide
In Vindheim now: would you know yet more?

More fair than the sun,  a hall I see,
Roofed with gold, on Gimle it stands;
There shall the righteous rulers dwell,
And happiness ever there shall they have.

There comes on high, all power to hold,
A mighty lord,  all lands he rules.
("Rule he orders, and rights he fixes,
Laws he ordains  that ever shall live.")

From below the dragon dark comes forth, 
Nithhogg flying from Nithafjoll;
The bodies of men on his wings he bears,
The serpent bright:  but now must I sink.

After this prophecy comes Hávamál - The Ballad of the High One

photo: grethe bachmann
photo: stig bachmann nielsen,  Naturplan.


Cletis L. Stump said...

Wow! I found your place via Teresa Evangeline. How beautiful and frighteningly beautiful is this work. I will come back often. Cletis from Kentucky.

Thyra said...

Hej Cletis! I'm so glad that you like it. Thank you for visiting and you are so welcome again as often as possible!
Grethe `)

Teresa Evangeline said...

Grethe, I can see why it might conjure up some nightmares. It's the stuff legends and epic poems are made of. It's a good one, full of dark and mysterious images. Thanks so much for sharing it!

Thyra said...

Hello Teresa, yes it is a gruesome story and it still leaves a strong impression when I re-read it - also because it is so old, and they were fabulous writers also back then weren't they?
Have a nice week-end, Teresa.
Grethe ´)