Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Harald's Christmas Preferences

This is from the Haraldkvæði by Þorbjorn hornklofi, which dates to the 11th century and is found in AM 45 fol. Also known as the Hrafnsmál, it is described by Lee M. Hollander, in Old Norse Poems, as follows
As here given it is pieced together from fragments found mainly in the large historical work called Fagrskinna, which contains a history of the Norwegian kings. There is considerable difficulty about the authorship of these portions, some editors considering stanzas 7 to 11, in particular, as a separate poem dealing with the battle in the Hafrs-firth. The remainder, with descriptions of the life at Harold’s court, is probably incomplete.

 The structure of the poem is simple. After the usual admonition to the assembled court to lend their ears, the poet tells us what he heard a raven—scavenger of the battle-field—say to a valkyrie who questions him about Harold’s deeds—naturally all warlike ones. For once, the scenes of carnage here described are individualized. There is grim Viking humor, a dramatic tension, a zest in these descriptions which one inevitably associates with a contemporary and participant. Upon her further questioning we are given realistic, even coarse-grained, glimpses of Harold’s youth, his many marriages, and his life at court with berserkers, skalds, and jugglers. In all this, the poem is likely to have set the fashion; possibly also in the alternation of meters. The greater part is in sonorous málaháttr, smaller portions also in lióthaháttr and fornyrthislag.
For Jóldagr, here is verse 6, which presents Haraldr as a hardy, battle-loving youth:

Úti vill jól drekka,

ef skal einn ráða,

fylkir enn framlyndi,

ok Freys leik heyja;

ungr leiddisk eldvelli

ok inni at sitja,

varma dyngju 
vǫttu dúns fulla.

Fain outside would he drink
the ale at Yule-tide,
the fight-loving folk-warder,
and Frey’s-game play there.
Even half-grown,
he hated the hearthfire cozy,
the warm women’s room,
and the wadded down-mittens.

(þorbjorn hornklofi, Haraldskvæði (Hrafnsmál), v. 6; trans. Lee M. Hollander)

I don't know about all of that. I'll bet those vǫttu dúns fulla felt pretty good some cold Jólmorginn!

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