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 Post subject: Nordic Poetry: Old Norse readings, translations, and novice attempts at interpretations
PostPosted: Sun Oct 17, 2010 3:24 pm 
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Form an early age—having discovered the Mighty Thor in my father's Journey Into Mystery comics, which he had stacked in the basement cellar way when I was about five years old—I have been interested in Norse Mythology. This led to my reading of the myths in books in the local school library and from nearby towns. Being young, I was easily attracted to the very interesting tales of Gods, Giants, and their struggles.

After that, I encountered the Norse gods again around 1980 when I and my geek friends started playing Dungeons & Dragons. This led to me thinking more about how the Norse gods might have been considered by the Vikings and the Nordic culture as a whole. I also studied the runic alphabet to so that I could add some nice touches to the fantasy games that I hosted. Hard up for some fresh adventure ideas, I looked at the runes in the alphabet and decided that each adventure would be based upon the ordering and the meaning of the letters. It was then that I noticed that the letters probably had been arranged originally that way as a mnemonic device to help Nordic skalds remember important connections in their tales.

By then, I had begun attending college in 1981, I had access to a larger library and more books concerning Norse Literature. I served my computer science internship in Borås, Sweden, where I also was an exchange student. This gave me access to even more books on the subject, some in Swedish and a couple printed in Icelandic text. At that point, I became more interested in the actual poetry, and I bought a copy of the Poetic Edda, translated by Lee M. Hollander. My thinking at that time was that I could write a fantasy novel that helped fill in the gaps and helped link together some of the Norse tales. Probably pretty arrogant of me.

Eventually, I discovered that the Swedish poet Viktor Rydberg had done pretty much that: linked together all of the tales, and he had done it almost a hundred years earlier. Rydberg's work is not readily accepted, but I was surprised by how much his works matched up with the research I had done myself. But while most of my efforts were creative activities, gut instincts, and good guesses, Rydberg knew the language far better, and he had access to supporting literature I had never heard of. Again and again he went back to source materials written down around 1200 AD (and earlier) to show a grand Indo-European tradition, while most other authors wrote about what other authors had written about from just a generation or two before them.

Anyway, the gist of all of this was that I became mostly interested in the earliest copies of this material, and I wanted to do as much of my own translation as possible. And while I am no expert at any of this, I enjoy having a go at it from time to time when I have an hour or two free. It works my brain. And the Internet has made possible access to very early copies of the Poetic Edda and other Northern Literature, so it has become somewhat less daunting.

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Last edited by Beachy on Sun Oct 17, 2010 3:29 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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 Post subject: Nordic Poetry: Old Norse readings, translations, and novice attempts at interpretations
PostPosted: Sun Oct 17, 2010 3:27 pm 
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Anyway, I mentioned doing some translation this weekend in another thread, and Daphne
and Li'l Jay mentioned that he were interested in such things, and Nagoo is always interested
in Viking stuff, so I thought I might periodically put down some of my translation work here at
IMWAN. I thought the Writers Block might be a good place for it.

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 Post subject: Nordic Poetry: Old Norse readings, translations, and novice attempts at interpretations
PostPosted: Sun Oct 17, 2010 3:27 pm 
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What is the earliest manuscript dated at?

And where was it believed to be written? Iceland? (Not where was it set, where was pen put to paper).

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 Post subject: Nordic Poetry: Old Norse readings, translations, and novice attempts at interpretations
PostPosted: Sun Oct 17, 2010 3:34 pm 
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Li'l Jay wrote:
What is the earliest manuscript dated at?

And where was it believed to be written? Iceland? (Not where was it set, where was pen put to paper).


Most everything we know about the Norse Mythic traditions comes from the work
of Snorri Sturluson. Snorri lived between 1178 and 1241 AD in Iceland.

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 Post subject: Nordic Poetry: Old Norse readings, translations, and novice attempts at interpretations
PostPosted: Sun Oct 17, 2010 3:39 pm 
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Also, the Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus (who lived 1150–1216) is a good source of information.

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 Post subject: Nordic Poetry: Old Norse readings, translations, and novice attempts at interpretations
PostPosted: Sun Oct 17, 2010 4:01 pm 
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I can't wait 'til we get to Njorl's Saga.

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 Post subject: Nordic Poetry: Old Norse readings, translations, and novice attempts at interpretations
PostPosted: Sun Oct 17, 2010 4:04 pm 
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The Poetic Edda is a collection of Old Norse poems from the Icelandic medieval manuscript
Codex Regius (written down in the 13th century). "Discovered" in 1643 when it came into the
possession of Brynjólfur Sveinsson, then Bishop of Skálholt.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Codex_Regius

The Prose Edda is an Icelandic manual of poetics which also contains many mythological stories
written down by the Snorri Sturluson around 1220. Although exposed to Christianity, it appears that
Snorri was rather fond of the old ways, and sympathetic to them. And while he writes of the Norse
gods as having been great men in history (and worshipped only as is fitting to worship and respect
one's ancestors), it is believed that he preserved as much as possible in order to save these tales
from deliberate destruction. The Prose Edda's purpose is stated that it is to enable Icelandic poets and
readers to understand the subtleties of alliterative verse, and to grasp the mythological allusions behind
the many kennings that were used in skaldic poetry. The Prose Edda survives today as seven main
manuscripts, which were written down (copied from Snorri's copy) from about 1300 to about 1600.
Snorri quotes frequently the Poetic Edda.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snorri_Sturluson

The Hauksbók is another source, and it contains versions of many Old Icelandic texts, and it has
been dated 1302–1310.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hauksbok

Saxo Grammaticus' Gesta Danorum contains Danish history, and accounts of the Norse Gods,
like as in Snorri's work, are depicted as reflections of actual historic events shaped by the retelling.
His nine books were written circa 12th / 13th Century.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saxo_Grammaticus

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 Post subject: Nordic Poetry: Old Norse readings, translations, and novice attempts at interpretations
PostPosted: Sun Oct 17, 2010 4:06 pm 
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Jimbo wrote:
I can't wait 'til we get to Njorl's Saga.


:thumbsup:

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 Post subject: Nordic Poetry: Old Norse readings, translations, and novice attempts at interpretations
PostPosted: Sun Oct 17, 2010 4:21 pm 
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A good place to start looking at Norse Mythology / Nordic Poetry is Völuspá (Prophecy of the Völva).
This is the most well known of the Poetic Edda. In it, Odin—troubled by the impending death of his
son, Baldur—raises a seeress from her grave in order to find out what he can from her. Thus, the
poem covers the creation of the world and its demise. As such, it serves as a overview.

Read the Wiki:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Völuspá

Original text is from about the 10th Century A.D, and has been preserved in the Codex Regius and in
the Hauksbók manuscripts. However, each has a slightly different stanza count. The verse metre is
known as Fornyrðislag, which is normally four syllables (although pronunciations may have changed
over the years changing this), and each stanza typically consists of eight lines. Many of these lines form
pairs joined by the alliteration of words.

I have never attempted translating more than just a couple specific stanzas of this poem before, but
now think it might be fun to do so here—maybe just a couple stanzas a week.

Links to Old Norse versions of Völuspá can be found here:
http://etext.old.no/Bugge/voluspa/

A useful online Icelandic-English Dictionary can be found here:
http://www.ling.upenn.edu/~kurisuto/ger ... about.html

The first two stanzas open the poem and set the scene. I'll post the original lines,
then begin a word-for-word translation. If I get stuck, I'll look to some of the online
translations for help. I can't always find the words I'm looking for. Once I have a
decent look at the meanings of the words (as best I can determine), then I will try
making sense of the kennings (the figures of speech). I like trying it on my own
first, and then, often failing that completely, looking at what others have said.

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 Post subject: Nordic Poetry: Old Norse readings, translations, and novice attempts at interpretations
PostPosted: Sun Oct 17, 2010 4:27 pm 
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Völuspá

Hljóðs bið ek allar
helgar kindir,
meiri ok minni
mögu Heimdallar;
viltu, at ek, Valföðr!
vel framtelja
forn spjöll fíra,
þau er fremst um man.

Ek man jötna
ár um borna,
þá er forðum
mik fœdda höfðu;
níu man ek heima,
níu íviði,
mjötvið mœran
fyr mold neðan

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 Post subject: Nordic Poetry: Old Norse readings, translations, and novice attempts at interpretations
PostPosted: Sun Oct 17, 2010 6:39 pm 
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Völuspá
• Völr means a staff or round stick. Völsa is to pride oneself. Völva probably is prophetess or wise woman. Spá seems to mean prediction.
Hljóðs
• hleoðor = sound, Hljóðs = hearing
bið
• to bid, a biding, to beg, warn, patience
ek
• I, personal pronoun
allar
• all, foremost, foremost army leader; all=very, all-ar, ar=mote, an atom in a sunbeam
helga
• to make holy, sactify, to appropriate land
kindir
• plural of kind, kin, offspring
meiri
• most, highest, greatest, etc.
ok
• and
minni
• lesser, smaller, etc
mögu
• son, youth, kindred
Heimdallar
• Heim=home, homeward, world; Dallr=a small tub (for milk, curds), Dalr=dale; dalr=bow
viltu
• vilja, vilt=wish
at=that
ek=I
Valföðr=slain's father
vel
• well, readily, easily
framtelja
• fram=forward, telja=tell
• fyrtelia=recite, recount
forn
• old, ancient
spjöll
• words, tidings, spell
fíra
• fírar = men, people
þau
• plural of sá=they
er
• who, which
fremst
• facing forward, in front of, promote
um
• over, across, around, of, about, during
man
• noun=bondsman
• verb=form of muna=to call to mind, remember

================
ek
man
jötna
• giant, etin
ár
• year
um
borna
• plural of bera: bear, carry, endure
þá
• that, who
er
• who, which, as
forðum
• formally, once, ages ago
mik
• me, I
fœdda
• feed, nurse, rear, raise
höfðu
• past tense of hafað: have, keep, hold, accept
níu
• nine
man
ek
heima
• plural of home, world
níu
íviði
• female: ogresses, she who lives in the woods
• male: innerwood, roots, ribs, rafters
mjötvið
• singular: measure-wood, tree
mœran
• mæra: praise/laud/decorate
• mörr/mör: suet; mæra e-n e-u: bless one with a gift
• I think if it meant "famous," it would need two r's in it.
fyr
• fyrir: before one/in front of/reception/ago/above/in one's way/fore
mold
• soil
neðan
• beneath

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 Post subject: Nordic Poetry: Old Norse readings, translations, and novice attempts at interpretations
PostPosted: Sun Oct 17, 2010 7:15 pm 
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Wise Woman's Prediction

To be heard bid I you all
hallowed beings,
great and small
kin of Heimdall (world bow, protector of the world, or perhaps "Children of the World Dales" = men?);
wish, that I, Valfather (Odin)!
well recount
ancient tales of people,
they who first were I remember.

I recall the giants
year before born,
that who ages ago
me fed had;
nine recall I worlds,
nine within,
measure-tree decorated (mighty)
above soil beneath.

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 Post subject: Nordic Poetry: Old Norse readings, translations, and novice attempts at interpretations
PostPosted: Sun Oct 17, 2010 7:45 pm 
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The first stanza seems pretty straight forward: the Völva addresses the assembled
gods (kin of Heimdall, who is the protector/watchman of the gods). That it is specifically
Heimdall who is signaled out likely speaks to the nature of the assembly, that Odin is
searching for a way to protect the gods in the future. Perhaps, it is meant ironically,
since Heimdall has amazing senses: hearing, eyesight, but even he cannot see the
doom that is forthcoming. Also, addressing Odin by his title "father of the dead," which
is his as father of the einherjar (the warriors of Valhalla) who are needed for the final
battle.

The Völva begins with recounting known facts, likely to help establish her credentials
for predicting what is to come. "Year before born" seems redundant with "that who ages
ago" so, more than likely, "year before born" means before time was born/established.
That these giants fed and held the Völva speaks of her kinship with them; she too is a
giant.

The next lines are quite tricky. Most seem to like the idea of the vikings believing in
Nine Worlds, but there isn't much evidence of that. That the World Tree would be
described as a measure-tree and that it would contain the nine abodes within it is,
again, a fairly common belief among the scholars. I have to ponder more closely my
initial translation. Instead of decorated, it may be "famous." However, I have in mind
that this passage may be speaking of the fate of the first giants: they were killed
by the AEsir gods, who made the realms out of their fallen bodies. There is a myth
of the World Mill that is not as well-known, and upon this mill, the giants placed the
severed limbs of the giants and ground their flesh into soil. The mill was turned by
nine giantesses, who were also said to collectively be the mothers of Heimdall (he
a god of pure fire, who was formed from the friction when the mill stones touched).

It makes a certain amount of sense that the mill would be built around the world tree
as its axis (the World Mill also rotated the universe), and that the gods "decorated"
the mill at the top with giant parts, and the soil came out of the mill at the bottom.

However, I've seen no one else translate the poem like this, so I'm probably wrong.

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 Post subject: Nordic Poetry: Old Norse readings, translations, and novice attempts at interpretations
PostPosted: Sun Oct 17, 2010 8:30 pm 
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So, I have to better examine the word mœran and, perhaps, examine different
versions of this poem to see if others have spelled it differently. This is the part of
the translation that I like the most—trying to resolve something like this. There's no
way I would even be trying if I hadn't tried translating it myself, and although I may
be (and likely am) going on a wold goose hunt, I will enjoy the journey.


Well, the University of Texas' Linguistics Research Center in an Old Norse lesson says
mœran -- adjective; accusative singular masculine of <mærr> famous -- the famous.

I then found another site that listed
mærr, f. border land
mærr, adj. famous, glorious

I must have been pretty tired when I stumbled across "decorated." But that happens easily
enough when I can't find the exact word, and I have to go looking at root words and words
that somewhat are "close."

"The border land" is interesting, though. Measure-tree Border land? hmmm.

Still, I guess the line translates as Measure-tree Famous, or Measure-tree Glorious.
I don't like how we have two prepositions in the last line, essentially above and beneath
at the same time. But it could be as simple as some of the abodes are above and some
are beneath ground, or some of the tree is (branches and roots) or both.

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 Post subject: Nordic Poetry: Old Norse readings, translations, and novice attempts at interpretations
PostPosted: Sun Oct 17, 2010 8:36 pm 
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I am amazed at how quickly IMWAN posts show up in Google searches. I've noticed
this in the past when I was searching for Dell Four Color comics, and I would not only
find my posts, but would find them near the top of the Google searches. Now I see again
how quickly I am finding my own posts in the searches.

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Last edited by Beachy on Fri May 04, 2012 1:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Nordic Poetry: Old Norse readings, translations, and novice attempts at interpretations
PostPosted: Sun Oct 17, 2010 8:57 pm 
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Here are some professional translations:

Henry Adams Bellows
1. Hearing I ask | from the holy races, 
From Heimdall's sons, | both high and low;
 Thou wilt, Valfather, | that well I relate
 Old tales I remember | of men long ago.
2. I remember yet | the giants of yore,
 Who gave me bread | in the days gone by;
 Nine worlds I knew, | the nine in the tree
 With mighty roots | beneath the mold.

Benjamin Thorpe
1. For silence I pray all
 sacred children, 
great and small, 
sons of Heimdall

they will that I Valfather´s 
deeds recount,
 men´s ancient saws,
 those that I best remember
2. The Jötuns I remember 
early born,
 those who me of old
 have reared.

I nine worlds remember, 
nine trees, 
the great central tree,
 beneath the earth.

Lee M. Hollander
Hear me, all ye hallowed beings, Both high and low of Heimdall's children:
Thou wilt, Valfather, that I well set forth The fates of the world which as first I recall.
I call to mind the kin of etins
 Which long ago did give me life.

Nine worlds I know, the nine abodes Of the glorious world-tree the ground beneath.

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 Post subject: Nordic Poetry: Old Norse readings, translations, and novice attempts at interpretations
PostPosted: Sun Oct 17, 2010 9:17 pm 
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All three go for "sons" of Heimdall instead of his kin. This probably works better than
to address the gods as "great and small." Heimdall was said to have fathered the three
classes of men: essentially earls, farmers and serfs. I don't like "sons," though, because
I have difficulties seeing men being at this event. The gods have gathered and raised a
dead giantess to speak of the future. Doesn't seem like man's place.

Bellows has "mighty roots" beneath the mold, and that works out well enough. Better
than Thorpe who is calling the nine worlds trees and has the central one beneath the
earth. Makes it sound like the whole tree is down there. Whereas Hollander just has
"the ground beneath" just kind of hanging there. It's probably why I tried to do something
a little different with my translation. I've had Holladers translation for over 23 years now,
and I haven't ever like that wording,

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 Post subject: Nordic Poetry: Old Norse readings, translations, and novice attempts at interpretations
PostPosted: Sun Oct 17, 2010 10:12 pm 
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This reminds me a lot of my linguistics classes back in college. Fascinating stuff. :ohyes:

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 Post subject: Nordic Poetry: Old Norse readings, translations, and novice attempts at interpretations
PostPosted: Mon Oct 18, 2010 8:48 am 
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Thanks. I agree. And while I think I have as good a chance of understanding the kennings
as anyone else, I wish that I were more skilled with the understanding of the structure and use
of the language. I wish more people doing translations would just translate the words and, then
point out why "man," example, in the sentence below needs to be a verb. That would be useful.

níu man ek heima,
níu íviði,
mjötvið mœran
fyr mold neðan

nine remember I heima
nine íviði,
mjötvið mœran
above soil below.

The bolded words are the most interesting/confusing. Some guesses here:
heima: home, at home
íviði: í-viðja=an ogress, í-viðja, u, f. an ogress, prob. from inwid, við-gjarn, adj. [Hel. inwid = fraud], wicked, evil
mjötvið: MJÖT, f. [Ulf. mitaþs = GREEK; O.H.G. mez; Germ. masz] :-- a measure; kann ek mála mjöt, I know the measure of words, how to make a speech, Höfuðl. 20: þess kann maðr mjöt, a man knows the measure of that

This is close to MJÖL, which means meal, flour, and MJÖLL, which means powdery. Thor's hammer Mjölnir, I've seen
translated as the mill.

við=VIÐ, f., gen. sing. viðjar, pl. viðjar, [Dan. vidje; Engl. withy; akin is víðir, q.v.] :-- a withy or with; síðan var viðin (a withy halter) dregin á hals honum, Fms. vii. 13 (see v.l.); þarmarnir urðu at viðu (sic) sterkri, Fas. iii. 34; ef röng eða viðjar slitna, Jb. 398; var enginn saumr í, en viðjar fyrir kné, of a boat, Fms. vii. 216; höggva tré til viðja, K.Þ.K. 88; viðjar af gulli ok silfri, on a dog, Hkr. i. 136, Fas. iii. 45; tún-svín þat er hringr, knappr eða við sé í rana, Grág. ii. 232; stjórn-við, the 'rudder-withy,' the strap in which the paddle-like rudder moved

við (+ accusative) = beside, near, next to, Ég stend við vegginn. I'm standing next to the wall.

mœran: if a variation of mærr, then mighty
why isn't it "the mörr," which would be suet?

nine I remember at home,
nine ogresses
measure-rudder the suet
above soil beneath

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 Post subject: Nordic Poetry: Old Norse readings, translations, and novice attempts at interpretations
PostPosted: Mon Oct 18, 2010 1:58 pm 
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Jimbo wrote:
This reminds me a lot of my linguistics classes back in college. Fascinating stuff. :ohyes:


My mother has spent most of her life teaching Spanish. Recently she has been teaching a linguistics class. She says it's some of the hardest stuff she's ever taught. We sometimes talk about languages and translations. When I was home recuperating from surgery last year she and I spent a morning translating a Junie B. Jones book in Spanish back into the original English. It was fun.

Recently I've been talking to her about things I've deduced about Japanese from watching subtitled anime. I told her I thought it would be an interesting exercise to have her class view some clips and see what sorts of things they can deduce about word order, etc. of an unfamiliar language.

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 Post subject: Nordic Poetry: Old Norse readings, translations, and novice attempts at interpretations
PostPosted: Mon Oct 18, 2010 2:00 pm 
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Beachy wrote:
Here are some professional translations:

Henry Adams Bellows
1. Hearing I ask | from the holy races, 
From Heimdall's sons, | both high and low;
 Thou wilt, Valfather, | that well I relate
 Old tales I remember | of men long ago.
2. I remember yet | the giants of yore,
 Who gave me bread | in the days gone by;
 Nine worlds I knew, | the nine in the tree
 With mighty roots | beneath the mold.

Benjamin Thorpe
1. For silence I pray all
 sacred children, 
great and small, 
sons of Heimdall

they will that I Valfather´s 
deeds recount,
 men´s ancient saws,
 those that I best remember
2. The Jötuns I remember 
early born,
 those who me of old
 have reared.

I nine worlds remember, 
nine trees, 
the great central tree,
 beneath the earth.

Lee M. Hollander
Hear me, all ye hallowed beings, Both high and low of Heimdall's children:
Thou wilt, Valfather, that I well set forth The fates of the world which as first I recall.
I call to mind the kin of etins
 Which long ago did give me life.

Nine worlds I know, the nine abodes Of the glorious world-tree the ground beneath.


Bellows reads the best to me overall. But I like Hollander's version of the first part of the passage better. It has more of the resonance of Jacobean English.

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 Post subject: Nordic Poetry: Old Norse readings, translations, and novice attempts at interpretations
PostPosted: Mon Oct 18, 2010 2:26 pm 
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Rugged Indoorsman

Joined: 18 Sep 2005
Posts: 45856
Location: the Moist Periphery of Pendulum Tide
This is a nice site that shows not only the differences between the two written
versions of the poem, but also shows which letters do not appear in the documents
(and are deduced), and it also shows a third, combined version. Also a fourth column
for what appear to be those lines quoted in Snorri's Prose Edda.
http://notendur.hi.is/eybjorn/ugm/vsp3.html

Also, Google Translator doesn't do too badily as a whole on the combined text, working best
on the more common words, and it gives interesting translations for the questionable words:

födda=born, not fed
íviðjur=slightly, marginally
mæran=virgin, not mighty, or meran=mares
fyr=busy, enterprise

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