Poems of the Elder Edda

Poems of the Elder Edda

Poems of the Elder Edda

Poems of the Elder Edda


The great poetic tradition of pre-Christian Scandinavia is known to us almost exclusively though the Poetic Edda. The poems originated in Iceland, Norway, and Greenland between the ninth and thirteenth centuries, when they were compiled in a unique manuscript known as the Codex Regius.

The poems are primarily lyrical rather than narrative. Terry's readable translation includes the magnificent cosmological poem Völuspá ("The Sibyl's Prophecy"), didactic poems concerned with mythology and the everyday conduct of life, and heroic poems, of which an important group is concerned with the story of Sigurd and Brynhild.

Poems of the Elder Edda will appeal to students of Old Norse, Icelandic, and Medieval literature, as well as to general readers of poetry.


Deyr fé, deyia fraendr,
deyr siálfr it sama;
en orztírr deyr aldregi,
hveim et sÉr géan getr.

Cattle die, kinsmen die,
one day you die yourself;
but the words of praise will not perish when a man wins fair fame.

(Sayings of the High One, 76)

The poems that are here so vividly translated by Patricia Terry unfold the traditional lore of the Norsemen concerning their gods and heroes. "Fair fame" is their chief subject; and such has been the potency of their "words of praise" that Odin the god, Sigurd the hero, and Brynhild the valkyrie still live. But who were the poets? Ironically, all we know of them is that they were the kinsmen of the Viking warriors who are popularly thought of as savage pirates of the western seas. Their literary legacy therefore deserves careful assessment.

In the remote obscurity of the past the adventurous Germanic ancestors of the Norsemen had carried their culture and their particular Germanic dialects from the mainland of Europe northward first into Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, then by the year 874 into Iceland, and by A.D. 986 into Greenland. Thereafter, as skilled seamen they set no limits to their explorations. From their Scandinavian bases they established beachheads at almost every estuary in western Europe. They founded notable realms in Normandy and in the English Danelaw. They sailed through the Mediterranean and settled in Sicily; they passed over the Black Sea; they penetrated the Baltic and settled in what is now Russia; they sailed around the North Cape . . .

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