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So the most untravelled Icelander Harlaw, or to any institution of the might be a skald, though he had never kind. It may also be suspected that seen the face of the king or earl, and Ragnar Lodbrók's death-song has never wielded sword and shield, nor helped the common view
a little. seen more glorious fray than a dispute There is indeed no lack of battle-rage over a horse-fight or the right of pas- in "Kráku-mál," but "many speak of ture. No doubt, if he were a good Wallace who never bent his bow," and skald, this home-glory would not con- the author of the poem was not with tent him. It was a stirring time in Ragnar in the serpent-pit. those days, when “the cankers of a The name of skald, then, whatever calm world and long peace” were un- its various applications may be, means known. But his travels would only in itself no more than "poet," confirm the title, and not confer it. If skilled in the art of verse-making. Its his verses found favor with the king origin is uncertain, none of the derivaor earl whom he chose to visit, he tions that have been proposed being might become retainer and court-poet, quite satisfactory.1 Dr. Gudbrand and follow his lord both in peace and Vigfusson inclines to the belief that war, but all this was only the external the original sense was a bad one, deglory of his profession. The skald was noting a composer of satirical or linot the battle-bard of Celtic custon bellous verse. There are certain facts (the precursor of the bagpipes and which lend some support to this theory, their bitter rival in the seventeenth but there is against it the strong obcentury), though his own verses, or his 'jection that language does not tend to recitation of older poems, might help ipprove the meaning of such words, at times to stir the courage of his com- and the word is commonly used in a rades. When Thormod made the val- good
Even the compound ley above Stikla-stead ring at day- skaldskapr, or skaldship, which in legal break with the lines of the old Bjarka- language denoted “a libel,” is also mál, he only did it by request for King current with the honorable meaning Olaf's entertainment, and the saga of "poetry,” especially in its formal adds that the host was delighted with aspect. his idea. King Olaf also wished to The formal side is indeed, as we shall have his skalds safe inside the shield- see, the safest from which to approach burg. “You shall stay here,” he said, the poetry of the skalds, if we use the "and see all that is done, and it will name in its technical sense,—the sense be no carried tale then, for you your- in which it commonly meets us in the selves shall tell of it, and make verses sagas. The skald in the tenth, and on it." The skalds then agreed with still more in the succeeding centuries, each other that it would be a good was above all an artist in language. thing to make some memorial verses His poetry consisted in the expression on the events about to happen. So quite as much as in the matter of his each of them composed a single verse, verse, and the tendency was for the which was immediately got by heart former to overgrow the latter. "The by the men who stood round about rude strains that were jingled out on them.
the skaldic lyre,” is no more applicable It is probably from a few instances to the verse of Sighvat and Arnorr like these that the conception of the
1 Most improbable (or rather impossible ) is that wild fighting skald has been derived.
which derives it from the Old Irish scélide, a storyMallet, for example, states of Earl
teller. Even if the word should not more correctly Hákon's skalds that “they each sang be written scèlaighe, the Norsemen could never an ode to animate the soldiers before have heard it so pronounced as to give it the form they engaged" with the Jóms-víkings. skald. In modern usage the word is written skáld,
and pronounced almost like the English scowled, Some verses certainly did pass on tha'
but the vowel was originally short. The plural occasion, but they bear no analogy to
has the same form as the singular, the gender Mac Vurich's brosnachadh catha at being neuter.
than to the odes of English laureates. them, and they formed an essential There may be differences of opinion as part in the telling of many a tale. On to the interest or poetic value of their such verses the saga-writer often had work, but the form is perfect of its to depend, and numerous incidents kind, and as far from "rude” as any were no doubt only remembered beverse could well be. On the other cause of their connection with the hand, when we read that Kormak's poet's words. If these single verses verses “were equally devoid of true lack the complex symmetry and majespoetic genius as those of the other tic swing of the regular drápa, they verse-smithiers who, in that rude contain much of what is most poetic age, hammered out their rhapsodical in the work of the skalds. A solitary ideas into the form of alliterative verse is sometimes the expression of metre," the criticism is more to the the most striking moment in the life point, though none the less capable of of an individual. The author of it being disputed.
may not be reckoned among the faThe forms of Old Northern verse mous skalds, but his single sonnet had were numerous enough, as may be enough in it to keep his name alive seen at length in Snorri's treatise to after-times. When Hallstein, son (Hátta-tal),-for the Icelanders wrote of Thengil the voyager, returned from metrical treatises as well as the Irish, Norway to his home in the north of though they did not divide the metres Iceland, and learned that bis father into "common," "uncommon," and was dead, he made these lines: "unknown!" In dealing with skaldic
Droops the Headland, verse, however, we have practically
Dead is Thengil; only one metre to consider,-that which
Long hills lightly goes by the name of drótt-kvæt:.1
Laugh to Hallstein. The earliest specimens of this belong to the poets of Harald Fairhair, and
The simplicity of this is something throughout the tenth century the
rare among the verses of the skalds, to metre is steadily ousting all others; whom intricacies of metre and of dicin the eleventh and twelfth it is all,
tion were very dear.
The first essential of prevailing. The name indicates that
regular the poems composed in this metre dróttkvætt verse is that it shall conwere intended for recitation before the sist of eight lines, each of three acking and drott (0. E. dryht), or house. cents, and commonly of six syllables. hold. It was thus the commonest
This at once distinguishes the Scandi
navian alliterative metre for the drápa, or laudatory
and Old German, where poem, in which the skald celebrated Anglo-Sa the exploits of the king or earl to
no such division into stanzas is obwhom he attached himself, or whose
served. That the skalds considered favor he was desirous to gain. The
the verse to consist of eight lines is of “court-metre,” is thus appro
manifest from several passages in the priate enough, but it had another and sagas, to say nothing of the treatises no less important use. It was the con
on metre; and it is very unfortunate stant sonnet-metre of the improvising that in the “Corpus Poeticum Boreale” skald, in which he expressed some
the arrangement of printing the stanza feeling of the moment, or summed up
in four lines was adopted. It is not some personal exploit. The limitations only contrary to universal practice, of space gave no great room for poetry, but has no advantages to recommend
it. perhaps, but the lines were easily remembered. They served as a perpet
Alliteration, of course, is necessary; ual register of the fact which caused
no Icelandic poetry can be without it,
from the earliest times to the present 1 The substitution of v for u in the English word day. When this type of verse was first quite will give the pronunciation of kvætt.
introduced, probably no more than the
above requirements were necessary, complete in this respect than the origibut even in the earliest specimens the nal, which has only imperfect ones. additional ornament of assonance is nor is the second assonant syllable alpresent. This feature is lacking in the ways found at the end of the line, as older and shorter measures employed in the above. Egil's verse, which folin the lays of the Edda, and its adop- lows, shows it in a position not untion has been attributed to Celtic influ- common in this early type. Egil, in his ence. We are here on very doubtful seventh year, had lodged an axe in ground indeed. Chronicles assure us the head of one of his playfellows, that Scandinavian contact with Ire- wh!ch made iis admiring mother deland began in 795 A.D., and for a long clare that there was good viking stuff time the relations were exclusively in him, and that he must get a warhostile. The poet Bragi must have ship when he was old enough. Then flourished previous to 850 A.D., as Dr. Egil, says the saga, made this ver3.J:Finnur Jónsson has lately taken the
Mother mine has bidden trouble to establish. In Bragi's verse
For myself to purchase we find the beginnings of this system
Vessel fast in floatingof assonance was adopted from the
Fare abroad with vikings: Irish metre rinnard, is a very doubtful High in stern upstanding point. The rules for the composition Steer unfearing onward; of rinnard are by no means the rules Hold me then to haven, observed in dróttkvætt, and the imita
Hew both shield and wielder. tion is at best very problematical. Here the only assonances are in the
The general effect of Bragi's verse, sixth and eighth lines, and in the as distinct from its more elaborate suc
former the rhyming syllables are cessor, may be sufficiently illustrated
steer, fear, both in tue first half of the by two later examples. The one is line. A good deal of spurious verse taken from the verses composed by of this early type was manufactured Torf-Einarr, the Orkney earl, and the in the thirteenth and fourteenth cenother belongs to Egil the son of Skalla- turies for insertion in the mythical grim, or at least is assigned to him in
sagas. The death-song of Lodbrók is tue saga. Einarr had avenged the
one of these productions, marked also death of his father Rögnvald, and thus by showing a verse of ten lines incomments on the way in which his
stead of eight. hrothers neglected their plain duty in
What distinguishes the finished the matter.
dróttkvætt verse from this, is that in Neither Hrolf's nor Hrollaug's it the assonances are subject to as Hand I see outsending
strict rule as the alliteration. The Flight of shafts on foemen,
first line of each couplet has a half Father's death avenging:
rhyme (skot-hending), while the second And this eve, while eager
line has a full one (adal-hending). The Arms we bear, uncaring
last accented syllable in each line supThorir, thane in Mæri,
plies one of the rhymes, the other Thinks of naught but drinking.
must be in the first half of the line. This verse, besides the strict alliter. For all these varieties there are techation required,1 shows full assonance nical names, which we here “willingly in some of its lines (bear, care; think, pretermit.” Carrying these rules into drink), and imperfect in others (hand, English verse, the stanza assumes the send; Thorir Mæri), being rather more form of the two specimens given be
low. A remarkable feature of the 1 The second line of each couplet shows the
metre is the use of parenthetic clauses, alliterative letter in its first accented word. The same letter begins two words in the preceding which have been retained exactly as line. Thus
placed in the originals. “Rögnvald's Fall is Fairly
The first stanza is a rendering of a (Fate is just) requited."
verse by Sighvat Thordarson on the
loss sustained by him in the death of During the contest the king objects to King Olaf the saint, and perhaps con- his poet's metre. “Hear, poet Thjótains an echo of Hallstein's verse in dóif,” said he; "you said gröm: skömm. the mention of smiling hills. He was That's a false quantity. If you had restless at home, says the saga, and said brömm: skömm, the quantity went out one day, and said:- would have been right, though that
makes no sense, You have made All, me seemed, were smiling Softly Norway's lofty
many better verses.". Of equal interest
in this connection are the verses made (Far I sailed a-faring) Fells, while Olaf held them:
by King Harald just before the battle Now, me seems, their summits
of Stamford Bridge. He first made (Sorrows mark me) darken
one in a very simple old metre, and (Sore I missed my master
then withdrew it. “That verse we reMild) with tempest wildest.
cited just now is not well made,” said The second is a somewhat free transla- he, “and we shall make another and
better one"—the better one being a tion of one of Kári's verses in Njáls
strict dróttkvætt-stanza. There can saga. Kári could not sleep by night for thinking of the burning of Njál and be little doubt that by “better” the his sons, and when questioned by As- king meant “more skaldlike,” that is,
in finer metre. Earl Rögnvald of Orkgrim, answered him in these terms:
ney was a ready improviser in this Long nights through I linger,
metre, as may be read at length in the Lord of the elm-bow corded!
Orkneyinga Saga, which also tells of (Keen regrets for kindred
the task set by him to an Icelander, Keep me waking) sleepless,
Oddi the little. “Make you a verse,” Since grim foes, with glancing
said the earl, “about what that man Gleam of firebrands streaming,
is doing on the tent there, and have (Full is my thought, with fretting Fraught) burning Njál in Autumn.
your verse ready by the time I have
finished reciting mine, and don't use These samples will show in what any words in your verse that I use in fetters the skald's poetic fancies be- mine.” These and other instances, stirred themselves “in the quick forge such as Hallfred's “sword” verse, show and working-house of thought.” Yet that the skald was expected to express it is not incredible that long practice himself with readiness even under admight enable him to produce them ditional difficulties. with greater ease than their form But if a single verse in this metre would suggest. Of Sighvat we are told was not such a difficult task, to comthat in ordinary conversation he was pose a drápa of twenty, thirty or even slow and stiff, while his verses came sixty stanzas was something for the
smoothly and quickly as other skald to be proud of. Einarr Skúlamen's talk.
son's poem on King Olaf, which he
recited before the kings and archSponte sua carmen numeros veniebat ad bishop at Nidaros in 1152 A.D., extends
aptos, Et quod tentabat dicere, versus erat.
to seventy-one stanzas of dróttkvætt,
and its composition could have been If we accept the evidence of the sagas, no light task. While other metres a great number of these occasional were not seldom employed for this verses were extemporized, or at least class of poem, no other was so genmade with very little premeditation, eral a favorite. Some poets attempted and in many cases this might be true variations on it by dropping a syllable enough. The saga of Harald Har in the line, but the result is not a pleasdrádi presents us with an interesting ing one. It is very different when the picture of the king, his poet, and a line is lengthened by a foot, resulting fisherman, rivalling each other in pro- in the metre hrynhend, the best speciducing verses after a special model. mens of which are the poems of Arnorr
VOL. XII. 616
and Sturla. Of Arnorr's poem King One can hardly believe that this kind Harald Hardrádi declared that it of thing cost Gunnlaug much racking would be repeated so long as the of brains. Perhaps he thought it good northern lands were inhabited. Prob- enough for Earl Sigtrygg, who was evably the earliest specimen is the frag- idently unaccustomed to hear his ment of a poem composed by a Hebrid- praises from a skald. When the reciean Christian, when the ship he was tation was ended, he called his treassailing in encountered some tremen- urer to him, and said, "How shall I redous waves in the Greenland seas, ward the poem ?” “What do you think about the year 986. The stef, or bur- yourself?” asked the treasurer. "How den, of the poem is preserved in Land- would it do, if I gave him two mernámabók, and makes up half a verse: chant vessels?” asked the king, as the
saga styles him. “That's too much," Mildest judge, that monks upholdest, said the treasurer; "other kings give Make my path amidst the breakers;
such things as swords or gold rings in highest might, in heaven that sittest,
return for a poem.” Hand' me safe through all my wand'ring.
Sigtrygg thus ad
vised, rewarded Gunnlaug with artiIt might have tasked the worthy cles of dress and a gold ring. The Egil to save his bald pate and wolfish story makes one speculate Wuether eyebrows at York, if he had tried to Earl Sigtrygg was ever berhymed by compose his "Head-ransom" in any of Irish bards, as his father Olaf Cuaran these metres. He chose the rarer but seems to have been in the lines, simpler device of end-rhymes, and set out thus in praise of Earl Erik.
Olaf, that's over
The eastern outfiow
Of Eţin the ancient, 1
The dear king of Dublin, etc.
These are lines which certainly have
a kind of Northern ring about them, When ice upbroke,
and make us wish to know more about And launched along
the personal relations of Gall and Gael With load of song.
in tenth-century Ireland. This was in 936 A.D., before the use To return to the drápa, there are of dróttkvætt had become so inevita- various technicalities connected with ble as it was at a later period. When its arrangement, division into parts, Gunnlaug in 1002 treated Earl Sigtrygg insertion of the burden, and so on, at Dublin to a poem in the same metre, which need not be more minutely conhe was no doubt influenced by the ex- sidered. They could hardly have ample of Egil, in whose district he had added much to the difficulty of comgrown up. Only twelve lines are pre- posing it, though they may have made served, besides the stef or burden it more hard to understand when it (which is “With flesh he feeds The was recited. In this we come to the Fury's steeds," i.e., the wolves): - real crux of skaldic poetry, over which
so many have stumbled. The hardest I know right well Whose worth I tell;
of Greek choruses is not more difficult Of Kvaran's kind
to unravel than some of these complHis kingly mind.
cated verses, though if but one-tenth
of the labor that has been spent on To me he'll lend
Greek choruses had been given to the (He loves to spend:
Old Northern poetry, the difficulties The bard is bold)
would have been much fewer by this His brightest gold.
time. To a considerable extent they Did ere his ear Another hear
1 “Prince of the eastern ford of meadowy Erin" His fame rehearse
is the literal rendering, i.e., King of Ath-Cliath, or In finer verse.