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~ Historical & Classical Poetry ~

Sonatorrek (Lament for the Son)
from the Egilīs Saga

My boy was borne off
By a burning sea-fever,
The searing storm
Was his sea-sickness:
My son, who shunned
All spite and slander -
I must weep. But why
For one so all-worthy ?

Forgive his fate
And forget I will not
Odin, not Egil
Enjoys him for ever,
He has stolen my son,
The sapling growth
From my wifeīs womb
The warrior-seed.

The spear-god shared
Spoil with me,
My oath was to Odin,
He gave me aid:
Now that maker of mystic
Runes only mocks me
Voids all my victories,
That breaker of vows.

Iīll make offerings to Odin
Though not in eagerness,
Iīll make my soulīs sacrifice
Not suffer silently:
Though this friend has failed me,
Fellow of gods,
To his credits he comforts me
With compensation.

That wolf-killer, that warrior
God, well seasoned in war
Bestowed a bounty
Not to be bettered:
To my art he added
One other gift,
A heart that held
Not craft only: hatred !

The end is all.
Even now
High on the headland
Hel stands and waits,
Life fades, and I must fall
And face my own end
Not in misery and mourning
But with a manīs heart.

Penguin Classics version (translation by H. Pálsson and P. Edwards)




- The complete Sonatorrek has 23 stanzas, of which the last (and most beautiful, to me!) six are quoted here.


- Egil Skallagrimsson was a famous skald. The Icleandic Egilīs Saga recounts the life of this ambiguous character: poet, warrior, drunkard, apt lawyer, choleric killer, using runes for sorcery one time and for healing the next...


- Egilīs son had drowned, and Egil blames Odin for taking his son from him and enjoying his company in the afterlife. Another example of one *not* dying in *battle* still going to Odin !