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Odin´s Rune Song                      Poetic form: Ljóðaháttr (Song Meter)

1. Hung I was on the windswept tree;
Nine full nights I hung,
Pierced by a spear, a pledge to the god,
To Odin, myself to myself,
On that tree which none can know the source
From whence its root has run.

2. None gave me bread, none brought a horn.
Then low to earth I looked.
I caught up the runes, roaring I took them,
And fainting, back I fell.

3. Nine mighty lays I learned from the son
Of Bolthorn, Bestla’s father,
And a draught I had of the holy mead
Poured out of Ordrerir.

4. Then fruitful I grew, and greatly to thrive,
In wisdom began to wax.
A single word to a second word led,
A single poem a second found.

5. Runes will you find, and fateful staves,
Very potent staves, very powerful staves,
Staves the great gods made, stained by the mighty sage,
And graven by the speaker of gods.

6. For gods by Odin, for elves by Dainn,
Dvalin for dwarves,
Alsvid for Jotuns, and I
Carved some for the sons of men.

7. Do you know how to write? Do you know how to read?
Do you know how to tint? Do you know how to try?
Do you know how to ask? Do you know how to offer?
Do you know how to send? Do you know how to slaughter?

8. Better don’t ask than offer too much;
A gift demands a gift.
Better send none than slay too many.
So Odin graved in the age ere man,
When he arose, when he came home.

9. These songs I know, unknown to wives
Of kings, or to mankind.
Help is the first, and help it will
In sickness, sorrow, and strife.

10. A second I know that sons of men
Who long to be leeches need.

11. A third I know if need there be
To fetter a foeman’s limbs,
Blunt I make the blades of my foe,
The bite of sword and staff.

12. A fourth I know; if fetters men lay
Fast upon my feet,
When the words I chant, I’ll walk away,
Fetters will spring from my feet,
Bindings burst from my hands.

13. A fifth I know; if a foeman’s shaft
Is fired against the folk,
However fast, its flight I stop,
If ever my eye can see it.

14. A sixth I know; if seeking ill
One sends a rune-cut root,
Whatever malice he meant for me,
On him the harm will fall.

15. A seventh I know; if I see a hall
Above the bench-mates burning,
No matter how strong, I stop the blaze.
I know the song to sing.

16. An eighth I know, useful to all,
Needful for men to know.
If warfare erupts twixt warriors’ sons,
I quickly quench their rage.

17. A ninth I know If need I find
To secure my ship from harm;
I calm the wind when waves run high,
And put the sea to sleep.

18. A tenth as well; if witches I see
At play up in the air,
I work it so their way they lose,
Their hamas they lose, their homes can’t find.

19. An eleventh I know, need I to lead
Lifelong friends to a fight.
‘Neath shield I sing, and safe they go,
Fare to the fight,
Fare from the fight,
Fare safe on every side.

20. A twelfth I know; if a tree should hold
A man in a halter hanged,
I can so cut and color the runes
That the man will walk with me,
The man will talk with me.

21. A thirteenth I know; if I take up water,
And on a young thane throw it,
He will not fall to foes in strife,
Not sink beneath the sword.

22. A fourteenth I know, if I need to count
For men, the glorious gods.
Æsir and Alfar all these I can name.
None of the foolish know this.

23. A fifteenth I know, that sang Theodrerir
The dwarf, at Dellings’ doors--
Sang strength to the Æsir, to the Alfar, gain,
Wise words to Hroptatyr.

24. A sixteenth I know; if a subtle maid
I want for love or lust,
I o’erwhelm the mind of the white-armed girl,
And her thoughts entirely turn.

25. A seventeenth I know, that seldom will wish
A maiden to avoid me . . .

26. An eighteenth I know that I never will tell
To maid or any man’s wife,
Other than her I hold in my arms,
Or else my sister is.

27. Surest are secrets shared with no one,
But now my spells are sung.

© Jack Hart

Meadhall: Asatru Jack´s site, including the medieval rune poems and modern rune poems by various authors.

Ship of Fools - Jack Hart´s Poetry Magazine. Submissions welcome.

Image: "The Sacrifice of Odin", Lorenz Frølich (1820–1908), Denish painter, illustrator and etcher.

Author´s Notes:

Stanza 2. horn = drinking horn.

Stanza 3. Bolthorn -- Odin’s Jotun grandfather.
Ordrerir --- mead of poetry or, in this case, the cauldron that holds the mead.

Stanza 5. Staves --rune staves, slips of wood with runes carved on them.

Stanza 6. This stanza is incomplete. “Sons of men” is actually an interpolation, but the
direction of the stanza makes the phrase almost inevitable.

Stanza 7. This formulaic stanza in Malahattr meter would appear to be a later addition
to the poem, since the normal stanza form for the Hávámal is Ljodahattr.

Stanza 8. Odin. Actually, this should be Thund, an alternate and not very familiar name
name for Odin. I made the substitution for the sake of clarity, and because I
couldn’t find a proper alliteration, and therefore substituted the metrical wild
card option of stressing contrasting vowels instead of identical consonants.

Stanza 9. “Wives of kings.” The poet is thinking of those king’s wives who are “Wise
Women,” with magical knowledge, such as Grimhild in the Volsunga Saga.

Stanza 10. Obviously part of this stanza is missing. Hollander supplies appropriate lines
from Sigdrífumál, but I thought it better not to do so.

Stanza 14. “Rune-cut.” Runes are meant, but not stated in the ON. Here I’ve broken
two rules I’ve given for myself, first not to add extra adjectives merely
for the sake of the alliteration, and second, not to add information not actually
stated in the ON text. The word “root” by itself, however, is neither clear nor
effective, and the informative “rune” provides the perfect alliteration. It was
too strong a temptation to pass up. I really haven’t added as many such
modifiers as Hollander and Bellows do.

Stanza 18. “’Neath.” I hate archaic forms such as this and “e’er,” and try to avoid them,
but sometimes they are just too useful for the rhythm and for the economy of
the line. At least I use them far less than Hollander and Bellows.

Stanza 23. “Theodrerir.” Otherwise unknown.
“Hroptatyr.” Another name for Odin, but better known than Thund.

Stanza 24. “White-armed.” This is a common descriptive phrase for beautiful women
in Greek poetry as much as in Norse. Possibly it reflects the fact that the
typical woman’s garment showed very little other bare skin.

Stanza 25. This stanza is obviously missing a pair of lines. The ON text has them
connected to a Loddfafnir stanza which obviously doesn’t belong here,
and which does nothing to explain these lines. Hollander takes the radical
step of inventing a pair of lines to finish out the stanza, and then makes the
Loddfafnir material into a stanza by itself. Others leave the arrangement as
they find it, which would be appropriate in a translation of the Hávamál as
a whole. However, presenting a section of the poem, as I am doing here,
seems to justify leaving out material which doesn’t belong. I have supplied
a not very inspired version of the stanza with the Loddfafnir material below.

Stanza 26. The ON has the lines given here as stanza 27 in the middle of stanza 26,
where they spoil both the poetic form and the meaning. Bellows leaves
them in place, but sets them off with dashes, which makes for awkward
reading. Hollander recasts the whole stanza. That helps the logic and
readability of the stanza, but also reduces the passage from translation
to paraphrase. Bray moves them to the end of the stanza which helps a
little. I am not especially happy with any solution, but making them a kind of
conclusion to the whole poem, seemed the best alternative, especially
since I have not included the final stanza which seems to me a conclusion to
the whole poem rather than simply to this particular section.

Here is an alternate ending with all the material as arranged in the Bugge’s ON edition. Anyone using this translation may feel free to mix and match according to what seems most appropriate to what it is being used for.

26. A seventeenth I know, that seldom will wish
A maiden to avoid me.
All of these songs, Loddfafnir, though
Long you have lacked them,
Were useful to you, if understood,
Useful to know,
Useful to have.

27. An eighteenth I know, that I never will tell
To maid or any man’s wife--
Surest are secrets shared with no one,
But now my spells are sung--
Other than her I hold in my arms,
Or else my sister is.

28. Now the High One’s song are sung in the hall,
Needful for men to know,
Useless for Jotuns to know.
Hail to he who speaks, Hail to he who knows.
Luck to those who learn.
Hail to those who hear.

© Jack Hart

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