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The Lay of Grimnir

Paul B. Taylor, notes by Peter H. Salus, translated from the Icelandic by W.H. Auden

King Hraudung had two sons, Agnar and Geirrod. Agnar was ten winters old and Geirrod eight when they went rowing in a boat to catch little fish. But the wind drove them out to sea. During the night they were wrecked on the shore; but they found a peasant with whom they spent the winter. The housewife cared for Agnar and the bondsman cared for Geirrod, teaching him wisdom. In the spring the peasant gave him a boat, and when the couple took the boys to the shore, the peasant spoke to Geirrod in secret. They had a fair wind and came to their father’s dock. Geirrod was in the front of the boat. He leapt on to the land and pushed the boat from the shore, saying “Go now where evil may take you!” The boat drifted out to sea. Geirrod went up to the house where he was welcomed, but his father was dead. Then Geirrod was made king and became famous.

Odin and Frigg sat in Hlidskjálf and looked over all the worlds. Odin said, “Do you see Agnar, your foster-child, begetting children with a giantess in a cave? But Geirrod, my foster-child, is a king, ruling over his land.” Frigg said, “He is so parsimonious that he tortures his guests if he thinks there are too many of them.” Odin replied that this was a great lie; and they wagered about the truth. Frigg sent her maid, Fulla, to Geirrod. She told the king to beware otherwise a magician who had come to the land would bewitch him, and said that he could be recognized because no dog was fierce enough to leap at him. It was a great slander that Geirrod was not hospitable; but he had his men capture the man the dogs would not attack. He wore a dark-blue cloak, called himself Grimnir, and would say no more of himself, even when questioned. The king had him tortured to make him speak, setting him between two fires for eight nights. King Geirrod had a son eight winters old, called Agnar after his father’s brother. Agnar went to Grimnir, and gave him a full horn from which to drink, and said that the king was not right in torturing him without cause. Grimnir drank from the horn; the fire was so near that the cloak on Grimnir’s back was afire. He said:

You are fierce, fire, too fierce for comfort, 1
   Recede from me, savage flame:
My cloak is beginning to catch fire,
   Its fur is singed and smoulders.

For eight nights I have not moved, 2
   None offered me meat or mead
Except Agnar: the Son of Geirrod
   Shall be lord of the land of the Goths.

Hail, Agnar! The Highest One 3
   Bids you a grateful greeting:
For one drink your reward shall be
   Greater than any man got.

The land is hallowed that lies near 4
   The homes of gods and elves:
But Thor shall live in Land-of-Strength
   Till the High Ones are all destroyed.

Ull yonder in Yew-Dale 5
   Has made himself a mansion:
Elf-Home for Frey in the old days
   The gods gave as a tooth-fee.

The third is a bower, thatched with silver 6
   And built by blithe powers:
Hall-of-the-Dead was the home chosen
   Long ago by the god.

The fourth Sunk-Bench; refreshing waves 7
   Sparkle and splash about it:
There Odin drinks all day with Saga,
   Glad from golden cups.

The fifth Glad-Home where, golden-bright 8
   The Hall of Valhalla stands:
There Hropt, the Doomer, daily chooses
   Warriors slain by weapons.

Easy to recognise for all who come there 9
   Is Odin’s lofty hall:
With spear-shafts and shields it is roofed,
   Its benches are strewn with byrnies.

Easy to recognise for all who come there 10
   Is Odin’s lofty hall:
The wolf hangs before the west door,
   The eagle hovers above.

The sixth Din-Home, the dwelling once 11
   Of Thjazi, the mighty-thewed:
Now Skadi sits in the seat of her father,
   The bright bride of gods.

The seventh Broad-Shining, where Baldur has 12
   Made himself a mansion,
A blessed place, the best of lands,
   Where evil runes are rare.

The eighth Heaven-Mount: Heimdal there 13
   Is lord of land and temple:
The gods’ watchman drinks good mead,
   Glad in that peaceful place.

The ninth Battle-Plain, where bright Freya 14
   Decides where the warriors shall sit:
Half of the fallen follow the goddess,
   And half belong to Odin.

The tenth Glittering; it has gold pillars 15
   And a rich roof of silver:
There Forseti sits as a rule
   And settles every suit.

The eleventh Harbor, where lordly Njord 16
   Has made himself a mansion:
The high-timbered altar he rules,
   Peerless prince of men.

Vidar lives in the land called Wood, 17
   Where grass and brushwood grow:
The bold one shall leap from the back of the mare
   To avenge his father’s death.

Sooty-Face in Sooty-with-fire, 18
   Boils Soot of-the-Sea:
To the Battle-slain Boar’s flesh
   Was ever the finest fare.

War-accustomed Warrior-Father 19
   Feeds it to Greedy and Grim,
For on wine alone weapon-good
   Odin always lives.

Thought and Memory each morning fly 20
   Over the vast earth:
Thought, I fear, may fail to return,
   But I fear more for Memory.

Thund roars fiercely, the fish of the wolf 21
   Frolics in the raging flood:
The river seems too rough and deep
   For the swarm of the slain to wade.

Gate-of-Dead before doors that are holy 22
   Stands upon hallowed acres:
Old is that gate, and how to bolt it
   Few now know.

Five hundred and forty doors 23
   Are built into Bilskirnir,
Furnished with rings: of roofed halls
   The largest belongs to my son.

Five hundred and forty doors 24
   Are built into bright Valhalla:
Eight hundred warriors through one door
   Shall go out to fight with Fenris.

Heath-Run is the goat in the hall of All-Father 25
   Who bites at Laerad’s boughs:
She shall fill the decanter with clear mead,
   That drink shall never run dry:

Oak-Thorn the hart in the hall of All-Father 26
   Who bites at Laerad’s boughs:
His horns drip into Hvergelmir,
   Whence all waters rise.

Sid and Vid, Sökin and Eikin, 27
Svöl, Fimbulthul, Fjorm and Gunnthro,
   Rinn and Rennandi,
Gipul and Gopul, Gomul and Geirvimul,
   Encircle the hall of the High Ones,
With Thyn and Vin, Tholl and Holl,
   Grad and Gunnthorin.

Vina is one stream, Vegsvin another 28
   A third Thjodnuma,
Nyt and Not, Nonn and Hronn,
Slid and Hrid, Sylg and Ylg,
Vid and Van, Vond and Strond,
Gjoll and Leift, they gush down to men
   And afterwards down to Hel.

Thor shall wade through the waters of Ormt, 29
   Kormt and the two Kerlaugs,
When he goes each day to deal out fates
   From Yggdrasil the ash-tree.
The bridge of the gods shall burst into flame,
   The sacred waters seethe.

Glad and Gyllir, Gler, Skeidbrimir, 30
   Silfrintop and Sinir,
Gisl, Falhofnir, Gulltop, Lettfeti,
   Are the steeds astride which the gods
Ride each day to deal out fates
   From Yggdrasil the ash-tree.

Three roots spread three ways 31
   Under the ash Yggdrasil:
Hel is under the first, Frost-Giants under the second,
   Mankind below the last.

Rat-Tusk is the squirrel who shall run up 32
   Yggdrasil the ash-tree,
He will bear the eagle’s words
   Down to Nidhögg beneath.

Four the harts who the high boughs 33
   Gnaw with necks thrown back:
Dain and Dvalin, Duneyr and Durathor.

Under Yggdrasil hide more serpents 34
   Than dull apes dream of:
Goin and Moin, Grafvitnir’s sons,
Sleepbringer, Unraveller, shall bite off
   Twigs of that tree for ever.

The hardships endured by Yggdrasil 35
   Are more than men can dream of:
Harts bite the twigs, the trunk rots,
   Nidhögg gnaws at the roots.

My ale-horn is brought me by Hrist and Mist: 36
   Skegghold and Skogul,
Hildi and Hlokk, Herfjotur, Thrudi,
   Goll and Geirolul,
Rangrid, Radgrid and Reginleif
   Serve ale to the slain,

Up shall rise All-Swift and Early-Awake, 37
   Hungry, to haul the Sun:
Under their shoulders shall the gods
   Carry cold iron.

The Cooler he is called who covers the Sun 38
   Like a shield, shining for gods:
Fire would consume fell and ocean
   Should his shield fall.

Skoll the wolf who shall scare the Moon 39
   Till he flies to the Wood-of-Woe:
Hati the wolf, Hridvitnir’s kin,
   Who shall pursue the Sun.

From Ymir’s flesh was the earth shaped, 40
   From his blood the salt sea,
The fells from his bones, the forests from his hair,
   The arching sky from his skull;
From his eyelashes the High Ones made
   Middle-Earth for men,
And out of his brains the ugly-tempered
   Clouds were all carved.

Ull will grace him, the gods also, 41
   Who first reaches the flame:
Open to the gods will all worlds be
   When the cauldrons are carried off.

The Sons of Invaldi ventured of old 42
   To build Skidbladnir,
The best of ships, for bright Frey,
   The nimble Son of Njörd.

Of all trees is Yggdrasil best, 43
   Skidbladnir best of ships,
Of gods Odin, of horses Sleipnir,
Bifröst of bridges, Bragi of poets,
Habrok of hawks, and of hounds Garm.

I lift my eyes and look now 44
   For aid from all the gods,
All the gods who shall enter to sit
   At the benches in Aegir’s Hall,
   And drink in Aegir’s Hall.

I am called Grim, I am called Traveller, 45
   Warrior and Helmet-Wearer,
Agreeable, Third, Thud and Ud,
   High-One and Hel-Blinder.

Truth, Change, and Truth-Getter, 46
   Battle-Glad, Abaser,
Death-Worker, Hider, One-Eye, Fire-Eye,
   Lore-Master, Masked, Deceitful.

Broad-Hat, Broad-Beard, Boat-Lord, Rider, 47
All-Father, Death-Father, Father-of-victory,
But by one name I have never been called
   Since I came among men.

Masked I am called in the courts of Geirrod, 48
   But Jalk in Asmund’s Hall,
Keeler they say of the sledge-drawer,
   Stirrer-of-Strife at Things,
   Vidur on the field of battle,
Equal-High, Shaker, Shout and Wish,
   Wand-Bearer, Grey-Beard among gods.

Wise and Sage at Sokkmimir’s 49
   When I hid the old giant:
When I came to Midvitnir’s the Killer of the Famed One’s
   Son sat there alone.

You are drunk, dead drunk, Geirrod, 50
Deprived of reason, deprived of my help,
Of the favor of the fallen, of the favor of Odin.

I have told you much, you remember too little, 51
   Friends betray your trust:
Already I see the sword of my friend,
   A blade dripping with blood.

Soon shall Ygg have your sword-struck corpse, 52
   Your life’s race is run:
Hostile are the incubi, Odin can see,
   Draw on me if you dare.

I am now Odin, I was Ygg before, 53
   Thud my name before that,
Wakeful and Heavens-Roar, Hanged and Skilfing,
   Goth and Jalk among gods,
Unraveller, Sleep-Bringer; they are really one,
   Many names for me.

Geirrod sat with his sword on his knee, half drawn from its sheath. When he heard that it was Odin, he rose to take him from the fire. The sword slipped and fell hilt down. The king stumbled and fell and the sword pierced him and slew him. Then Odin vanished, but Agnar ruled there as king for a long time.

Notes

4 Land-of-Strength: Thrudheim, the place where Thor has his hall, Bilskirnir. Cf. 24.

5 Ull, the god of archery, lives in Yew-Dale because bows were made of yew.

tooth-fee: a reference to the custom of giving a child a gift when he cuts his first tooth. It is still in vogue in Iceland.

6 Hall-of-the-Dead: Odin’s home. Perhaps identical to the “Sunk-Bench” of strophe 7 and the “Glad-Home” of 8.

12 Baldur’s home is free from everything unclean.

13 Heimdal’s home is at the end of Bifröst, the rainbow bridge.

15 We know nothing of Forseti save that Snorri says that he was “the son of Baldur and Nanna…. All who come to him with difficult cases to settle go away satisfied. He is the best judge among gods and men.”

18 Each day the gods’ cook (Sooty-Face) cooks the flesh of the boar (Soot-of-the-Sea) in the great kettle (Sooty-with-Fire). The boar’s flesh suffices for all the warriors and he is resurrected each evening to be cooked again the next morning.

19 Odin gives his share of the boar to two wolves (Greedy and Grim), as wine is food and drink enough for him.

21 The fish of the wolf is the sun, caught and devoured at ragnarök by the wolf, Skoll (cf. “Song of the Sybil”).

22 Gate-of-Dead is the outer gate of Valhalla.

26 Oak-Thorn (=antlered) is usually considered to embody the clouds.

27-35 Many scholars consider these enumerative strophes an interpolation. The names vary from manuscript to manuscript.

29 Snorri tells us that Yggdrasil’s third root “stands in heaven and beneath this root is a spring called Urd’s well…. There the gods have their judgment seat to which they ride each day over Bifröst….” Nothing is known of the rivers in this strophe.

31 It is hard to reconcile this with the information in strophe 29. Some editors consider the root of 29 to be the second one enumerated here.

33-34 Nothing is known of the harts or the serpents mentioned here.

42 Invaldi is the progenitor of all craftsmen-dwarves.

45-48 Little is known of most of these by-names of Odin (e.g. Thud and Ud), though some (e.g. Traveller, Warrior, or Third—Snorri tells us of a tripartite deity High, Equally-High, and Third) are fairly simple.

49 Nothing is known of this episode. It may be noted here that the German scholar Genzmer silently elides seventeen strophes from this poem—thus eliminating many problems.

53 Skilfing: literally “The Shaker.”

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