Poetry – Haavamaal

Eddic Poems

The Eddic poems are divided into poems of the Gods and heroic poems. First and foremost it gets its material from the stories of the ancient gods and from the sagas of famous heroes. The difference isn’t always clear. The gods often intervene on behalf of the heroes and some of the heroes are of divine origin.Haavamaal is the best known and most often quoted of the Eddic poems.

Haavamaal

Many of the verses from the poem are often used and quoted in widely varied circumstances today over 1000 years after the poem was first authored.

Many of the words of wisdom about how to treat others, advice on friendship, how to behave, examples of wisdom and temperance and much more can be food for thought for people of today. Much of the poem’s content is still valid.

Haavamaal was put together from several different poetic songs that were composed in a special meter in the period from 700-900. Each of these poetic songs were first oral traditions of the people, before they were put together as a poem of 164 verses thus becoming the longest of the Eddic poems. The first part of 77 verses is what one is usually talking about when one mentions the Haavamaal. This part is a collection of rules for living that were transformed into poetry by a verse-capable author.

Haavamaal means “Sayings of the High One”. The ‘High One’ being the god Odin who was the most powerful and wisest of the Nordic gods. In the poem he gives the people advice on  how to act and live in order for life to be rich and meaningful.It is uncertain where Haavamaal was composed. Varying theories point to Norway, Iceland and the British Isles.

The poem can be divided into several parts based on the content. The best known section is the first part and it consists of 77 verses. It’s a collection of rules for living that most often resemble sayings. In the following parts we hear of love between a man and a woman, betrayal, everyday advice, the mystique of religion, and finally songs of sorcery.As with much Norse literature we don’t know the author/authors of Haavamaal.

When did the poem come into being?

Research tells us that Haavamaal was created in the Viking era. All the different parts that the poem is composed of bear the stamp of the pre-Christian era.

The Icelander Björn Jónasson points out that Haavamaal was “words of wisdom that served as spiritual nourishment for the Vikings on their long and arduous sea voyages.” He says that “the words of wisdom give a clear picture of the Vikings attitudes toward and view of life.”

Where did the poem come into being?

In several of the verses we find the action occurring what seems to be characteristic Norwegian nature and culture. One of the foremost Haavamaal experts, Ludvig Holm-Olsen, points out that

“Here, but not on Iceland, the Heron flies (13), the young pines and oak grow (50,137), the wolf hunts (50,58), the reindeer run in the mountain (90), monuments of stone crowd the road (72), the kings ruled (15, 86, 114, 146) and here it was customary to burn corpses (71, 81) a custom that was abolished with the arrival of Christianity and a custom was not common in Iceland…. We can therefore be fairly certain that large parts of Haavamaal were Norwegian poetry that the Icelanders have taken care of.”

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