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Norse - Sonatorrek - Egill Skallagrímsson

Identifier

017120

Type of Spiritual Experience

Background

As quoted in WHAT WAS VIKING POETRY FOR? By ANTHONY FAULKES PROFESSOR OF OLD ICELANDIC at the Inaugural lecture delivered on 27th April 1993 in the University of Birmingham

Poetry as consolation is a concept amply documented in medieval Icelandic literature.  The best known example is Egill Skallagrímsson, who, crushed with grief after the death of two of his sons, the second one his favourite, drowned at sea, is reported to have determined to starve himself to death. This was in the latter half of the tenth century. He went to bed and refused food. His daughter was sent for and she persuaded him to express his grief in a poem, an elegy for his dead sons, and he thereafter composed Sonatorrek, ‘On the irreparable loss of his sons’, one of his best and most moving poems, and recovered his desire to live

Old Norse text edited by Bjarni  Einarsson, from Egils saga, London: Viking Society for Northern Research, 2003, pp. 146-154.  English prose translation and glosses by Bjarni Einarsson

This poem is preserved in Egils saga skallagrimsson. “The text of the poem is the result of a

long series of copies and is in some places corrupt beyond correction.” (Einarsson, 146).

A description of the experience

Sonatorrek (Loss of Sons), by Egil Skallagrimsson. c. 960

 

1. Mjǫk erum tregt

tungu at hroera

með loptvætt

ljóðpundara;

esa nú vænt

of Viðurs þýfi,

né hógdroegt

ór hugar fylgsni.

 

1. I can hardly move my tongue

or lift up the steelyard of song;

now there is little hope of Viðurs

theft, nor is it easy to draw it out

of the hiding place of the mind.

 

“steelyard of song” = tongue

 “Viður” = poetic name for Oðinn

“Viðurs theft” = poetry;

reference to myth of Oðinn

stealing mead of poetry

 

2. Era auðþeystr,

því at ekki veldr

hǫfugligr,

ór hyggju stað

fagnafundr

Friggjar niðja

ár borinn

ór jǫtunheimum.

 

2. It is not easy, because of my

heavy sobbing, to let flow from

the mind's place the joyful find

of the kinsmen of Frigg, which

in times of yore was carried

away from the lands of giants.

 

“kinsmen of Frigg” = the Aesir;

“joyful find of the kinsmen of

Frigg” = poetry; another

reference to the stealing of the mead of poetry from the giants

 

3. Lastalauss,

er lifnaði

á nǫkkvers

nǫkkva bragi;

jǫtuns háls

undir þjóta

Náins niðr

fyrir naustdyrum.

 

3. [Without faults, has come to

life at [name of dwarf?] ship of

Bragi]; [From] wounds on a

giant's neck [blood] flows

down in front of Nain's house

doorway.

 

This section is garbled or as

Einarsson says “Lines 1-4 have

not been satisfactorily

explicated.”

“Blood from giant's neck” = sea

“Nain” is a dwarf name; his

doorway = rocks. Einarsson

glosses this verse as “The sea is roaring down in front of rocks.”

 

4. Því at ætt mín

á enda stendr,

hræbarnir

sem hlynir marka,

era karskr maðr

sá er kǫgla berr

frænda hrørs

af fletjum niðr.

 

4. Because my lineage has come

to an end, like the weather-beaten

trees of the forest, it is not a glad

man who carries a dead body

of a relative [down from the

benches.]

 

“flet” = the built-in benches

along the side of the hall that

people sat and slept on.

Einarsson glosses this phrase as “from the house.”

 

5. Þó mun ek mitt

ok móður hrør

fǫður fall

fyrst um telja;

þat ber ek út

ór orðhofi

mærðar timbr

máli laufgat.

 

5. [Yet I must of my mother's

death and fall of my father

first speak;] I carry out of the

temple of words the timber of

praise, leaved with words.

 

“temple of words” = mouth

“timber of praise” = poem

 

6. Grimmt vǫrum hlið,

þat er hrǫnn um braut

fǫður míns

á frændgarði;
veit ek ófullt

ok opit standa

sonar skarð,

es mér sjár um vann.

 

6. Cruel to me was the gap

which the sea broke in [my

father's fence of kinsmen]; I see

the empty and open place

[stands] [the gap of my son],

which the sea has caused me.

 

“fence of kinsmen” = lineage,

family

 

7. Mjǫk hefir Rán

ryskt um mik,

em ek ofsnauðr

at ástvinum;

sleit marr bǫnd

minnar ættar,

þôtt

af sjǫlfum mér.

 

7. Rán has given me rough

treatment; I have too few

dear friends; the sea broke the

strings of my kin, a hard-spun

strand of myself.

 

Rán is the wife of the god of the sea; in Snorri's Edda she is

described as “having a net in

which she caught everyone that went to sea” (95).

 

8. Veiztu um þá sǫk

sverði of rækak,

var ǫlsmið

allra tíma;

hroða vágs broeðr

ef vega mættak,

foera ek andvígr

Ægis mani.

 

8. You know, if for that offense

I took revenge with the sword,

the ale-smith's life would be

over; If I could kill them, I

would fight Ægir's wife [and

brother of the wind].

 

Einarsson says “the whole stanza is linguistically and metrically corrupt, and the suggested conjectures are unsatisfactory.”

“ale-smith” = Ægir, who is the

brewer for the gods.

“brother of the wind” = the sea

 

9. En ek ekki

eiga þóttumk

sakar afl

við sonar bana,

því at alþjóð

fyr augum verðr

gamals þegns

gengileysi.

 

9. But I thought I had not the

strength to contend with my

son's slayer, because [in front of

everyone's eyes it becomes

known, the lack of support

of an old thane.]

 

 

10. Mik hefr marr

miklu ræntan;

grimmt er fall

frænda at telja,

síðan er minn

á munvega

ættarskjǫldr

aflífi hvarf.

 

10. The sea has deprived me of a

great deal; it is painful to

enumerate the deaths of

kinsmen, since [my shield of the

family] died and [went

on the paths of joy.]

 

“shield of the family” = defender of the family; referring to Egil's son.

“paths of joy”: Einarsson notes

that this expression is not found anywhere else in the ON corpus

 

11. Veit ek þat sjalfr,

at í syni mínum

vara ills þegns

efni vaxit,

ef sá randviðr

røskvask næði,

unz her-Gauts

hendr of toeki.

 

11. I know myself that in my son

the stuff of a bad man would

never have grown if this [shieldtree]

could have matured

until he got a soldier's arms.

 

“shield-tree” = warrior, man

“her-Gautr” = probably Óðinn,

perhaps warrior; an alternative translation could be “if this shield-tree could have matured until the hand of Óðinn, took him”

 

12. Æ lét flest

þat er faðir mælti,

þótt ǫll þjóð

annat segði,

ok mér upp helt

um verbergi

ok mitt afl

mest of studdi.

 

 

12. Nearly always he complied

with his father's words, though

everybody else objected

. . .

and most supported my efforts

 

Einarsson says “lines 5-6 are

inexplicable and metrically

wrong.”

 

13. Opt kemr mér

mána bjarnar

í byrvind

broeðraleysi;

hyggjumk um,

er hildr þróask,

nýsumk hins

ok hygg at því:

 

13. The loss of brothers

often comes to me in the

[favorable wind of the enemy of

the moon]; I consider (what to

do) when the battle rages,

I rack my brain about it and

reflect about this:

 

“enemy of the moon” = giant

“favorable wind of the enemy of the moon” = mind

 

14. Hverr mér hugaðr

á hlið standi

annarr þegn

við óðræði;

Þarf ek þess opt

við þvergǫrum;

verð ek varfleygr,

er vinir þverra.

 

14. What other courageous

person will support me against

sudden danger? I am often in

need of it against obstinate men.

I become wary (?) when friends

depart.

 

 

15. Mjǫk er torfyndr,

sá er trúa knegum,

of alþjóð

Elgjar galga,

þvi at niflgóðr

niðja steypir

bróður hrør

við baugum selr.

 

15. It is hard to find anyone

trustworthy among all the

people[ of Óðinn's gallows],

because an evil traitor to his

relations takes rings for the

killing of a brother.

 

“Elgjar” = Óðinn

“Óðinn's gallows” = world-tree

“all the people of Óðinn's

gallows” = everyone in the world (even giants and gods)

refers to accepting compensation instead of revenge: both are legal

options

 

16. Finn ek þat opt

es fjár beiðir - - -

 

16. I often feel,

when asking for money . . .

 

Einarsson says “a doubtful

attempt to translate an unfinished

sentence.”

 

17. Þat er ok mælt

at engi getr

sonar iðgjǫld

nema sjalfr ali,

enn þann nið

er ǫðrum sé

borinn maðr

í bróður stað.

 

17. The saying is also that no

man gets compensation for a son

unless he himself rears another

son, one who is born instead

in order to take the place of a

brother.

 

 

18. Erumka þekkt

þjóða sinni,

þótt sérhverr

sátt um haldi; burr er Bileygs

í boe kominn,

kvánar sonr,

kynnis leita.

18. I do not like the company of

men, even though they are in

agreement; My son, the son of

my wife, has arrived [at the home of Óðinn], to pay a visit.

 

“Bileyg” = Óðinn

“home of Óðinn” = world of the gods

 

 

19. En mér fens

í fǫstum þokk

hrosta hilmir

á hendi stendr;

máka ek upp

jǫrðu grímu

rýnnis reið

réttri halda,

 

19. But [the chieftain of the fen

of the beer-mash] weighs me

down with firm mind;

I cannot hold [the ground of the

mask], [knowledge's carriage],

upright,

 

“fen of the beer-mash” = beer

“chieftain of beer” = Ægir

“ground of the mask” = head

“knowledge's carriage” = head

 

20. síz son minn

sóttar brími

heiptugligr

ór heimi nam,

þanns ek veit

at varnaði

vamma varr

við vámæli.

 

20. since cruel fever removed my

son from the world, the one –

himself without blemish – who I

know kept clear of slander.

 

 

21. Þat man ek enn,

es upp um hóf

í goðheim

Gauta spjalli

ættar ask,

þann er óx af mér,

ok kynvið

kvánar minnar.

 

21. I still remember when [the

friend of the Gautar]

raised up to the world of the

gods the ash-tree of my race

which sprouted from me and the

family branch of my wife.

 

“friend of the Gautar” = Óðinn

 

22. Átta ek gott

við geirs dróttin,

gerðumk tryggr

at trúa honum,

áðr vinátt

vagna rúni

sigrhǫfundr

um sleit við mik.

 

22. I had good relations with [the

lord of the spear], I had

confidence in him, until [the

friend of carriages], [lord of

victory], broke off friendship

with me.

 

“lord of the spear” = Óðinn

“friend of carriages” = Óðinn

“lord of victory” = Óðinn

 

23. Bloetka því

bróður Vílis,

goðjaðar,

at gjarn séak;

þó hefr Míms vinr

mér of fengnar

bǫlva boetr,

es et betra telk.

 

23. I do not [sacrifice] [to the

brother of Vili,] the protector of

the gods, because I am keen to;

nevertheless, [Mímr's friend]

has, if I consider the better side

of it granted me recompense for

my ills.

 

“brother of Vili” = Óðinn

“Mímir's friend” = Óðinn

 

24. Gáfumk íþrótt

ulfs of bági

vígi vanr

vammi firrða

ok þat geð,

er ek gjǫrða mér

vísa fjandr

af vélǫndum.

 

24. [The enemy of the wolf],

the experienced fighter, gave me

a faultless art, and the mind

which enabled me to make shifty

cowards of obvious enemies.

 

“enemy of the wolf” = Óðinn

 

25. Nú er méf torvelt,

Tveggja bága

njǫrvanipt

á nesi stendr,

skal ek þó glaðr

með góðan vilja

ok óhryggr

heljar bíða.

 

25. Now I am in trouble, [sister

of the enemy to two] stands on

the headland; nevertheless I

shall, glad and unconcerned

and with good-will await death.

 

“enemy to two” = Fenrir the

wolf, who bit the hand off of Týr

and will defeat Óðinn at

Ragnarǫk

“sister of enemy to two” = Hel,

goddess of death

 

 

 

The source of the experience

Norse

Concepts, symbols and science items

Concepts

Symbols

Science Items

Activities and commonsteps

Activities

Overloads

Grief

Commonsteps

References