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27. Skaldic Poetry

Diana Whaley

Subject Literature » Medieval Literature

Place Northern Europe » Scandinavia

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631235026.2004.00030.x


Over 5,000 verses, most of them eight-line stanzas composed between the late ninth and fourteenth centuries, are traditionally counted as ‘skaldic’, an adjective constructed from Old Norse skáld ‘poet’. 1 The best insights into this remarkable genre are gained simply by reading verses aloud or silently, or by memorizing them, and hence this chapter combines a brief survey of the salient aspects of the poetry with a selection rather grandly headed ‘A Skaldic Anthology’, but necessarily somewhat arbitrary. The two main sections may be read in either order. The poem traditionally regarded as the earliest to survive is the Ragnarsdrápa of Bragi inn gamli (‘the Old’), though its confident panache could suggest that a wealth of lost work went before it, and the names of predecessors are recorded in Skáldatal (‘List of Poets’), albeit legendary ones. 2 Skaldic poetry was composed throughout the Scandi-navian-speaking world, and by poets of diverse origin, but mainly Norwegian in the first phase, then Norwegian or Icelandic in the tenth century. After c.1000, most skalds seem to have come from Iceland (especially the west or northwest) or Orkney, though some Norwegian kings are credited with poetry. How poets were trained is unknown, but the gifts of the greatest of them were recognized as special. Egill Skalla-Grímsson is credited with a fine stanza containing the boast, ‘you will ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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