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Havamal translated by Henry A. Bellows
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Havamal Introduction

Henry A. Bellows' work has been slightly modernised for this version.

The name, age and style of the Old Norse poem

Havamal is a Norse [Northern Germanic] poem. This slightly updated version stems from the translation of the poem in The Poetic Edda, translated by Henry Adams Bellows in 1936.

The name Havamal means "The High One's Words". The poem is a collection of terse counsels, at least 1000 years old and put in the mouth of the Norse god "Odin". The loose structure of the poem made it easy to insert new stanzas.

Some parts of the poem are among the oldest relics of ancient Germanic poetry, and perhaps most of its component elements go rather far back, but there is at present no way of telling how or when they first came into being.

Its gnomic utterances present needed wisdom for Norse fellows. It presents worldly wisdom among barbarians, with ideals of loyalty, truth, and unfaltering courage.

From the Havamal history

In 1643, the Icelandic Brynjolv Sveinsson, Bishop of Skalholt, discovered a manuscript, clearly written as early as 1300, containing twenty-nine poems, complete or fragmentary. One of the poems is Havamal.

Some years later, in 1662 or nearby, a Danish king sent a Thormod Torfaeus to Iceland: Thormod was empowered to buy ancient manuscripts and other material on Icelandic history. Soon the bishop sent the king a gift of several manuscripts. The manuscript that Havamal is in, came to be titled "Edda Saemundi; quarto", or the Poetic Edda. Great was the joy of the scholars. The find was a treasure. It was returned to Iceland in 1971.

The Poetic Edda, as we now know it, is a more or less haphazard collection of separate poems, dealing either with Norse mythology or with hero-cycles unrelated to the traditional history of greater Scandinavia or Iceland. There is little agreement about the birthplace, authorship and date of the Eddic poems. The poems were the work of many different men living in different periods. Most of the poems existed in oral tradition for generations before they were committed to writing.

Many of the legends, both mythological and heroic, that the poems were based on, certainly existed in the Norse regions, and quite possibly in verse form, long before the year 900.

The Eddic poems are "folk-poetry" in the sense that some of them strongly reflect a culture's feelings and beliefs. It was common in the Norse times that chieftains and many others produced skaldic poetry, as for example the Orkneyingers' Saga 7.8 shows. Not only asserted or announced Norse poets, but also many others, had knowledge of the art of poetry.


During a considerable part of the ninth and tenth centuries, Scandinavians were active in Ireland and in most of the western islands inhabited by branches of the Celtic race. . . . However, . . . Iceland early came to be [a] cultural center . . . it was in Iceland that they were chiefly preserved.

(On) Iceland . . . grew up an active civilization, fostered by absolute independence and by remoteness from the wars which wracked Norway, yet kept from degenerating into provincialism by the roving life of the people.

After 1250 came a rapid decline. Iceland lost its independence, becoming a Norwegian province. Later Norway too fell under alien rule.

Pestilence and famine laid waste the whole North; volcanic disturbances worked havoc in Iceland, but literature did not quite die.

Old Norse - classifications of the literature

The mass of literature . . . collected and written down largely between 1150 and 1250 maybe roughly divided into four groups.

  1. The greatest in volume is made up of the sagas: narratives mainly in prose, ranging all the way from authentic history of the Norwegian kings and the early Icelandic settlements to fairy-tales.
  2. Embodied in the sagas is found the material composing the second group: the skaldic poetry, a vast collection of songs of praise, triumph, love, lamentation, and so on, (marked by) complexity of figurative language and remarkable artificiality of style. Futhermore, the skalds dealt almost exclusively with their own emotions.
  3. There is no absolute line to be drawn between the poetry of the skalds and the poems of the Edda, which we may call the third group; but much artificiality of style and personalised emotions are seldom found in the poems of the Edda; the Eddic poems are quite impersonal.
  4. The fourth group (is) made up of didactic works, religious and legal treatises, and so on, studies which originated chiefly in the later period of learned activity.

The figurative mentions in the poem go unexplained here.


"As the basis for this translation I have used the text prepared by Karl Hildebrand (1876) and revised by Hugo Gering (1904). Textual emendation has, however, been so extensive in every edition of the Edda, and has depended so much on the theories of the editor, that I have also made extensive use of many other editions, notably those by Finnur Jonsson, Neckel, Sijmons, and Detter and Heinzel, together with numerous commentaries," writes Henry Adams Bellows in 1936.



Within the gates before a man shall go,
(Full warily let him watch,)
Full long let him look about him;
For little he knows where a foe may lurk,
And sit in the seats within.

Hail to the giver! a guest has come;
Where shall the stranger sit?
Swift shall he be who, with swords shall try
The proof of his might to make.

Fire he needs who with frozen knees
Has come from the cold without;
Food and clothes must the farer have,
The man from the mountains come.

Water and towels and welcoming speech
Should he find who comes, to the feast;
If renown he would get, and again be greeted,
Wisely and well must he act.

Wits must he have who wanders wide,
But all is easy at home;
At the witless man the wise shall wink
When among such men he sits.

A man shall not boast of his keenness of mind,
But keep it close in his breast;
To the silent and wise does ill come seldom
When he goes as guest to a house;
(For a faster friend one never finds
Than wisdom tried and true.)

The knowing guest who goes to the feast,
In silent attention sits;
With his ears he hears, with his eyes he watches,
Thus wary are wise men all.

Happy the one who wins for himself
Favor and praises fair;
Less safe by far is the wisdom found
That is hid in another's heart.

Happy the man who has while he lives
Wisdom and praise as well,
For evil counsel a man full often
Has from another's heart.

A better burden may no man bear
For wanderings wide than wisdom;
It is better than wealth on unknown ways,
And in grief a refuge it gives.

A better burden may no man bear
For wanderings wide than wisdom;
Worse food for the journey he brings not afield
Than an over-drinking of ale.

Less good there lies than most believe
In ale for mortal men;
For the more he drinks the less does man
Of his mind the mastery hold.

Over beer the bird of forgetfulness broods,
And steals the minds of men;
With the heron's feathers fettered I lay
And in Gunnloth's house was held.

Drunk I was, I was dead-drunk,
When with Fjalar wise I was;
It's the best of drinking if back one brings
His wisdom with him home.

The son of a king shall be silent and wise,
And bold in battle as well;
Bravely and gladly a man shall go,
Till the day of his death is come.

The sluggard believes he shall live forever,
If the fight he faces not;
But age shall not grant him the gift of peace,
Though spears may spare his life.

The fool is agape when he comes to the feast,
He stammers or else is still;
But soon if he gets a drink is it seen
What the mind of the man is like.

He alone is aware who has wandered wide,
And far abroad has fared,
How great a mind is guided by him
That wealth of wisdom has.

Shun not the mead, but drink in measure;
Speak to the point or be still;
For rudeness none shall rightly blame you
If soon your bed you seek.

The greedy man, if his mind be vague,
Will eat till sick he is;
The vulgar man, when among the wise,
To scorn by his belly is brought.

The herds know well when home they shall fare,
And then from the grass they go;
But the foolish man his belly's measure
Shall never know aright.

A paltry man and poor of mind
At all things ever mocks;
For never he knows, what he ought to know,
That he is not free from faults.

The witless man is awake all night,
Thinking of many things;
Care-worn he is when the morning comes,
And his woe is just as it was.

The foolish man for friends all those
Who laugh at him will hold;
When among the wise he marks it not
Though hatred of him they speak.

The foolish man for friends all those
Who laugh at him will hold;
But the truth when he comes to the council he learns,
That few in his favor will speak.

An ignorant man thinks that all he knows,
When he sits by himself in a corner;
But never what answer to make he knows,
When others with questions come.

A witless man, when he meets with men,
Had best in silence abide;
For no one shall find that nothing he knows,
If his mouth is not open too much.
(But a man knows not, if nothing he knows,
When his mouth has been open too much.)

Wise shall he seem who well can question,
And also answer well;
Nothing is concealed that men may say
Among the sons of men.

Often he speaks who never is still
With words that win no faith;
The babbling tongue, if a bridle it find not,
Often for itself sings ill.

In mockery no one a man shall hold,
Although he fare to the feast;
Wise seems one often, if nothing he is asked,
And safely he sits dry-skinned.

Wise a guest holds it to take to his heels,
When mock of another he makes;
But little he knows who laughs at the feast,
Though he mocks in the midst of his foes.

Friendly of mind are many men,
Till feasting they mock at their friends;
To mankind a bane must it ever be
When guests together strive.

Often should one make an early meal,
Nor fasting come to the feast;
Else he sits and chews as if he would choke,
And little is able to ask.

Crooked and far is the road to a foe,
Though his house on the highway be;
But wide and straight is the way to a friend,
Though far away he fare.

Forth shall one go, nor stay as a guest
In a single spot forever;
Love becomes loathing if long one sits
By the hearth in another's home.

Better a house, though a hut it be,
A man is master at home;
A pair of goats and a patched-up roof
Are better far than begging.

Better a house, though a hut it be,
A man is master at home;
His heart is bleeding who needs must beg
When food he fain would have.

Away from his arms in the open field
A man should fare not a foot;
For never he knows when the need for a spear
Shall arise on the distant road.

If wealth a man has won for himself,
Let him never suffer in need;
Often he saves for a foe what he plans for a friend,
For much goes worse than we wish.

None so free with gifts or food have I found
That gladly he took not a gift,
Nor one who so widely scattered his wealth
That of recompense hatred he had.

Friends shall gladden each other with arms and garments,
As each for himself can see;
Gift-givers' friendships are longest found,
If fair their fates may be.

To his friend a man a friend shall prove,
And gifts with gifts requite;
But men shall mocking with mockery answer,
And fraud with falsehood meet.

To his friend a man a friend shall prove,
To him and the friend of his friend;
But never a man shall friendship make
With one of his foeman's friends.

If a friend you have whom you fully will trust,
And good from him would get,
Your thoughts with his mingle, and gifts shall you make,
And fare to find him often.

If another you have whom you hardly will trust,
Yet good from him would get,
You shall speak him fair, but falsely think,
And fraud with falsehood requite.

So is it with him whom you hardly will trust,
And whose mind you may not know;
Laugh with him may you, but speak not your mind,
Like gifts to his shall you give.

Young was I once, and wandered alone,
And nothing of the road I knew;
Rich did I feel when a comrade I found,
For man is man's delight.

The lives of the brave and noble are best,
Sorrows they seldom feed;
But the coward fear of all things feels,
And not gladly the niggard gives.

My garments once in a field I gave
To a pair of carven poles;
Heroes they seemed when clothes they had,
But the naked man is nothing.

On the hillside drear the fir-tree dies,
All bootless its needles and bark;
It is like a man whom no one loves,–
Why should his life be long?

Hotter than fire between false friends
Does friendship five days burn;
When the sixth day comes the fire cools,
And ended is all the love.

No great thing needs a man to give,
Often little will purchase praise;
With half a loaf and a half-filled cup
A friend full fast I made.

A little sand has a little sea,
And small are the minds of men;
Though all men are not equal in wisdom,
Yet half-wise only are all.

A measure of wisdom each man shall have,
But never too much let him know;
The fairest lives do those men live
Whose wisdom wide has grown.

A measure of wisdom each man shall have,
But never too much let him know;
For the wise man's heart is seldom happy,
If wisdom too great he has won.

A measure of wisdom each man shall have,
But never too much let him know;
Let no man the fate before him see,
For so is he freest from sorrow.

A brand from a brand is kindled and burned,
And fire from fire begotten;
And man by his speech is known to men,
And the stupid by their stillness.

He must early go forth who fain the blood
Or the goods of another would get;
The wolf that lies idle shall win little meat,
Or the sleeping man success.

He must early go forth whose workers are few,
Himself his work to seek;
Much remains undone for the morning-sleeper,
For the swift is wealth half won.

Of seasoned shingles and strips of bark
For the thatch let one know his need,
And how much of wood he must have for a month,
Or in half a year he will use.

Washed and fed to the council fare,
But care not too much for your clothes;
Let none be ashamed of his shoes and hose,
Less still of the steed he rides,
(Though poor be the horse he has.)

When the eagle comes to the ancient sea,
He snaps and hangs his head;
So is a man in the midst of a throng,
Who few to speak for him finds.

To question and answer must all be ready
Who wish to be known as wise;
Tell one your thoughts, but beware of two,–
All know what is known to three.

The man who is prudent a measured use
Of the might he has will make;
He finds when among the brave he fares
That the boldest he may not be.

. . .
Often for the words that to others one speaks
He will get but an evil gift.

Too early to many a meeting I came,
And some too late have I sought;
The beer was all drunk, or not yet brewed;
Little the loathed man finds.
"A man must be watchful and wary as well,
And fearful of trusting a friend."

To their homes men would bid me hither and yon,
If at meal-time I needed no meat,
Or would hang two hams in my true friend's house,
Where only one I had eaten.

Fire for men is the fairest gift,
And power to see the sun;
Health as well, if a man may have it,
And a life not stained with sin.

All wretched is no man, though never so sick;
Some from their sons have joy,
Some win it from kinsmen, and some from their wealth,
And some from worthy works.

It is better to live than to lie a corpse,
The live man catches the cow;
I saw flames rise for the rich man's pyre,
And before his door he lay dead.

The lame rides a horse, the handless is herdsman,
The deaf in battle is bold;
The blind man is better than one that is burned,
No good can come of a corpse.

A son is better, though late he be born,
And his father to death have fared;
Memory-stones seldom stand by the road
Save when kinsman honors his kin.

Two make a battle, the tongue slays the head;
In each furry coat a fist I look for.

He welcomes the night whose fare is enough,
(Short are the yards of a ship,)
Uneasy are autumn nights;
Full often does the weather change in a week,
And more in a month's time.

A man knows not, if nothing he knows,
That gold often apes begets;
One man is wealthy and one is poor,
Yet scorn for him none should know.

Among Fitjung's sons saw I well-stocked folds,–
Now bear they the beggar's staff;
Wealth is as swift as a winking eye,
Of friends the falsest it is.

Cattle die, and kinsmen die,
And so one dies one's self;
But a noble name will never die,
If good renown one gets.

Cattle die, and kinsmen die,
And so one dies one's self;
One thing now that never dies,
The fame of a dead man's deeds.

Certain is that which is sought from runes,
That the gods so great have made,
And the Master-Poet painted;
. . .
the race of gods:
Silence is safest and best.

An unwise man, if a maiden's love
Or wealth he chances to win,
His pride will wax, but his wisdom never,
Straight forward he fares in conceit.

* * *

Give praise to the day at evening, to a woman on her pyre,
To a weapon which is tried, to a maid at wed lock,
To ice when it is crossed, to ale that is drunk.

When the gale blows hew wood, in fair winds seek the water;
Sport with maidens at dusk, for day's eyes are many;
From the ship seek swiftness, from the shield protection,
Cuts from the sword, from the maiden kisses.

By the fire drink ale, over ice go on skates;
Buy a steed that is lean, and a sword when tarnished,
The horse at home fatten, the hound in your dwelling.

* * *

A man shall trust not the oath of a maid,
Nor the word a woman speaks;
For their hearts on a whirling wheel were fashioned,
And fickle their breasts were formed.

In a breaking bow or a burning flame,
A ravening wolf or a croaking raven,
In a grunting boar, a tree with roots broken,
In billowy seas or a bubbling kettle,

In a flying arrow or falling waters,
In ice new formed or the serpent's folds,
In a bride's bed-speech or a broken sword,
In the sport of bears or in sons of kings,

In a calf that is sick or a stubborn thrall,
A flattering witch or a foe new slain.
"In a light, clear sky or a laughing throng,
In the bowl of a dog or a harlot's grief!"

In a brother's slayer, if you meet him abroad,
In a half-burned house, in a horse full swift–
One leg is hurt and the horse is useless–
None had ever such faith as to trust in them all.

Hope not too surely for early harvest,
Nor trust too soon in your son;
The field needs good weather, the son needs wisdom,
And often is either denied.

The love of women fickle of will
Is like starting over ice with a steed unshod,
A two-year-old restive and little tamed,
Or steering a rudderless ship in a storm,
Or, lame, hunting reindeer on slippery rocks.

* * *

Clear now will I speak, for I know them both,
Men false to women are found;
When fairest we speak, then falsest we think,
Against wisdom we work with deceit.

Soft words shall he speak and wealth shall he offer
Who longs for a maiden's love,
And the beauty praise of the maiden bright;
He wins whose wooing is best.

Fault for loving let no man find
Ever with any other;
Often the wise are fettered, where fools go free,
By beauty that breeds desire.

Fault with another let no man find
For what touches many a man;
Wise men often into witless fools
Are made by mighty love.

The head alone knows what dwells near the heart,
A man knows his mind alone;
No sickness is worse to one who is wise
Than to lack the longed-for joy.

This found I myself, when I sat in the reeds,
And long my love awaited;
As my life the maiden wise I loved,
Yet her I never had.

Billing's daughter I found on her bed,
In slumber bright as the sun;
Empty appeared an earl's estate
Without that form so fair.

"Othin, again at evening come,
If a woman you would win;
Evil it were if others than we
Should know of such a sin."

Away I hastened, hoping for joy,
And careless of counsel wise;
Well I believed that soon I should win
Measureless joy with the maid.

So came I next when night it was,
The warriors all were awake;
With burning lights and waving brands
I learned my luckess way.

At morning then, when once more I came,
And all were sleeping still,
A dog found in the fair one's place,
Bound there upon her bed.

Many fair maids, if a man but tries them,
False to a lover are found;
That did I learn when I longed to gain
With wiles the maiden wise;
Foul scorn was my meed from the crafty maid,
And nothing from the woman I won.

* * *

Though glad at home, and merry with guests,
A man shall be wary and wise;
The sage and shrewd, wide wisdom seeking,
Must see that his speech be fair;
A fool is he named who nothing can say,
For such is the way of the witless.

I found the old giant, now back have I fared,
Small gain from silence I got;
Full many a word, my will to get,
I spoke in Suttung's hall.

The mouth of Rati made room for my passage,
And space in the stone he gnawed; Above and below the giants' paths lay,
So rashly I risked my head.

Gunnloth gave on a golden stool
A drink of the marvelous mead;
A harsh reward did I let her have
For her heroic heart,
And her spirit troubled sore.

The well-earned beauty well I enjoyed,
Little the wise man lacks;
So Othrörir now has up been brought
To the midst of the men of earth.

Hardly, methinks, would I home have come,
And left the giants' land,
Had not Gunnloth helped me, the maiden good,
Whose arms about me had been.

The day that followed, the frost-giants came,
Some word of Hor to win,
(And into the hall of Hor;) Of Bolverk they asked, were he back midst the gods,
Or had Suttung slain him there?

On his ring swore Othin the oath, methinks;
Who now his troth shall trust?
Suttung's betrayal he sought with drink,
And Gunnloth to grief he left.

* * *

It is time to chant from the chanter's stool;
By the wells of Urth I was,
I saw and was silent, I saw and thought,
And heard the speech of Hor.
(Of runes heard I words, nor were counsels wanting,
At the hall of Hor,
In the hall of Hor;
Such was the speech I heard.)

I rede you, Loddfafnir! and hear my rede,–
Profit you have if you hear,
Great your gain if you learn:
Rise not at night, save if news you seek,
Or fain to the outhouse would fare.

I rede you, Loddfafnir! and hear my rede,–
Profit you have if you hear,
Great your gain if you learn:
Beware of sleep on a witch's bosom,
Nor let her limbs ensnare you.

Such is her might that you have no mind
For the council or meeting of men;
Meat you hate, joy you have not,
And sadly to slumber you fare.

I rede you, Loddfafnir! and hear my rede,–
Profit you have if you hear,
Great your gain if you learn: Seek never to win the wife of another,
Or long for her secret love.

I rede you, Loddfafnir! and hear my rede,–
Profit you have if you hear,
Great your gain if you learn:
If over mountains or gulfs you fain would go,
Look well to your food for the way.

I rede you, Loddfafnir! and hear my rede,–
Profit you have if you hear,
Great your gain if you learn:
An evil man you must not let
Bring aught of ill to you;
For an evil man will never make
Reward for a worthy thought.

I saw a man who was wounded sore
By an evil woman's word;
A lying tongue his death-blow launched,
And no word of truth there was.

I rede you, Loddfafnir! and hear my rede,–
Profit you have if you hear,
Great your gain if you learn:
If a friend you have whom you fully will trust,
Then fare to find him oft;
For brambles grow and waving grass
On the rarely trodden road.

I rede you, Loddfafnir! and hear my rede,–
Profit you have if you hear,
Great your gain if you learn:
A good man find to hold in friendship,
And give heed to his healing charms.

I rede you, Loddfafnir! and hear my rede,-
Profit you have if you hear,
Great your gain if you learn:
Be never the first to break with your friend
The bond that holds you both;
Care eats the heart if you can not speak
To another all your thought.

I rede you, Loddfafnir! and hear my rede,–
Profit you have if you hear,
Great your gain if you learn:
Exchange of words with a witless ape
You must not ever make.

For never you may from an evil man
A good requital get;
But a good man often the greatest love
Through words of praise will win you.

Mingled is love when a man can speak
To another all his thought;
Nothing is so bad as false to be,
No friend speaks only fair.

I rede you, Loddfafnir! and hear my rede,–
Profit you have if you hear,
Great your gain if you learn:
With a worse man speak not three words in dispute,
Ill fares the better oft
When the worse man wields a sword.

I rede you, Loddfafnir! and hear my rede,-
Profit you have if you hear,
Great your gain if you learn:
A shoemaker be, or a maker of shafts,
For only your single self;
If the shoe is ill made, or the shaft prove false,
Then evil of you men think.

I rede you, Loddfafnir! and hear my rede,–
Profit you have if you hear,
Great your gain if you learn:
If evil you know, as evil proclaim it,
And make no friendship with foes.

I rede you, Loddfafnir! and hear my rede,–
Profit you have if you hear,
Great your gain if you learn:
In evil never joy shall you know,
But glad the good shall make you.

I rede you, Loddfafnir! and hear my rede,–
Profit you have if you hear,
Great your gain if you learn:
Look not up when the battle is on,–
(Like madmen the sons of men become,–)
Lest men bewitch your wits.

I rede you, Loddfafnir! and hear my rede,-
Profit you have if you hear,
Great your gain if you learn:
If you fain would win a woman's love,
And gladness get from her,
Fair be your promise and well fulfilled;
None loathes what good he gets.

I rede you, Loddfafnir! and hear my rede,-
Profit you have if you hear,
Great your gain if you learn:
I bid you be wary, but be not fearful;
(Beware most with ale or another's wife,
And third beware lest a thief outwit you.)

I rede you, Loddfafnir! and hear my rede,-
Profit you have if you hear,
Great your gain if you learn:
Scorn or mocking never shall you make
Of a guest or a journey-goer.

Often scarcely he knows who sits in the house
What kind is the man who comes;
None so good is found that faults he has not,
Nor so wicked that nothing he is worth.

I rede you, Loddfafnir! and hear my rede,–
Profit you have if you hear,
Great your gain if you learn:
Scorn not ever the gray-haired singer,
Often do the old speak good;
(Often from shrivelled skin come skillful counsels,
Though it hang with the hides,
And flap with the pelts,
And is blown with the bellies.)

I rede you, Loddfafnir! and hear my rede,–
Profit you have if you hear,
Great your gain if you learn:
Curse not your guest, nor show him your gate,
Deal well with a man in want.

Strong is the beam that raised must be
To give an entrance to all;
Give it a ring, or grim will be
The wish it would work on you.

I rede you, Loddfafnir! and hear my rede,–
Profit you have if you hear,
Great your gain if you learn:
When ale you drink) seek might of earth,
(For earth cures drink, and fire cures ills,
The oak cures tightness, the ear cures magic,
Rye cures rupture, the moon cures rage,
Grass cures the scab, and runes the sword-cut;)
The field absorbs the flood.

Now are Hor's words spoken in the hall,
Kind for the kindred of men,
Cursed for the kindred of giants:
Hail to the speaker, and to him who learns!
Profit be his who has them!
Hail to them who hearken!

* * *

I ween that I hung on the windy tree,
Hung there for nights full nine;
With the spear I was wounded, and offered I was
To Othin, myself to myself,
On the tree that none may ever know
What root beneath it runs.

None made me happy with loaf or horn,
And there below I looked;
I took up the runes, shrieking I took them,
And forthwith back I fell.

Nine mighty songs I got from the son
Of Bolthorn, Bestla's father;
And a drink I got of the goodly mead
Poured out from Othrörir.

Then began I to thrive, and wisdom to get,
I grew and well I was;
Each word led me on to another word,
Each deed to another deed.

Runes shall you find, and fateful signs,
That the king of singers colored,
And the mighty gods have made;
Full strong the signs, full mighty the signs
That the ruler of gods doth write.

Othin for the gods, Dain for the elves,
And Dvalin for the dwarfs,
Alsvith for giants and all mankind,
And some myself I wrote.

Know how one shall write, know how one shall rede?
Know how one shall tint, know how one makes trial?
Know how one shall ask, know how one shall offer?
Know how one shall send, know how one shall sacrifice?

Better no prayer than too big an offering,
By your getting measure your gift;
Better is none than too big a sacrifice,
. . .
So Thund of old wrote before man's race began,
Where he rose on high when home he came.

* * *

The songs I know that king's wives know not,
Nor men that are sons of men;
The first is called help, and help it can bring you
In sorrow and pain and sickness.

A second I know, that men shall need
Who leechcraft long to use;

A third I know, if great is my need
Of fetters to hold my foe;
Blunt do I make my enemy's blade,
Nor bites his sword or staff.

A fourth I know, if men shall fasten
Bonds on my bended legs;
So great is the charm that forth I may go,
The fetters spring from my feet,
Broken the bonds from my hands.

A fifth I know, if I see from afar
An arrow fly 'gainst the folk;
It flies not so swift that I stop it not,
If ever my eyes behold it.

A sixth I know, if harm one seeks
With a sapling's roots to send me;
The hero himself who wreaks his hate
Shall taste the ill before I.

A seventh I know, if I see in flames
The hall over my comrades' heads;
It burns not so wide that I will not quench it,
I know that song to sing.

An eighth I know, that is to all
Of greatest good to learn;
When hatred grows among heroes' sons,
I soon can set it right.

A ninth I know, if need there comes
To shelter my ship on the flood;
The wind I calm upon the waves,
And the sea I put to sleep.

A tenth I know, what time I see
House-riders flying on high;
So can I work that wildly they go,
Showing their true shapes,
Hence to their own homes.

An eleventh I know, if needs I must lead
To the fight my long-loved friends;
I sing in the shields, and in strength they go
Whole to the field of fight,
Whole from the field of fight,
And whole they come thence home.

A twelfth I know, if high on a tree
I see a hanged man swing; So do I write and color the runes
That forth he fares,
And to me talks.

A thirteenth I know, if a thane full young
With water I sprinkle well;
He shall not fall, though he fares mid the host,
Nor sink beneath the swords.

A fourteenth I know, if fain I would name
To men the mighty gods;
All know I well of the gods and elves,
Few be the fools know this.

A fifteenth I know, that before the doors
Of Delling sang Thjothrörir the dwarf;
Might he sang for the gods, and glory for elves,
And wisdom for Hroptatyr wise.

A sixteenth I know, if I seek delight
To win from a maiden wise;
The mind I turn of the white-armed maid,
And thus change all her thoughts.

A seventeenth I know, so that seldom shall go
A maiden young from me;

Long these songs you shall, Loddfafnir,
Seek in vain to sing;
Yet good it were if you might get them,
Well, if you would them learn,
Help, if you had them.

An eighteenth I know, that never will I tell
To maiden or wife of man,–
The best is what none but one's self doth know,
So comes the end of the songs,–
Save only to her in whose arms I lie,
Or who else my sister is.


Havamal, Henry Adams Bellows, Norse poetry, Norse teaching poem, an Edda poem, Literature  

Bellows, Henry Adams. The Poetic Edda. Translated from the Icelandic with an introduction and notes. Scandinavian Classics, Volumes 21 and 22. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1936.

Bray, Olive, tr. The Elder or Poetic Edda (Sæmund's Edda), Part I: The Mythological Poems. London: The Viking Club, 1908: 61-111.

Dodds, Jeramy, tr. 2014. The Poetic Edda. Toronto: Coach House Books.

Hollander, Lee, tr. 1962. The Poetic Edda. Rev. 2nd ed. University of Texas Press.

Holm-Olsen, Ludvig, tr. 1985. Edda-dikt. 2nd rev. ed. Oslo: Cappelen. ⍽▢⍽ Translated into Bokmål Norwegian.

Larrington, Carolyne, tr. 2014. The Poetic Edda. Oxford World Classics. Rev. ed.

Terry, Patricia Ann, tr. 1990. Poems of the Elder Edda. Rev ed. Philadelphia, PA: Pennsylvania University Press.

Thorpe, Benjamin, tr. 2004. The Poetic Edda: The Edda of Saemund the Learned. Reprint ed. Lapeer, MI: The Northvegr Foundation Press. Among other Havamal versions on-site are:

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