The Lay of Skírnir: Skírnismál

 

 

Frey, the son of Njorth, one day had seated himself on Hlithskjalf and looked over all the worlds. Then saw he in the world of etins a fair maiden as she went from the hall of her father to her bower. And that sight made him heavy of heart. Skírnir (“The Resplendent”; possibly an epithet or hypostasis of Frey) was the name of Frey’s servitor. Njorth bade him to make Frey speak out.

 

Skathi said:

“Arise now, Skírnir,     and ready make thee

to summon my son,

and find out this     from the wise youth,

whom he doth hate.”

 

Skírnir said:

“For waspish words     I well may look,

if I summon thy son

to find out this     from the wise youth,

whom he doth hate.”

 

“Wilt tell me, Frey,     foremost among gods,

and answer me as I ask:

why sittest thou lonely,     my lord, all day

with heavy heart in thy hall?”

 

Frey said:

“How tell thee my yearning,     oh youth, as thou wishest-

why heavy my heart?

The alf’s beam (Kenning for “the sun”) shineth     all these long days,

but lighter groweth not my longing.”

 

Skírnir said:

“Thy heart’s not so heavy,     I hold, but thou mayst

open it to another;

for in days of yore     we young were together:

truly thou mightest trust me.”

 

Frey said:

“From on high I beheld     in the halls of Gymir (a giant)

a maiden to my mind;

her arms did gleam,     their glamor filled

all the sea and the air.

 

“This maiden is     to me more dear

than maiden to any man;

but Æsir and alfs     all will have it

that strangers ay we stay.

 

“In my behalf     her hand shalt ask,

and home bring her hither,

her father let     or allow it:

good shall thy guerdon be.”

 

Skírnir said:

“Thy steed then lend me     to lift me o’er weird

ring of flickering flame,

the sword also     that swings itself

against the tribe of trolls.”

 

Frey said:

“My steed I lend thee     to lift thee o’er weird

ring of flickering flame,

the sword also     which swings itself,

if wise he who wields it.”

 

Skírnir said to his steed:

“Night is it now,     now we shall fare

over moist mountains,

to the thurses’ throng;

scatheless we both     shall ‘scape their might,

or else both be o’erborne by the etins.”

 

Skírnir rode into etin-home and to Gymir’s court. There were savage dogs tied to the gate of the enclosure about Gerth’s bower.

 

Skírnir rode to where a shepherd sate on a mound, and greeted him:

“Say thou, shepherd,     sitting on hill,

who dost watch all ways:

how win I the welcome     of the winsome maid

through the grim hounds of Gymir?”

 

The shepherd said:

“Whether art thou doomed,     or dead already,

*in the stirrup who standest

Never shalt thou win     the welcome to have

of the good daughter of Gymir.”

 

*(That line was inserted with Grundtvig.)

 

Skírnir said:

“Ne’er a whit will whine,     whatso betide,

who is eager on errand bent;

my fate is foretold me     to the time of a day,

allotted is all my life.”

 

Gerth said:

“What outcry and uproar     within out courts (“We must assume that Skírnir has caused his steed to leap over the wall of flame.”)

hear I now, handmaid?

The earth doth shake     and all my father

Gymir’s high halls.”

 

The handmaid said:

“By his steed here stands     a stranger youth,

unbridles and baits him;

he wishes, I ween,     welcome to have

from the good daughter of Gymir.”

 

Gerth said:

“Bid to my bower     the bold-minded come,

to meet me and drink our mead;

though far from us,     I fear me, is not

my brother’s banesman (“Either Skírnir has slain the shepherd who was her brother, or else the allusion is to Frey’s (Skírnir’s) slaying of the giant Beli.”)

 

“Whether art of the alfs     or of Æsir come,

or art thou a wise Van?

Through furious fire     why farest alone

to behold out halls?”

 

Skírnir said:

“Neither alf am I,     nor of Æsir come

nor a wise Van;

through furious fire     yet fared I alone

to behold your halls.

 

“Apples eleven (may have been a mistranslation from “apples of everlasting youth” since there is no significance to the number eleven)     have I all golden;

to thee, Gerth, I shall give them,

to hear from thy lips     thou lovest Frey,

and deemest him dearest to thee.”

 

Gerth said:

“Thy apples eleven     not e’er shall I take

to do any wight’s will;

nor shall I ever     with Njorth’s son Frey

dwell while our lives do last.”

 

Skírnir said:

“Draupnir, the ring,     then thy dowry shall be,

which with Baldr was burned;

eight rings as dear     will drop from it

every ninth night.”

 

Gerth said:

“Draupnir*, the ring,     I do not want,

though it with Baldr was burned;

gold I lack not     in Gymir’s halls,

to deal out daily.”

 

*(“Dripper.” “This ring had been given Óthin by a dwarf… After Baldr was burned on the pyre, he returned the ring to Óthin from Hel.)

 

Skírnir said:

“This mottled blade,     dost, maiden, see it

which here I hold in my hand?

Thy haughty head     I hew from thy neck

but thou yield thy love to the youth.”

 

Gerth said:

“Nor gold nor sword     will gain it over me

any wight’s will to do;

if Gymir, my father,     did find thee here,

fearless warrior,     ye would fight to the death.”

 

Skírnir said:

“This mottled blade,     dost, maiden, see it,

which here I hold in my hand?

Before its edge     the etin falls,

and is thy father fey.

 

“With this magic wand     bewitch thee I shall,

my will, maiden, to do;

where the sons of men     will see thee no more,

thither shalt thou!

 

“On the eagle-hill (possibly Kenning for “mountain peak”)     shalt ever sit,

aloof from the world,     lolling toward Hel.

To thee men shall be     more loathsome far

than to mankind the slimy snake.

 

“An ugly sight,     when out thou comest,

even Hrímir (possibly “Frost Giant”) will stare at     and every hind glare at,

more widely known     than the warder of gods, (= Heimdall)

and shalt gape through the gate. (meaning she is to be kept prisoner of the giants)

 

“Shalt drivel and dote,     and drag through life,

with salt tears shalt sorrow;

shalt sit as I say,     with sadness heavy,

feel twofold torment

with heavy heart.

 

“Imps shall nip thee,     all the long days

thou art with the etins;

to frost-giants’ hall     shalt hobble all days,

cringe under curse,

cringe under care.

For play shall weeping     thy pastime be:

live a loathly life with tears!

 

“With three-headed thurs,     thwarted, thou shalt live,

or else unwedded be;

lust shall lash thee,

weakness waste thee:

be like the thistle     which is thrust under,

when the harvest is harbored.*

 

*(“In explanation of these lines, M. Olsen has called attention to the Esthonian harvest custom of laying a thistle weighted with a stone into a window opening to prevent damage from malicious grain demons.”)

 

“To the woods I wended,     to the wet forest,

a magic wand me to make,

and a magic wand I made me.

 

“Thou hast angered Óthin,     the uppermost god;

Frey will frown on thee,

thou wicked wench!     Woe betide thee,

thou hast the great gods’ wrath.

 

“Hear ye frost-giants,     hear ye etins,

ye sons of Suttung,     all ye sibs of the Æsir:

how I forbid,     how I debar

men’s mirth to the maid,

men’s love to the maid.

 

“Hrímgrimnir is hight     who shall have thee, a thurs,

Niflhel beneath:

there, slavering slaves     shall serve thee ‘neath tree roots

with staling of stinking goats.

No other drink     shalt ever get,

wench at thy will,

wench at my will!

 

“A ‘thurs’ rune for thee,     and three more I scratch:

lechery, loathing, and lust;

off I shall scratch them,     as on I did scratch them,

if of none there be need.”

 

Gerth said:

“Hail, rather, hero,     and hold to thy lips

this crystal cup with mead;

though hardly thought I     that hence I should fare,

to be a Van’s wife.”

 

Skírnir said:

“My errand I would     know altogether,

ere hence I ride home.

When art minded     to meet the strong one,

and welcome to wise son of Njorth?”

 

Gerth said:

“Barri is hight,     as both we know,

for true love a trysting glade.

After nights nine     to Njorth’s son there

will Gerth grant her love.”

 

Then rode Skírnir home. Frey stood without and greeted him and asked what tidings he brought:

“Say now, Skírnir,     ere thou unsaddle the steed

and set one foot forward:

what errand bringest thou     from etin-home,

of mark for thee or me?”

 

Skírnir said:

“Barri is hight,     as both we know,

for true love a trysting glade.

After nights nine     to Njorth’s son there

will Gerth grant her love.”

 

Frey said:

“Long is a night,     longer are two-

how shall I thole three?

Shorter to me     a month oft seemed,

than part of this night of pining.”*

 

*(“The last line is uncertain.”)

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