The Poetic Edda: A Study Guide
 The Speech of the Masked One
Codex Regius
MS No. 2365 4to  [R]
Arnamagnæan Codex
AM 748 I 4to [A]
1954 Guðni Jónsson
Normalized Text:

Árvakr ok Alsvíþr,
þeir skulu upp héðan
sval svangir sól draga;
en und þeira bógum
fálu blíð regin,
æsir ísarn kol.  

Árvakr ok Alsviðr,
þeir skulu upp héðan
svangir sól draga;
en und þeira bógum
fálu blíð regin,
æsir, ísarnkol.  

37. Árvakr ok Alsviðr,
þeir skulu upp héðan
svangir sól draga;
en und þeira bógum
fálu blíð regin,
æsir, ísarnkol.  

English Translations
1797 Amos Simon Cottle
in Icelandic Poetry
The Song of Grimnir
1866 Benjamin Thorpe
in Edda Sæmundar Hinns Frôða

The Lay of Grimnir

Yok'd to the chariot of the Sun,
Each day thro' heav'n two coursers
[1] run:
Then Gods beneath their helmets love
In iron canopy to rove.

[1] . "Two Coursers," --- Arvacer and Alsuither, the horses of the Sun.

37. Arvakr and Alsvid,
theirs ´tis up hence
fasting the sun to draw:
under their shoulder
the gentle powers, the Æsir,
have concealed an iron-coolness.

1883 Gudbrand Vigfusson
in Corpus Poeticum Boreale

The Sayings of the Hooded One
1908 Olive Bray
in Edda Saemundar
The Sayings of Grimnir
  The speedy Earlywaker and Allswift
draw the Sun hence, and under their
shoulders the blissful powers,
the Anses, hid the cooling of iron.

37. Early-woke, All-fleet, hence must these horses
wearily draw up the sun,
but under their withers the gods, gracious Powers,
an iron-coolness have hid.

1923 Henry Bellows
in The Poetic Edda
Grimnismol: The Ballad of Grimnir
1962 Lee M. Hollander
in The Poetic Edda
The Lay of Grimnir

37. Arvak and Alsvith        up shall drag      
       Weary the weight of the sun;
       But an iron cool        have the kindly gods
       Of yore set under their yokes.

 38. Árvakr and Alsvith, they up shall draw
the sun's wain wearily;
but under their bellies the blessed gods
have hidden the "icy irons."

1967 W. H. Auden & P. B. Taylor
in The Elder Edda
The Lay of Grimnir
1996 Carolyne Larrington
in The Poetic Edda
Grimnir’s Sayings

Up shall rise All-Swift and Early-Awake,
Hungry, to haul the Sun:
Under their shoulders shall the gods
Carry cold iron.

37.  Arvak and Alsvid, they must pull wearily
the sun from here;
and under their Saddle-bows the cheerful gods,
the Æsir, have hidden iron bellows.

2011 Andy Orchard
The Elder Edda: A Book of Viking Lore
'The Lay of Grimnir"
2011 Ursula Dronke
in The Poetic Edda, Vol. III: Mythological Poems 
“The Lay of Grimnir”

37. ‘Early-waker, All-swift: from here they have to drag wearily on Sun;
but under their saddle-bows the Æsir have concealed,
kind powers, cooling irons.

37. Early Waker and All Strong
—slim steeds—up from here
have to haul the sun;
but under their withers the blithe powers
eternal [currents of] iron-cold air.

Engraved stone found in Havor, Gotland
Engraved stone found in Havor, Gotland (Historiska Museet Stockholm)

The exact meaning of the word ísarnkol ('iron-coolness'), unique to this stanza, is obscure. Snorri explains it as two bellows (tvá vindbelgi) to cool them. Anne Holtsmark (1949) says that the closest linguistic parallel to isarnkól is rauða-blástr, the forging of red iron ore (haematite).

The expression blíð regin, "blithe powers" also occurs in Grímnismál stanzas 6 , 47,  and Lokasenna 32. 

The team Arvakr and Alsvinn are mentioned together again in Sigrdrífumál 15. Speaking of runes, it says:

Á skildi kvað ristnar,
þeim er stendr fyr skínandi goði,
á eyra Árvakrs
ok á Alsvinns hófi,
á því hvéli, er snýsk
undir reið Hrungnis,
á Sleipnis tönnum
ok á sleða fjötrum.

On the shield they should be cut,
that stands before the bright god,
on Early-waker's ears
 and on All-swift's hoof,
on the wheel that turns
under Hrungnir's car,
on Sleipnir's teeth,
and on the sledge's straps.

The horses which draw the sun are also named in Gylfaginning 11 and Skáldskaparmál 58. The information in Gylfaginning 11 appears to originate in this stanza:

Þá mælti Gangleri: "Hversu stýrir hann gang sólar eða tungls?"
Hárr segir: "Sá maðr er nefndr Mundilfari, er átti tvau börn. Þau váru svá fögr ok fríð, at hann kallaði son sinn Mána, en dóttur sína Sól ok gifti hana þeim manni, er Glenr hét. En goðin reiddust þessu ofdrambi ok tóku þau systkin ok settu upp á himin, létu Sól keyra þá hesta, er drógu kerru sólarinnar, þeirar er goðin höfðu skapat til at lýsa heimana af þeiri síu, er flaug ór Múspellsheimi. Þeir hestar heita sv, Árvakr ok Alsviðr, en undir bógum hestanna settu goðin tvá vindbelgi at kæla þá, en í sumum fræðum er þat kallat ísarnkol.

Then said Gangleri: "How does he govern the course of the sun or of the moon?" Hárr answered: "A certain man was named Mundilfari, who had two children; they were so fair and comely that he called his son Moon, and his daughter Sun, and wedded her to the man called Glenr. But the gods were incensed at that insolence, and took the brother and sister, and set them up in the heavens; they caused Sun to drive those horses that drew the chariot of the sun, which the gods had fashioned, for the world's illumination, from that glowing stuff which flew out of Múspellheim. Those horses are called thus: Early-Wake and All-Strong; and under the shoulders of the horses the gods set two wind-bags to cool them, but in some records that is called 'iron-coolness.'

Alsviðr is mentioned again in Hrafnagaldur Óðinns, although the reference is obscure:

Dugir með dvergum
dvína, heimar
niður að Ginnungs
niði sökkva;
oft Alsviður
ofan fellir,
oft of föllnum
aftur safnar

4. The dwarves' powers
dwindle, the worlds
sink down
towards Ginnung's abyss;
Often Alsviður
fells from above
often he gathers
the fallen again.

Stendur æva
strind né röðull
lofti með lævi
linnir ei straumi;

Earth and Sun
cannot stand firm
malignant winds
do not cease;

In stanza 4, which may well be corrupt, it is unclear what it is that Alsviðr "fells from above" and "gathers up again".
The Solar Steeds: Here Comes the Sun
"The solar wheel must have been traveling at some speed, as it traverses the whole earth within a day. The idea that is is drawn by a horse became current at an early date.
...Etása ('Swift') is often mentioned as the steed who draws the sun or Sun's wheel. Dawn is said to bring with her the eye of the gods and to bring it with her on a fair white horse (Rigveda 7.77.3).
"Among the many rock carvings from Scandinavia, dating from between 1500 and 400 BCE, are a number depicting a horse or a pair of horses pulling a wheel or disc. One from Kalleby in Bohuslän, Sweden, shows a horse pulling a large four-spoked wheel and hovering over a longship [Glob (1974), 103, 151 fig. 61; M. Green (1991), 78, 70, fig 61]. Another from Balken in the same region shows a horse with a band running back from its head to a disc that flies above its back. Further designs of a horse pulling the sun, her represented by concentric and/or radiate circles, appear on several  bronze razors from different sites in Denmark [F. Kaul in Meller (2004) 57, 61 (fig. centre right; first millennium BCE)]. In all of the above except the Kalleby carving, the horse is facing to the right, in other words pulling the sun in the direction in which it is seen to cross the sky.

"The most spectacular of Scandinavian representations is the famous Trundholm sun-horse, discovered in 1902 in a bog in north-west Zealand. This bronze model about 25 cm long, drawing behind it a bronze disc, taller than itself, 26 cm. in diameter. The whole group measures about 60 cm in length. The disc has a bright side, covered with gold leaf, and a dull side; the bright side is displayed when the group is viewed with the horse facing to the right. The set was mounted on three pairs of wheel, two for the horse and one for the sun-disc, each wheel having four slender spokes and actually able to turn. The remarkable artefact, now in the National Museum in Copenhagen, is dated to about the fourteenth century BCE. It is not unique: fragments of a similar assembly, but with two horses, had been found a few years earlier near Hälsingborg on the other side of the sound. Sun-discs comparable to the one in the Trundholm group have been found in Ireland, the Isle of Man, and near Bath."
"...Tacitus knew the rumour of a Baltic region where the sun did not sink far enough beneath the semi-frozen sea to allow the stars to shine (Germania 45, 1). When it rose, the sound was audible, so people believed, and the outlines of horses (equorum: v.l. deorum, eorum) and the rays emanating from the gods' head could be discerned."  
                                                                                           —M.L. West, Indo-European Poetry and Myth, 2007, pp. 203-206.