The Lay of Thrym

1903 Frank E. Bryant
The Thrymskwitha
Originally published in Poet Lore No. 14, Oct. 1902
A revised limited edition of 125 copies appeared in Midwinter 1904-1905






[The Thrymskwitha is one of the very best of the Eddie poems. It is the dramatic story of how Thor, aided by Loki, got back his famous hammer. Thrym had stolen it, and he would not give it up until they would bring him Freyja to wife; but she very indignantly refused to get married under any such terms. It is finally arranged, though much against his will, that Thor himself must dress up to impersonate Freyja, and go up to get married to the giant Thrym. The latter half of the poem contains the carrying out of this plan. But Thor is the great thunder-god. He is the largest and strongest of them all, and a ravenous eater and drinker. The story is elsewhere told of him that once, in a drinking contest, he lowered the sea several inches. It is he alone that was not allowed to walk over the bridge of the rainbow for fear he might break it down. What could be more incongruous and ludicrous, then, than to have this great clumsy god dress up as Freyja, the fairest of the goddesses, and to go off in her name to marry the ice-giant Thrym! The Norse poet has made good use of his opportunities, and we have in this poem a masterpiece of its kind.

There have been several translations of the Thrymskwitha, but none of them are very accessible; and, of those that the writer has seen, none have tried to preserve the alliterative form. In this translation the attempt has been made to reproduce, as far as is possible, the ideas, the form, and the spirit of the original poem; and, having attempted so much, the writer would like to beg indulgence if he sometimes falls short of his ideal. He has been unable to preserve the exact quantitative character of the original verse. Its short, choppy form is not at all adapted to modern English. The brevity and simplicity are most difficult to imitate. All the original crudities stand out more plain in the English, and the pervasive humor has a tendency to disappear in translation.

With regard to the metre it may be said briefly that there are five different kinds of lines possible, and these may follow each other in any order. They are: /u /u; u/ u/; u/\ u ; A u/; / / \ u,— in which / means a heavy stress; \, a medium stress; and u, one or more unstressed syllables together. A heavy stress may fall on either one long syllable or two short ones taken together. Two lines make up a complete verse, and one of the two stressed elements in the first line must alliterate with the first stressed element of the second. The text used in the translation is the one worked out by Finnur Jonsson, one of the foremost Norse scholars of the present day. The brackets indicate parts that he thinks are not original; the dashes, parts that he thinks are lacking. The other translations that the writer has been able to consult are those by Cottle, Thorpe, Vigfusson, and Powell, and a translation by an unknown writer in the Dublin University Magazine, 41: 578. These are all in English. He has also consulted the German translation by Hugo Gering, and it is to this last work alone that the writer feels any real indebtedness.]




1. Wroth then

was Wingthor,[1]

To find missing

Miolnir,[2] his hammer.
He shook his beard

and shaggy head:
The son of Earth

sought how to find it.


2. First of all said he

the following word:

"Hear now, Loki,[3]

what I tell you;

No one knows it,

nowhere on earth

Nor up in heaven:

This Ase's hammer is stolen!"


3. Went they to Freyja's[4]

fair abode then;

 First of all said he

the following word:

"Wilt to me, Freyja,

thy feathercoat lend,

If my hammer

may be recovered?"


Freyja says:

4. "I should give it thee,

gold though it were;

You might have it

even though of silver."[5]


5. Flew then Loki,

feathercoat rustling,

Until he was out

of the Ases' court

[And was far within

the Iotons' home.][6]


On a mound sat Thrym,

Thurses' ruler,
For his greyhounds

gold bands plaiting,
[And smooth the manes

of his mares he combed.]


Thrym says:

6. "What ails the gods?

What ails the elves?
To the home of the giants

why journey alone?"
"Much ails the gods I

Much ails the elves!
Have you Hloritha's[7]

hammer hidden?"


7. "I have Hloritha's

Hammer hidden:
Under eight miles[8]

of earth it lies,
And such no one

shall see again
Save he first bring me

Freyja to wife!"


8. Flew then Loki,

feathercoat rustling,

Until he was out

of Iotonheim

[And was far within

the Ases' court.]


Thor he met there
in the midst of it.

First of all said he
the following word:


9. "Hast thou reward

worth thy labor?

Tell me up in air

all your tidings.

Oft the sitter

strays from his subject,

And one lying

lies most easily."[9]


10. "I have reward

worth my labor.
Thrym has thy hammer,

Thurses' ruler;
And such no one

shall see again,
Save he first bring him

Freyja to wife."


11. They go the fair

Freyja to seek;
First of all said he

the following word:
"Bind thyself, Freyja,

in bridal linen —

We two must journey

to the giant's home."


12. Wroth then was Freyja,

fairly snorting,[10]
The Ases' hall

all a-shaking;
[Broke then the famous

Brisinga necklace[11]
"Me wouldst thou think

man-crazy quite,
Should I journey with thee

to the giant's home."


13. Soon the Ases

were all at the Thing,[12]

And the Asyniur,[13]

all to hold conference.

On this pondered

the powerful gods: How to recover

Hloritha's hammer.


14. Then said Heimdall,[14]

whitest of Ases,
Of the future aware

as were the Vanir:
"Let us bind then Thor

in bridal linen.
Let him bear the famed

Brisinga necklace.


15. "And let clinking

keys hang from him,

And female dress
fall round his knees,

And let bright[15]  stones
his breast adorn,

And with much skill
make him a head-dress."


16. Then Thor replied,

that powerful god:[16]

"Me wouldst all Ases

unmanly call
If I let you bind me

in bridal linen."


17. Said then Loki,

son of Lanfey:
"Be silent, Thor,

From such-like words.
Soon will the Iotons

In Asgard dwell
Unless thy hammer

to thee is returned."


18. Bound they Thor then

in bridal linen,

Had him bear the famed

Brisinga necklace.


19. And let clinking

keys hang from him,
And female dress
fall round his knees,

And let bright stones

his breast adorn,

And with much skill

made him a head-dress


20. Said then Loki,

son of Laufey:

"I'll also go

To act as maid;
We two girls journey

to the giant's home."


21. Directly the goats[17]

then were driven home,

Thrust into harness —

they had to run well.

Mountains broke open,

the earth was aglow.

Into Iotonheim

went Odin's son.


22. Then did Thrym say,

Thurses' ruler:
"Stand up, Iotons,
strew the benches.
Now they fetch me

Freyja to wife,
Niord's daughter
of Noatun.



23. "Gold-horned cows[18]

for the court prepare;

All-black oxen

for the Ioton's feast.
I own many jewels,

I own many gems:
I seemed lacking

alone in Freyja."


24. Early did there

the evening come,

And for the Iotons

ale was brought forward.

Thor ate an ox

and eight salmon,

[All the tidbits

intended for women.]

Sif's husband[19] drank

three hogsheads of mead.


25. Then did Thrym say,

Thurses' ruler:
"Didst e'er see a bride

That seemed so greedy?
I ne'er looked on one

with so large a mouth,
Nor on a maid

that more mead drank."


26. Sat a crafty

serving-maid[20] there,

That found answer

to the Ioton's speech:

"Freyja has not eaten

for eight long nights,

So much she yearned

for Iotonheim."

27. Thrym stooped;

under her veil

he sought to kiss,

And then sprang back

the breadth of the hall.

"Why so frightful

are Freyja's eyes?

I believe they look

like burning coals."


28. Sat a crafty

serving-maid there,
That found answer

to the Ioton's speech:
"Freyja has not once slept

for eight long nights,
So much she yearned

for Iotonheim."


29. In came the giants'

joyless sister.
She dared to beg

a bridal gift.
"Grant me the ruddy

rings on your hands,
If you would merit

my good wishes.

[My good wishes,

my whole affection.]"


30. Then did Thrym say,

Thurses' ruler:
"To gain the bride,

bear in the hammer.
Lay now Miolnir

in the maiden's lap.

Make us husband and wife
by the hand of Var."[21]


31. Laughed the heart in

Hloritha's breast
As the bold-hearted one

his hammer saw.
Thrym he slew first,

Thurses' ruler,
And the giants' kindred,

killed were they all.


32. Slew he the giants'

joyless sister,
Who had begged of him

a bridal gift.
She a stroke got

instead of shillings,
A stroke of the hammer

instead of rings.

[Thus again Thor got

his hammer.]




[1] Thor, the thunder-god, son of Odin and the Earth.

[2] Miolnir, Thor's famous hammer, is one of the chief protections of the gods. It never misses its aim, and it always returns to the hand of the thrower.

[3] The most cunning and deceitful of all the gods, or Ases.

[4] The goddess of the summer rains. Her feathercoat is the clouds.

[5] This anti-climax is in the original.

[6] The Iotons are the giants, sometimes called the Thurses. Thrym, their ruler, is a winter giant. Some critics think that this myth is an attempted explanation of the fact that there is no thunder in the winter time, because Thrym has stolen Thor's hammer.

[7] Another name for Thor.

[8] According to some critics, these correspond to the eight months of the northern winter.

[9] Thor is here the speaker. Loki is still up in the air in the feathercoat. If the last lines contain a pun, it is also to be found in the original. Thor is probably quoting here some old Norse saw.

[10] This is a trifle strong but I do not think it an unfair translation.

[11] The Brisinga necklace was made by a dwarf. The story of way in which Freyja earned it is not very edifying.

[12] The Assembly.

[13] Goddesses.

[14] Probably Heimdall was the god of the early dawn, and therefore a " light" god, who foretold the coming day.

[15] The original reads "broad" stones.

[16] Is this an editor’s joke at the expense of Thor?

[17] Thor either walked or drove in a wagon drawn by two goats,

[18] The cattle of the gods and giants are in several places mentioned as gold-horned.

[19] Thor.

[20] Loki, he was always practicing deciept.

[21] Goddess of marriage.