Völuspá: A Study Guide


Watson Kirkconnell

The Norse Apocalypse (circa 950 A.D.)
in The North American Book of Icelandic Verse, pp. 37-45.

The finest spiritual acheivement of Norse paganism is Völuspá or The Sibyl's Prophecy, a vivid poem setting forth both the cosmogony and the eschatology of the North, the Genesis and the Revelation of Germanic heathendom. The general weight of evidence places its composition in Iceland about the middle of the tenth century. The author is unknown.

In the first part of the poem, which deals with the past, the divine Seeress is seated on her Sibylline throne in the midst of the assembly of the gods. In the second part, which discloses the final destruction of the universe and the gods, she is being anxiously consulted in private by Odin. A third part (perhaps touched by Irish Christian influence) foretells a millennial return of a golden age, and describes the due portion of the just and the wicked.


[Note to the web edition: This is a poetic translation of Völuspá, which emphasizes alliteration. It contains some significant deviations from the standard arrangement of the text. For example, the enumeration of the dwarves and valkyries are absent. The stanzas concerning Gullveig and Heid have been separated, making Heid the Völva of Völuspá, and the stanzas describing the lower world have been moved from the middle of the poem into the account of Ragnarök at the end. Christian terms, such as Genesis, Hell, and devil have been used liberally throughout.]







I pray all holy gods of heaven,

The high and low of men to hear me.

Odin asks me to tell in order

The annals of men that I remember,

I call to mind the mighty Giants

Who bred me up in the days gone by.

Nine worlds I knew, and a wondrous tree

That knit the nine with its noble roots.


Before the worlds when nothing was,

Nor sand nor sea nor icy surf,

No earth was here nor heaven above;

No gracious grass, but a yawning Gulf.

Ere the sons of Bor made the blessed earth,

Raised up the level land before us.

Then the sun from the south shone on dwelling-stones

And the fields were green with growing herbs.

The mighty sun and the moon her mate

Cast their hands on the rim of heaven.

She knew not her home nor the moon his hall,

Nor the stars the place that they had to stay.


Then sought the Powers their judgment-seats;

The most high gods took counsel together;

Naming night and the new-born moon,

Naming morning and midday too,

Noon-day and evening to number the seasons.

The great gods pressed to the plains of Ida,

Temples and fanes they timbered high,

Fixing forges and fashioning treasures,

Shaping tongs and modeling tools.

In the court with cheer they played chess;

The gods knew never lack of gold

Till three grim Sibyls sought their side,

Loathsome maids from the land of Giants.


Then sought the Powers their judgment-seats,

The most high gods took counsel together,

Who should fashion the elfin folk

From the bloody surf and the giants’ bones.

Then out of the earth in the image of man

They moulded the dwarfs as Durinn bade them.


Then out of the host of that heavenly home

There came three gods all great and gracious,

Who found on earth without life or future

The first of men and the first of maidens.

Their breasts were void of the breathe of life;

Speech they lacked and the gift of spirit,

Quickened senses and comely color,

Then Odin gave soul, and Hönir sense,

And Lodur speech and flush of life.


I know an ash called Yggdrasill,

High and holy and white with loam;

Thence come dews that drench the dales,

Green it spreads o’er the spring of the Norns.

There three maidens, mighty in wisdom,

Weave by the well of the weeping tree;

They have fashioned the fate and formed the life

And chosen the wierds of the children of men.


A war in the world I well remember,

The first of the wars of the gods and Wanes,

When Gullveig was hacked in Odin’s hall;

Thrice she was burned and thrice reborn,

Over and over, yet she ever lives.


Then sought the Powers their judgment-seats,

The most high gods took counsel together,

Whether to yield to a tribute-yoke

Or plan a league with a hostage-pledge.

Odin then hurled with his spear at the host:

First this was of the wars of the world.

The battlements of the gods were breached;

The Wanes on the march made clamor of war.


Then sought the Powers their judgment-seats,

The most high gods took counsel together,

To find the foe who had fouled the heavens

And had given Freyja to giant-foemen.

Thor then raged with unmeasured wrath,

Seldom he sits when the news is sour.

Oaths were shaken and faith was shattered

And mighty leagues were laid in the dust.






When she came to a house, they called her Heid,

The cunning Sibyl, the sorceress;

The wicked witch knew wiles of magic;

The hag was a joy to the heart of Hell.

The father of Gods gave her finest rings,

And runes for treasure and rods for divining.

Her eye saw wide through all the worlds,

She saw the valkyries cross the heavens,

Ready to ride to the ranks of the gods.


She was sitting alone when aged Odin

Came and gazed in the grey of her eyes;

“What do you seek? And why come here?

Odin, I know where you hid your eye

In the holy waters of Mimir’s well.

Every morn from your mighty pledge

Mimir drinks mead. Would you learn still more?


I know the horn of Heimdall hidden

Under the trunk of the holy tree.

I see a river that rushes in rapids

O’er the pledge you laid. Would you learn still more?


I see dark fate for the son of Odin,

Blessed Balder, the bloody victim.

Slender and soft the Mistletoe stands,

Growing on high above the ground.

From that delicate shoo there shall come a shaft,

Hateful and harmful, and Hod shall hurl it.

But Frigga sobs in the halls of the sea

For the loss of the gods. Would you learn still more?


I see One bound in the black abyss

Like in body to guileful Loki.

There Sigyn sits in sorrow of heart

Beside her lord. Would you learn still more?


Far to the east in the Iron wood

An ogress is breeding the brood of Fenrir,

And from that litter a Wolf shall leap

And rend the moon from the ring of heaven;

He shall feed on the corpses of fated men,

And spatter the skies with their scarlet gore.

The sun shall grow dark and no summer shall follow;

All winds shall mar. Would you learn still more?


There sat on a hillock and smote his harp

Joyous Eggther, the giants’ shepherd.

A crimson cock in the goose-wood crowed,

Fjalar the fierce called the foe to fight.

Then the Gold-combed Cock crowed loud to the gods,

Waking the heroes in Odin’s hall.

And another cock in the nether gloom

Hails the lords of the halls of Hell.


The hell-hound howls by the Hole of the pit;

The fetters shall snap, and the Wolf range free.


Many a tale my foresight could tell

Of the bloody Doom of the blessed gods.

Brothers shall fight and butcher brother;

Kinsmen shall break the bonds of kind;

Woe to the world with wolves and whore

In an age of axes, and epoch of swords,

A time of tempests and shattered shields,

Ere the world shall die in the dust of death!

Mimir’s sons move, and the Maker himself

Stirs at the hail of the horn of doom.

Loud blows Heimdall; the horn is on high;

Odin communes with the head of Mimir;

The ancient Ash of Earth is shaken;

Its limbs groan loud, for the giants are loose.


The hell-hound howls by the Hole of the pit;

The fetters shall snap, and the Wolf range free.


From the east rides Hrym with his shield held high;

The serpent writhes in colossal wrath;

It lashes the sea; the eagle screams,

And rends the dead, while the Doom-ship drives.

A bark from the west bears the World-destroyers,

Launched on the sea with Loki for steersman,

The host of demons make haste with the Wolf,

Brining among them the brother of Byleist.

Surt from the south bears the sword of fire;

The Death-devil’s sabre shines like the sun;

The summits are rending, the valleys are sinking.

The hell-hosts are marching, the heavens are falling.


The hell-hound howls by the Hole of the pit;

The fetters shall snap, and the Wolf range free.


A second woe has the High One’s wife

When Odin goes forth to fight with the Wolf,

And Beli’s bright slayer makes battle with Surt.

The darling of Frigga must die in that place.

Then his stalwart son assails the beast,

Vidar goes forth to fight with the Wolf.

Thrusting his sword down its dripping throat,

He stabs its heart and avenges his sire.

Then glorious Thor to battle goes,

Seeking the death of the dragon of old.

He slays that Serpent in sacred strength,

But feels the blight of its venomed breath,

Falters nine paces, and falls for ever.

Then swarms of hell sweep over the earth:

The sun goes out, earth sinks in the gulf.

The stars are blotted from out the sky,

And the furious flames in frenzy flare

Till high they leap about heaven itself.






I see Earth grow from the gulf again

With gracious glades of living green.

By the headlong falls the eagle hovers

And swoops for fish in the seething flood.

The great gods meet in the meads of Ida;

Of the terrible Serpent of old they talk;

They all remember the mighty past

And the ancient runes of the ruler of the gods.

There they shall find in the fragrant fields

Chessmen of gold in the summer grass,

Owned by the gods in the days of old,

Golden yellow from years of yore.

Fields unsown shall bring harvests forth;

All troubles shall cease, and Balder return;

Balder and Hod in Odin’s hall

Shall live with the gods. Would you learn still more?


Hönir shall wield the wizard’s wand,

And the sons of the brothers of Odin abide

In the lair of the winds. Would you learn still more?


I see a hall on the heath of heaven,

Shingled with gold as the sun for glory:

There the righteous rest in the rarest bliss,

And live for ever in endless joy.


Far from the sun on the Strand of death

I see a dwelling with doors to the north.

Venom drips through the chimney-vent

For its roof is thatched with writhing adders.

The River of Fear through the foul dale flows.

Whose deadly waters are daggers and swords;

Through the savage waves of that stream must wade

The slayer of the folk and the faithless friend;

While the serpent is sucking the blood of the slain

And the wolf is cramming on carrion-clay.


Hither draws near the Dragon of Darkness,

Winging his way from the Wolds of the Night,

Flying o’er earth with pinions of fire,

Laden with slain. But now I must sink!