A Study Guide 
[Index to Svipdagsmál]
Gróugaldur and Fjölsvinnsmál
 Introduction, Translation and Notes
by Lee M. Hollander


The Lay of Svipdag

© 1962 Lee M. Hollander, used here for educational purposes only.
This is an excerpt of The Poetic Edda. The entire work is available for purchase.

The two poems here printed under a common heading are handed down only in a number of late paper manuscripts none of which is older than the second half of the seventeenth century. Notwithstanding many discrepancies and obscurities, necessitating numerous emendations, all of these manuscripts are seen to go back to a common lost original.

That these poems do belong together is evident from the connection, and from the similarity in their style, language, and metre (ljóðaháttr). Moreover, we have the witness of a number of closely related Swedish and Danish ballads2 which treat the material as a unit. But it is difficult to decide whether both poems were originally an undivided whole, united by a stanza or stanzas now lost-which would account for the abrupt beginning of the "Fjölsvinnsmál" proper, or independent treatments, by the same poet, of the two phases of the myth— the fairy-story motif of Sleeping Beauty.

I. "The Spell of Gróa" ("Grógaldr"): Young Svipdag is given, by an evil stepmother, the task of winning the hand of Mengloth in Giant-Land (we gather from the ballads that he has never seen Mengloth, but loves her nevertheless). He seeks the grave of his mother Gróa, a wise woman, and wakes her from her death sleep to ask for the help she had promised to give him in his hour of need. She chants for him nine spells which are to aid him in his dangerous undertaking.

II. "The Lay of Fjolsvith" ("Fjölsvinnsmal"):   Svipdag (after overcoming all terrors of the journey, as we must assume) at last stands before a castle perched on a mountain top, surrounded by a wall of flickering flames. A giant watchman, Fjolsvith, rudely bids him be gone and asks his name, which Svipdag conceals. However, the hero learns, in set question and answer, that Mengloth dwells in the castle, and that it is inaccessible save to one chosen hero--Svipdag. He reveals his true name, the gates open, and the maiden hails him as her deliverer.

These poems are peculiar in that they, to a far greater extent than any other, are a conglomerate of mythical elements and verse fragments borrowed from a score or so of unquestionably older poems in the collection. This fact stamps them as unauthentic. And yet the poet-no doubt a scholar of the Icelandic Renaissance, living, say, at the end of the twelfth century-has shown remarkable skill in putting these borrowed feathers together to form a well-organized and (but for the interminable didactic portions) engaging whole which simulates the Old Norse color surprisingly well, so well, in fact, that several scholars of weight have been led to assign it to the tenth century. The lyrical portions, in particular Mengloth's expression of longing and exultation, are most pleasing.

1 The name of "Svipdagsmal" as a name for both poems was suggested by Bugge.
2 Grundtvig, Danmarks Gamle Folkeviser II. 245.

The Translation Follows

Svipdag and Menglad
by John Bauer (1907)
Colorized by Guddipoland
The Spell of Gróa
© 1962 Lee M. Hollander, used here for educational purposes only.
This is an excerpt of The Poetic Edda. The entire work is available for purchase.


(Svipdag3 said:)

1. "Awake, Gróa,4           good woman, awake!
At the door of the dead
5 I wake thee:
dost bear in mind           how thou badest thy son
to your grave-hill to go?"

3. "He Whose Countenance Shines Like the Day" (?)
4. [From Cymric Gróach, "witch."] Like Heith in "Voluspa," St. 22 and "Völuspá en skamma," St. 5) this is a typical name for a witch or seeress.
5. That is, her grave.

  (Gróa said:)

"What aileth now          my only son,
What maketh heavy thy heart,
That thy mother thou callest          under mould who lieth
And hath left the world of the living?"
(Svipdag said:)
3. "To a cursed task         called me the crafty woman
in her arms who folded my father;
where come one cannot,               to come she bade me,
fair Menglöth
7 to meet ."

6. His stepmother.
7. "Glad in Her Necklace."


(Groa said:)
4. "Long is the way               and wearisome,
but longer man's love doth last;
         if thou winn'st what thou wishest              'tis well for thee,
but the norns work natheless. "


8. The interpretation is not certain. The meaning seems to be that, betide what may, or whatever help I may give, you will succeed only if you are fated to succeed: which is, indeed, the gist of the fairy story.
(Svipdag said:)

5. "Speak thou such spells              as will speed my way!
Shield and shelter thy son!
Full of danger, ween I,           the dreaded journey
for one so young in years."


(Gróa said:)

6. "That first then heed,        which most helpful I know,
the which Rind spoke for Ran:9
from thy shoulders shake       what shocking seemeth;
seek thou thy way thyself!

9. In explanation of the names, Gering suggests that the Rind here referred to is Vali's mother (See Balders Dream, St. 11), and that, hence, Ran stands for Vali, the avenger of Baldr.



7. "This other heed thou:                     if ever thou
must wearily wend thy way:
            may Urth's magic songs10             on all sides guard thee,
when with mocking words thou art met.


10. Doubtful.


    8. "This third heed thou:                  if in threat'ning waters
thou fearest to find thy death:
             to Hel hence let            fare Hronn and Uth!11
may be dry the deeps for thee!


11. Following Bugge's emendation of these names: Hronn----possibly also Uth, "Wave"---is one of the rivers flowing to Hel. See 'Lay of Grimnir ' St. 28.


9. "This fourth heed thou:                       if foemen beset thee,
ready to do thee to death:
             let their hearts withhold             their hands from thee,
and be made to meet thee halfway.



   10. "This fifth heed thou:                  if fettered thou art,
fastened hand and foot:
              a loosening spell            I will speak o'er thy limbs,
so the locks will burst off thy legs,
the fetters from off thy feet. 12


12. For this spell, see 'Words of the High One', St. 149, and the first Merseburg Charm.


11. "This sixth heed thou: if on sea riseth
weather more wild than men wot:
              wind and water           will my witchcraft lull;
 then fearlessly fare thee forth!


13. The same charm occurs in the 'Words of the High one' St. 154.


12. "This seventh heed thou:                 if searing frost
beset thee on fell high faring:
           may the deadly cold          not 0' ercome thee ever,
nor rob thy limbs of their litheness.



13. "This eighth heed thou,                  if without find thee
a misty night on the moors,
           lest ill overtake thee,            or untowardness,
f rom the wraith of a Christian wretch!14


14. In the original, "Christian Woman." The line certainly points to the conception that the ghosts of Christian women are especially dangerous to a heathen hero.


14. "This ninth heed thou:                  if with haughty thurs
thou wouldest war with words: 15
           wit nor words be            wanting ever,
at behest of thy heart!


15. See the situation in "Lay of Vafthrudnir."


 15. "May thy errand no longer seem evil to thee,
nor let thee from thy love:
on earth-fast stone?
16   I stood within doors,
these spells while I spoke for thee!


16. Instanced also elsewhere as a practice of sympathetic magic: the spells are as trustworthy as bedrock.


16. "Of thy mother's words                   mindful thou be,
in thy heart let, darling, them dwell:
            luck everlasting            in life shalt have,
the while my words thou heedest!"


The Lay of Fjolsvith
© 1962 Lee M. Hollander, used here for educational purposes only.
This is an excerpt of The Poetic Edda. The entire work is available for purchase.

  1. 1From far without up he saw rise
the high-timbered hall of the etins.

(Svipdag said:)
        "What foul fiend is it             in the forecourt who stands,
about the flickering fire hovering?"! 3


1. As to the abrupt beginning, see the Introduction. I follow Bugge in the ordering of the first four helmings as well as in the attribution to the speakers.
2. Possibly a kenning for "mountain". The entire first part of the stanza is controversial.
3. The "flickering flame" surrounds Mengloth's castle like Brynhild's wall of fire; "Sigrdrifumal, " Introductory Prose.


(Fjolsvith4 said:)

2. "What seekest thou,                for what thy search,
wayfarer, and what thy wish?
        On wet ways
5 thou            wend straight heneeward:
no hearth for the homeless here!"


4. "The Very Wise", which is also an epithet of Othin ("Grimnismal," St. 48).
5. Over the high mountains.


            (Svipdag said:)

3. "What foul fiend is it            in the forecourt who stands
and welcomes not the wayfarer?"

(Fjolsvith said:)

         "A good name, I ween,           thou never had'st,
so hie thee home from hence!



(Svipdag said:)

4. "I am Fjolsvith hight,                 famed for my lore,
but of my food am not free:6
         within this court            comest thou never:
be off now, outlaw, away!"


6. That is, not hospitable to strangers.

 (Svipdag said:)

5. "To feast his eye                 full eager is he
on a lovely thing who looketh:
         the gates do gleam           about golden hall:
my home would I fain have here."


   (Fjolsvith said:)

6. "To whom art born,                and of what blood,
youth, from what house dost hail?"7

(Svipdag said:)
         "Vindkald8 my name,           Varkald my father,
Fjolkald his father was.
7. See "Fáfnismal," St. 2, where, too, the hero attempts to conceal his identity. Not acknowledging himself as the chosen hero, Svipdag must inquire into the conditions---impossible of fulfillment---through which access to the castle may be gained.
8. Vindkald, "Wind-Cold"; Varkald, "Spring-Cold"; Fjolkald, "Very Cold." Gering suggests that, by giving these fictitious names, Svipdag wishes to make Fjolsvith believe that he, too, is of giant kin. 

   (Svipdag said:)

  7. "Tell me, Fjolsvith, for I fain would know;
answer thou as I ask:
        who holdeth sway           in this seemly hall,
so richly wrought with gold?"


8. "She is called Mengloth (a), whom her mother bore to Svafrthorin's son: 'it is she who owns this seemly hall, so richly wrought with gold."


 (Fjolsvith said:)

                   8. "She is Mengloth9 hight,               whom her mother bore
to Svafrthorin's son:
         'tis she who holds sway            in this seemly hall,
so richly wrought with gold."


9. See "Grógaldr" St. 3. The name and status of her kin remain unexplained.

(Svipdag said:)

  9. "Tell me, Fjolsvith, for I fain would know;
answer thou as I ask:
         how the wicket is hight             than which 'mong the gods
none is more fraught with fear?"


(Fjolsvith said:)
          10. "Thrymgjoll10 is hight      that wicket which three
sons of Solblindi11 made;
         with fast fetters            the wayfarer it holds
who would heave it from its hinges."12


10. "The Loud-Grating."
11. "Sun-Blinded," dwarfs whose abode is in the darkness.
12. Like the gate described in "Sigurtharkvidha hin skamma," St. 68. The Old Norse door raised up. See "Rigsthula," St. 26

  (Svipdag said:)

11. "Tell me, Fjolsvith, for I fain would know;
answer thou as I ask:
how that wall is hight     than which 'mong the gods
none is more fraught with fear?


(Fjolsvith said:)

   12. 'Tis Gastropnir'" hight,13                    which most goodly I built
of Leirbrimir' s,
14 the etin's, limbs;
             'tis so stanchly built            that stand it will
as long as men do live."


13. "Strangling the Intruder" (?).
14. "Clay-Giant" (?); is it built of bricks?


 (Svipdag said:)

   13.  15"Tell me, Fjolsvith,                   for I fain would know;
answer thou as I ask:
              how that ash is hight            which out doth spread
its limbs over all the land?"


15. In the original, Sts. 13 to 18, dealing with the tree Yggdrasil (see "Voluspa," [Icelandic] St. 19), come after St. 24. They are probably interpolated, having nothing to do with the subject in hand.


 (Fjolvith said:)

    14. "'Tis hight Mimameith,16                     but no man knoweth
from what roots it doth rise;
              by what it falleth            the fewest guess:
nor fire nor iron will fell it."17


16. "Mimir's Tree." His well is under Yggdrasil ("Voluspa," [Icelandic] St. 28).
17. See "Grimnismal," St. 36

 (Svipdag said:)

    15. "Tell me, Fjolsvith,                   for I fain would know;
answer thou as I ask:
              of the fruit
18 what becomes            of that far spreading tree,
since nor fire nor iron will fell it?"


18. Conjectural. The word in the original is unexplained.


(Fjolsvith said:)

   16. "Of its berries19 thou                  shalt bear on fire,"
for ailing women to eat:
               then out will come            what within was held-
such strength is bestowed on that tree."



19. Possibly its roasted fruit, which, in some trees, has an emmenagogic effect; but the interpretation is conjectural.


(Svipdag said:)

    17. "Tell me, Fjolsvith,                  for I fain would know;
answer thou as I ask:
              how that cock is hight,            in the high tree sitting,
which gleameth all golden?"



 (Fjolsvith said:)

    18. "He is Vithofnir20 hight                   and watchful= standeth
on the branches of Mimameith:
              with dreadful fear             he filleth the hearts
of Surt
21 and Sinmara.


20. The word in the original is not well understood.
21. The fire giant (see "Voluspa," [Icelandic] St. 51). His wife (?) Sinmara is unknown elsewhere. According to "Voluspa," [Icelandic] St. 41 ff, the crowing of the cock gives warning of the approach of the destroying elements.


(Svipdag said:)

    19. "Tell me, Fjolsvith,                  for I fain would know;
answer thou as I ask:
               how the hounds are hight             which about the hall
(grim and greedy prowl) ?"


22. This line is supplied conjecturally.


(Fjolsvith said:)

    20. "Gifr is one hight,                     Geri23 the other,
if to wit thou wishest:
               strong24 watchdogs they,            and watch they keep,
till draws nigh the doom of the gods."


23. Both names signify "Greedy." Geri is also the name of one of Othin's wolves in "Grimnismal," St. 19.
24. Strangely, the manuscripts here have "eleven".


 (Svipdag said:)

    21. "Tell me, Fjolsvith,                   for I fain would know;
answer thou as I ask:
               whether any man           within may come,
when the hungry hounds do sleep?"



(Fjolsvith said:)

     22. "At the same time never                asleep they were,
since to their watch they were set:
                sleeps one at night,            at noontide the other,
so no one without may enter."



 (Svipdag said:)

      23. "Tell me, Fjolsvith,                  for I fain would know;
answer me as I ask:
                if morsel there be            which men might throw them,
and slip in the while they eat."



 (Fjolsvith said:)

     24. "'Neath Vithofnir's limbs                     lie wing-bits25 twain,
if to wit thou wishest:
                 that meat alone          may men throw them,
and slip in the while they eat:'


25. The exact meaning of the word in the original is not clear.


 (Svipdag said:)

      25. "Tell me, Fjolsvith,                  for I fain would know;
answer thou as I ask:
                 if weapon there be           which Vithofnir may
send to the halls of Hel?"


26. That is, slay him.


 (Fjolsvith said:)

      26. "'Tis Levateirr27 hight,                      which Lopt28 did forge,
Niflhel beneath;
                  in an iron kettle            keeps it Sinmara,29
there hold it hard locks nine:'


27. "Wand-of-Destruction," a kenning for "sword".
28. Loki; see "Lokasenna," St. 6.
29. Surtr's wife?


(Svipdag said:)

      27. "Tell me, Fjolsvith,                   for I fain would know;
answer thou as I ask:
                  will home wend him             the wight who goes
and seeketh to win that wand?"



(Fjolsvith said:)

   28. "Home will wend him                  the wight who goes
and seeks to win that wand,
             if that he fetch           which few do own,
to give to that goddess-of-gold."30


30. Conjectural. If correct, it is a kenning for "woman": Sinmara.


 (Svipdag said:)

   29. "Tell me, Fjolsvith,                   for I fain would know;
answer thou as I ask:
             if anyone owns           ought of great worth,
to make fain that fallow31 ogress?"


31. She is pale yellow because she dwells in a cave. See "Alvismal," St. 2.


 (Fjolsvith said:)

   30. "The shining feather                  then shalt thou pluck
which from Vithofnir' s start thou must steal,
              ere sullen Sinmara            will sell to thee
the weapon to lay him low."31


31. The interpretation of these lines is doubtful. However, the circle of impossibilities is closed: no one may enter the castle.


 (Svipdag said:)

   31. "Tell me, Fjolsvith,                    for I fain would know;
answer thou as I ask:
              what the hall is hight             which is hedged about
by wall of flickering flame?"



 (Fjolsvith said:)

   32. "Lyr it is hight,                   and long will it
hover on sword's point on high;32
               of this shining hall             from hearsay ever
men have learned alone."  


32. Following Bugge's interpretation. In other words it is inaccessible.

   (Svipdag said:)

33. "Tell me, Fjolsvith, for I fain would know;
answer thou I ask:
of the gods who made     (the golden floor)33
within the hall so high?"

33. Following Grundtvig's emendation. The half-stanza is difficult. Both this and the following seven stanzas are irrelevant and, possibly, interpolated.  

  (Fjolsvith said:)

34. "Uni and Iri,        Óri and Bari
Var and Vegdrasil,
Darri and Uri,34    and Delling was there,
(the time Hlithsjkalf was locked).35

34. Most of the following names (of dwarfs) remain unexplained. Several occur also in "The Song of the Sybil." The holy number nine plays a considerable role in both poems.
35. Conjectural. If this reading is adopted the castle bears the same name as Othin's seat in Valholl.

(Svipdag said:)

35. "Tell me, Fjolsvith, for I fain would know;
answer thou I ask:
what the mountain is hight which the maiden doth
dwell on, aloft and alone?

(Fjolsvith said:)

36. " 'Tis Lyfja mount36 hight, and long has it been
for the sick and the halt a help:
for hale grows wholly, though hopeless she seems,
the woman who wins its hight."

36. "Mountain of Healing."

(Svipdag said:)

37. "Tell me, Fjolsvith, for I fain would know;
answer thou I ask:
what the maids are hight before Mengloth's knees
that sit in sisterly wise?

(Fjolsvith said:)

38. "Hlif one is hight, Hlifthrasa another,
a third, Thjothvara;
eke Bjort and Bleik, Blith and Frith,
Eir and Aurbortha.

37. The nine maidens bear names appropriate to their salutiferous activities.


(Svipdag said:)

39. "Tell me, Fjolsvith,                  for I fain would know;
answer thou as I ask:
           do they help award            to their worshippers,
if need of help they have?"

(Fjolsvith said:)

 40. "(Ay they help award)38            to their worshippers,
in hallowed stead if they standr"
           there is never a need            that neareth a man,
but they lend a helping hand:'


38. A lacuna in the manuscript is supplied here following Bugge.
39. To offer up sacrifice.


 (Svipdag said:)

41. "Tell me, Fjolsvith,                  for I fain would know;
answer thou as I ask:
           if to any man          Mengloth will grant
in her soft arms to sleep?"

(Fjolsvith said:)

42. "No man liveth                 to whom Mengloth will grant
in her soft arms to sleep;
            to Svipdag only            the sunbright maiden
for wedded wife was given:'

(Svipdag said:)

43. "Let gape the gates,                 and give wide berth!
Here mayst thou Svipdag see.
            Now hie thee hence,             in the hall to learn 4.
if lies to Mengloth my love:'

(Fjolsvith said:)

44. "Hear thou, Mengloth,                   a man hath come;
go thou to greet the guest!
             The hounds bay welcome,            the house hath opened:
meseems that Svipdag it be."




(Mengloth said:)

45. "May greedy ravens      gouge out thy eyes,
as high on gallows thou hangest,
if a lie it be         that from long ways afar
the hero hath come to my hall.

46. "Whence comest thou,         and what thy kin,
what wert hight at home?
Thy father's name tell,         that token I have
that I should be thy bride."



(Svipdag said:)

 47. "I am Svipdag hight,        Solbjart40 my father;
thence wandered I wind-cold wars;
'gainst Urth's41 decree            'tis idle to strive,
though loath be thy lot."42  


40. "Sun-Bright."
41. It may be unrelated, but Wind-Cold was Winter's father.
42. difficult to translate.


(Mengloth said:)
 48. "My wish have I won:         welcome be thou;
with kiss I clasp thee now;
the loved one's sight          is sweet to her
who has lived in longing for him .

49.  "Full long sat I           on LyfjaMount,
 bided thee day after day:
now has happened            what I hoped for long,
 that, hero, art come to my hall.  

50. "Heartsick was I;         to have thee I yearned,
whilst thou didst long for my love.
Of a truth I know:        we two shall live
 our life and lot together."

[Index to Svipdagsmál]