Historic Translations of Individual Eddic Poems
"Northern Literature:The Eddas"
from the French of
The Knickerbocker Vol. 30, p. 297-298
By the side of
this symbolic tbeogony are also placed the moral and
prudential maxims of the Havamal; a poem which the
Scandinavians so much prized, as to have attributed its
composition to Odin himself. It is, in fact, the ‘Book of
Proverbs’ of that Solomon of the North; a complete code of
practical life. Each strophe contains a sentence, replete
with that popular wisdom so characteristic of the maxims of
all nations. It is certain that the divinity which framed
the Havamal did not do so in the entrenchments of his
sanctuaries; but descending to humanity, and mingling with
men, fully learned their customs and impulses, and
appreciated their wants, weaknesses and vices. He behold the
Scandinavians bold and hardy by nature; consequently he has
not greatly recommended courage. But he also found them
lovers of drink, rash and impetuous, and he therefore
impressed upon them the blessings of temperance, and the
necessity of acting with modesty and prudence. The few
following strophes will suffice to characterize the poem:
Here select verses of Hávamál are given out of order, and
simply paraphrased, unlike Xavier Marmier's 'Chant
de Supreme' (the acknowledged source of this version),
which is a true translation of the poem. Verse numbers have
been added, where possible, to aid comparison.
[1.] ‘Before entering the house of
another, look carefully on all sides of it, for who knows
but his enemies are concealed there in.
‘He should be intelligent who travels much. At home
ignorance is pardonable, but he who knows nothing, is the
subject of ridicule among instructed men.
‘It is wrong to make a vain show of one’s talents: they
should be rather hidden. Misfortunes rarely overtake him who
conducts himself with wisdom. There is no better friend than
a good judgment.
‘Avoid importuning the traveller who demands your
hospitality. He will naturally say much without
interrogation, but he first needs food and raiment.
‘Are you about to visit an unfaithful friend‘! Choose the
most winding way possible. If the contrary, select the
‘One’s own house, however small, is better than a hired
one. Then each one is his own master. The heart bleeds when
compelled to seek nourishment at the hands of another.
‘In my youth I travelled much, and esteemed myself
fortunate when I found a good companion; for sociability
constitutes the happiness of man.
‘Stir not without your arms : who knows whether, at some
point of the journey, they may not be needed.
‘One should return affection with affection, a present
with a present, sarcasm with sarcasm, and lies with
‘One cannot reflect too much. Intemperate joy seldom
enters the breast of him who is instructed by reflection.
‘Fire-brands kindle each other, and flame adds to flame.
It is in mutual itercourse that men are known. The haughty
one is discovered by his silence.
‘Our friends die; our flocks obey the same law of nature.
We too shall die, but a noble heart dies never.
‘Happy is the man whose own hands have secured his
fortune, for reliance on the generosity of others is
attended with uncertainiy.
‘The one devoid of judgment watches all night and is
busied about nothing. He finds himself fatigued at morning,
and is no more advanced than when he started.‘
‘There is no greater suffering, than discontent with one’s
‘Trust not your secrets to the wicked ; they will not
return your confidence.
‘Have you a firm friend, visit him often. The road but
little travelled is soon choked with weeds.
‘Mock not the aged. Their words are filled with
instruction, and wisdom dwells amid the wrinkles of their
‘The tree of the mountain has decayed. It has no longer
root or bark. It is loved by no one. Why should it still
‘Praise the beauty of the day when it has past; a woman
when she is dead; a young girl when wedded; a sword that you
have proved; ice that has borne you safely; and ale when it
|The Havamal closes with an
enthusiastic chant, in which Odin explains magic and the