The Earliest English
Translations of Individual Poems
of the Poetic Edda
Historic Translations of Individual Eddic Poems

"Northern Literature:The Eddas"
from the French of Xavier Marmier
in 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.

[5.] ‘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.

[6.] ‘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.

[7.] ‘Avoid importuning the traveller who demands your hospitality. He will naturally say much without interrogation, but he first needs food and raiment.

[34.] ‘Are you about to visit an unfaithful friend‘! Choose the most winding way possible. If the contrary, select the shortest.

[37.] ‘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.

[47.] ‘In my youth I travelled much, and esteemed myself fortunate when I found a good companion; for sociability constitutes the happiness of man.

[38.] ‘Stir not without your arms : who knows whether, at some point of the journey, they may not be needed.

[42.] ‘One should return affection with affection, a present with a present, sarcasm with sarcasm, and lies with falsehoods.

[55.?] ‘One cannot reflect too much. Intemperate joy seldom enters the breast of him who is instructed by reflection.

[57.] ‘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.

[76.] ‘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.

[23.] ‘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.‘

[95.] ‘There is no greater suffering, than discontent with one’s condition.

[119.] ‘Trust not your secrets to the wicked ; they will not return your confidence.

[121.] ‘Have you a firm friend, visit him often. The road but little travelled is soon choked with weeds.

[136.] ‘Mock not the aged. Their words are filled with instruction, and wisdom dwells amid the wrinkles of their forehead.

[50.] ‘The tree of the mountain has decayed. It has no longer root or bark. It is loved by no one. Why should it still live?

[81.] ‘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 is drunk.’

The Havamal closes with an enthusiastic chant, in which Odin explains magic and the runic mysteries.