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

1804 William Herbert
Skirner's Expedition

from Miscellaneous Poetry, 2 vols




"Freyr, son of Niorder, dwelt in Hlidskialf, and discerned the whole world. He looked towards Jotunheim,* and there he saw a beautiful virgin, going to bower from the hall of her father. Hence was his mind grievously affected. His attendant† was named Skimer. Niorder bade him ask for a conference with Freyr. Then Scada‡ sung.


* For an account of Jotunheim, the Jotuns, Thursi, Vani, Alfi, and Asi, see part 1st, notes on the Song of Thrym.

Scosveinn, literally shoe-swain.

‡Scada was the wife of Niorder.

“Skirner, arise, and swiftly run
Where lonely sits our pensive son;
Bid him to parley, and inquire
'Gainst whom he teems with sullen ire.”



“Ill words I fear my lot will prove,  5
If I thy son attempt to move;
If I bid parley, and inquire
Why teems his soul with savage ire.”




“Prince of the gods, and first in fight

Speak, honored Frey, and tell me right:  10
Why spends my lord the tedious day
In his lone hall, to grief a prey?”


FREYR sung.

“Oh, how shall I, fond youth, disclose
To thee my bosom's heavy woes?
The ruddy god shines every day,  15
But dull to me his cheerful ray.”



“Thy sorrows deem not I so great
That thou the tale shouldst not relate:
Together sported we in youth,
And well may trust each other's truth.”  20


FREYR sung.


“In Gymer's court I saw her move,
The maid who fires my breast with love;
Her snow-white arms and bosom fair
Shone lovely, kindling sea and air.
Dear is she to my wishes, more   25
Than e'er was maid to youth before;
But *Gods and Elves, I wot it well,
Forbid that we together dwell.”


*Asi and Alfi



“Give me that horse of wondrous breed
To cross the nightly flame* with speed;  30
And that self-brandished sword to smite
The giant race with strange affright.”


*The bower of Gerda was surrounded with fire, like that of Brynhilda, whose history is related at length in the notes.


FREYR sung.


“To thee I give this wondrous steed
To pass the watchful fire with speed;
And this, which borne by valiant wight, 35
Self-brandished will his foemen smite.”


SKIRNER addressed his horse:


“Dark night is spread; 'tis time, I trow,
To climb the mountains hoar with snow;
Both shall return, or both remain
In durance, by the giant ta'en.” 40


Skirner rode into Jotunheim, to the court of Gymer: furious dogs were tied there before the gate of the wooden enclosure which surrounded Gerd's bower. He rode toward a shepherd, who was sitting on a mound, and thus addressed him:


“Shepherd, you, that sit on the mound.
And turn your watchful eyes around,
How may I lull these bloodhounds? say!
How speak unharm’d with Gymer's may?*


May, maid.




“Whence and what art you? doom’d to die? 45
Or, dead, revisitest the sky  
For ride by night or ride by day,
You ne'er shall come to Gymer's may.”



“I grieve not, I, a better part
Fits him who boasts a ready heart:  50
At hour of birth our lives were shaped;
The doom of fate can ne'er be 'scaped.”


“What sounds unknown my ears invade,
Frightening this mansion's peaceful shade;
The earth's foundation rocks withal,  55
And trembling shakes all Gymer's hall.”




“Dismounted stands a warrior sheen;
His courser crops the herbage green.”

GERDA sung.

‘Haste! bid him to my bower with speed,
To quaff unmixed the pleasant mead;  60
And good betide us! * for I fear
My brother's murderer is near.


*The duties of hospitality were held so sacred among the northern nations, that Gerda would not refuse admittance to Skirner, though she imagined him to be her greatest enemy.


“What art thou, Elf or Asian son?

Or from the wiser Vanians sprung?

Alone to visit our abode, 65

O'er bickering flames, why have you rode?”



“Nor Elf am I, nor Asian son;
Nor from the wiser Vanians sprung:
Yet o'er the bickering flames I rode  70
Alone to visit your abode.

Eleven apples here I hold,

Gerd, for you, of purest gold;

Let this fair gift your bosom move

To grant young Frey your precious love.


GERDA sung.


“Eleven apples take not I
From man as price of chastity:
While life remains, no tongue shall tell
That Frey and I together dwell.”


“Gerd, for you this wondrous ring,
Burnt on young Balder's pile, I bring.
On each ninth night shall other eight
Drop from it, all of equal weight”


GERDA sung.

“I take not, I, that wondrous ring,

Though it from Balder's pile you bring:

Gold lack not I, in Gymer's bower;

Enough for me my father's dower.”


 SKIRNER sung.


“Behold this bright and slender wand.
Unsheathed and glittering in my hand!
Refuse not, maiden! lest your head
Be sever’d by the trenchant blade.”


GERDA sung:


“Gerd will ne'er by force be led
To grace a conqueror's hateful bed;
But this I trow, with main and might
Gymer shall meet thy boast in fight.”




“Behold this bright and slender wand,

Unsheathed and glittering in my hand!

Slain by its edge your sire shall lie,

That giant old is doom’d to die.:

E'en as I list, the magic wand

Shall tame thee ! Lo, with charmed hand 100

 I touch thee, Maid ! There shalt thou go,

Where never man shall learn thy woe.

On some high pointed rock forlorn,

Like eagle* shalt thou sit at morn;

Turn from the world's all-cheering light, 105

And seek the deep abyss of night:

Food shall to thee more loathly shew,

Than slimy** serpent creeping slow.

When forth thou com'st, a hideous sight,

Each wondering eye shall stare with fright. 110


* Eagles are said to sit without moving for a long time upon some high eminence in the morning.


** Perhaps alluding to the serpent of Midgard in the Icelandic Mythology.


By all obscrv'd, yet sad and lone;

'Mongst shivering *Thursians wider known,

Than him, who sits unmov'd on high

The †Guard of heaven with sleepless eye.

Mid charms, and chains, and restless woe, 115

Thy tears with double grief shall flow.

Now scat thee, Maid, while I declare

Thy tide of sorrow and despair.

Thy bower shall be some Giant's cell,

Where phantoms pale shall with thee dwell. 120.

Each day to the cold Thursian's hall

Comfortless, wretched, shalt thou crawl;

Instead of joy and pleasure gay

Sorrow and tears and sad dismay;

With some three-headed Thursian wed, 125

Or pine upon a lonely bed.

From morn till morn love's secret fire

Shall gnaw thine heart with vain desire ;


* Hrim-thursar. Hrim (Anglice rime) was spoken with a guttural aspiration; and probably Crim-tartary, the former seat of the Am, was so called from its cold.


† Heimdallar. Sec part 1st, p. 28.


Like barren root of thistle pent

In some high ruin'd battlement. 130

O'er shady hill, through greenwood round,

I sought this wand; the wand I found.

Odin is wroth, and mighty Thor;

E'en Freyr shall now thy name abhor.

But ere o'er thine ill-fated head 135

The last dread curse of Heaven be spread,

Giants and Thursians far and near,

Suttungur's 'sons, and Asians, hear,


• Suttungur, the son of Gilling, was a giant, and possessed the liquor of poetry, which he had gained from the Dwarfs. It is related in the Edda, (Resenius's edition, c. 60, &c.) that the Asi and Vani, having been long at war, made peace, and spit into a vase. From this the Gods formed Kuaser, a person of exceding learning; and the Dwarfs mixed his blood with honey, and so made the liquor of poetry. The Vani were a Grecian colony, and this fable seems to imply, that both the learning and the poetry of the North was partly of Greek origin. Odin, under the feigned name of Bolverk, cetered into the service of Bauge, brother of Suttungur, and drank up the liquor. A small quantity of it, which he spilt, was scattered amongst men. It is observable, that the name of Suttungur, from whom Odin gained this liquor, may denote, that he derived his poetry from the Southern tongue.


How I forbid with fatal ban
This maid the joys, the fruit, of man! 140
Cold Grimmer is that giant hight.
Who thee shall hold in realm* of night;
Where slaves in cups of twisted roots
Shall bring foul beverage from the goats :
Nor sweeter draught, nor blither fare,  145
Shalt thou, sad Virgin, ever share.

'Tis done! I wind the mystic charm;
Thus, thus, I trace the giant form ;
And three fell characters below,
Fury, and Lust, and restless Woe. 150
E'en as I wound, I strait unwind
This fatal spell, if thou art kind."




“Now hail, now hail, thou warrior bold!
Take, take this cup of crystal cold,
And quaff the pure metheglin old !  155
Yet deem'd I ne'er, that love could bind
To Vanian youth my hostile mind."


I turn not home to bower or hall,

Till I have learnt mine errand all;

Where thou wilt yield the night of joy 160

To brave Niordcr's gallant boy."


GERDA sung.


“Barri is hight the seat of love;

 Nine nights elaps'd, in that known grove

Shall brave Niorder's gallant boy

From Gerda take the kiss of joy." 165


Then rode Skirner home. Freyr stood forth and hailed him, and asked, what tidings.


"Speak, Skirner, speak, and tell with speed!

Take not the harness from thy steed,
Nor stir thy foot, till thou hast said,
How fares my love with Gymer's maid?"




“Barri is hight the seat of love; 170

 Nine nights elaps'd, in that known grove

To brave Niorder's gallant boy
Will Gerda yield the kiss of joy."


FREYR sung.


" Long is one night, and longer twain

But how for three endure my pain!  175

A month of rapture sooner flies,

Than half one night of wishful sighs.

[Historic Translations of Individual Eddic Poems]