The Earliest English
Translations of Individual Poems
of the Poetic Edda
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[Völuspá: A Study Guide]

1815 William Herbert
Song of Vala
Helga: A poem in Seven Cantos



Silence all ye sons of glory!
Silence all ye powers of light!
While I sing of ancient story,
Wonders wrapt in mystic night!

I was rock'd in giant's cradle,  5
Giant's lore my wisdom gave;
I have known both good and evil,
Now I lie in lowly grave.

Long before the birth of Odin,
Mute was thunderous ocean's roar;  10
Stillness o'er the huge earth brooding,
Strand was none or rocky shore.

Neither grass, nor green tree growing,
Vernal shower, nor wintery storm;
Nor those horses bright and glowing 15
Dragg'd the sun's refulgent form.

He who rules by night the heaven
Wist not where his beams to throw;
All to barren darkness given,
There confusion, hell below. 20

Imir sat with lonely sadness
Watching o'er the fruitless globe;
Never morning beam'd with gladness,
Never eve with dewy robe.

Who are thosein pride advancing 25
Through the barren tract of night?
Mark their steel divinely glancing!
Imir falls in holy fight!

Of his bones the rocks high swelling,
Of his flesh the globe is made, 30
From his veins the tide is welling,
And his locks are verdant shade.

See the gods on lofty Ida,
All convened in council bright!
There dark Sleipner's warlike rider, 35
There each blissful son of light!

* Odin, Vili, and Ve, the sons of Bor, who slew Imir, and of his body created the world.

Hark! his crest with gold adorning,
Chanticleer on Odin calls !
 Hark! another bird of morning
Claps his wings in Hela's halls! 40

Nature shines in glory beaming,
Elves are born, and man is form'd;
Every hill with gladness teeming,
Every shape with life is warm'd.

Mark yon tree by Urdar's fountain! 45
From its spreading boughs distil
Mists that clothe each verdant mountain,
Dews that feed each gurgling rill.
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Who is he by heaven's high portal,
Beaming like the light of morn? 50
"Tis Heimdallr's form immortal;
Shrill resounds his golden horn.

Say, proud Wardour robed in glory,
Are the foes of nature nigh?
Have they climb'd the mountains hoary?55
Have they storm'd the vaulted sky?

On the wings of tempest riding,
Surtur spreads his fiery spell;
Elves in secret caves are hiding;
Odin meets the wolf of hell. 60

She* must taste a second sorrow,
She who wept when Balder bled;-
Fate demands a nobler quarry;
Death must light on Odin's head.

* Frigga, the wife of Odin.—The avenger of Odin, mentioned in the next stanza, is Vidar the god of silence.

See ye not yon silent stranger? 65
Proud he moves with lowering eyes.
Odin, mark thy stern avenger!
Slain the shaggy monster lies!

See the serpent weakly crawling!
Thor has bruised its loathsome head! 70
Lo! the stars from heaven are falling!
Earth has sunk in Ocean's bed!

Glorious sun, thy beams are shrowded,
Vapours dank around thee sail;
Nature's eye with mists is clouded; 75
Shall the powers of ill prevail?

Say, shall Earth, with freshness beaming,
Once again from Ocean rise?
Shall the dawn of glory streaming
Wake us to immortal joys ? 80
Once again, where Ida towering
Proudly crowns the verdant plain,
Sacred shades their walks imbowering,
Gods shall meet, a blissful train.

Fields untill'd shall wave with treasure, 85
Woe and war and strife shall cease;
Wide shall flow the stream of pleasure,
Endless joy and holy peace.

He shall come in might eternal,
He whom eye hath never seen! 90
Earth, and Heaven, and Powers infernal,
Mark his port and awful mien!

He shall judge, and he shall sever
Shame from glory, ill from good!
These shall live in light for ever, 95
Those shall wade the chilling flood,
Dark to dwell, in woe reclining,
Far beyond the path of day ;
In that bower, where serpents twining,
Loathsome spit their venom'd spray! 100


This song was written with an idea of inserting it in the second Canto of Helga, but it is more properly thrown into the Appendix. Many parts of it are freely imitated from a curious old poem called Volospá hin skemre, or the ancient Prophecy of Vala, which forms a part of the unpublished Edda. The name of its author is unknown.

 "He who rules by night the heaven,
"Wist not where his beams to throw."

—Lines 17 and 18
The Moon, a male deity in the northern mythology.

" mir sat with lonely sadness."

Line 21.
In Volospá the prophetess says:

Ar var allda tha Imir bygde,
Varat sandr, ne saer, ne svaler unnir;
Jord faunz eva, ne upp himin;
Gab var Gynunga, enn grass hverge.

i. e. " First of all things was the age when Imir lived, there was no sand, nor sea, nor swelling waves; earth was found no where, nor heaven above ; there was a deep abyss, but grass no where."

Line 33

"See the gods on lofty Ida"

Hittust Æser a Idavelli.
The Gods or Asiatics were convened on mount Ida. — Volospá, stanza 7.
This line is very singular, when we recollect Jupiter sitting on mount Ida, and consider that Volospá is perhaps the most ancient relick of northern poetry, and that Odin and his followers are supposed to have been driven from Asia by Mithridates. I do not think Ida is mentioned in any other of the northern writings, and I have nothing to produce in illustration of this remarkable line, excepting another line at the end of Volospá, where it is said, that when the world shall be renovated again after its destruction by fire, the Gods or Asi shall again meet on mount Ida.
"There dark Sleipner's warlike rider."
Line 35. Sleipner was the horse of Odin.
"Chanticleer on Odin calls."
Line 38.

Gol um Asom gullinkambe,
Sá vekur hölda at heria födurs;
Enn annar gielur fyrer jord nedan
Sotraudur bane at saulom heliar.

i. e. "The golden-combed bird has sung amongst the Gods, which wakes men in the abode of the father of battle: but another sings underneath the earth, a ruddy fowl in the halls of Hela."— Volospá.
"Mark yon tree by Urdra's fountain."
Line 45.
Ask veit ec standa, heitr Ygdrasil,
Thadan konia dogvar thaers i dale falla.
i. e. " I know where an ash stands : it is called Ygdrasil; from it come the dews, that fall in the valleys."— Volospa.
"Odin meets the 'wolf of hell."
Line 50.
Before Surtur destroys the world by fire, Odin is to be devoured by the wolf Fenris, which will break loose from hell.
"Odin, mark thy stern avenger"
Line 67. Vidar will avenge the death of Odin by slaying the wolf.
"See the serpent weakly crawling."
Line 69.
Thor will slay the serpent of Midgard, but die immediately in consequence of its venomous bite.
"Lo ! the stars from heaven are falling."
Line 71.
Sol tor sortna, sigr folld i mar,
Hverfa af himni heidar stiornor,
Geisar eimi vid alldar nara,
Leikr har hiti vid himin sialfan.
i. e. " The sun shall grow dark; the earth sinks in the sea, the serene stars fall from the heaven; the fire rages at the end of ages; the high heat licks the heaven itself." Volospd.
"Say shall earth, with freshness beaming,
Once again from ocean rise?"
Line 77.
Ser hun uppkoma odro sinni
Jord or aegi idia græna.
i. e. "She sees the earth all green rise again from the sea."
"Fields untill'd shall wave with treasure."
Line 65.
Muno osatir akrar vaxa;
Bauls man allz batna.
i. e. "The fields unsown shall yield increase, and all contention shall cease."
After the renovation of the earth, the gods will again assemble on mount Ida. Then (as is said in Volospa) shall come from above the powerful one who rules over every thing, to give divine judgment. The good shall inhabit a dwelling brighter than the sun, and live in joy throughout all eternity; but the wicked shall wade through rapid rivers to an abode dropping with poison and surrounded by serpents, where they shall never behold the sun.
There is something very remarkable in this conclusion of the creed of the old Scandinavian nations, which acknowledges the mortality and looks for the resurrection of those whom they had dignified with the title of gods, and holds out the expectation of a time when some greater unknown power would come in majesty to judge the world.
[Völuspá: A Study Guide]
[Historic Translations of Individual Eddic Poems]