Poetic Edda


About this Edition

  • Translated By
    Publishing Date
    • Henry Adams Bellows

The Lay of Hymir

Introductory Note

The Hymiskvitha is found complete in both manuscripts; in Regius it follows the Harbarthsljoth, while in the Arnamagnæan Codex it comes after the Grimnismol. Snorri does not quote it, although he tells the main story involved.

The poem is a distinctly inferior piece of work, obviously based on various narrative fragments, awkwardly pieced together. Some critics, Jessen and Edzardi for instance, have maintained that the compiler had before him three distinct poems, which he simply put together; others, like Finnur Jonsson and Mogk, think that the author made a new poem of his own on the basis of earlier poems, now lost. It seems probable that he took a lot of odds and ends of material concerning Thor, whether in prose or in verse, and worked them together in a perfunctory way, without much caring how well they fitted. His chief aim was probably to impress the credulous imaginations of hearers greedy for wonders.

The poem is almost certainly one of the latest of those dealing with the gods, though Finnur Jonsson, in order to support his theory of a Norwegian origin, has to date it relatively early. If, as seems probable, it was produced in Iceland, the chances are that it was composed in the first half of the eleventh century. Jessen, rather recklessly, goes so far as to put it two hundred years later. In any case, it belongs to a period of literary decadence,—the great days of Eddic poetry would never have permitted the nine hundred headed person found in Hymir’s home—and to one in which the usual forms of diction in mythological poetry had yielded somewhat to the verbal subtleties of skaldic verse.

While the skaldic poetry properly falls outside the limits of this book, it is necessary here to say a word about it. There is preserved, in the sagas and elsewhere, a very considerable body of lyric poetry, the authorship of each poem being nearly always definitely stated, whether correctly or otherwise. This type of poetry is marked by an extraordinary complexity of diction, with a peculiarly difficult vocabulary of its own. It was to explain some of the “kennings” which composed this special vocabulary that Snorri wrote one of the sections of the Prose Edda. As an illustration, in a single stanza of one poem in the Egilssaga, a sword is called “the halo of the helm,” “the wound-hoe,” “the blood-snake” (possibly; no one is sure what the compound word means) and “the ice of the girdle,” while men appear in the same stanza as “Othin’s ash-trees,” and battle is spoken of as “the iron game.” One of the eight lines has defied translation completely.

Skaldic diction made relatively few inroads into the earlier Eddic poems, but in the Hymiskvitha these circumlocutions are fairly numerous. This sets the poem somewhat apart from the rest of the mythological collection. Only the vigor of the two main stories—Thor’s expedition after Hymir’s kettle and the fishing trip in which he caught Mithgarthsorm—saves it from complete mediocrity.

Of old the gods made feast together,
And drink they sought ere sated they were;
Twigs they shook, and blood they tried:
Rich fare in Ægir’s hall they found.

The mountain-dweller sat merry as boyhood,
But soon like a blinded man he seemed;
The son of Ygg gazed in his eyes:
“For the gods a feast shalt thou forthwith get.”

The word-wielder toil for the giant worked,
And so revenge on the gods he sought;
He bade Sif’s mate the kettle bring:
“Therein for ye all much ale shall I brew.”

The far-famed ones could find it not,
And the holy gods could get it nowhere;
Till in truthful wise did Tyr speak forth,
And helpful counsel to Hlorrithi gave.

“There dwells to the east of Elivagar
Hymir the wise at the end of heaven;
A kettle my father fierce doth own,
A mighty vessel a mile in depth.”

Thor spake:
“May we win, dost thou think, this whirler of water?”
Tyr spake:
“Aye, friend, we can, if cunning we are.”

Forward that day with speed they fared,
From Asgarth came they to Egil’s home;
The goats with horns bedecked he guarded;
Then they sped to the hall where Hymir dwelt.

The youth found his grandam, that greatly he loathed,
And full nine hundred heads she had;
But the other fair with gold came forth,
And the bright-browed one brought beer to her son.

“Kinsman of giants, beneath the kettle
Will I set ye both, ye heroes bold;
For many a time my dear-loved mate
To guests is wrathful and grim of mind.”

Late to his home the misshapen Hymir,
The giant harsh, from his hunting came;
The icicles rattled as in he came,
For the fellow’s chin-forest frozen was.

“Hail to thee, Hymir! good thoughts mayst thou have;
Here has thy son to thine hall now come;
(For him have we waited, his way was long;)
And with him fares the foeman of Hroth,
The friend of mankind, and Veur they call him.

“See where under the gable they sit!
Behind the beam do they hide themselves.”
The beam at the glance of the giant broke,
And the mighty pillar in pieces fell.

Eight fell from the ledge, and one alone,
The hard-hammered kettle, of all was whole;
Forth came they then, and his foes he sought,
The giant old, and held with his eyes.

Much sorrow his heart foretold when he saw
The giantess’ foeman come forth on the floor;
Then of the steers did they bring in three;
Their flesh to boil did the giant bid.

By a head was each the shorter hewed,
And the beasts to the fire straight they bore;
The husband of Sif, ere to sleep he went,
Alone two oxen of Hymir’s ate.

To the comrade hoary of Hrungnir then
Did Hlorrithi’s meal full mighty seem;
“Next time at eve we three must eat
The food we have s the hunting’s spoil.”

. . . . . . . .
Fain to row on the sea was Veur, he said,
If the giant bold would give him bait.

Hymir spake:
“Go to the herd, if thou hast it in mind,
Thou slayer of giants, thy bait to seek;
For there thou soon mayst find, methinks,
Bait from the oxen easy to get.”

Swift to the wood the hero went,
Till before him an ox all black he found;
From the beast the slayer of giants broke
The fortress high of his double horns.

Hymir spake:
“Thy works, methinks, are worse by far,
Thou steerer of ships, than when still thou sittest.”
. . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . .

The lord of the goats bade the ape-begotten
Farther to steer the steed of the rollers;
But the giant said that his will, forsooth,
Longer to row was little enough.

Two whales on his hook did the mighty Hymir
Soon pull up on a single cast;
In the stern the kinsman of Othin sat,
And Veur with cunning his cast prepared.

The warder of men, the worm’s destroyer,
Fixed on his hook the head of the ox;
There gaped at the bait the foe of the gods,
The girdler of all the earth beneath.

The venomous serpent swiftly up
To the boat did Thor, the bold one, pull;
With his hammer the loathly hill of the hair
Of the brother of Fenrir he smote from above.

The monsters roared, and the rocks resounded,
And all the earth so old was shaken;
. . . . . . . .
Then sank the fish in the sea forthwith.

. . . . . . . .
Joyless as back they rowed was the giant;
Speechless did Hymir sit at the oars,
With the rudder he sought a second wind.

Hymir spake:
“The half of our toil wilt thou have with me,
And now make fast our goat of the flood;
Or home wilt thou bear the whales to the house,
Across the gorge of the wooded glen?”

Hlorrithi stood and the stem he gripped,
And the sea-horse with water awash he lifted;
Oars and bailer and all he bore
With the surf-swine home to the giant’s house.

His might the giant again would match,
For stubborn he was, with the strength of Thor;
None truly strong, though stoutly he rowed,
Would he call save one who could break the cup.

Hlorrithi then, when the cup he held,
Struck with the glass the pillars of stone;
As he sat the posts in pieces he shattered,
Yet the glass to Hymir whole they brought.

But the loved one fair of the giant found
A counsel true, and told her thought:
“Smite the skull of Hymir, heavy with food,
For harder it is than ever was glass.”

The goats’ mighty ruler then rose on his knee,
And with all the strength of a god he struck;
Whole was the fellow’s helmet-stem,
But shattered the wine-cup rounded was.

Hymir spake:
“Fair is the treasure that from me is gone,
Since now the cup on my knees lies shattered;”
So spake the giant: “No more can I say
In days to be, ‘Thou art brewed, mine ale.’

“Enough shall it be if out ye can bring
Forth from our house the kettle here.”
Tyr then twice to move it tried,
But before him the kettle twice stood fast.

The father of Mothi the rim seized firm,
And before it stood on the floor below;
Up on his head Sif’s husband raised it,
And about his heels the handles clattered.

Not long had they fared, ere backwards looked
The son of Othin, once more to see;
From their caves in the east beheld he coming
With Hymir the throng of the many-headed.

He stood and cast from his back the kettle,
And Mjollnir, the lover of murder, he wielded;
. . . . . . . .
So all the whales of the waste he slew.

Not long had they fared ere one there lay
Of Hlorrithi’s goats half-dead on the ground;
In his leg the pole-horse there was lame;
The deed the evil Loki had done.

But ye all have heard,— for of them who have
The tales of the gods, who better can tell?
What prize he won from the wilderness-dweller,
Who both his children gave him to boot.

The mighty one came to the council of gods,
And the kettle he had that Hymir’s was;
So gladly their ale the gods could drink
In Ægir’s hall at the autumn-time.