Poetic Edda


About this Edition

  • Translated By
    Publishing Date
    • Henry Adams Bellows

The Ballad of Skirnir

Introductory Note

The Skirnismol is found complete in the Codex Regius, and through stanza 27 in the Arnamagnæan Codex. Snorri quotes the concluding stanza. In Regius the poem is entitled “For Scirnis” (“Skirnir’s journey”).

The Skirnismol differs sharply from the poems preceding it, in that it has a distinctly ballad quality. As a matter of fact, however, its verse is altogether dialogue, the narrative being supplied in the prose “links,” concerning which cf. introductory note to the Grimnismol. The dramatic effectiveness and vivid characterization of the poem seem to connect it with the Thrymskvitha, and the two may possibly have been put into their present form by the same man. Bugge’s guess that the Skirnismol was the work of the author of the Lokasenna is also possible, though it has less to support it.

Critics have generally agreed in dating the poem as we now have it as early as the first half of the tenth century; Finnur Jonsson puts it as early as goo, and claims it, as usual, for Nor way. Doubtless it was current in Norway, in one form or another, before the first Icelandic settlements, but his argument that the thistle (stanza 31) is not an Icelandic plant has little weight, for such curse-formulas must have traveled freely from place to place. In view of the evidence pointing to a western origin for many or all of the Eddic poems, Jonsson’s reiterated “Digtet er sikkert norsk og ikke islandsk” is somewhat exasperating. Wherever the Skirnismol was composed, it has been preserved in exceptionally good condition, and seems to be practically devoid of interpolations or lacunæ.

Freyr, the son of Njorth, had sat one day in Hlithskjolf, and looked over all the worlds. He looked into Jotunheim, and saw there a fair maiden, as she went from her father’s house to her bower. Forthwith he felt a mighty love-sickness. Skirnir was the name of Freyr’s servant; Njorth bade him ask speech of Freyr.[1]
He said:

“Go now, Skirnir! and seek to gain
Speech from my son;
And answer to win, for whom the wise one
Is mightily moved.”

Skirnir spake:
“Ill words do I now await from thy son,
If I seek to get speech with him,
And answer to win, for whom the wise one
Is mightily moved.”

Skirnir spake:
“Speak prithee, Freyr, foremost of the gods,
For now I fain would know;
Why sittest thou here in the wide halls,
Days long, my prince, alone?”

Freyr spake:
“How shall I tell thee, thou hero young,
Of all my grief so great?
Though every day the elfbeam dawns,
It lights my longing never.”

Skirnir spake:
“Thy longings, methinks, are not so large
That thou mayst not tell them to me;
Since in days of yore we were young together,
We two might each other trust.”

Freyr spake:
“From Gymir’s house I beheld go forth
A maiden dear to me;
Her arms glittered, and from their gleam
Shone all the sea and sky.

“To me more dear than in days of old
Was ever maiden to man;
But no one of gods or elves will grant
That we both together should be.”

Skirnir spake:
“Then give me the horse that goes through the dark
And magic flickering flames;
And the sword as well that fights of itself
Against the giants grim.”

Freyr spake:
“The horse will I give thee that goes through the dark
And magic flickering flames,
And the sword as well that will fight of itself
If a worthy hero wields it.”

Skirnir spake to the horse:
“Dark is it without, and I deem it time
To fare through the wild fells,
(To fare through the giants’ fastness;)
We shall both come back, or us both together
The terrible giant will take.”

Skirnir rode into Jotunheim to Gymir’s house. There were fierce dogs bound before the gate of the fence which was around Gerth’s hall. He rode to where a herdsman sat on a hill, and said:

“Tell me, herdsman, sitting on the hill,
And watching all the ways,
How may I win a word with the maid
Past the hounds of Gymir here?”

The herdsman spake:
“Art thou doomed to die or already dead,
Thou horseman that ridest hither?
Barred from speech shalt thou ever be
With Gymir’s daughter good

Skirnir spake:
"Boldness is better than plaints can be
For him whose feet must fare;
To a destined day has mine age been doomed,
And my life’s span thereto laid.”

Gerth spake:
“What noise is that which now so loud
I hear within our house?
The ground shakes, and the home of Gymir
Around me trembles too.”

The Serving-Maid spake:
“One stands without who has leapt from his steed,
And lets his horse loose to graze;”
. . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . .

Gerth spake:
“Bid the man come in, and drink good mead
Here within our hall;
Though this I fear, that there without
My brother’s slayer stands.

“Art thou of the elves or the offspring of gods,
Or of the wise Wanes?
How camst thou alone through the leaping flame
Thus to behold our home?”

Skirnir spake:
“I am not of the elves, nor the offspring of gods,
Nor of the wise Wanes;
Though I came alone through the leaping flame
Thus to behold thy home.

“Eleven apples, all of gold,
Here will I give thee, Gerth,
To buy thy troth that Freyr shall be
Deemed to be dearest to you.”

Gerth spake:
“I will not take at any man’s wish
These eleven apples ever;
Nor shall Freyr and I one dwelling find
So long as we two live.”

Skirnir spake:
“Then do I bring thee the ring that was burned
Of old with Othin’s son;
From it do eight of like weight fall
On every ninth night.”

Gerth spake:
“The ring I wish not, though burned it was
Of old with Othin’s son;
In Gymir’s home is no lack of gold
In the wealth my father wields.”

Skirnir spake:
“Seest thou, maiden, this keen, bright sword
That I hold here in my hand?
Thy head from thy neck shall I straightway hew,
If thou wilt not do my will.”

Gerth spake:
“For no man’s sake will I ever suffer
To be thus moved by might;
But gladly, methinks, will Gymir seek
To fight if he finds thee here.”

Skirnir spake:
“Seest thou, maiden, this keen, bright sword
That I hold here in my hand?
Before its blade the old giant bends,—
Thy father is doomed to die.

“I strike thee, maid, with my magic staff,
To tame thee to work my will;
There shalt thou go where never again
The sons of men shall see thee.

“On the eagle’s hill shalt thou ever sit,
And gaze on the gates of Hel;
More loathsome to thee than the light-hued snake
To men, shall thy meat become.

“Fearful to see, if thou comest forth,
Hrimnir will stand and stare,
(Men will marvel at thee;)
More famed shalt thou grow than the watchman of the gods!
Peer forth, then, from thy prison,

“Rage and longing, fetters and wrath,
Tears and torment are thine;
Where thou sittest down my doom is on thee
Of heavy heart
And double dole.

“In the giants’ home shall vile things harm thee
Each day with evil deeds;
Grief shalt thou get instead of gladness,
And sorrow to suffer with tears.

“With three-headed giants thou shalt dwell ever,
Or never know a husband;
(Let longing grip thee, let wasting waste thee,—)
Be like to the thistle that in the loft
Was cast and there was crushed.

“I go to the wood, and to the wet forest,
To win a magic wand;
. . . . . . . .
I won a magic wand.

“Othin grows angry, angered is the best of the gods,
Freyr shall be thy foe,
Most evil maid, who the magic wrath
Of gods hast got for thyself.

“Give heed, frost-rulers, hear it, giants.
Sons of Suttung,
And gods, ye too,
How I forbid and how I ban
The meeting of men with the maid,
(The joy of men with the maid.)

“Hrimgrimnir is he, the giant who shall have thee
In the depth by the doors of Hel;
To the frost-giants’ halls each day shalt thou fare,
Crawling and craving in vain,
(Crawling and having no hope.)

“Base wretches there by the root of the tree
Will hold for thee horns of filth;
A fairer drink shalt thou never find,
Maid, to meet thy wish,
(Maid, to meet my wish.)

“I write thee a charm and three runes therewith,
Longing and madness and lust;
But what I have writ I may yet unwrite
If I find a need therefor.”

Gerth spake:
“Find welcome rather, and with it take
The frost-cup filled with mead;
Though I did not believe that I should so love
Ever one of the Wanes.”

Skirnir spake:
“My tidings all must I truly learn
Ere homeward hence I ride:
How soon thou wilt with the mighty son
Of Njorth a meeting make.”

Gerth spake:
“Barri there is, which we both know well,
A forest fair and still;
And nine nights hence to the son of Njorth
Will Gerth there grant delight.”

Then Skirnir rode home. Freyr stood without, and spoke to him, and asked for tidings:

“Tell me, Skimir, ere thou take off the saddle,
Or farest forward a step:
What hast thou done in the giants’ dwelling
To make glad thee or me?”

Skirnir spoke:
“Barri there is, which we both know well,
A forest fair and still;
And nine nights hence to the son of Njorth
Will Gerth there grant delight.”

Freyr spake:
“Long is one night, longer are two;
How then shall I bear three?
Often to me has a month seemed less
Than now half a night of desire.”