Hávamál – The Words of Odin the High One – from the Elder Edda

Hávamál is a portion of the Poetic Edda.

The Poetic Edda is a collection of Old Norse poems primarily preserved in the Icelandic mediaeval manuscript Codex Regius.   Along with Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda, the Poetic Edda is the most important extant source on Norse mythology and Germanic heroic legends, and from the early 19th century onwards has had a powerful influence on later Scandinavian literatures, not merely through the stories it contains but through the visionary force and dramatic quality of many of the poems.

It has also become an inspiring model for many later innovations in poetic meter, particularly in the Nordic languages, offering many varied examples of terse, stress-based metrical schemes working without any final rhyme, and instead using alliterative devices and strongly concentrated imagery.   Poets who have acknowledged their debt to the Poetic Edda include Vilhelm EkelundAugust StrindbergJ.R.R. TolkienEzra Pound and Karin Boye.

Hávamál (English pron.: /ˈhɑːvəmɑːl/ hah-və-mahl; English: Sayings of the high one) is presented as a single poem in the Poetic Edda, a collection of Old Norse poems from the Viking age. The poem, itself a combination of different poems, is largely gnomic, presenting advice for living, proper conduct and wisdom.

The verses are attributed to Odin, much like the biblical Book of Wisdom is attributed to Solomon.  (Wikipedia)



Two are hosts against one, the tongue is the head’s bane,

‘neath a rough hide a hand may be hid;


He is glad at nightfall who knows of his lodging,

short is the ship’s berth,

and changeful the autumn night,

much veers the wind ere the fifth day

and blows round yet more in a month.


He that learns nought will never know

how one is the fool of another,

for if one be rich another is poor

and for that should bear no blame.


Cattle die and kinsmen die,

thyself too soon must die,

but one thing never, I ween, will die, —

fair fame of one who has earned.


Cattle die and kinsmen die,

thyself too soon must die,

but one thing never, I ween, will die, —

the doom on each one dead.


Full-stocked folds had the Fatling’s sons,

who bear now a beggar’s staff:

brief is wealth, as the winking of an eye,

most faithless ever of friends.


If haply a fool should find for himself

wealth or a woman’s love,

pride waxes in him but wisdom never

and onward he fares in his folly.

(translated by Olive Bray)

Or, in other words …


There are two belonging to one company.  The tongue is the destroyer of the head.  Under every fur coat I expect to find a hand lurking.


Night is welcome only to him who is sure of his provisions.  Slender are the yards of a ship, and treacherous is an autumn night; weather changes often in five days and still more in a month.


He who is ignorant will never know that many a man has been made a fool by vagabonds.  One man is wealthy, another poor, but one should not blame him for his misfortune.


Cattle die, kinsfolk die, even to us ourselves will death come.  But the good fame which a man has won for himself will never die.


Cattle die, kinsfolk die, even to us ourselves will death come.  One thing I know will never die – the reputation we all leave behind at our death.


I have seen the sons of Fitjung with fully stocked folds, now they bear the staff of a beggar.  Wealth is like the twinkling eye, it is the ficklest of friends.


If a foolish man succeeds in getting wealth or the love of a woman, his pride increases but not his common sense; he continues with steadily increasing illusions.

(translated by D. E. Martin Clarke)

This ends the Gestaþáttr ( Wisdom for Wanderers and Counsel to Guests) section of  Hávamál


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