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Meditations on Hávamál: 66-70

Posted by on in Studies Blogs


Here are a few more verse in my ongoing translation and discussion of the Old Norse poem:



Mikilsti snemma

kom ek í marga staði,

en til síð í suma;

öl var drukkit,

sumt var ólagat,

sjaldan hittir leiðr í líð.


Much too soon / I came to many places / and too late in some; the ale had been drunk / in some it had not been made / the unwelcome one seldom hits the spot.


 The difficulty of being an unexpected (and often therefore, unwelcome) guest is plain here. The bare facts are bad enough: too early and the ale has not been brewed, too late and it has all been drunk already. In the larger sense, this continues the discussion of hospitality and its limits. Timing is also a factor which might well be part of your hamingja, a store of personal luck that varied greatly and could also be used up.




Hér ok hvar

myndi mér heim of boðit,

ef þyrftak at málungi mat,

eða tvau lær hengi

at ins tryggva vinar,

þars ek hafða eitt etit.


 Here and there / might I have been invited home / if I did not need food / or if two hams hung / at a true friend’s / though I had eaten one.


The woe of the unwelcome guest among those who do not show sufficient hospitality: to be invited only if you won’t eat anything or if somehow, by eating one ham, another magically appears. Ironic to say the very least; bitter if that’s a ‘true’ friend. Evans discusses this verse at length in the Viking Society edition of the poem (which you can read in PDF form) but the hospitality remains the measure of a friend.




Eldr er beztr

með ýta sonum

ok sólar sýn,

heilyndi sitt,

ef maðr hafa náir,

án við löst at lifa.


 Fire is best / for the sons of men / and the sight of the sun; / his health / if a man can manage it / a life without defect.


Once more the poet returns to more general remarks; the juxtaposition suggests that there might be reasons one becomes an ‘unwelcome guest’ perhaps. The warmth of the fire has a practical effect especially in the depths of winter; the sun, too. The sight of it after a long dark winter brightens the northern spirit particularly. Some translators see ‘löst’ as shame rather than defect, but I’m going with the gist of Zoëga’s entry to see it as a kind of flaw, mostly due to the next verse.



Er-at maðr alls vesall,

þótt hann sé illa heill;

sumr er af sonum sæll,

sumr af frændum,

sumr af fé ærnu,

sumr af verkum vel.


A man is not all wretched / though he be in ill-health; / some are blessed with sons / some with kin / some with plentiful wealth / some with good works.


To have poor health, while lamentable of course, is not the very worst as long as you have children and kin to care for you, sufficient wealth to treat them all well and works done well. The latter phrase is a bit difficult to know precisely what is meant, yet taken in the context of the surrounding verses and made parallel to the other blessings, it may mean the works you have done to assure the other wealth or it may mean the good will of others that will continue to bear fruit in care for you.



Betra er lifðum

en sé ólifðum,

ey getr kvikr kú;

eld sá ek upp brenna

auðgum manni fyrir,

en úti var dauðr fyr durum.


It’s better for the living / than for the lifeless / for the quick always gets the cow; / I saw the fire blaze up / before the wealthy man / yet outside his door was death.


Better to be alive than dead: few would argue with that. Evans suggests there might be a proverb referenced in the line that only the living get the cow (and let’s not forget that cows are a measure of wealth). The second half is less clear but seems to be a reminder that even wealth and a warm houses cannot save you from death when your time has come and death is ready to knock for entrance. Talk about unwelcome guests!

See the original poem here.

See previous entries such as Meditations on Hávamál: 61-65


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K. A. Laity is an all-purpose writer, medievalist, journalist, Fulbrighter, social media maven for Broad Universe, and author of ROOK CHANT: COLLECTED WRITINGS ON WITCHCRAFT & PAGANISM, DREAM BOOK, UNQUIET DREAMS, OWL STRETCHING, CHASTITY FLAME, PELZMANTEL, UNIKIRJA, and many more stories, essays, plays and short humour. Find out more at www.kalaity.com and find her on Facebook or Twitter.


  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard Thursday, 18 February 2016

    Brilliant. I feel a play coming on....

  • Kate Laity
    Kate Laity Saturday, 20 February 2016

    I am working on scripts too. Hmmm. Are we feeling a need to drag more folks into the ritual?

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