Viking poetry of love and war

18 Mar 2013 08:58:00.000


They are most famous for being violent invaders of foreign shores but a new book by a University of Nottingham Viking expert shows they were also poetry lovers with a wicked sense of humour!

‘Viking Poetry of Love and War’ by Professor Judith Jesch, of the University’s Centre for the Study of the Viking Age, is the first collection in English with extracts from the full range of Viking poetry published in the UK.

The colourful volume published today by the British Museum, is an accessible introduction to the broad poetry ranges of the Vikings, from the highly formal to the light-hearted and bawdy. The selection is taken from a variety of sources from the 10th to the 13th centuries, from runes (carvings on wood, bone and stone), oral tradition and medieval manuscripts.

Click here for full story

Professor Jesch, who translated the poems from the original Old Norse, said: “The Vikings are not often thought of as poets, though they came from a culture that valued poetry highly and rewarded poets handsomely. The themes of my selection are largely mythological, military and memorial although there is also some distinctive love poetry which encompassed both native traditions and literary influences from further south. The language is colourful, intricate and steeped in mythological knowledge.”

Some of the poems will surprise and amuse the reader – in ‘The poet is past it’, 10th century Viking poet Egill Skallagrimsson writes:

‘I’ve a crick in my neck,

and tend to fall on my head,

my trouser-snake is soft,

and my hearing’s gone away.’

Another C10th anonymous poem, ‘Ingolf is popular with the ladies’ , is further evidence of a scurrilous sense of humour among the early Viking population:

All the grown girls wanted

to go with Ingolf,

those who were of age;

the wee ones were wretched.

‘I, too,’ said the old woman,

‘want to go with Ingolf,

as long as I have two teeth

still wobbling in my gums.’    

A poem by Grani from the C11th, ‘King Harald feeds the beasts of battle’  is a visceral celebration of battle victory in all its gory detail:

The prince made the eaglets

a drink of Danish blood;

he made a Christmas meal

for Gudenå’s ravens;

the eagle’s children trampled

all over the corpses;

the wolf ate Jutish meat,

well may it smack its lips!

The new book includes short explanations of the ‘kenning’ in Viking poetry, a complex form of metaphorical diction that introduces new and often incongruous imagery. The narrative is also an informative guide to the contexts and forms of this large and varied body of unique ancient writing.

Viking Poetry of Love and War’ is illustrated with more than 50 full colour images of Viking art and runes from the British Museum collection.

Judith Jesch is Professor of Viking Studies at The University of Nottingham. Her expertise focuses on the variety of texts composed and written in Old Norse-Icelandic. She has extensive research experience in the general and cultural history of the Viking Age and the relationships of language, texts and contexts during this period.

Viking Poetry of Love and War is available from the British Museum website and other online booksellers, ISBN 978 0 7141 2830 6 PB £9.99

Ends —

Story credits

More information is available from Kate Hilsen, Marketing and Publicity Executive, The British Museum Press on 020 707 90946

Additional resources

No additional resources for this article

Related articles

Underwater archaeologist presents BBC Vikings programme

Published Date
Wednesday 12th December 2012

Viking DNA expert leads longboat raid in Norway

Published Date
Thursday 20th June 2013

Viking researchers invade North Atlantic islands

Published Date
Monday 22nd April 2013

Want to see your words on the walls of Nottingham?

Published Date
Monday 20th June 2016

Exploring the legacy of the Vikings in Ireland

Published Date
Friday 8th April 2011

Bringing Vikings back to the East Midlands

Published Date
Thursday 13th April 2017

The road to Thingwall — road signs commemorate Viking past

Published Date
Thursday 14th June 2012

A new Norse saga! DNA detectives in the Viking North West

Published Date
Thursday 13th January 2011

Discovering the world of Vikings in Nottingham

Published Date
Wednesday 22nd June 2016

Tweets from beyond the grave bring Ben Jonson to life

Published Date
Friday 5th July 2013

Media Relations - External Relations

The University of Nottingham
YANG Fujia Building
Jubilee Campus
Wollaton Road
Nottingham, NG8 1BB

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 5798