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Stone-cold skalds

The forty or so surviving “sagas of Icelanders” are stuffed with skalds, or poets: three-quarters of them comprise passages of skaldic verse, normally recited by the sagas’ characters. A few of these are well-known, resembling Kormákr’s stanza describing the highly effective impact of the gaze of his beloved Steingerðr, peering out from below a finely carved lintel (“I didn’t conceal that affliction of fireplace!”); most are extra obscure, resembling Signý Valbrandsdóttir’s stanza expressing annoyance at her three-year-old son, Hörðr, after he stumbles and breaks her necklace: “step one of the younger desirer of gold was not good”.

Though readers in earlier centuries most popular different genres of Previous Norse literature, the sagas of Icelanders are actually undisputed widespread favourites. These dramatic tales of ardour and violence – pseudo-historic tales concerning the first settlers of Iceland, who got here to the island from Norway and the Viking diaspora within the late ninth century CE – possess what Margaret Clunies Ross describes as an interesting “verisimilitude”. (She rejects alternate options resembling “realism”.) That is thanks not solely to their vivid portrayal of every day life, but in addition to the implicit declare that their poetic quotations are genuine voices from the Viking Age, handed down orally for generations earlier than being recorded in writing. She discusses the infamous problem of authenticity even-handedly, concluding that whereas a lot of the poetry precedes the saga textual content that comprises it (Kormákr’s stanza, quoted above, is one instance), some sagas, resembling Njáls saga, steadily acquired extra poetry as they had been repeatedly copied, whereas in others, resembling Víglundar saga, poetry and prose belong to the identical romance-influenced compositional impulse.

Clunies Ross makes an attempt to hint a chronological growth in how and why saga authors integrated poetry into their narratives, however the ensuing trajectory is jerky and the uncertainty that attends saga relationship – admitted however not dispelled in a footnote – undermines this a part of the venture. The place the evaluation triumphantly succeeds is in highlighting what units these humble colonial poems other than the nice custom of courtly encomium, targeted on aristocratic male energy: emphases on emotion and interiority, and a “democratizing” curiosity in ladies and people of decrease social standing as each audio system and topics. Replete with tables summarizing a wealth of knowledge, Poetry in Sagas of Icelanders might be of nice curiosity to readers of this little-studied however fascinating group of poems, and of the suave prosimetra that comprise them.

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The publish Stone-cold <em>skalds</em> appeared first on TLS.



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