Voluspa, Where I Complain a Great Deal
I have read The Poetic Edda several times, and each time I find something new that I didn’t see before. Usually, I enjoy reading it, but this version is proving to be a bit taxing. I have the Bellows version, which is nice because he breaks down which parts come from the Codex Regius and which come from the Hauksbok. He also explains the kennings and other references that we might not understand clearly in the modern world. It’s not 100% chocked full of awesome, but it is very helpful when trying to wade through some extremely dense and obscure reading. To be completely honest, the Larrington version, although probably more accurate, reads like an Ikea manual. I can appreciate the need for accuracy, that is crucial in understanding the myths, but I really wish there had been some effort put forth into preserving the loveliness of the language and cleverness of word play.
For example, the first verse of the Larrington translation is:
Attention I ask from all sacred people,
greater and lesser, the offspring of Heimdall
Father of the Slain, you wished that I should declare
the ancient histories of men and gods, those which I
remember from the first
That’s nice… for an overhead announcement at an airport. I half expected the next verse to be about how there is no parking in the white zone (Bifrost is for loading and unloading only…)
The same verse from Bellows:
Hearing I ask from the holy races,
From Heimdall’s sons, both high and low;
Thou wilt, Valfather, that well I relate
Old tales I remember of men long ago.
Now we’re cooking with Nordic gas! This version has spirit and passion. I understand not only the intent of the text more clearly, but I am already engaged (you had me at “Heimdall”). I find it hard to believe that the only way Larrington could give us a more accurate text was to strip it of any actual poetry. After researching the translator (because I do that), I was even further baffled to find that one of her areas of study is medieval emotion. When verses like:
In their dwellings at peace they played at tables,
Of gold no lack did the gods then know,–
Till thither came up giant-maids three,
Huge of might, out of Jotunheim.
They played chequers in the meadow, they were merry,
They did not lack for gold at all,
until three giant girls came,
mighty and powerful, out of Giantland.
Chequers? Chequers?? Did she really just tell me that the gods played checkers on the lawn like a bunch of bored retirees? Even if they were playing checkers, at least flower that language up a bit. That isn’t epic poetry, that sounds like a sunny afternoon at a nursing home. I do understand why this text was chosen for our class, it is the current accepted translation, but I do wish that the current accepted translation was more artfully done. Why did she replace words like “jötnar“? Jötunheimr sounds like a place where giants live, Giantland sounds like a theme park.
I suppose my point is this; The Poetic Edda is extremely important as an historical document. It is crucial we get the facts as straight as possible if we are to understand the subject matter. However, just as important to the document is the art of the words. There are layers of meaning that are lost if we strip soul from the piece. While it is entirely possible this “soul” is something that we ourselves have invested in the work after the fact, I honestly don’t feel that this in and of itself invalidates the importance of the end result. Authenticity is important, but the imagery and what the work symbolizes are important as well.