Wisdom from the Days of Yore

One of my old university acquaintances posted something on Facebook today - his girlfriend was reading him extracts from the Hávamál and he wrote something about the bit where the slumbering wolf does not get the ham. It reminded me of all the excellent advice in there and I wondered if there was something that could help me with my current situation. If you don't know, Hávamál is a collection of little stanzas, each outlining some tip from Óðinn on how to live your life. The title translates to something like "Sayings of the High One" I think. It's extremely helpful stuff, a surprising amount still relevant today. Like:

Best is the banquet one looks back on after
And remembers all that happened.

So don't get so wasted that you forget the party, kids! Óðinn says so. In fact, some of the anti-binge-drinking stuff makes the Ancient Scandinavians look a bit less hardcore than they are usually depicted:

Drink your mead, but in moderation,
Talk sense or be silent:
No man is called discourteous who goes
To bed at an early hour.

But aside from maybe drinking more moderately, how can I benefit from Óðinn's wisdom in my daily life? I used to read my room-mate Emily this one all the time:

Foolish is he who frets at night,
And lies awake to worry,
A weary man when morning comes,
He finds all as bad as before.

That's not advice I need, though. I very, very rarely have trouble sleeping and even though I have a quite high level of worry at the moment you'll be pleased to hear I'm not losing sleep over it. But this might be a problem! Later in the poem, we find this stanza, which the translation I have back in England definitely rendered more amusingly, but never mind:

Early shall he rise who has designs
On another's land or life:
His prey escapes the prone wolf,
The sleeper is seldom victorious.

Now this might actually be something to think about. If I got up earlier, I could get more done, maybe be a bit more victorious in my life, maybe kill someone else and take their land.

There's also quite a lot of stuff about friendship, and that reminded me that I am super pleased that I am doing this whole depressing search for employment after having already lived in Iceland for a year. If I didn't have friends here I would be genuinely miserable, but luckily over the past year I've met some great people and they help me maintain my sanity and general will to go on, as well as being kind enough to encourage and support me in my quest to become a real person. If you're reading this and you're one of the people that I visit and exchange thoughts and gifts with, then thanks. You're a big help.

To a false friend the footpath winds
Though his house be on the highway.
To a sure friend there is a short cut,
Though he live a long way off.


If you find a friend you fully trust
And wish for his good-will,
Exchange thoughts, exchange gifts,
Go often to his house.


Young and alone on a long road,
Once I lost my way:
Rich I felt when I found another;
Man rejoices in man.

And if none of this had made me feel better, hey, at least I'm not dead! It's rubbish to be dead, because you can't keep cows or anything.

It is always better to be alive,
The living can keep a cow.


The halt can manage a horse,
The handless a flock,
The deaf be a doughty fighter,
To be blind is better than to burn on a pyre:
There is nothing the dead can do.

That last stanza doesn't have a line about the socially awkward still being able to do stuff as well, but I think it's implied. Anyway, say what you like about these people, they knew what was important: friends, not drinking yourself into oblivion and being alive.

P.S. Quotations from the W. H. Auden and P. B. Taylor translation, in the public domain, since the only hard copy I have to hand is in Old Norse.

1 comment:

  1. And that's another book I've been meaning to get. I need to try a bit harder.