Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Voluspa in Very Plain English...1-8, 17-18

Sometimes the poetic language and archaic words used in translation of the Voluspa can be a barrier preventing young children (and many adults as well) from truly enjoying and understanding the beautiful imagery and meaning of the poem.  What I've done below is provide very plain English "tellings" of each stanza.  You can copy and paste this and print it out to share with your children (or an adult friend who could benefit from it).  It is best to read the actual stanza first, then read the plain English version, and then go back and read the actual stanza again.  It can be helpful to then discuss the stanza with your child, and have them put into their own words what it means.

I've used Hollander's translation below.  Stanzas 9-16 are about the Dwarves, and Hollander puts these stanzas into an Appendix at the back of his book, because he feels they were a later addition and not an original part of the poem.  I've followed his lead, and left stanzas 9-16 out as well.

I do not translate Old Norse myself, and I will fully admit that 10 different people could come up with 10 different plain English versions of each of these stanzas.  I tried to keep this very basic, and had my 9-year-old in mind when I wrote my plain English versions.  So, with that disclaimer you will have to excuse anything you disagree with here.  If someone else wants to give this a try, and they do it better, I won't be upset at all.  Please feel free to give suggestions regarding the wording of the very plain English version and the notes sections.  I will actually be incorporating good suggestions.

VOLUSPÁ - The Prophecy of the Seeress

Before the poem begins, Odin has travelled to Hel (where the dead go), and he has used magic to bring a dead giant-woman up out of her grave.  This dead giant-woman is a Seeress or Volva, which is someone who can use magic to see the future.  The dead giant woman is very old, and Odin wants her to use her magic to tell him what will happen in the future.  But, to prove she is indeed magical and knows a lot of stuff, she first tells Odin about the beginning of the world.   A lot of this poem is the dead giant woman speaking, and telling Odin things.  So, it is the Volva speaking beginning with this first stanza.
Stanza 1
Hear me, all ye hallowed beings,
Both high and low of Heimdall's children:
Thou wilt, Valfather, that I well set forth
The fates of the world which as first I recall.
Plain English 1
Everybody listen to what I have to say,
whether you are rich and powerful, or poor and weak.
Odin, you have asked me to tell you about the world.
I'm very old, so I remember and know many things.
NOTE 1:  The dead giant-woman is a Volva, and she is very very old.  Odin has asked her to tell him things, and so this poem represents the Volva telling Odin about the beginning of the world, things the Gods have done, and she finishes out her story to Odin by telling him how the world will end...and then be reborn.  Odin, with his magic, is making her tell him these things.
Stanza 2
I call to mind the kin of etins
Which long ago did give me life.
Nine worlds I know, the nine abodes
Of the glorious world-tree the ground beneath.
Plain English 2
First, I remember the giants..all the giants.
I am very old, and was born a giant myself.
I know all about the nine worlds,
Which are in the branches of Yggdrasil, the world-tree
NOTE 2:  The Volva tells Odin very clearly here that she is a giant.  Our ancestors called giants "Jotuns" or "Etins," among other names for them.  In this stanza the Volva is bragging about all the things that she knows, and mentions the nine worlds and the world-tree Yggdrasil.  Our ancestors envisioned that there were nine worlds, and that these nine worlds were in the branches of a huge tree...called Yggdrasil.  "Yggdrasil" means, "Odin's Horse."  It was called "Odin's Horse," because Odin once hung himself on Yggdrasil for nine days...and in the process was able to learn about the runes.  It is just one example of Odin doing amazing and very brave things so that he could grow in wisdom in knowledge.

CLICK HERE to continue to the rest of the Stanzas...