Select Page

The Eggja Runestone Image: Wikimedia Commons
(click on the image to enlarge)

The earliest surviving Old Norse poetry was inscribed on the Eggja Runestone which dates from the eighth century. Poetry was still being written in Old Norse as late as the end of the thirteenth century. Most Old Norse poetry survives in Iceland, but the Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages website has identified 188 poetic runic inscriptions from the rest of Scandinavia (12 in Denmark, 54 in Norway and 122 in Sweden).

Old Norse poetry is alliterative, and depends on an expanded poetic vocabulary which makes use of heiti (an alternative term for an often used word) and kennings (a periphrastic expressions used instead of the simple name of a thing).

There were six types of metres used in Old Norse poetry:

Fornyrðislag or “metre of ancient words”
Malahattr or “metre of speeches”
Kviðuháttr or “metre of discourse”
Ljoðaháttr or “metre of chants”
Galdralag or “magic spell metre”
Dróttkvætt or “noble warrior’s metre”
You can find further details and examples of these metres here…

Old Norse poetry falls into two main categories:

Eddaic (also Eddic) poetry. Eddaic poetry is anonymous, uses relatively simple metres such as fornyrðislag, málaháttr or ljóðaháttr; has a fairly straightforward word and uses kennings sparingly and complex kennings very rarely.
You can find further details of Eddaic poetry here…

Skaldic poetry. With skaldic poetry we usually know the author, the metre is complex – usually dróttkvætt and the syntax is complex, often with sentences interwoven. Kennings are used frequently, and are often of a very complex nature.
You can find further details of Skaldic poetry here…

Next Page: Heiti