Gunnlaðarljóð

Today’s poem is a lore poem, but one rather different from others posted here. It is a retelling of Odin’s winning of the poetic mead, but instead of following Odin’s point of view (as my poem The Mead Quest did), my poem today follows Gunnlod’s point of view. However, any such tale must necessarily be somewhat speculative. All that Snorri’s Edda tells us about Gunnlod is that her father Suttung put her in charge of guarding the mead (after he got it from the dwarves), and that: “Bolverk went to where Gunnlod was and lay with her for three nights and then she let him drink three draughts of the mead.” (The quote is from the Anthony Faulkes translation.) The Hávamál scarcely tells us more, but there seems to be some implication that Gunnlod helped Odin escape. (See stanzas 13-14 and 104-110 for the somewhat cryptic talk about it all.) The modern day poet must necessarily invent some motivation or other for Gunnlod in this story. We can probably assume she’s unhappy with her father. (A possibly similar father-daughter antagonism seems to be at work in the Welsh tale of Culhwch and Olwen.) She may also have been spell-bound, figuratively or literally, by Odin. Probably other things must be invented as well to finish the story, but I won’t try to make an exhaustive list of it. Suffice it to say that my story here should *not* be thought of as authoritative or canonical. Other Asatruar will probably have different ideas about what Gunnlod’s motives were.

Now for the usual technical notes. The poem is 12 stanzas of ljóðaháttr. I have anglicized all of the Norse spellings. As a quick vocabulary note, there are some odd anglicized Norse words the reader may not be familiar with. “Ase” (pronounced “ace”) is a singular form of “Aesir,” the tribe of gods to which Odin belongs. “Galdor” and “seid” are different words for magic. (A discussion of the differences between the two would be way beyond my scope here.) All of the other Norse words are names. Odin goes by a total of four different names here. The poem is titled “Gunnlaðarljóð,” which simply means “Gunnlod’s song.”

Home at Hnitbjog,
a hall in a mountain,
the daughter of Suttung dwelled.
Gorgeous Gunnlod
was guarding his mead,
that ‘gild from dwarves he gained.

Suttung savored
for himself alone
the precious and potent mead,
though that sumbel sat
unsipped by all
in a room so deep and dark.

Gunnlod sat
on her golden stool
and dreamed of worlds all-wide.
Tales of heroes:
from travelers she heard
those stories of might and main.

She hoped that a hero
would hie for the mead
and relieve her lonely days.
Well she knew
that the wondrous mead
had a better and brighter wyrd.

By stone grinding
she was startled one day
from her bed of brooding dreams.
A hole appeared
in the hardened wall;
was it the hoped-for hero?

With bated breath
from her bed she rose
as a serpent slithered out.
Before her eyes
its form had altered
to the Ase she knew was Odin!

Odin asked
to earn the mead
that Gunnlod guarded there.
Her lust inflamed
she allowed to him
her help to win that wine.

Secured it was
by crafty spells
and powerful chants and charms.
Galdor they’d need
to gain its release
and thus keep Har from harm.

Sexual seid
and sorcery they worked,
grinding together with lust.
Nights all three
they needed to finish
the magic to ready the mead.

Their working done,
they wended then
to the cauldrons keeping the mead.
Odin sat
in eager suspense
on the stool of glowing gold.

Gunnlod gave
to Gaut Odrerir,
then Bodn and Son to swig.
In sorrow she served
those sips of mead,
for she knew he’d not return.

Grimnir altered
to glorious eagle
and soared in searing sky,
leaving Gunnlod
alone to grieve
for the hero she helped and loved.

Copyright © 2013 Eirik Westcoat.
All rights reserved.

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One thought on “Gunnlaðarljóð

  1. Pingback: Audio for Gunnlaðarljóð | Eirik Westcoat, Skald

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