14 February 2016

Love Denied

Christian Krogh 1899
Dronning Astrid taler på tinget
Wikimedia Commons
The hopeful runic valentines and love messages I have mentioned in previous posts may not always have worked out as the writer expected. As Mariella Frostrup said in today's Observer magazine, 'Valentine's day is a lottery and winning tickets are rare'. It could even happen to a king. In the early eleventh century, King (later Saint) Óláfr Haraldsson of Norway wanted to marry the Swedish princess Ingigerðr, but the arrangement broke down and she went off to marry the Russian prince Jaroslav instead. As so often, a broken heart leads to poetry, and he composed this about the moment when she set off on her journey east. The text is as edited by Russell Poole in volume 1 of Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages, the translation is my own attempt to be slightly poetic:
Fagr stóðk, meðan bar brúði
blakkr, ok sák á sprakka
— oss lét ynðis missa
augfǫgr kona — af haugi.
Keyrði Gefn ór garði
góðlôt vala slóðar
eyk, en ein glǫp sœkir
jarl hvern, kona snarlig.

I stood on a mound, watching
a fair mount bear the woman,
the beautiful-eyed wife
caused me to lose pleasure.
Friendly woman, goddess of the
hawk’s ground, quickly drove the horse
out of the yard; each man is
haunted by one mistake.
Of course, he got over it, as almost everyone does, eventually. Indeed things turned out quite well for him because he ended up marrying Ingigerðr's sister, the splendid Queen Ástríðr, pictured above arguing the case for her stepson, later King Magnús the Good, at the Swedish assembly, an event later celebrated in poetry by the innovative Sigvatr.

Although a lot of Viking Age poetry is about war, the poets occasionally also addressed the finer (and not so fine) emotions. If you are interested, there are a few more examples in the British Museum publication Viking Poetry of Love and War.

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