Edward Burne-Jones' interpretation of Odin with his wolves and ravens.  His spear, another Odin icon, is resting against his body.  The ravens, Hugin and Munin (thought and memory), appear to be carrying out their function of reporting back to him all that is happening in the nine worlds.
    This is not an original translation of the poem; I am using Benjamin Thorpe's 19th century version.  Another translation of comparative quality is that of Elsa-Brita Titchenell, but it is colored by the Theosophical theology that her translation is intended to illustrate.  There are not a lot of versions available; neither Hollander or Larrington, or most other translators include the poem.  It is not in the Codex Regius, and translators pick and choose among the other "eddaic" poems on which they will include, and which leave out.  This one is probably the most neglected except for "Song of the Sun," which is semi-Christian.  Even Thorpe expresses little enthusiasm, but includes it, since he includes nearly everything that could be included.  Only Elsa-Brita Titchenell speaks well of the poem, and she does so with an enthusiasm not elsewhere matched.
    E-B Titchenell does not see the poem as either lacking unity or as incomplete, or incomprehensible, complaints others--Thorpe and earlier as well as later scholars--have made about the poem.  Here are is some of her more enthusiastic phrasing:  "It is a lay of great beauty, with a strong mystical appeal, . . ." and "In all the Edda there is no more poignant piece of music than this stilling of the pulse of life, leaving each group of beings fixed in its own characteristic state of awareness . . ."  Obviously the writer thinks she sees something of significance here, and perhaps she does.  Unfortunately I know little about Theosophic beliefs, and what little I have heard suggests that it is so alien to my natural heathen thought patterns that I could probably never get on the same wave length with it.  Aside from that, a poem can only properly be discussed and commented upon--it cannot be truly interpreted or translated into a different mode of perception, and that is what E-B Titchenell is attempting to do.  (as the "New Critics," now no longer new, used to say, "A poem means itself.")  Of course the writer may legitimately use it, if it seems appropriate, to illustrate her theology, but ultimately in such an approach we are getting the theology rather than the poem.  Still, I suspect she is closer to the truth of the poem than Thorpe, whose introduction seems, at least to me, more absurd each time I read it.
    Here is Thorpe's introduction:  "This very obscure poem has been regarded as a fragment only of a poem, of which the beginning and end are wanting.  With regard to the beginning, the want may possibly be more apparent than real; the strophes 2-5 being in fact a sort of introduction, although they do not at first strike us as such, in consequence of the obscurity of the first strophe, which seems very slightly connected with the following ones, in which the gods and dwarfs are described as in council, on account of certain warnings and forbodings of their approaching downfall, or Ranarok.  Another point of difficulty is its title, there being nothing in the whole poem to connect it with Odin's ravens, except the mention of Hugr (Hugin) in the 3rd strophe.  Erik Halson, a learned Icelander, after having spent or wasted ten years in an attempt to explain this poem, confessed that he understood little or nothing of it.  In its mythology, too, we find parts assigned to some of the personages of which no traces occur in either Saemund's or Snorri's Edda; though we are hardly justified in pronouncing it, with more than one scholar of eminence, a fabrication of later times.
    My first problem with this is "The Story of The Learned Icelander."  Sorry, but anything so purely archetypal deserves to be a title and have caps.  This is a classic tale of obsession a little like Moby Dick, but with the Lovecraftian addition of the mysterious book.  But in reality, it is highly improbable, on consideration, that this person truly devoted ten years of his life to a poem otherwise so little commented upon.  I don't doubt that he read it carefully and devoted thought to it a number of times over a ten year period--I've done the same myself with a number of works.  Some of my questions I found answers to, others I may yet, and some I probably never will.  This is the nature of intellectual inquiry.  Can I seriously believe that the scholar gave up his job, deserted his wife and children, and ruined his health while letting his hair and beard grow long, and his clothes turn to rags in a mad concentration on this one relatively short poem?--not likely.  (I admit that Thorpe does not say all this, but it is a story that vaguely suggests a picture of this sort.)  Unfortunately turning it into such a story implies that a poem, which clearly does offer difficulties, is beyond all possibility of understanding.  If no one has given an adequate discussion of the poem, it also appears that no one is trying very hard.  The internet, which seems to have an infinite amount on most things, has hardly anything on this. 
    My second complaint with Thorpe's introduction is with the statement, "Another point of difficulty is its title, there being nothing in the whole poem to connect it with Odin's ravens, except . . ."  This is a truly remarkable piece of critical tunnel vision, and even more remarkable is the fact that it gets quoted without comment.  Thorpe apparently assumes that the title implies a poem about the ravens themselves, when in fact the title obviously refers the their characteristic action.  The poem is the report to Odin of what  they have observed in their journey through the nine worlds.  It is true that the rest of the story deals with further events, but these are obviously events clearly connected to the universal forebodings that the ravens report at the beginning of the poem.  Thus the title seems to me both understandable and highly appropriate.  From her discussion of the poem I take this to be E-B Tichenell's view as well.
    It is obvious that I don't like Thorpe's introduction, and the reader may well think that I should let it go at that.  When this poem is presented, however, it is usually Thorpe's translation, and with this introduction, and when the poem is otherwise discussed, this introduction is often quoted, so that for the English speaking world it has strongly colored people's reading of the poem.  Therefore, bear with me, and we will get to the actual poem shortly.  I am merely bewildered by Thorpe's "although they do not at first strike us as such, in consequence of the obscurity of the first strophe, which seems very slightly connected with the following ones."  We have this long catalogue of varying forms of anticipation, and then in the next stanza, "The forebodings of . . ."  The one stanza seems a very natural lead-in to the next.  The last line of the first, "The Valkyruir long," suggests violence and bloodshed on an abnormal scale, and that in conjunction with the forebodings of the next line turn our minds inevitably to Ragnarok, a direction reinforced by later information.  Any difficulties the poem offers aren't here.
    Aside from these complaints, I would add the fact that Thorpe throws out a number of other charges from various sources against the poem, most of which he neither affirms nor denies, but by mentioning them gives them currency.  Two objections to the poem seem to me contradictory, that the text is very corrupt, and that the poem is very late.  The primary reason for a corrupt text is the poems long existence in oral tradition before being written down.  If it is late, however, there is not much reason for the text being in as bad a shape as some, including Thorpe, have suggested.  The idea that the beginning is missing seems to be partially undercut in Thorpe's introduction, though in his notes he seems to affirm that both beginning and end are missing.  If he does not understand the beginning, however, he is probably not the best judge of whether there is a proper ending or not.  On the matter of corrupt texts, however, the usual evidence seems to be lacking--partial stanzas, obviously missing stanzas, stanzas with mismatched contents, stanzas in a different meter which seem have been brought in from another poem.  Altogether, the text seems in general to be in good shape, which makes it even more unlikely that either beginning or ending is missing.
    The one charge against the poem that Thorpe does not support is the one that to me seems most likely to be true--that the poem is late, possibly very late, though the term, "a late fabrication" makes no great sense to me.  Any poem, unless dictated to the poet by gods or angels, is in some sense a fabrication.  If the purpose is to advance some argument outside the context of the material, I suppose there would be some relevance to the term.  If the work pretended to be someone elses work, I suppose it would be open to such a charge.  If it is from the Christian era, however, it shares that quality with a number of the eddaic poems.  If it is looking back to an earlier era and earlier beliefs, that would be true of other of the poems too.  In fact, the largest block of early material is the heroic poetry.  Interest in writing about the gods seems to have increased during the Christian era.  There is much that sets this apart from the rest of the Edda.  Elsewhere, obscurities mostly arise from our ignorance of much about the era and its traditions, from corruptions of the text, or from ambiguities arising from the poet not expressing himself clearly.  The stories are mostly straightforward and literally told--an oral poem needs to be.  This one, however, has few qualities of an oral poem, and so cannot be early.  It is truly a riddle.  The statements are mostly clear enough; their purpose and implications, however, are often are not.  Also, this poem is more symbolic and allegorical than any of the other poems.  It is not false to its material, for the author is well grounded in lore, but he does mystify us in a way we are not accustomed to.  What is he saying, why does he say it, and why does he feel the need to wrap it in mystery?  Is this a spiritually unorthodox work for the Christian era, and so obscure for that reason?  Possibly.  It may be that this poem is considered so difficult because the others are in most respects so easy.
    A final charge against the poem is that it contains mythic information not available elsewhere.  The implication is that this author simply made it up.  That is a possibility that cannot be entirely ruled out, but we know that there is a great deal of lore that we do not have.  And if we have some of it from this poem that we would lack otherwise, then that gives the poem an additional value.  One example is the story of Idun's fall from the World Tree.  This famous story only exists here.  It is also the grounds for suggesting that Idun is a spring and fertility goddess, and for associating her with Eostre.  It is no great stretch to see a young goddess who supplies the apples of immortality as also a goddess of spring, but it is well to have it confirmed in the lore.
    Finally, my reason for taking  the time to produce a page on this topic, when there is so much more about which I am more qualified to write is the fact that I have always felt a strong attraction to this poem.  The opening seems to me tersely tense and dramatic, and the suspense of the opening is well fulfilled by Idun's fall, and the state of shock she goes into as a result of some vision of apparent horror related to the forebodings of the Aesir and the other orders of beings.  There is a clear parallel between the coming of winter, the fall of Idun, and Ragnarok, which is like the end of the year on a vaster scale.  The poem speaks to me at a deep level, though I hope too that someone will take on the task of making it speak a little more clearly at a more conscious level as well.
Odin's Ravens' Song

1.  Allfather works,
the Alfar discern,
the Vanir know,
the Nornir indicate,
the Ividia brings forth,
men endure,
the Thursar await,
the Valkyruir long.

2.  The forebodings of the Aesir
suspected to be evil;
treacherous Vaettar had
the runes confounded.
Urd was enjoined
to guard Odhroerir,
powerfully to protect it
against the increasing multitude.

3.  Hug then goes forth,
explores the heavens,
the powers fear
disaster from delay.
'Twas Thrain's belief
that the dream was ominous;
Dain's thought that
the dream was dark.
4.  Among the dwarfs
virtue decays;
worlds sink down
to Ginnung's abyss.
Oft will Alswid
strike them down,
often the fallen
again collect.

5.  Stand no longer shall
earth or sun.
The stream of air
with corruption laden
shall not cease.
Hidden is in Mim's
limpid well
men's certain knowledge.
Understand ye yet, or what?

6.  In the dales dwells
the prescient Dis,
from Yggdrasil's
ash sunk down,
of alfen race,
Idun by name,
the youngest of Ivaldi's
elder children.

7.  She ill brooked
her descent,
under the hoar tree's
trunk confined.
She would not happy be
with Norvi's daughter,
accustomed to a pleasanter
abode at home.
8.  The triumphant gods saw
Nanna sorrowing
in earth's deep sanctuaries;
a wolf's skin they gave her,
in which herself she clad,
changed her feelings,
practiced guile,
alter'd he aspect.

9.  Vidrir selected
Bifrost's guardian,
of the Gioll-sun's
keeper to enquire
all that she knew
of every world;
Bragi and Lopt
should witness bear.

10. Magic songs they sung,
rode on wolves
the god and gods.
At the heavenly house,
Odin listened,
in Hildskialf;
let them go forth
on their long way.

11. The wise god asked
the cupbearer
of the gods' progeny
and their associates,
whether of heaven, or Hel,
or earth, she knew
the origin, duration,
or dissolution?
Apparently it is Idun who is here being called "Nanna," though why is unclear.
12. She spoke not,
she could no words
to the anxious gods
bring forth,
nor a sound uttered;
tears flowed from the head's orbs;
with pain repressed
they flow anew.

13. As from the east
from Elivagar,
the thorn is impelled by
the ice-cold Thurs,
wherewith Dain
all people strikes
over the fair mid-earth;

14. when every faculty is lulled,
the hands sink,
totters with drowsiness
the bright, sword-girt As;
drives away the current
the giantess's blandishment
of the mind's agitations
of all the people,

15. so the gods appeared
Jorun to be affected,
with sorrows swollen,
when they no answer got;
they strove the more
the greater the repulse;
still less than they had hoped
did their words prevail.
Heimdal


Night, according to Thorpe
16. When then the leader
of the inquiring travellers,
the guardian of Herian's
loud sounding horn
took the son of Nal
for his companion,
Grimnir's skald
at the place kept watch.

17. Vingolf reached
Vidur's ministers,
both borne
by Forniot's kin.
They entered,
and the Aesir
forthwith saluted,
at Ygg's convivial meeting.

18. Hangtyr they hailed,
of Aesir the most blissful;
potent drink in the high seat
they wished him to enjoy,
and the gods to sit
happy at the feast,
ever with Yggiung
pleasure to share.

19. On the benches seated,
at Bolverk's bidding,
the company of gods
were with Saehrimnir sated.
Skogul at the tables,
from Hnikar's vessel
measured out the mead,
in Mimir's horns.
20. Of many things inquired,
when the meal was over,
the high gods of Heimdall,
the goddesses of Loki,--
whether the maid had uttered
divinations or wise words?--
from noon
until twilight's advent.

21. Ill they showed
it had fallen out,
their errand bootless,
little to glory in.
A lack of counsel
seemed likely,
how from the maiden they
might an answer get.

22. Omi answered;
all listened;
"Night is the time
for new counsels;
till the morrow let reflect
each one competent
to give advice
helpful to the Aesir."

23. Ran along the ways
of mother Rind,
the desired repast
of Fenrisulf.
Went from the guild,
bade the gods farewell
Hropt and Frigg,
as, before Hrimfaxi,
24. The son of Delling
urged on his horse
adorned with
precious jewels.
Over Mannheim shines
the horse's mane,
the steed Dvalin's deluder
drew in his chariot.

25. In the north boundary
of the spacious earth,
under the outmost root
of the noble tree,
went to their couches
Gygiar and Thursar,
spectres, dwarfs,
and Murk Alfs.

26. The powers rose,
the Alf's illuminator
northwards towards Niflheim
chased the night.
Up Argioll ran
Ulfrun's son,
the mighty hornblower
of heaven's heights.
Pages on the Meadhall site that include Eddaic poems.  Information on these pages is on the right.
Asatru:  This page includes my translation of Voluspa.  The alliterative form is not quite correct due to my ignorance at the time.

Sigdrifa:  My translation of Sigdrifa, the best known of the heroic lays. The alliteration here is also not quite correct.

Volund:  The lay of Volund, trans. W.H. Auden.

Odin 2:  The Havamal, trans. W.H. Auden.

Heroic Poems from the Volsungs:  Two original poems based on the saga and Edda, and translations from "The Second Lay of Helgi Hundingsbana " and "The Lay of Fafnir."

Angantyr:  This page contains "The Lay of Angantyr," a powerful heroic poem in the eddaic manner, though not actually from the Edda.  Trans. W.H. Auden. 
Index