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One of my favorite books we read for Ari Berk’s mythology class was Poems of the Elder Edda (translated by Patricia Terry), which held tales about Odin and the other characters of Norse mythology, dwarves, gods, wolves, witches and giants alike. There’s a section in the book called “Sayings of the High One”; it mostly holds short, poetic phrases that offer the reader advice. Many of them have to do with hospitality, survival and courting.

For this week’s Poertry Tuesday, I thought it would be amusing to talk about a few of these words of Viking wisdom.

elder edda

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A man must go         to many places,

         travel widely in the world,

before he is wise enough         to see the workings

         of other men’s minds.

I believe this phrase talks about gaining knowledge and understanding from experience. This works especially well when you leave home, because when you return from travel, you will have a new perspective on your life, the people in it and whatever else affects the world around you. While you were away, you (hopefully) met new people, heard their stories, learned new things and saw places that used to be so far away. With travel, experience and knowledge, a human being has the potential of becoming truly wise.

 

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A stupid man        stays awake all night

       pondering his problems;

he’s worn out         when morning comes

        and whatever was, still is.

This appears pretty straight forward: There is no point in worrying about tomorrow. Let it wait till the next day, because once you’ve rested, you have more energy to figure out a solution for your troubles. You can then do something about them, too.

 

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Don’t stay forever          when you visit friends,

        know when it’s time to leave;

love turns to loathing        if you sit too long

        on someone else’s bench.

Many think of savages whenever someone mentions vikings, but they were more than robbers/pirates. They were warriors and traders who put so much weight on manners and respect among friends and allies. I realize how strange that may sound, considering that they slaughtered monks during the plunders. They had to trade with someone, though, once the job was done. Since they traveled quite a bit, I can imagine that they came to a consensus about hospitality etiquette.

 

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Always as a young man          I traveled alone,

         and I would lose my way;

I felt I was rich         if I made a friend–

        no man by himself is happy.

I’m not sure what to say about this phrase, because it’s unclear whether the speaker is saying it’s bad to travel alone. Perhaps they are saying that even if you get lost somewhere, you can always make a new friend who can help you. The message here could be that no one can do everything on their own, and it’s perfectly alright to rely on others.

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