Full text: Iceland 1930

part of that period. In spite of a long and learned controversy it has 
never been definitely settled which of these lays were composed in 
Iceland and which may have originated in Norway or in the Norse 
colonies “West of the Main“. But however this may be, it is certain 
that they have been the exclusive property of the Icelanders as far 
back as written records go and that they bear a close affinitv to other 
Old-Icelandic poetical compositions. 
These lays reflect the life of the Viking Age in its varied manifes- 
tations. We are made acquainted with our forefathers’ conception of 
the world, of this life, of life to come, of the fates of gods and men; 
they show us their moral ideas and their philosophy of Life, their 
character and their customs. In them are preserved old stories of the 
gods and heroes, not only of the Scandinavian peoples, but of the 
whole Teutonic race as well. They are composed in simple metres; 
the language is vigorous; the sentences are short, the words expres. 
sive and often pregnant with inspiration. 
The Drétthvadi (Poems in Court-Metre) are for the most part com- 
posed on kings, earls or other great men and their exploits, and were 
one of the surest ways fo gain the favour of foreign princes. By way 
of reward the poet was granted a place at court, some post of ho- 
nour, gold and costly presents. It is therefore not altogether without 
reason to say, as has sometimes been done, that court-poetry was an 
Icelandic export article; for, from the second half of the tenth century 
and down to the end of the thirteenth, all the court-poets, whose names 
have come down to us, are of Icelandic birth. The poets praise the 
kings, especially for their munificence and bravery in war; and in 
enumerating their warlike expeditions, their drapas (drapur, Burden- 
Lays) are often nothing but descriptions of battles and bloodshed. But 
though not chary of his praises, the poet does not lack frankness either, 
as shown by Sigvafr Thordarson (ca. 995—1045) who had the cour- 
age to address to king Magniis Olafsson a very out-spoken admoni- 
tory poem, giving him advice which the king thought it proper to fol- 
low. Sometimes a poet who had fallen into disfavour with a king 
would compose an encomium on him to save his own neck (hifud- 
fausn, i. e. Head-Ransom). There are genealogical lays; funeral poems 
or verses made on old stories of the gods, the occasion sometimes 
being a picture of these painted on a shield (shield poems) or carved 
on the walls of a hall for the sake of ornament. Lastly there are in 
the eleventh century and later made drapas on Christ and the Saints, 
besides a great number of occasional verses called forth by particular

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