Saturday, September 24, 2011

Modernized Havamal

Some consider the Havamal the “Tao of the North” – the Northern way if you will. The Havamal ("Sayings of the high one") is presented as a single poem in the Poetic Edda. The poem, itself a combination of different poems, largely present’s advice for living and survival composed around the central figure of Odin. Havamal is both practical and metaphysical in content; this is particularly apparent towards the end of the poem, as the poem shifts into an account of Odin's obtaining of the runic alphabet and obscure text relating to various charms and spells Odin knows.

The only surviving source for the Havamal is contained within the 13th century Icelandic Codex Regius, and is thought to be no older than from around the year 800 AD (though derived from an earlier oral tradition).

The translations of the Havamal that I have read, including those by Bellows, Bray, Hollander and Chisholm, are excellent, but all suffer from one thing – the language used is often archaic. It’s not that these translations are incomprehensible, just that for each one, there is a bias towards the culture and speech patterns at the time of translation, which is completely understandable.

(NOTE: there are versions with slightly more modern language, but they are under copyright, and therefore can't be re-posted and re-used without permission.)

I remember reading one of the translations to my son when he was young and I had to spend allot of time explaining the meaning of each verse due to the use of language. This may be completely acceptable to many, but it occurred to me that it would be nice to have a version that could be read more easily, and understood with a little less decoding. And so began my modernization project.

I created a group on the social networking site Facebook, shared several versions of the Havamal with interested parties, and began discussing ways to modernize them. After completing several verses, it seemed that given the contrast between different translations, that in addition to the archaic language, there was perhaps some additional meaning injected into the verses by the translator. And so I progressed to modernization stage 2 - my own translation.

The approach I’m taking now is that I translate each verse and then post it for the group to view, and then I come up with a modernized version of my translation for comment. When doing the translation, I’m trying to be as literal as possible, and map the words to the six lines that correspond to the Old Icelandic version I have.

I’m not sure that this project will produce a result any better than previous translators, but the group is enjoying the activity, and in the process we are all getting to know the Havamal much more intimately.

Please feel free to re-use the modernized version as long as it’s not for profit. This project was started to provide the community a version of the Havamal that was accessible, and legally available to use on personal websites, as a source for further development and more. If you use it, credit and a link back to my website would be appreciated.

Tomorrow I'll post the first installment, and will post a new verse every few days, as we complete them. Please subscribe to my BLOG so you don't miss anything! Select FOLLOW BY EMAIL to the right.
Here are links to the versions of the Havamal we are using:

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