The Nacreous Oughts

09 May 2008

from The Eddas:

I wot that I hung · on the wind-tossed tree
      all of nights nine,
wounded by spear, · bespoken to Óthin,
      bespoken myself to myself,
upon that tree · of which none telleth
      from what roots it doth rise.

Neither horn they upheld · nor handed me bread;
      I looked below me--
      aloud I cried--
caught up the runes, · caught them up wailing,
      thence to the ground fell again.

From the son of Bolthorn, · Bestla's father,
      I mastered mighty songs nine,
and a drink I had · of the dearest mead,
      got from out of Óthrœrir.

Then began I to grow · and gain in insight,
      to wax eke in wisdom:
one verse led on · to another verse,
one poem led on · to the other poem.

Runes wilt thou find · and rightly read,
      of wondrous weight,
      of mighty magic,
which that dyed the dread god,
which that made the holy hosts,
and were etched by Óthin,

Óthin among Æsir, · for alfs, Dáin,
      Dvalin for the dwarfs,
Alsvith among etins, · (but for earth-born men)
      wrought I some myself.

Know'st how to write, · know'st how to read,
know'st how to stain, · how to understand,
know'st how to ask, · know'st how to offer,
know'st how to supplicate, · know'st how to sacrifice?

'Tis better unasked · than offend overmuch:
      for ay doth a gift look for gain;
'tis better unasked · than offered overmuch:
thus did Óthin write · ere the earth began,
when up he rose · in after time.

--(tr Lee M Hollander)

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