Some folk say that a new year means little more than a changing date, but most people see this time is an opportunity for renewal. For those seeking to better themselves this year, I hope that you all succeed in fulfilling your oaths—and we shall drink to your honor this night, as we celebrate! In the meantime, I wish to share several stanzas from Hávamál, or Sayings of the High One. This poem, which is narrated both by an unknown poet and Odin himself, concerns social wisdom, common sense, moderation, friendship, and even the mysteries of runes, spells, and charms.
Although it is never a harmful thing to reflect upon the wisdom offered by this Eddic poem, Odin’s advice is particularly pertinent to keep in mind as we pledge oaths to ourselves regarding self-improvement. And so, with that in mind, I have personally selected a few of my favorite stanzas to help guide us in the coming year; hopefully some of you will profit from these words in the coming year, as I have in years past.
Don’t be boastful.
5. About his intelligence no man should be boastful,
rather cautious of mind;
when a wise and silent man comes to a homestead
blame seldom befalls the weary;
for no more dependable a friend can a man ever get
than a store of common sense.
18. Only a man who wanders widely
and has journeyed a great deal knows
what sort of mind each man controls;
he who’s sharp in his wits.
Drink in moderation (and have self-control).
19. Let no man hold onto the Cup, but drink
mead in moderation,
let him say what’s necessary or be silent;
no man will scold you
because you go off early to bed.
No one is perfect.
22. He’s a wretched man, of evil disposition,
the one who makes fun of everything;
he doesn’t know the one thing he ought to know:
that he is not devoid of faults.
Don’t overthink things (worry less).
23. The stupid man stays awake all night
and worries about everything;
he’s tired out when the morning comes
and all’s just as bad as it was.
No one knows everything…
26. The foolish man thinks he knows everything
if he cowers in a corner;
he doesn’t know what he can say in return
if people ask him questions.
…so don’t pretend like you do.
27. The foolish man in company
does best if he stays silent;
no one will know that he knows nothing,
unless he talks to much;
but the man who knows nothing does not know
even if he is talking too much.
Watch what you say…
29. Quite enough baseless blather comes
from the man never silent;
a quick tongue, unless it’s held in check,
often talks itself into trouble.
…and don’t mock others.
31. Wise that man who retreats
when one quest is insulting another;
the man who mocks at a feast doesn’t know for sure
whether he shoots off his mouth amid enemies.
Be grateful for what you have…
36. A farm of your own is better, even if small,
everyone’s someone at home;
though he has two goats and a twig-roofed room,
that is still better than begging.
…and what you are given.
39. I never found a generous man, nor one so unstingy with food,
that he wouldn’t accept what was given;
or one so open-handed with possessions
that he disliked a gift when offered.
Always be prepared.
38. From his weapons on open land
no man should step one pace away;
for it can’t be known for certain, out on the road,
when a man might have need of his spear.
Appreciate your friends and treat them well.
44. You know, if you’ve a friend whom you really trust
and from whom you want nothing but good,
you should mix your soul with his and exchange gifts,
go and see him often.
Know the importance of others.
47. I was young once, I travelled alone,
then I found myself going astray;
rich I thought myself when I met someone else,
for man is the joy of man.
Learn from others.
57. One brand takes fire from another, until it is consumed,
a flame’s kindled by flame;
one man becomes clever by talking with another,
but foolish through being reserved.
Nothing comes easily, so work hard and do your best.
59. He should get up early, the man who has few workers,
and set about his work with thought;
much gets held up for the man sleeping in the morning;
wealth is half-won by activity.
Present your best self, even if it’s humble.
61. Washed and fed, a man should ride to the Assembly,
though he may not be very well dressed;
of his shoes and breeches no man should be ashamed,
nor of his horse, though he doesn’t have a good one.
66. Much too early I’ve come to many places,
but sometimes too late;
the ale was all drunk, or sometimes it wasn’t yet brewed,
the unpopular man seldom hits on the right mark.
There’s always some good to be found in life.
69. No one is completely wretched, even if he has bad luck;
one man is blessed with sons,
another with kinsmen, another has enough money,
another feels good from his deeds.
Wealth is not everything.
75. The man who knows nothing does not know this:
that many are fooled by money;
one man is rich, another is not rich,
he should not be blamed for that.
Life is short, so live it well.
76. Cattle die, kinsmen die,
the self must also die;
but the glory of reputation never dies,
for the man who can get himself a good one.
Þǫkk fyrir lestr ok gleðiligt nýtt ár!
(Thanks for reading and happy New Year!)
Endnotes and Resources
- All of the poetry contained in this post has been quoted from Carolyne Larrington trans., Sayings of the High One, in The Poetic Edda, 13-35 (repr., 1996; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014). ^
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