Rune Poems

Icelandic Rune Poem

The Icelandic Runic Poem which is supposed to date from the 15th century, is somewhat more elaborate than its Norwegian prototype. It consists of 16 short stanzas dealing in succession with the letter names of the Scandinavian Runic alphabet. In each of these stanzas are contained three kenningar---the elaborate periphrases which is commonly found in Icelandic literature.

The first and second lines are connected by alliteration, the third has two alliterating syllables of its own. The Icelandic Runic alphabet contained several more letters at this time; but only the sixteen current in the Viking Age are treated here. It is suggested that this poem is based on an earlier original now lost to us.

The Poem is taken from four MSS. in the Arnamagnaean Library at Copenhagen.

1. AM 687,4to, parchment of the fifteenth century and containing the runic charecters, but not the names.

2. AM.461,12mo, parchment of the sixteenth century, with names only.

3. AM.749, 4to, paper of the seventeenth century, with names and letters in alphabetical order, followed by "dotted runes."

4. AM.413,folio,pp.130-5,140ff.,from parchments of the sixteenth century copied in Jon Olafsson of Grunnavik's MS.Runologia (1732-52)

(a) with names and letters in alphabetical order,

(b) with names and letters in runic order except that logr precedes maðr.

Cf.Kalund, Smastykker, pp. 16 ff.; Wimmer, Die Runenschrift,pp.281 ff

Old Norse                         Modern English

Fé er frænda róg

ok flæðar viti
ok grafseiðs gata
aurum fylkir.

Úr er skýja grátr

ok skára þverrir
ok hirðis hatr.
umbre vísi

Þurs er kvenna kvöl

ok kletta búi
ok varðrúnar verr.
Saturnus þengill.

Óss er algingautr

ok ásgarðs jöfurr,
ok valhallar vísi.
Jupiter oddviti.

Reið er sitjandi sæla

ok snúðig ferð
ok jórs erfiði.
iter ræsir.

Kaun er barna böl

ok bardaga [för]
ok holdfúa hús.
flagella konungr.

Hagall er kaldakorn

ok krapadrífa
ok snáka sótt.
grando hildingr.

Nauð er Þýjar þrá

ok þungr kostr
ok vássamlig verk.
opera niflungr.

Íss er árbörkr

ok unnar þak
ok feigra manna fár.
glacies jöfurr.

Ár er gumna góði

ok gott sumar
algróinn akr.
annus allvaldr.

Sól er skýja skjöldr

ok skínandi röðull
ok ísa aldrtregi.
rota siklingr.

Týr er einhendr áss

ok ulfs leifar
ok hofa hilmir.
Mars tiggi.

Bjarkan er laufgat lim

ok lítit tré
ok ungsamligr viðr.
abies buðlungr.

Maðr er manns gaman

ok moldar auki
ok skipa skreytir.
homo mildingr.

Lögr er vellanda vatn

ok viðr ketill
ok glömmungr grund.
lacus lofðungr.

Ýr er bendr bogi

ok brotgjarnt járn
ok fífu fárbauti.
arcus ynglingr.


source of discord among kinsmen
and fire of the sea
and path of the serpent.


lamentation of the clouds
and ruin of the hay-harvest
and abomination of the shepherd.


torture of women
and cliff-dweller
and husband of a giantess.


aged Gautr
and prince of Ásgarðr
and lord of Vallhalla.


joy of the horsemen
and speedy journey
and toil of the steed.


disease fatal to children
and painful spot
and abode of mortification.


cold grain
and shower of sleet
and sickness of serpents.


grief of the bond-maid
and state of oppression
and toilsome work.


bark of rivers
and roof of the wave
and destruction of the doomed.


boon to men
and good summer
and thriving crops.


shield of the clouds
and shining ray
and destroyer of ice.


god with one hand
and leavings of the wolf
and prince of temples.


leafy twig
and little tree
and fresh young shrub.


delight of man
and augmentation of the earth
and adorner of ships.


eddying stream
and broad geysir
and land of the fish.


bent bow
and brittle iron
and giant of the arrow.

Norwegian Rune Poem

The Norwegian Runic Poem was first printed (in Runic characters) by Olaus Wormius, Danica Literatura Antiquissima, page 105 (Amsterodamiae, 1636) from a law MS. in the University Library at Copenhagen, which perished in the fire of 1728. This version was used by Vigfusson and Powell in their Icelandic Prose Reader (Oxford, 1879) and Corpus Poeticum Boreale (Oxford, 1883), where the textual difficulties are death with in a very arbitrary fashion.

The MSS. had, however, been copied later in the seventeenth century by Arni Magnusson and Jon Eggertson, whose transcripts, far more accurate than Worm's, exists at Copenhagen and Stockholm. It was on these that Kalund based his text in the first critical edition, Smastykker (Kobenhavn, 1884-91), pp. 1 ff.,100ff., in which are incorporated valuable suggestions by Sophus Bugge and B.M.Olsen. Kalund added the names of the Runic letters, but printed the texts in their original orthography. However it has been though more satisfactory to adopt the normalised Old Norwegian spelling used in the German translation of Wimmer's work, Die Runenschrift, pp. 273-80 (Berlin, 1887).

The poem has certain affinities to the Anglo-Saxon and is ascribed to a Norwegian author at the end of the thirteenth century; ræið and rossom alliterate, which would be impossible with the Icelandic forms of ræið and hrossum. It is composed in six syllabled couplets, each of which contains two semi detached statements of a gnomic character; the first line which has two alliterating words, is connected by end-rhyme except for 15 and the second which has none.

Old Norse / Modern English

vældr frænda róge; føðesk ulfr í skóge.

Wealth is a source of discord among kinsmen; the wolf lives in the forest.

Úr er af illu jarne; opt løypr ræinn á hjarne.

Dross comes from bad iron; the reindeer often races over the frozen snow.

Þurs vældr kvinna kvillu; kátr værðr fár af illu.

Giant causes anguish to women; misfortune makes few men cheerful.

Óss er flæstra færða fo,r; en skalpr er sværða.

Estuary is the way of most journeys;  but a scabbard is of swords.

Ræið kveða rossom væsta; Reginn sló sværðet bæzta.

Riding is said to be the worst thing for horses; Reginn forged the finest sword.

Kaun er barna bo,lvan; bo,l gørver nán fo,lvan.

Ulcer is fatal to children; death makes a corpse pale.

Hagall er kaldastr korna; Kristr skóp hæimenn forna.

Hail is the coldest of grain; Christ created the world of old.

Nauðr gerer næppa koste;  nøktan kælr í froste.

Constraint gives scant choice; a naked man is chilled by the frost.

Ís ko,llum brú bræiða; blindan þarf at læiða.

Ice we call the broad bridge; the blind man must be led.

Ár er gumna góðe; get ek at o,rr var Fróðe.

Plenty is a boon to men; I say that Frothi was generous.

Sól er landa ljóme; lúti ek helgum dóme.

Sun is the light of the world; I bow to the divine decree.

Týr er æinendr ása; opt værðr smiðr blása.

Tyr is a one-handed god; often has the smith to blow.

Bjarkan er laufgrønstr líma; Loki bar flærða tíma.

Birch has the greenest leaves of any shrub; Loki was fortunate in his deceit.

Maðr er moldar auki; mikil er græip á hauki.

Man is an augmentation of the dust; great is the claw of the hawk.

Lo,gr er, fællr ór fjalle foss; en gull ero nosser.

A waterfall is a River which falls from a mountain-side; but ornaments are of gold.

Ýr er vetrgrønstr viða; vænt er, er brennr, at sviða

Yew is the greenest of trees in winter; it is wont to crackle when it burns.


Anglo Saxon Rune Poem

The Anglo-Saxon Runic Poem is taken from the Cottonian MS.Otho B X, which perished in the fire of 1731. It had, however been printed by Hickes in his Linguarum Veterum Septentrionalium Thesaurus, I.135 (London, 1705), from which the present text is derived. It consists of short stanzas, 29 in all, of two to five lines each. At the beginning of which stand the Runic characters described, preceded by their equivalents in ordinary script and followed by their names

Old English / Modern English

Feoh byþ frofur fira gehwylcum; sceal ðeah manna gehwylc miclun hyt dælan

Wealth is a comfort to all men; yet must every man bestow it freely, if he wish to gain honour in the sight of the Lord.

Ur byþ anmod ond oferhyrned, felafrecne deor, feohteþ mid hornum  mære morstapa; þæt is modig wuht. 

The aurochs is proud and has great horns;it is a very savage beast and fights with its horns;a great ranger of the moors, it is a creature of mettle.

þorn byþ ðearle scearp; ðegna gehwylcum anfeng ys yfyl, ungemetum reþe manna gehwelcum, ðe him mid resteð.

The thorn is exceedingly sharp, an evil thing for any knight to touch,uncommonly severe on all who sit among them.

Os byþ ordfruma ælere spræce, wisdomes wraþu ond witena frofur and eorla gehwam eadnys ond tohiht. 

The mouth is the source of all language, a pillar of wisdom and a comfort to wise men,a blessing and a joy to every knight.

Rad byþ on recyde rinca gehwylcum sefte ond swiþhwæt, ðamðe sitteþ on ufan meare mægenheardum ofer milpaþas.

Riding seems easy to every warrior while he is indoors and very courageous to him who traverses the high-roads on the back of a stout horse.

Cen byþ cwicera gehwam, cuþ on fyre blac ond beorhtlic, byrneþ oftust ðær hi æþelingas inne restaþ.

The torch is known to every living man by its pale, bright flame; it always burns where princes sit within.

Gyfu gumena byþ gleng and herenys, wraþu and wyrþscype and wræcna gehwam ar and ætwist, ðe byþ oþra leas.

Generosity brings credit and honour, which support one's dignity; it furnishes help and subsistence to all broken men who are devoid of aught else.

Wenne bruceþ, ðe can weana lyt sares and sorge and him sylfa hæfþ blæd and blysse and eac byrga geniht.

Bliss he enjoys who knows not suffering, sorrow nor anxiety, and has prosperity and happiness and a good enough house.

Hægl byþ hwitust corna; hwyrft hit of heofones lyfte, wealcaþ hit windes scura; weorþeþ hit to wætere syððan.

Hail is the whitest of grain; it is whirled from the vault of heaven and is tossed about by gusts of wind and then it melts into water.

Nyd byþ nearu on breostan; weorþeþ hi þeah oft niþa bearnum to helpe and to hæle gehwæþre, gif hi his hlystaþ æror.

Trouble is oppressive to the heart; yet often it proves a source of help and salvation to the children of men, to everyone who heeds it betimes.

Is byþ ofereald, ungemetum slidor, glisnaþ glæshluttur gimmum gelicust, flor forste geworuht, fæger ansyne.

Ice is very cold and immeasurably slippery; it glistens as clear as glass and most like to gems;it is a floor wrought by the frost, fair to look upon.

Ger byÞ gumena hiht, ðonne God læteþ, halig heofones cyning, hrusan syllan beorhte bleda beornum ond ðearfum.

Summer is a joy to men, when God, the holy King of Heaven, suffers the earth to bring forth shining fruits for rich and poor alike.

Eoh byþ utan unsmeþe treow, heard hrusan fæst, hyrde fyres,wyrtrumun underwreþyd, wyn on eþle.

The yew is a tree with rough bark, hard and fast in the earth, supported by its roots, a guardian of flame and a joy upon an estate.

Peorð byþ symble plega and hlehter wlancum [on middum], ðar wigan sittaþ on beorsele bliþe ætsomne.

Peorth is a source of recreation and amusement to the great, where warriors sit blithely together in the banqueting-hall.

Eolh-secg eard hæfþ oftust on fennewexeð on wature, wundaþ grimme, blode breneð beorna gehwylcne ðe him ænigne onfeng gedeþ. 

The Eolh-sedge is mostly to be found in a marsh; it grows in the water and makes a ghastly wound,covering with blood every warrior who touches it.

Sigel semannum symble biþ on hihte,ðonne hi hine feriaþ ofer fisces beþ,oþ hi brimhengest bringeþ to lande.

The sun is ever a joy in the hopes of seafarers when they journey away over the fishes' bath,until the courser of the deep bears them to land.

Tir biþ tacna sum, healdeð trywa wel wiþ æþelingas; a biþ on færylde ofer nihta genipu, næfre swiceþ

Tiw is a guiding star; well does it keep faith with princes; it is ever on its course over the mists of night and never fails.

Beorc byþ bleda leas, bereþ efne swa ðeah tanas butan tudder, biþ on telgum wlitig,heah on helme hrysted fægere,geloden leafum, lyfte getenge.

The poplar bears no fruit; yet without seed it brings forth suckers, for it is generated from its leaves. Splendid are its branches and gloriously adorned its lofty crown which reaches to the skies.

Eh byþ for eorlum æþelinga wyn,hors hofum wlanc, ðær him hæleþ ymb[e]
welege on wicgum wrixlaþ spræce and biþ unstyllum æfre frofur.

The horse is a joy to princes in the presence of warriors. A steed in the pride of its hoofs,when rich men on horseback bandy words about it;and it is ever a source of comfort to the restless

Man byþ on myrgþe his magan leof:sceal þeah anra gehwylc oðrum swican, forðum drihten wyle dome sine þæt earme flæsc eorþan betæcan.

The joyous man is dear to his kinsmen; yet every man is doomed to fail his fellow,
since the Lord by his decree will commit the vile carrion to the earth.

Lagu byþ leodum langsum geþuht, gif hi sculun neþan on nacan tealtum and hi sæyþa swyþe bregaþ and se brimhengest bridles ne gym[eð]. 

The ocean seems interminable to men, if they venture on the rolling bark and the waves of the sea terrify them and the courser of the deep heed not its bridle.

Ing wæs ærest mid East-Denum gesewen secgun, oþ he siððan est ofer wæg gewat; wæn æfter ran; ðus Heardingas ðone hæle nemdun.

Ing was first seen by men among the East-Danes, till, followed by his chariot,he departed eastwards over the waves. So the Heardingas named the hero.

Eþel byþ oferleof æghwylcum men, gif he mot ðær rihtes and gerysena on brucan on bolde bleadum oftast. 

An estate is very dear to every man, if he can enjoy there in his house whatever is right and proper in constant prosperity.

Dæg byþ drihtnes sond, deore mannum, mære metodes leoht, myrgþ and tohiht eadgum and earmum, eallum brice. 

Day, the glorious light of the Creator, is sent by the Lord; it is beloved of men, a source of hope and happiness to rich and poor, and of service to all.

Ac byþ on eorþan elda bearnum flæsces fodor, fereþ gelome ofer ganotes bæþ; garsecg fandaþ hwæþer ac hæbbe æþele treowe

The oak fattens the flesh of pigs for the children of men. Often it traverses the gannet's bath, and the ocean proves whether the oak keeps faith in honourable fashion

Æsc biþ oferheah, eldum dyre stiþ on staþule, stede rihte hylt,ðeah him feohtan on firas monige.

The ash is exceedingly high and precious to men. With its sturdy trunk it offers a stubborn resistance, though attacked by many a man.

Yr byþ æþelinga and eorla gehwæs wyn and wyrþmynd, byþ on wicge fæger, fæstlic on færelde, fyrdgeatewa sum

Yr is a source of joy and honour to every prince and knight; it looks well on a horse and is a reliable equipment for a journey.

Iar byþ eafix and ðeah a bruceþ fodres on foldan, hafaþ fægerne eard wætre beworpen, ðær he wynnum leofaþ.

Iar is a river fish and yet it always feeds on land; it has a fair abode encompassed by water, where it lives in happiness.                .

Ear byþ egle eorla gehwylcun, ðonn[e] fæstlice flæsc onginneþ,hraw colian, hrusan ceosan blac to gebeddan; bleda gedreosaþ,wynna gewitaþ, wera geswicaþ.                   .

The grave is horrible to every knight, when the corpse quickly begins to cool and is laid in the bosom of the dark earth. Prosperity declines, happiness passes away and covenants are broken.