Documentation for Valhalla Bound

It is unknown exactly when skaldic poetry began, but it reached its peak in the late ninth and early tenth centuries C.E. in Iceland and Norway. The first author known dates from the early ninth century was Bragi the Old. Many believe him to be the originator of the art form (this is obviously sacrilege as we all know that Odin was the father of all poetry). However, Bragi's poems go from very rough to perfect with no transitional phase. This would indicate that someone else wrote the better, later poems and used Bragi’s name. Either that or Bragi received divine inspiration after the Alfather decided that Bragi was worthy even if he had been a mediocre poet to start. Whoever the first skald was and whoever perfected the different forms (I will show twelve forms although Snorri Sturluson listed 107 forms in the Prose Edda), we should all be happy that these people sipped of Suttung's Mead.

The drottkvætt, or Court Measure, is pretty much the basis for most of the other forms. As such it is one of the more difficult rating. The rules are as follows:

1) All syllables must be counted and be of the same number in every line. The average is six but the actual number can vary by two.
2) The lines should end in trochee.
3) Each line should contain three heavy syllables.
4) There should be two alliterating syllables in the odd lines.
5) The first syllable of the even numbered line continues the alliteration of the preceding odd line.
6) This form uses internal rhyme. Full internal rhyme (wherein the vowel and the following consonant are the same) on the even lines, and half internal rhyme (where the vowels are the same but the consonants are different although having a similar sound) on the odd lines.
7) The last rhyme should be in the last stressed syllable of the line.
8) There are eight lines per strophe (stanzas), divided into two even halves. These two half strophes can either be one continuous thought or separate but related thoughts.
9) The poem should contain a number of kennings (these will be explained further on).

As you can see, skaldic poetry is not a simple style to work in. However, some of the other forms are a little less rigorous to work in.

Kennings are an interesting part of skaldic poetry. Kennings are what we would call figures of speech. An example is when a camel is called a "ship of the desert". One reason I stated that Kennings are an interesting part of this art form is that during this time period, no other culture was using them to the extent of the Norse. The Irish were using a few that were very similar to those used in Scandinavia, but the good people of Erin were not using many kennings in their poetry at all during this period. Some examples of period kennings are:

Shield Tree, Sword Tree, Slayer of Hosts, and Raven Feeder for men; Tree of Gold, the Weaving Goddess, Goddess of Cloth, and Bride of the Slayer of Hosts for women; Storm of Spears, Spear Forest, Thunder of Swords, and Rattle of Spears for battle; and Raven Field, Forest of Spears, and Blood Field for a battle field.

There are many more for the items I listed and for just about any topic one can think of. The kennings I listed, with the exception of "Bride of the Slayer of Hosts" are of the simplest variety. The more complex type work well in Old Norse or Icelandic, but get real long and cumbersome in English. One such (in English) would be "Reddener of the snake of the spear storm", which simply means a warrior. Another used for a female giant was/is "the bride of the rider of the wolves". This was because giants used wolves as steeds.

Alliteration is the most difficult part of working in skaldic poetry. Alliteration is where there are a number of words in a line that start with the same letter. My research says that it is ok to skip the alliteration in the poems. Apparently this was the one rule that considerable leeway was given on. Personally, I usually skip the alliteration. But, then, I don't normally work in the drottkvætt form.

We have now gone through the basics of the style. Now I shall give a listing of some of the other forms. Have fun with them. May the Alfather bless your tongues.

  • Fleinshattr - Same rules as above except that rhymes fall on the first and second stressed syllables of each line.
  • Hattlausa - No rhymes, all other rules of drottkvætt apply.
  • Munnvorp - This one has no rhyme in the odd lines and only half rhyme in
    the even lines. No other changes from drottkvætt.
  • Rétthent - Full rhyme used in all lines. No other changes from drottkvætt.
  • Alhent - This is a fun one as it has two full rhymes per line. No
    other changes from drottkvætt.
  • Dunnheda - Last stressed syllable of the odd line is echoed as the first
    stressed syllable of the even line. No other changes from drottkvætt.
  • Hrynhende - Uses eight syllables per line. No other changes from drottkvætt.
  • Kviðuhattr - Odd lines have three syllables, while the even have four.
    No other changes from drottkvætt.
  • Haðarlag - Here there are five syllables per line. No other changes
    from drottkvætt.
  • Runhenda - This form uses end rhyme, has four syllables per line, and the
    odd lines have two alliterating syllables.
  • Drapa - This form is a very special one. It uses any of the above forms
    and then places a refrain of two lines that are double the syllables of the. The refrains are placed at regular intervals in the poem. This interval can vary from poem to poem. Rhyme may be used or omitted, but if used in one, use it in all. Also, this form is used only in praise of members of the nobility or the gods.
Thus ends my list. As stated earlier, Snorri gives 109 forms for the style.


Turville-Petre, O.E.G.; Skaldic Poetry; Oxford University Press; 1976

Hollander, Lee M.; The Skalds; Princeton University Press; 1945/47

Kormak's Saga (The Life and Death of Kormak the Skald); AMS Press reprint. Originally published: Ulverston, Holmes; 1902; (Viking Club Translation Series #1)

Geirfold halvblindi lives in the Kingdom of Northshield.