Sólarljóð – Songs of the Sun

The Sólarljóð (The Song of the Sun) is an Old Norse poem, written in Iceland ca 1200. It is written in the traditional metric style of the Poetic Edda, but with a content from Christian visionary poems.

The poem is anonymous, even though it is in some manuscripts assigned to Sæmund. In 82 ljóðaháttr stanzas it gives a narrative, in which a deceased father is addressing his son from another world. The father doesn’t reveal his identity until the last stanzas.

The title of the poem is given in stanza 81, and no doubt derives from the allusion to the Sun at the beginning of the stanzas 39-45, all beginning with Sól ek sá … “The Sun I saw …”. The first stanzas (1-24) give examples of the lives, death and fate of different, anonymous persons. Stanzas 25-32 are advice, similar to those in Hávamál, while 33-38 is a “psychological biography” of the narrator’s life. No 39-45 are the sun stanzas; followed by a section (46-56) where the narrator is placed in some limbo between life and death. The next section, stanzas 57-80, describes his impressions of Hell and Heaven, often compared to The Divine Comedy. The last two stanzas are addressing the son, and the hope for resurrection.

Though written in the traditional metric style of the old Norse religious and wisdom poetry, the poem draws heavily on inspiration from European medieval visionary literature and the metaphors of contemporary Christian literature. Despite its references to Norse mythology, it bears no signs of syncretism, but bears a convinced testimony of the new faith

Introductory Note:

Not included in all manuscript versions of the Poetic Edda in part due to the Christian elements, there are a lot of elements taken from Forn Seðr that have been incorporated into a poem that has an unusal mixture of the two.

The translation for this poem comes from Benjamin Thorpe.

This singular poem, the authorship of which is, in some manuscripts, assigned to Saemund himself, may be termed a Voice from the Dead, given under the form of a dream, in which a deceased father is supposed to address his son from another world. The first 7 strophes seem hardly connected with the following ones, which, as far as the 32nd consist chiefly in aphorisms with examples, some closely resembling those in the Havamal. In the remaining portion is given the recital of the last illness of the supposed speaker, his death, and the scenes his soul passed through on the way to its final home.

The composition exhibits a strange mixture of Christianity and Heathenism, whence it would seem that the poet’s own religion was in a transition state. Of the allusions to Heathenism it is, however, to be observed that they are chiefly to persons and actions of which there is no trace in the Odinic mythology, as known to us, and are possibly the fruits of the poet’s own imagination. The title of the poem is no doubt derived from the allusion to the Sun at the beginning of strophes 39-45.

For an elaborate and learned commentary, with an interlinear version of “the Song of the Sun,” the reader may consult “Les Chants de Sol,” by Professor Berg- mann, Strasbourg & Paris, 1858.

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