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discussion and analysis presented after these
translated stanzas is our
opinion. Read the translations for yourself and our analysis, but also seek
out varied sources and come to your own conclusions.
STANZA 1 OF THE
Auden and Taylor:
The man who stands at a strange threshold,
Should be cautious before he cross it,
Glance this way and
Who knows beforehand what foes may sit
Awaiting him in
Within the gates | ere a man shall
(Full warily let him watch,)
Full long let him look about
For little he knows | where a foe may lurk,
And sit in
the seats within.
1. This stanza is quoted by Snorri, the
second line being omitted in most of the Prose Edda
At every door-way,
ere one enters,
should spy round,
one should pry round
for uncertain is the
that there be no foeman sitting,
within, before one on
Watch out and check all gates before faring
One should spy around,
one should pry around.
to know what foe
sits before you in the next room.
Have they eyes about thee when thou
be wary alway, be watchful alway,
for one never
knoweth when need will be
to meet hidden foe in the hall.
At every doorway what you have to do
look around you
and look out;
never forget: no matter where
you might find a foe.
All door-ways, before going
should be looked to;
for difficult it is to know where foes may sit
within a dwelling.
Original Old Norse:
áður gangi fram
um skyggnast skyli,
því að óvíst er að vita
sitja á fleti fyrir.
DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS
OF STANZA 1
In a fairly straight-forward way, this
stanza is telling us to be cautious when entering a hall or
building. It warns us to look this way and that before
entering, because you never quite know what dangers might be waiting
for you in there (in the form of foe or foes).
The stanza suggests we live in a somewhat
dangerous world, and that being cautious and truly considering those
dangers is well worth your time. For me, the stanza applies to
more then just entering strange doorways. Anytime you are
encountering a situation or people that are outside your trusted
inner circle, you should keep you eyes open to the possibilities
that a "foe" may be nearby. Even an unseen or unrecognized foe
among people you are meeting and encountering.
In very simple terms, the stanza is telling
us not to be a naive moron stumbling unknowingly into trouble.
Be aware of the dangers and keep your eyes open for them. It
is certainly a warning to "look before you leap."
In a modern context, the stanza works in a
literal sense. When you attend a party, a social gathering, or
an event with lots of people...you should be aware of who is
present, who is in the room, who is near you, etc. Is there
someone there you don't want to be around, or don't want to have any
contact with? Is there someone you don't know yet who is
drinking too much, visibly angry, or looking like they might cause
trouble? What is the tone or mood of the room or
environment? Is this a safe place for you to be, or do you
need to take precautions to make sure you are safe?
In a less literal sense, when you are
entering into a new effort, a business venture, a new job, or any
other new situation...what are the hidden dangers? Have you
really thought about it with your eyes wide open to the possible
problems and pitfalls? Is everyone involved trustworthy, and
do they all have your best interests at heart? Are they fair
and honorable? Have you left yourself unnecessarily
One point I've heard made, is that there
seems to be a presumption that the doorway will be entered. It
is not a warning to not enter new doorways. It is not a
warning to pick and choose which doorways you do decide to
enter. It simply warns to be aware of the dangers before you
make that step through the gate.
Another point I've heard made focuses in
very closely on the people in the room you are entering. Do
they seem to be friends but aren't? Do they smile to your face
and say kind words, but then turn against you when you aren't there
with them? For some, this stanza points out the difficulty of
knowing who is your friend and who is your foe. And this can
certainly be a difficulty in life.
It is interesting that this is the first
verse of the Havamal, because it is the "doorway" into the Havamal
in a sense.
For me, Chisholm's translation of this
stanza seems to read the clearest and is the one that is easiest to
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