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The 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 27 OF THE HAVAMAL

Auden & Taylor:

The ignorant booby had best be silent
When he moves among other men,
No one will know what a nit-wit he is
Until he begins to talk;
No one knows less what a nit-wit he is
Than the man who talks too much.

Bellows:

A witless man, | when he meets with men,
Had best in silence abide;
For no one shall find | that nothing he knows,
If his mouth is not open too much.
(But a man knows not, | if nothing he knows,
When his mouth has been open too much.)

Bellow's Note:  The last two lines were probably added as a commentary on lines 3 and 4.

Bray:

For the unwise man 'tis best to be mute
when he come amid the crowd,
for none is aware of his lack of wit
if he wastes not too many words;
for he who lacks wit shall never learn
though his words flow ne'er so fast.

Chisholm:

When the fool fares among folk
it is best he stay quiet.
No one knows that he knows nothing
unless he talks too much.

Hollander:

The unwise man amongst others who comes,
let him be sparing of speech;
for no one knows that naught is in him,
but he opens his mouth too much.

Terry:

When a stupid man comes into company
he'd better be silent;
no one will notice that he knows nothing
unless he talks a lot.
(And if he talks to men of like talent
it's safe for him to speak.)

Thorpe:

A foolish man,
who among people comes,
had best be silent;
for no one knows
that he knows nothing,
unless he talks to much.
He who previously knew nothing
will still know nothing
talk he ever so much.


DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS OF STANZA 27

Lines 1 and 2 express the idea that a foolish or witless man is better off just shutting up and being silent when he is among other people.

Lines 3 and 4 go further and explain that no one will know the fool is a fool, or that the witless man is witless, unless he opens his mouth and shows them with his words how foolish he is.

Bellows not suggests that lines 5 and 6 were a later addition, probably added by a skald wanting to add further explanation to lines 3 and 4.  And we can see that some of the translators choose to leave lines 5 and 6 off altogether.

Lines 5 and 6 are translated here many different ways here.  I prefer Auden and Taylors suggestion that the man who talks too much, is exactly the guy who is clueless about how big a fool he is.  Some of the other translations sort of suggest that talking a bunch doesn't make you any smarter, and a couple of the translations are pretty convoluted.  It makes me think that lines 5 and 6 in the Old Norse must have been difficult to translate into English...or that they were one of those Old Norse sayings that just has no real parallel in English.  But, who knows?  Not me.  I don't know Old Norse. 

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