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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 39 OF THE HAVAMAL

Auden & Taylor:

No man is so generous he will jib at accepting
A gift in return for a gift,
No man so rich that it really gives him
Pain to be repaid.

Bellows:

None so free with gifts | or food have I found
That gladly he took not a gift,
Nor one who so widely | scattered his wealth
That of recompense hatred he had.

Note:  The key-word in line 3 is missing in the manuscript, but editors have agreed in inserting a word meaning "generous."

Bray:

I found none so noble or free with his food,
who was not gladdened with a gift,
nor one who gave of his gifts such store
but he loved reward, could he win it.

Chisholm:

I never found a generous man
who was so free with his food,
that he would turn it down, or so generous
as to loath a gift were it given.

Hollander:

So freehanded never found i a man
but would gladly take what is given;
not of his goods so ungrudging ever,
to forego what is given him.

Terry:

I've never met a man so generous
you couldn't give him a gift,
nor one so pleased to part with his property
he didn't care what cash came in.

Thorpe:

I have never found a man so bountiful,
or so hospitable that he refused a present;
of his property so liberal
that he scorned a recompense.


DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS OF STANZA 39

Sometimes, the various translations parallel each other closely, and other times the various translations are structured quite differently.  We have the latter situation with this Stanza.  Despite sounding quite different, the translations all seem to be getting to the same point, though.

There has never been a man so generous, or bountiful, or rich that he would not accept a gift.  Or any man so liberal or free with his own property, that he would not accept repayment, or rewards, or gifts.  That seems to be the meaning of this stanza on its face.  Implied in this simple meaning, is the idea that having and acquiring wealth is not inherently bad.  Wanting and accepting gifts freely given to you by others is human nature.  Wanting to be paid for your goods or services is equally natural.  This last thought is especially evident in lines 3 and 4 of the Auden & Taylor, Bellows, Terry, and Thorpe translations.  The next stanza, stanza 40, puts the acquisition of wealth in a clearer context.

But, there is something more to this stanza.  Terry's translation, which always tends towards the overly simplistic, completely misses the actual meaning of the stanza.  Several of the other translations would also lead one away from the deeper meaning here.

So, let's look at Auden & Taylor's translation, which gives us a more complex meaning for the stanza: 

No man is so generous he will jib at accepting
A gift in return for a gift,
No man so rich that it really gives him
Pain to be repaid.

First, looking at lines 1 and 2 is important to understand that In Heathenry, a gift is more than just a gift.  A gift is a way of showing friendship or a willingness to build friendships.  A gift is part of a reciprocal exchange, which we often refer to as a "gift for a gift."  Gifts are not purely an act of kindness or generosity.  Gifts connect us to others.  Gifts create bonds of friendship and cooperation.  Gifts bring honor to both the giver and the receiver of the gift.  So, no matter how rich, or generous, our bountiful a man is - he will always accept "a gift in return for a gift."

A gift creates gift-debt for the receiver.  Understand, the gift given in return to pay this gift-debt is not always wealth or a material object.  Sometimes the gift-debt is paid with advice, time, loyalty, friendship, or some other intangible.  Understanding this, friends gift each other to show their respect and connection with one another.  No matter how rich a person is or how small the gift, the intrinsic deeper meaning of that gift is so much more important than whatever value or wealth is involved.  Often, the gift given to pay the gift-debt, creates a gift-debt in return.  And so the cycle of gifting continues.

Stanzas 41, 42, and 44 will get into much more detail about the concept of a "gift for a gift."

Lines 3 and 4 have a lot to do with respect, and continue our theme of a "gift for a gift."  When you gift something to someone, you expect to eventually be gifted in return.  When you loan something to someone, you expect to eventually be repaid.  If you sell something to someone, you expect to eventually be paid for the sale.  Now, the mainstream culture teaches us that we should give gifts with no expectation of reciprocity.  But, this is contrary to human nature and contrary to the ways of our Ancestors.

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