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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 4 OF THE HAVAMAL

Auden and Taylor:

Water, too, that he may wash before eating,
Handcloth's and a hearty welcome,
Courteous words, then courteous silence
That he may tell his tale,

Bellows:

Water and towels | and welcoming speech
Should he find who comes, to the feast;
If renown he would get, | and again be greeted,
Wisely and well must he act.

Bray:

He craves for water, who comes for refreshment,
drying and friendly bidding,
marks of good will, fair fame if 'tis won,
and welcome once and again.

Chisholm:

Water is needful, for he who comes for a meal,
drying and friendly words as well,
and, if he can get them, kindness, good words,
and welcome again.

Hollander:

A drink needeth to full dishes who cometh,
a towel, and the prayer to partake;
good bearing eke, to be well liked
and be bidden to banquet again.

Terry:

There must be water when guests come to a meal,
towels and a welcome to the table;
it's good manners to give them both
talk and a turn to speak.

Thorpe:

Water to him is needful
who for refection comes,
a towel and hospitable invitation,
a good reception;
if he can get it,
discourse and answer.

Original Old Norse:

Vatns er rf
eim er til verar kemur,
erru og jlaar,
gs um is;
ef sr geta mtti,
ors og endurgu.


DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS OF STANZA 4

Stanza 4 continues the advice on hospitality.  I see Amber beat me to commenting on the Stanza, which is awesome!

The first two lines make it clear that when the guest arrives for the feast, they should be greeted or welcomed well.  And they will need water and towels to clean themselves from their travels (or to drink, depending on the translation).

Lines 3 and 4 are presented translated differently here.  And the differences fall right in line with the differences in translation of Stanza 2. 

Auden and Taylor, and Terry go very simple with lines 3 and 4.  Basically, it is good manners to talk to your guest and allow them to talk.  Very simple.

Bellows and Hollander make it a little more complex, by suggesting that the guest must act well if they wish to be invited back. 

Bray, Chisholm, and Thorpe bring in a different idea.  The idea that the guest must earn being treated well, and earn being talked with well.  Thorpe says, "A good reception, if he can get it."  Bray says, "marks of good will, fair fame if 'tis won."  Chisholm says, "and, if he can get them, kindness, good words, and welcome again."  These three translations make it clear that the guest may not have earned his/her fair fame...may not have earned a good reception.  And for me, this refers back to what we say in Bray and Chisholm's translations of Stanza 2:

Bray and Chisholm are in line with the translations give by Auden and Taylor, Bellows, and Thorpe...but I think their translations gives us some additional insight into what lines 3 and 4 are all about. Chisholm's reads, "Hard pressed is he, who tests his luck by the fire." And Bray's reads, "Much pressed is he who fain on the hearth would seek for warmth and weal." To me, this could suggest that when a guest came into a hall for the first time, they were sat by the fire and essentially went through a process of proving themselves. It could be formal or somewhat informal, but questions were asked, conversation was made, and the guest over time would prove themselves a good guest.

I think that there is often a temptation to read multiple translations, and to sort of absorb or accept the easiest translation...or simplest tranlation.  But, there are real differences in meaning sometimes.  And I think it would be unfortunate to miss the more complex meaning here.

Guests do not get an automatic pass (just as hosts do not get an automatic pass).  When the guest enters the hall, he is implored in Stanza 1 to look about and make sure no foes are present.  In Stanza 2 we see this idea that the guest is placed near the fire and "pressed" or tested.  Questions are asked.  The guest is measured and his or her worthiness judged.  And in Stanza 4, we see that if the guest has earned it...he or she should get fair fame and conversation should be shared with him or her.

Another point that has been mentioned to me in the past, is something very easily missed.  The stanza makes it clear that our ancestors valued cleanliness, at a time in history when cleanliness was not at the top of every culture's list of values.

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