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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.


Auden and Taylor:

Of his knowledge a man should never boast,
Rather be sparing of speech
When to his house a wiser comes:
Seldom do those who are silent Make mistakes;
mother wit Is ever a faithful friend,


A man shall not boast | of his keenness of mind,
But keep it close in his breast;
To the silent and wise | does ill come seldom
When he goes as guest to a house;
(For a faster friend | one never finds
Than wisdom tried and true.)

Bellow's Note:  Lines 5 and 6 appear to have been added to the stanza.


Let no man glory in the greatness of his mind,
but rather keep watch o'er his wits.
Cautious and silent let him enter a dwelling;
to the heedful comes seldom harm,
for none can find a more faithful friend
than the wealth of mother wit.


Let a man not be boastful about his wisdom,
but watchful instead. The wise and silent
are seldom harmed when wary in the hall.
A more trustworthy friend,
a man cannot have,
than understanding.


To be bright of brain let no man boast,
but take good heed of his tongue;
the sage and silent come seldom to grief
as they fare amongst folk in the hall.
{More faithful friend findest thou never
than shrewd head on thy shoulders.}


Better to be careful than to boast
how much is in your mind;
when the wise come in, keeping their counsel,
trouble seldom starts.
A man won't find a better friend
than his own head full of sense.


Of his understanding
no one should be proud,
but rather in conduct cautious.
When the prudent and taciturn
come to a dwelling,
harm seldom befalls the cautious;
for a firmer friend
no man ever gets
than great sagacity. 

Original Old Norse:

Aš hyggjandi sinni
skyli-t mašur hręsinn vera,
heldur gętinn aš geši
žį er horskur og žögull
kemur heimisgarša til;
sjaldan veršur vķti vörum.
Žvķ aš óbrigšra vin
fęr mašur aldregi
en manvit mikiš.


This is one of a number of stanzas in the Havamal, that basically say, "Sit down, shut up, watch and observe."

Specifically, the first two lines say that a guest is better off being cautious and silent and watchful, than to go boasting about how knowledgeable they are.  I think the subtext here, is that if you have a need to brag about how clever you are and how much you know, you probably aren't nearly as clever as you think.

Lines 3 and 4 specifically address the idea that the wise and cautious seldom run into problems in the Hall.  That a guest who keeps quiet and watches seldom generates problems for himself.

Both Bellows and Hollander suggest that lines 5 and 6 are a later addition to the stanza and probably not part of its original form.  They basically stress how important having wisdom really is, by saying it is the most important "friend" a man can have.

While the stanzas in the Havamal that belong to the category of "Sit down, shut up, watch and observe" refer to this being good advice to a guest who have come to a Hall to visit, we can see as modern Heathens how important this advice can be in many situations we find ourselves.  We can run into real problems in new situations if we feel the need to take charge, be the center of attention, and brag needlessly.  In new situations, it is good to take it all in, assess the environment and all the factors at play, and act from a place of knowledge and wisdom.

Let's take the first two lines of this stanza a little further.  Here is Terry's version of the first two lines:  "Better to be careful than to boast how much is in your mind;"

When you are a guest in someone else's home, or at someone else's faining or gathering, don't go telling them how they should do things.  Don't criticize their thew.  Don't criticize their traditions and practices.  Don't go telling them "better ways" to do this...and that.  A good guest watches and observes, and does not spend his time boasting of his own knowledge and wisdom, by feeling the need to "correct" what his hosts are doing.

There is a time and place to offer constructive advice or input.  Often it is asked for by your host...and then of course, share your constructive advice.  If it is not asked for, there are polite ways to engage in discussion about why something is done a certain way, that will help both host and guest understand each other better.

This advice also applies to people's activity on-line.  You'll see people boasting about the most outlandish things on a message board or on Facebook.  On-line, other Heathens will call out on this behavior.  Sometimes you'll be called out directly, in a very straight-forward fashion.  But, other times the judgements are made more silently.  In the stanza before this one, Stanza 5, it says, "At the witless man | the wise shall wink, When among such men he sits."  Sometimes people are so out-there, that the vast majority of people just sort of make the person an example of "Who Not to Be."  It is not like a vote is taken, or the intention to do this declared publicly.  It just sort of happens naturally.  It is better to sit down, shut up, watch and observe...than to boastfully and unintentionally show off one's lack of wisdom.

At face-to-face gatherings, we'll see this phenomenon at work from time to time.  Often, it is not a big deal.  Someone will show up for their first gathering, and get a bit loud and boastful in a way that causes a few eyes to roll.  Boasting is fine and dandy, if you have something to boast about.  But, when you are meeting people for the first time, stretching the reality a bit to seem bigger than life is usually spotted fairly quickly.  But, usually the person will calm down, settle in, get to know folks, and the somewhat foolish behavior disappears.   But, I can think of at least one instance where a new person showed up, drank a bit too much, and began boasting in a way that caused quite a bit of irritation and even anger.  Boasting along the lines of "I'm the strongest man here," etc.  At first people just sort of rolled their eyes.  But, as the behavior got louder and more disrespectful, the person was verbally challenged.  They did not know how to react to being challenged, and acted badly.  For this one person, what should have been a great day and their first day among other heathens from across the region, became a story that we are still telling as an example of "what not to do."

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