Völuspá: The Seeress’s Prophecy

A Preface to the Poem

‘Völuspá’ compresses the whole of the Norse vision of the universe’s history and future into its 60-odd short stanzas. It is narrated by a seeress, or Völva, who is requested by Odin to share her memories and prophecies with humankind, ‘Heimdall’s young’. She begins with a version of the creation story, and tells us of the great war between the Aesir and the Vanir that ended with the Vanir’s deification. She then looks forward to Ragnarok, and the death of the Gods, then beyond that to the purified world’s rebirth.

We don’t know when the poem was written. It is quoted extensively in Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda (1220), a kind of manual for writing Skaldic verse, and appears in the collection of poems known as the Poetic Edda, the earliest manuscript of which dates from the 1270s, but it is much older, and the stories are older still. It is generally thought to have been a minstrel poem that was passed down through the centuries by word of mouth. The catalogue of the dwarves that begins in the 10th stanza, an important source of names for the characters in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books – Gandalf means Wand-Elf – probably comes from another poem entirely, and some translators leave it out. I think it’s one of the best bits. 

Most translators of ‘Völuspá’ have sought conscientiously to decode the Norse rather than attempt to capture the poetic spirit of the original. In the Norse the lines are short, dense and heavily alliterative. They have a very distinctive, muscular music, which I’ve tried to imitate in my translation. I’ve also tried to make the poem easier to understand by making the names of the characters consistent. In my version, at the least, it should be clearer who is doing what to whom and when.


Völuspá: The Seeress’s Prophecy

Silence, god-blessed,
Heimdall’s young.
All-father requests
My ancient memories.

Giants raised me,
Years before Man,
Before the ash-clasped
Worlds were nine. 

Before Ymir,
Or ocean moved,
Earth was not nor sky,
nor green – Gap gaped. 

Odin, Vili and Ve
Fashioned Midgard,
Then sun warmed halls,
The grass sprung sunward.

Sol and Mani circled,
Grasped crank and spun,
Both seeking home,
Innocent of power.

The Gods in council
Named Night’s children:
Morning, Noon,
Afternoon, Eve. 

At Idavoll they gathered,
Built temples in wood,
Smelted iron, wrought gold,
Carved tongs and tools. 

They played at tables
In meadows for joy,
(Until three maids came
From cold Jotunheim).

The sacrosanct Gods
Created the Dwarves,
From Brimir’s blood
And bone of Blain.

(Mighty Motsognir was made
To lead them, next Durin,
Then others, manlike,
Dwellers in the earth:

Newmoon, Darkmoon,
North, South, East, West,
Sneakthief, Slumberer,
Old One, Meadwolf,

Bombur, Nori,
Bivor, Bavor,
An, Anar,
Wind-Elf, Thrain, 

Vigg, Wand-Elf,
Thekk, Thorin,
Thror, Vit, Lit,
Regin, Rathsvith,

Corpse, Counsel,
Fundin, Sviur,
Fili, Kili,
Hannar, Frar, 

Heptili, Hornbori,
Aurvang, Fraeg,
Foundling, Nali,

Then Dvalin’s line,
Folk of Lofar,
Who sought the loamfield
Of Iorovellir: 

Draupnir, Dolgthrasir,
Greyhair, Hill-River,
Skirvir, Firvir,
Floodplain, Glow, 

Fialar, Frosty,
Yngvi, Elf, Skafid,
Finn and Betrayer –
None are forgotten.) 

Odin and his brothers –
Merciful Aesir –
Went into the World,
And found Ash and Elm. 

Odin gave them breath,
Vili reason, Ve beauty,
Ask and Embla making,
Mankind’s begetters. 

Loam-soaked world-ash,
Keeper of Mimir’s well,
Created dew and rain.

From the pool
The three maids entered:
Fated, Becoming, Must-be –
Runesmiths, law-givers.

Then came the first war,
Freya of the Vanir
Spear-stabbed at Valhall,
Her body burned thrice. 

Three times reborn,
She lives still,
Seer, mind-meddler,
Goddess of witches. 

The Vanir sought redress.
The Gods sat in council:
What gifts could they bestow?
Godhood. Nothing less. 

All-father’s spear
Had started the war,
But the Aesir fortress
Had by battle-magic fallen. 

Frey was promised to Od,
Od promised new walls.
The walls stood high,
But Od – Od was killed.

Thor, Od’s smiter,
Was accused of treachery.
Oaths had been broken,
A binding compact fouled. 


Heimdall’s horn is hidden,
Beneath the holy tree,
In the well where Odin pledged
Body eye for spirit eye. 

He found me, Old One.
‘I know,’ I told him,
‘Your eye’s in Mimir’s well.
I know everything.’ 

He gave me rings and necklaces,
In return for prophesy.
So I saw into all worlds
And described my vision: 

Valkyries riding to Valhall,
Skuld and Skogul;
Gunn, Hild, Gondul,

I saw Baldr,
The blood-stained god,
And over the plain
The mistletoe. 

From that fair plant
Came the fatal shaft.
But Odin’s son, newborn,
Killed Baldr’s slayer. 

Vali would not wash
Till Hod was destroyed.
In her fen-halls Frigg
Wept for Valhalla. 

Vali made ropes
From Loki’s son’s guts
And bound the trickster
Under boiling springs.

I saw Loki,
Loathsome, evil-loving,
With unhappy Sigyn,
In the poisoned grove. 

From the east,
Through venom-steeped valleys
Creeps Slid, Cutting-River,
All daggers and swords. 

In northern Nidavellir
Stands Sindri’s hall;
In Onkolnir
The hall of Dwarf Brimir. 

Sleet-Cold hall holds
The shore of death.
Its roof drips venom,
Snakes wind round its walls. 

In Slid wade oathbreakers,
Outlaws, cheats,
Nidhogg sucks their blood,
A wolf tears their flesh. 

In Ironwood a crone
Nurses her wolf-brood,
One of whom
Will swallow the sun. 

Fenrir will feast
On the fallen,
Summer sun blackens,
The Great Winter comes. 

Eggther of Ironwood
Strums his harp,
While in the ravenwood
Fjalar’s crow wakes giants. 

The cock Gullinkambi
Rouses Odin’s Slain
As soot-red Fjalar
Crows under Earth. 

Hel’s hound Garm howls,
His bonds will snap.
Death comes for the Gods
At Ragnarok. 

Brother kills brother,
Sons betray their kin:
Axe-age, sword-age,
Wind-age, wolf-age. 

Water spirits dance
As destiny burns.
Heimdall sounds the horn.
Odin sounds out Mimir. 

The world-ash groans
As Fenrir breaks loose.
All-father heeds Mimir,
But the wolf will slay both. 

How fare the Gods?
How fare the Elves?
The Dwarves, mountain-masters,
Feel tremors in the stone. 

Hel’s hound Garm howls,
His bonds will break.
Death comes for the Gods
At Ragnarok. 

Here comes Hrym’s corpse-ship
Over serpent-churned waves.
The pale eagle hymns:
Its beak will rend the dead. 

A ship comes from the East
Bearing agents of death,
Devils’ sons, wolf-followers,
Loki among them. 

Surt, the fire-giant
Brings harm of branches,
His sun-sword sunders rocks,
Warriors speed Hel-ward. 

Now Frigg’s second sorrow:
Odin meets the wolf,
While Frey battles Surt.
All-father falls. 

Then Vidar, Odin’s son,
Plunges blade into Fenrir,
Silencing the scavenger,
Avenging One-Eye’s death. 

Earth’s warden, Thor,
Grapples with the snake.
But poisoned by its breath,
Nine paces back he sinks. 

Sun blackens, Earth crumbles,
Stars tumble from heaven,
Fire laps the Ash,
Flames lick the sky. 


Another green Earth
Will rise from the sea.
I see eagles over fells,
Sporting for fish. 

At Idavoll, the Gods meet,
And talk of the serpent,
Their former strength,
And the Wise One’s runes. 

On the grass, roundabout,
Are the tables of gold
At which they played
So long ago. 

Crops will grow unseeded;
Ills healed, Baldr returns
To live at Valhalla,
Shrine to the slaughter-Gods. 

Vili will cast the blooded runes
And the sons of brothers,
Baldr and Hod,
Will live with the Wind. 

I see a sun-bright hall,
Gold-thatched at Gimle,
Where the Gods will pass
Their days in pleasure. 

The black dragon flies,
Over dark-of-moon hills,
Bearing corpses to Hel.
Where I must go too.