Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A medieval Icelandic poem

Yesterday, my friend and Catholic Stand colleague Susan Anne posted on her timeline Heyr, himna smiður (Hear, O heaven's smith). The poem was written around the beginning of the thirteenth century by Kolbeinn Tumasson, an Icelandic chieftain, supposedly as he lay dying from an injury received at the battle of Viðines; over 700 years later, the late Þorkell Sigurbjörnsson gave it a musical setting.

(By the way, in case you're wondering what those strange letters are and how they're pronounced, ð is called eth and Þþ is called thorn; both are pronounced close to the English th. Eth does have a capital; however, it isn't used in Icelandic.)

You can follow the link above to find the hymn sung by Ellen Kristánsdottir. It's an absolutely haunting melody that intentionally recalls medieval music. The video gives a literal English translation; I decided to recast the translation into a more poetic form.

Heaven’s Smith, give ear
To the poet’s prayer.
May come soft to me
Thy loving mercy.
So I call on Thee;
Thou didst create me.
Servant am I Thine;
And Lord art Thou mine.

God, I call on Thee,
That Thou wouldst heal me.
O Mild One, take heed,
For Thee we most need.
Rid, O Suns’ great King,
From Thy kind loving,
All care and distress
From the heart’s fastness.

O Mild One, guide me;
For we most need Thee
Ev’ry hour we spend
In this world of men.
Grant, O Virgin’s Son,
That Thy will be done,
All Thine aid divine
To this heart of mine.