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Alternative meanings: See Skald (disambiguation)

The skald was a member of a group of courtly poets, whose poetry is associated with the courts of Scandinavian and Icelandic leaders during the Viking age, who composed and performed renditions of aspects of what we now characterise as Old Norse poetry. They often acted, at the same time, as bard, councillor, and warrior. Until the twelfth century, when the onset of Christianity, monks and the art of writing gradually foreclosed on the fundamentally oral form of Skaldic art, these poets travelled from country to country, welcomed as the honored guests of kings, (normally) receiving in return for their songs gifts such as rings and jewels of great value, although occasionally payment was in cash.

In the 13th century Snorri Sturluson compiled the Prose Edda to preserve an appreciative understanding of their art, which was then at the point of dying out. Sturlusson's Heimskringla also preserves many poems.

The technical demands of the skaldic form were equal to the complicated verse forms mastered by the Welsh bards and Irish ollaves, and like those poets, much of the skaldic verse consisted of panegyrics to kings and aristocrats, or memorials and testimonials to their battles. The kings and nobles, for their part, were not only intelligent and appreciative audiences for gifted skalds; some of them were poets in their own right.


Skaldic Poetry

Most Nordic verse of the Viking time came in one of two forms: eddic or skaldic. Eddic verse was usually simple, in terms of content, style and metre, dealing largely with mythological or heroic content. Skaldic verse, conversely, was complex, and usually composed as a tribute or homage to a particular Jarl or king.


Unlike many other literary forms of the time, much skaldic poetry is attributable to an author, and these attributions may be relied on with a reasonable degree of confidence. Many skalds were men of influence and power, and were thus biographically noted.

Forms of Skaldic Poetry

One prominent sort of incidental verse found in the sagas is the drßpa , literally a "slaughter," an elegy for the fallen or a commemoration of battle, usually containing a refrain. Lighter skaldic verse was called flokkr. Other incidental skaldic verse found in the sagas and histories includes the lausavísur, which is a single stanza of drˇttkvŠtt said to have been improvised impromptu for the occasion it marks. Skalds also composed satire (ní­vísur) and very occasionally, erotic verse (mans°ngr).


The skalds wrote their verses in variants and dialects of Old Norse languages. Technically, their verse was usually a form of alliterative verse, and almost always using the drˇttkvŠtt stanza (also known as the Court or Lordly Metre). DrˇttkvŠtt is effectively an eight line form, with a split in the middle of each line.


The verses of the skalds contain a great profusion of kennings, the fixed metaphors found in most northern European poetry of the time. Kennings are devices ready to supply a standard image to form an alliterating half-line to fit the requirements of drˇttkvŠtt; but the substantially greater technical demands of skaldic verse required that these devices be multiplied and compounded in order to meet its demands for skill and wordplay. These images can therefore become somewhat hermetic, at least to those who fail to grasp the allusions that lie at the root of many of them.

Notable Skalds

Some notable skalds include:

  • Bragi Boddason "the Old", author of Ragnarsdrßpa (possibly the basis for the mythical god Bragi Aesir Bragi, the god of poetry)
  • Thorbjorn Hornklofi
  • Thjodholf of Hvin
  • Eyvind Finnson , known also as Eyvind Skaldaspillar, or Eyvind the Plagiarist, the author of the Hakonasmal
  • EilÝfr Go­r˙narson author of Thorsdrapa and Hßkonar drßpa jarls
  • Egill SkallagrÝmsson
  • Einar Helgason "Skálaglamm", "of the gleaming coins"
  • Gunnlaug Illugason nicknamed "Ormstunga", "Worm-tongue", on account of his propensity for satire and invective
  • Ulfr Uggason author of the Husdrapa
  • Kormak Oegmundarsson ,
  • Hallfred Ottarson author of the Olafsdrapa , a lament for King Olaf Trygvason
  • Arnór Thórdarson , "Jarlaskald", the Earl's Skald
  • King Harald Harðráði
  • Snorri Sturluson

See also

A common problem when researching things Norse is that the spelling of names varies much depending on one's country of origin. In the articles presented here, several common forms of the names will be presented. For more information see:

Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04