Friday, January 3, 2014

Count what counts

When I visited Iceland last month, I looked in the bookstores of Reykjavik for bilingual (Icelandic-English) poetry collections; I found none. I did, however, acquire a copy of  The Sayings of the Vikings (Gudrun Publishing, 1992), a translation by Bjorn Jonasson of Hávamál -- "sayings of the high one" -- from the Poetic Edda, a collection of Old Norse poems from the Viking era and attributed to Odin.  Here are several samples that involve number or measurement:

     The Nature of  Hospitality

     I would be invited
     if I needn't eat at all. 
     Or if I left two hams
     at the house of a friend
     where I've eaten only one.

               The Nature of Secrecy

               Ask you must
               and answer well
               to be called clever.
               One may know your secret
               never a second.
               If three, a thousand will know.

     Moderation and Prosperity

     Moderately wise
     a man should be
     not too crafty or clever.
     The best of lives
     is led by those
     who know the measure of many things.

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