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WH Auden - The Song Of the Sybil Voluspa (81.0 Kb)

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Voluspa (Prophecy of the Volva) is the first and best known poem of the Poetic Edda. It tells the story of the creation of the world and its coming end related by a volva addressing Odin. It is one of the most important primary sources for the study of Norse mythology.The poem is preserved whole in the Codex Regius and Hauksbok manuscripts while parts of it are quoted in the Prose Edda. It consists of approximately 60 fornyrdislag stanzas.Voluspa is found in the Codex Regius manuscript (ca. 1270) and in Haukr Erlendsson's Ha... More >>>
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Author:      WH Auden
Format:      eBook
Voluspa (Prophecy of the Volva) is the first and best known poem of the Poetic Edda. It tells the story of the creation of the world and its coming end related by a volva addressing Odin. It is one of the most important primary sources for the study of Norse mythology.

The poem is preserved whole in the Codex Regius and Hauksbok manuscripts while parts of it are quoted in the Prose Edda. It consists of approximately 60 fornyrdislag stanzas.

Voluspa is found in the Codex Regius manuscript (ca. 1270) and in Haukr Erlendsson's Hauksbok Codex (ca. 1334), and many of its stanzas are quoted or paraphrased in Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda (composed ca. 1220, oldest extant manuscript dates from ca. 1300). The order and number of the stanzas varies in these sources. Some editors and translators have further rearranged the material. The Codex Regius version is usually taken as a base for editions.

The poem starts with the volva requesting silence from "the sons of Heimdallr" (human beings) and asking Odin whether he wants her to recite ancient lore. She says she remembers giants born in antiquity who reared her.

She then goes on to relate a creation myth the world was empty until the sons of Burr lifted the earth out of the sea. The AEsir then established order in the cosmos by finding places for the sun, the moon and the stars, thereby starting the cycle of day and night. A golden age ensued where the AEsir had plenty of gold and happily constructed temples and made tools. But then three mighty giant maidens came from Jotunheimar and the golden age came to an end. The AEsir then created the dwarves, of whom Motsognir and Durinn are the mightiest.

At this point ten of the poem's stanzas are over and six stanzas ensue which contain names of dwarves. This section, sometimes called Dvergatal (catalogue of dwarves), is usually considered an interpolation and sometimes omitted by editors and translators.

After the Dvergatal, the creation of the first man and woman are recounted and Yggdrasill, the world-tree, is described. The seer recalls the events that led to the first ever war, and what occurred in the struggle between the AEsir and Vanir.

The seeress then reveals to Odin that she knows some of his own secrets, of what he sacrificed of himself in pursuit of knowledge. She tells him she knows where his eye is hidden and how he gave it up in exchange for knowledge. She asks him in several refrains if he understands, or if he would like to hear more.

The seeress goes on to describe the slaying of Baldr, best and fairest of the gods and the enmity of Loki, and of others. Then she prophesies the destruction of the gods where fire and flood overwhelm heaven and earth as the gods fight their final battles with their enemies. This is the "fate of the gods" - Ragnarok. She describes the summons to battle, the deaths of many of the gods and how Odin, himself, is slain.

Finally a beautiful reborn world will rise from the ashes of death and destruction where Baldr will live again in a new world where the earth sprouts abundance without sowing seed. A final stanza describes the sudden appearance of Nidhogg the dragon, bearing corpses in his wings, before the seeress emerges from her trance.

About Author:

Wystan Hugh Auden (21 February 1907 - 29 September 1973) was an Anglo-American poet, best known for love poems such as "Funeral Blues," poems on political and social themes such as "September 1, 1939" and "The Shield of Achilles," poems on cultural and psychological themes such as The Age of Anxiety, and poems on religious themes such as "For the Time Being" and "Horae Canonicae." He was born in York, grew up in and near Birmingham in a professional middle-class family. He attended English independent (or public) schools and studied English at Christ Church, Oxford. After a few months in Berlin in 1928-29 he spent five years (1930-35) teaching in English public schools, then travelled to Iceland and China in order to write books about his journeys. In 1939 he moved to the United States and became an American citizen in 1946. He taught from 1941 through 1945 in American universities, followed by occasional visiting professorships in the 1950s. From 1947 through 1957 he wintered in New York and summered in Ischia; from 1958 until the end of his life he wintered in New York (in Oxford in 1972-73) and summered in Kirchstetten, Austria.

Auden's poetry was noted for its stylistic and technical achievement, its engagement with politics, morals, love, and religion, and its variety in tone, form and content. He came to wide public attention at the age of twenty-three, in 1930, with his first book, Poems, followed in 1932 by The Orators. Three plays written in collaboration with Christopher Isherwood in 1935-38 built his reputation as a left-wing political writer. Auden moved to the United States partly to escape this reputation, and his work in the 1940s, including the long poems "For the Time Being" and "The Sea and the Mirror," focused on religious themes. He won the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for his 1947 long poem The Age of Anxiety, the title of which became a popular phrase describing the modern era. In 1956-61 he was Professor of Poetry at Oxford; his lectures were popular with students and faculty and served as the basis of his 1962 prose collection The Dyer's Hand.

Auden was a prolific writer of prose essays and reviews on literary, political, psychological and religious subjects, and he worked at various times on documentary films, poetic plays, and other forms of performance. Throughout his career he was both controversial and influential, and critical views on his work ranged from sharply dismissive, treating him as a lesser follower of W. B. Yeats and T. S. Eliot, to strongly affirmative, as in Joseph Brodsky's claim that he had "the greatest mind of the twentieth century". After his death, some of his poems, notably "Funeral Blues", "Musee des Beaux Arts", "Refugee Blues", "The Unknown Citizen", and "September 1, 1939", became known to a much wider public than during his lifetime through films, broadcasts, and popular media.

Auden's stature in modern literature has been contested. Probably the most common critical view from the 1930s onward ranked him as the last and least of the three major twentieth-century British poets, Yeats, Eliot, Auden, while a minority view, more prominent in recent years, ranks him as the highest of the three. Opinions have ranged from those of Hugh MacDiarmid, who called him "a complete wash-out," F. R. Leavis who wrote that Auden's ironic style was "self-defensive, self-indulgent or merely irresponsible", and Harold Bloom who wrote "Close thy Auden, open thy Wallace Stevens," to the obituarist in The Times (London), who wrote: "W. H. Auden, for long the enfant terrible of English poetry . . . emerges as its undisputed master."

Auden was one of three candidates recommended by the Nobel Committee to the Swedish Academy for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1963 and six recommended for the 1964 prize. By the time of his death in 1973 he had attained the status of a respected elder statesman, and a memorial stone for him was placed in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey in 1974. The Encyclopaedia Britannica writes that "by the time of Eliot's death in 1965 ... a convincing case could be made for the assertion that Auden was indeed Eliot's successor, as Eliot had inherited sole claim to supremacy when Yeats died in 1939." With some exceptions, British critics tended to treat his early work as his best, while American critics tended to favour his middle and later work.