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WH Auden - Havamal (98.0 Kb)

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Havamal ("Sayings of the high one") is presented as a single poem in the Poetic Edda, a collection of Old Norse poems from the Viking age. The poem, itself a combination of different poems, is largely gnomic, presenting advice for living, proper conduct and wisdom.The verses are attributed to Odin, much like the biblical Book of Wisdom is attributed to Solomon. The implicit attribution to Odin facilitated the accretion of various mythological material also dealing with Odin.For the most part composed in the metre Ljodahattr,... More >>>
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Category 1:  Mystic and Occultism
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Author:      WH Auden
Format:      eBook
Havamal ("Sayings of the high one") is presented as a single poem in the Poetic Edda, a collection of Old Norse poems from the Viking age. The poem, itself a combination of different poems, is largely gnomic, presenting advice for living, proper conduct and wisdom.

The verses are attributed to Odin, much like the biblical Book of Wisdom is attributed to Solomon. The implicit attribution to Odin facilitated the accretion of various mythological material also dealing with Odin.

For the most part composed in the metre Ljodahattr, a metre associated with wisdom verse, Havamal is both practical and metaphysical in content. Following the gnomic "Havamal proper" follows the Runatal, an account of how Odin won the runes, and the Ljodatal, a list of magic chants or spells.

The only surviving source for Havamal is the 13th century Codex Regius. The part dealing with ethical conduct (the Gesta?attr) was traditionally identified as the oldest portion of the poem by scholarship in the 19th and early 20th century. Bellows (1936) identifies as the core of the poem a "collection of proverbs and wise counsels" which dates to "a very early time", but which, by the nature of oral tradition, never had a fixed form or extent. Von See (1981) identifies direct influence of the Disticha Catonis on the Gesta?attr, suggesting that also this part is a product of the high medieval period and casting doubt on the "unadulterated Germanic character" of the poem claimed by earlier commentators.

To the gnomic core of the poem, other fragments and poems dealing with wisdom and proverbs accreted over time. A discussion of authorship or date for the individual parts would be futile, since almost every line or stanza could have been added, altered or removed at will at any time before the poem was written down in the 13th century. Individual verses or stanzas nevertheless certainly date to as early as the 10th, or even the 9th century. Thus, the line deyr fe, deyja fraendr ("cattle die, kinsmen die") found in verses 76 and 77 of the Gestapattr can be shown to date to the 10th century, as it also occurs in the Hakonarmal by Eyvindr skaldaspillir.

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.