Harbardsljod – The Lay of Harbard

The “Harbardsljóð” or “Harbardsljot,” also known as the “Lay of Harbard,” is a poem from the Poetic Edda. The poem …

The “Harbardsljóð” or “Harbardsljot,” also known as the “Lay of Harbard,” is a poem from the Poetic Edda. The poem tells the story of an encounter between the god Odin, disguised as the ferryman Harbard, and the god Thor.

Hárbarðsljóð
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In the poem, Odin and Thor engage in a heated argument over which of them is the stronger and wiser of the two. Thor demands that the ferryman take him across a wide sound, but the ferryman refuses. The two engage in a battle of words, with each trying to outdo the other with boasts and insults.

The poem is known for its clever and witty dialogue, as well as its themes of strength, wisdom, and the power of words. It is an important piece of Norse mythology and has been widely studied and interpreted by scholars and enthusiasts of Old Norse literature.


Thor was on his way back from a trip to the East when he reached a sound. On the other side of the sound was a ferryman with a boat. Thor called out:

1. “Who is the person over there, | on the other side of the sound?”

The ferryman responded:

2. “What kind of peasant are you, | calling across the bay?”

Thor said:

3. “Ferry me across the sound, | and I’ll feed you in the morning.
I have a basket on my back | with great food in it,
I ate plenty | before I left home
Herrings and porridge | I got my fill.”

The ferryman responded:

4. “You seem proud of your morning meal, but you don’t know what the future holds.
It seems your homecoming will be sad, |
I think your mother is dead.”

Thor said:

5. “Now you’ve said | what must seem to anyone
the greatest grief to anyone, | that my mother is dead.”

The ferryman responded:

6. “Three good houses, | I don’t think you have;
you’re standing barefoot, | and wearing rags;
you don’t even have pants.”

Thor said:

7. “Bring the boat over here; | and I’ll show you where to land.
But whose boat | are you keeping on the shore?”

The ferryman responded:

8. “Hildolf is his name | who told me to keep it.
He’s a wise hero, | his home is at Rathsey’s sound.
He told me not to ferry any robbers, | or horse thieves,
Only worthy men, | and those I know well.
Tell me your name, | if you want passage over the sound.”

Thor said:

9. “I’ll tell you my name, | even though I’m in danger.
And of my race, | I’m Othin’s son,
Meili’s brother, | and Magni’s father.
I’m the strongest of the gods, | you’re speaking with Thor.
Now tell me your name.”

The ferryman responded:

10. “I’m Harbard, | and I don’t usually hide my name.”

Thor said:

11. “Why would you hide your name, | if you don’t have a quarrel with anyone?”

Harbard said:

12. “Even if I had a quarrel, |with someone like you
I would still | protect my life,
unless I’m destined to die.”

Thor said:

13. “It would great hassle, | for me to come to you,
wade across the water, | and get my clothes wet,
You weakling, I’ll make sure to repay | your mocking words
if I make it across the sound.”

Harbard said:

14. “I’ll stand here | and wait for you.
Since Hrungnir died you have met | no man as fierce.”

Thor said:

15. “You seem eager to talk | about how I fought Hrungnir,
the arrogant giant, | with a stone head.
But I defeated him, | and laid him out in front of me.
What did you, Harbard, do meanwhile?”

Harbard said:

16. “Five full winters | I was with Fjolvar,
Living on his island | that is called Algrön;
There we battled, | and fell the slain,
Many things to do, | and maids to master.”

Thor spoke:

17. “How did you find success with your women?”

Harbard spoke:

18. “We had lively women, | if they were wise for us,
and wise women, | if they were kind to us.
They would try to spin | ropes of sand
and dig to the bottom | of the deepest dale.
I was wiser than all | of them in counsel,
And there I slept | with seven sisters,
and great joy | did I get from each.

What did you, Thor, do meanwhile?”

Thor spoke:

19. “I killed Thjazi, | the fierce giant,
And I threw the eyes | of Alvaldi’s son
Into the heavens hot above;
Of all my deeds the greatest | are these,
That all men can see.
What did you, Harbard, do meanwhile?”

Harbard spoke:

20 “I did much love-craft | with those who ride by night,
When I stole them secretly from their husbands;
A tough giant | Hlebarth was, I think
He gave me his wand as a gift,
And I stole his wits away.”

Thor spoke:

21. “You repaid good gifts with an evil mind.”

Harbard spoke:

22. “The oak must have | what it take from others;
In such things, everyone looks out for themselves.
What did you, Thor, do meanwhile?”

Thor spoke:

Thor fight
Mårten Eskil Winge, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

23. “I traveled east and killed giants,
Their ill-working women | who went to the mountain;
There would be many more giants | if they were all alive;
There would be no men left in Midgard.
What did you, Harbard, do meanwhile?”

Harbard spoke:

24. “I was in Valland, | and started wars,
Made princes angry, | and never brought peace;
The noble who fall | in battle goes to Odin,
And Thor has the race of thralls.

Thor spoke:

25. “Unequal gifts | of men would you give to the gods,
If you had too much might.”

Harbard spoke:

26. “Thor has enough might, but no heart;
Out of cowardice | you were afraid to crawl into a glove ,
And there you forgot you were Thor;
You were afraid, your fear was so great,
To fart or sneeze | lest Fjalar hear.”

Thor spoke:

27. “You womanish Harbard, | I would strike you straight to hell, ,
If my arm could reach across the sound.”

Harbard spoke:

28. “Why reach across the sound, since we have no strife?
What did you do then, Thor?”

Thor spoke:

29. “I traveled east, | and guarded the river well,
Where the sons of Svarang | sought me there;
They threw stones; | they didn’t get much joy from winning;
They had to come| to me to ask for peace.
What did you, Harbard, do meanwhile?”

Harbard spoke:

30. “I traveled east, | and spoke with someone,
I played with the linen-white maid, | and met her secretly;
Pleasing the gold-decked one, | and she granted me joy.”

Thor spoke:

31. “You found a woman quite fair.”

Harbard spoke:

32. “I needed your help then, Thor, | to hold the white maid fast.”

Thor spoke:

33. “Gladly, had I been there, | I would have given you my help.”

Harbard spoke:

34. “I might have trusted you then, | if you hadn’t broken your promise.”

Thor spoke:

35. “I’m no heel-biter, truly, like an old leather shoe in spring.”

Harbard spoke:

36. “What did you do while I was doing this, Thor?”

Thor spoke:

37. “In Hlesey the brides | of the Berserkers in I killed;
They were very evil, | and they betrayed everyone.”

Harbard spoke:

38. “You earned shame, | for killing women, Thor.”

Thor spoke:

39. “They were like she-wolves, | more than women;
My ship, which was | well trimmed, they shook;
They threatened me with iron clubs, | and drove Thjalfi off.
What did you, Harbard, do meanwhile?”

Harbard spoke:

40. “I was in the army | that came here,
Raising banners, | and reddening spears.”

Thor spoke:

41. “Are you saying now | that you tried to bring us hatred?”

Harbard spoke:

42. “A ring for your hand | will make everything right for you,
As the judge decides | who makes peace between us two.”

Thor spoke:

43. “Where did you find | such foul and scornful speech?
A more foul speech | I have never heard before.”

Harbard spoke:

44. “I learned it from men, | the old men,
who live in the hills at home.”

Thor spoke:

45. “You give a very good name | to piles of stones
when you call them the hills of home.”

Harbard spoke:

46. “That’s how I speak of such things.”

Thor spoke:

47. “Illness will come for you, for your sharp tongue
If I decide to wade through the water;
I think you will, | cry louder than a wolf
If you get hit by my hammer.”

Harbard spoke:

48. “Sif has a lover at home; | and him you should meet;
It would be more fitting | for you to use your strength on him.”

Thor spoke:

49. “Your tongue continues to say | what is worst to me;
You stupid man! You are lying, I think.”

Harbard spoke:

50. “I speak the truth, | but you are slow on your way;
You would have gone far | if you had gone in the boat.”

Thor spoke:

51. “You womanly Harbard! You have kept me here for too long.”

Harbard spoke:

Harbard
W.G. Collingwood (1854 – 1932), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

52. “I never thought, | that Thor would be hindered
By a ferryman from traveling.”

Thor spoke:

53. “I give you one piece of advice: | row your boat here;
No more mocking; | take Magni’s father across.”

Harbard spoke:

54. “Go away from the sound; you will have no passage.”

Thor spoke:

55. “Show me the way, since you won’t take me across the water.”

Harbard spoke:

56. “It’s little to refuse, but it’s a long journey;
A while to the stock, and a while to the stone;
Then take the road on your left, until you reach Verland;
There Fjorgyn will find her son Thor,
And she will show him the road to Odin’s realm.”

Thor spoke:

57. “Can I make it that far in a day?”

Harbard spoke:

58. “Maybe with effort and trouble,
While the sun is still shining, or so I think.”

Thor spoke:

59. “Our conversation is ending, because you are only speaking mockingly;
Since you didn’t give me passage across I will repay you if we ever meet, “

Harbard spoke:

60. “Get out of here, where every evil thing can have you!”

Featured Image Credit: W.G. Collingwood (1854 – 1932), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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Marius

Norse mythology enthusiast, Norwegian and living next to a series of old Viking age burial mounds.Quite surprisingly I am also able to navigate and understand quite a lot of the old Norse texts and have used those as well. in editing posts. As a Norwegian, although quite foreign, the old texts are still understandable, even more so with a bit of practice.