Hávamál Study

Hávamál 1

Gáttir allar áðr gangi fram
um skoðask skyli,
um skyggnast skyli, 
því at óvíst er at vita hvar óvinir
sitja á fleti fyrir. 
When you enter somewhere
you have to look very closely in every doorway.
Cause you never know
where your enemies can sit.

Terryn Dave
Hávamál 1

Stanza 1 is actually a good warning to start the Hávamál, this will become clear at the end. This stanza is actually quite understandable in its terms, but it means so much more than this. In the literal sense, Stanza 1 teaches that when you enter or go somewhere you have never been before, you should always pay attention to your environment and the situation. What dangers are or can there be? Is there a tense atmosphere or is it a bit more relaxed and relaxed? The word enemies from the Stanza can no longer be taken as literally as in the old times when violence was more “normal”. Of course that does not mean that you have to do a complete sweep of the building and people before you can sit down or relax, but just that you have to assess the situation or atmosphere. Are there people in the area that you don’t know or who you think or know probably don’t have the best for. Everyone knows the feeling that when you enter somewhere, for example at a party, club or cafe, you literally feel tension in the air, for example drunk people challenging each other or too many people in one place.

In the old times feuds and tribal disputes were more normal in daily life and the world was a dangerous place if you were not on your guard, in these times the chance that someone will actually kill you is rather small. Still, it never hurts to be on your guard. While the Stanza says that you should look when you enter somewhere, this advice can also be extended to all daily situations, whenever you are in an unfamiliar environment or among unknown people, not just specifically inside. This can also be, for example, at the start of a new job, so not everyone who seems or does friendly in the beginning is.

And as always you will be asked many questions and want to know who or what you are, but not everyone wants this information out of kindness, not telling too much is the key, always stay on your guard until you get to know everyone a little better. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should be suspicious or hostile to everyone, just be careful. Be somewhat mysterious in what you tell or reveal. Never put yourself or those close to you in a vulnerable position that could cause you regrets or problems later on.Never play the naive idiot who thinks that everyone will immediately see you as a friend. In unknown places or situations, possible “enemies” or dangers will always be hidden.

Jealousy is also an enemy, if someone else was lusting after that position you just got, they can be nice to you but plan how to undermine you in the meantime. Behind the biggest smile is sometimes a mean thought, sometimes the kindness is also genuine, but until you have more certainty you always keep your guard up. Time will tell who or what means to you. This stanza also indicates starting something new, such as a business or project.

Have you considered everything carefully?

Have you taken all possible factors into account as much as possible?

Have you done enough research or have you been blinded by beautiful words or promises?

While others also act with honor, not everyone in modern times where money is the greatest good for many will act on honor, many would sell their mother, so to speak, to get anything ahead. These are all things you should try to pay attention to, that is, as it were, looking around your surroundings. These too may be the “enemies” of the Stanza. The word enemies does not only refer to people but to potential problems or dangers in general. By assessing the situation or environment you will quickly learn what this enemy can be.

Resume ;

If you are in an unfamiliar environment or are starting something new;

[1] Always be on your guard.

[2] Try to estimate the situation and environment as accurately as possible by taking into account as much as possible.

[3] Avoid putting yourself or those close to you in avoidable problems.

What do the other translators say about this stanza?

This stanza appears to have been interpreted equally by all translators and shows few deviations.

They all command you to be attentive when you enter somewhere because you don’t know where your enemies are.

Thus, Stanza 1 does not require much comparison or clarification.

So when I said at the beginning of this stanza that stanzas 1 is actually a good one to start Hávamál with, this can also refer to Hávamál itself, be attentive and beware of pitfalls when studying Hávamál, not all stanzas are that simple to be understood as stanzas 1, some stanzas will really take some time and reflection to understand them, but that’s why this script is intended.

Together we will achieve this.

As you will see, Stanza has 1 translation more than the rest, this one is by Ursula Dronke.


Translations by other translators:

Elsa-Brita TitchenellMarcel Otten
Choose an entrance carefully before entering; It’s uncertain where there might be enemies.

The man who crosses a threshold somewhere must first let his gaze wander left and right imprint the doors behind and in the front for one never knows where enemies will lurk.
Auden en TaylorBellows
The man who stands at a strange threshold,
Should be cautious before he cross it,
Glance this way and that :
Who knows beforehand what foes may sit
Awaiting him in the hall ?
Within the gates | ere a man shall go,
(Full warily let him watch,)
Full long let him look about him;
For little he knows | where a foe may lurk,
And sit in the seats within. 1. This stanza is quoted by Snorri, the second line being omitted in most of the Prose Edda manuscripts.
At every door-way,
ere one enters,
one should spy round,
one should pry round
for uncertain is the witting
that there be no foeman sitting,
within, before one on the floor
Watch out and check all gates before faring forth.
One should spy around,
one should pry around.
Hard to know what foe
sits before you in the next room.

Have they eyes about thee when thou enterest
be wary alway, be watchful alway,
for one never knoweth when need will be
to meet hidden foe in the hall.
At every doorway what you have to do
is look around you
and look out;
never forget: no matter where you are
you might find a foe.
ThorpeUrsula Dronke
All door-ways, before going forward,
should be looked to;
for difficult it is to know where foes may sit
within a dwelling.

All doorways before entering should be spied out, should be scrutinized, for it is not known for certain where enemies sit in wait in the hall ahead.


© The Honest Heathen 2020