About Hallmundarkviða

About Hallmundarkviða

By Jóhannes M. Jóhannesson

One of the earliest (preserved) description of a volcanic event in Iceland comes from a poem called Hallmundarkviða. The poem tells the tale of the eruption, what could be seen and heard from the eruption itself and the impact it is having on the nearby region. In it Hallmundur is in the form of the plume that is rising to the sky from the eruption and occasionally tells the tale himself.

This poem Is believed to have been composed in the 10th century, possibly between 934 and 1000 A.D., and therefore shortly after the eruption that created Hallmundarhraun. The author is believed to have either been an eye-witness to the eruption, or that he or she had spoken to a witness to the eruption. The poem has sadly not been translated to any other language (and is very difficult to understand for any Icelander for that matter), but we would like to share with you our favourite verses from the poem, but if you want to jump straight into the deep end, there are two links below to the whole thing in Icelandic (we are not sure how much help google translate might be for translating this one though).

5. Þýtr í þungu grjóti
"þrír eskinnar svíra";
undr láta þat ýtar
enn er jöklar brenna ;
þó mun stórum mun meira
morðlundr á Snjógrundu
undr, þats ór mun standa,
annat, fár, of kanna,
annat, fár, of kanna.
10. Sterkr, kveða ilt at einu
oss við þann at senna,
Þórr veldr flotna fári ;
feldr er sás jöklum eldir ;
þverðr er áttbogi urðar,
ek fer gneppr af nekkvi,
niðr í Surts ens svarta
sveit í eld enn heita,
sveit í eld enn heita.

Our two favourite verses are the 5th and the 10th and the 5th verse goes on saying that there are three plumes rising from the three craters spewing lava and ash, and that the glacier (Langjökull glacier) is on fire. But men should not be surprise, since many wonders that will stand forever have happened in Iceland. The 10th verse tells us about the end of the eruption, when Hallmundur loses the battle he has been waging against Thor, and withdraws into the lava to Surtur, and quite possible takes up residency in either the caves Víðgelmir or Surtshellir.

What we really like about the poem, apart from the obvious beauty of the poem itself and the description of events, is the integration of Norse mythology and Icelandic nature, in this case volcanic eruption. It is unlikely that the Vikings encountered volcanic eruptions before they came to Iceland so the mythology to explain eruptions should not have been in place, but they seem to have managed to integrate these two things very well in a very short time.


References and further reading:

Hallmundarkviða (only in Icelandic) 


Explanation of Hallmundarkviða (again, only in Icelandic) https://www.mbl.is/greinasafn/grein/1073623/