Mythical and Metaphorical Landscapes in Skaldic Poetry

It is in vain that one looks for realistic descriptions of landscapes in skaldic poetry. There is no interest in the landscapes where the actions which are the only concerns of this genre take place. However, landscape features such as mountains, the sea, trees, caves or the sky are perceptible in the system of the kennings, yet only as more or less abstract ideas. They mostly lack congruence within their semantic and situational contexts as is shown by the examples of kennings for ‘earth’ and ‘sea’. However, a more inclusive research shows that there are images of landscapes that may be called metaphorical or mythical. These may be conceptualized as different types: (1) The emotional state of individual characters can be projected on to landscapes (e.g. Hallfreðr, Óláfs Erfidrápa 19). (2) The inner space of a human being can be depicted as a landscape. This is the case in countless kennings for ‚breast‘ used as metaphors for the insides of a human being, found most frequently in various kennings for ‘poetry’. (3) Descriptions of sea-voyages on the turbulent sea are situated at the border of real and mythical landscapes in as much as the sea may be depicted as a threatening monster ready to devour the ship (e.g. Refr Gestsson, Ferðavísur). Alternatively, the storm that generates the churning sea may be personified as a giant (Egill Skallagrímsson, Lausavísa 23). (4) Þórsdrápa presents a special case in its depiction of Þórr’s journey to Geirrøðr and the land of giants. In this instance there appears to be some kind of interchangeable relation between the landscape – especially rivers – and demonic or mythical beings.


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