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Bersi in chains after being captured by King Óláfr Haraldsson

Bersi Skáldtorfuson[1] was an Icelandic skald, active around the year 1000 CE. He was a court poet to Earl Sveinn Hákonarson. During the Battle of Nesjar he was captured by King Óláfr Haraldsson's forces. In captivity he composed three of his four stanzas which have survived.

Hróðrs batt heilan líða
hagkennanda þenna,
en snarrœki slíku
svarat unnum vér gunnar ;
orð seldum þau elda
úthauðrs boða, trauðir,
knarrar, hapts, sem keyptak,
kynstórs, at við brynju.
Sveins raunir hefk sénar
(snart rekninga bjartar)
þars (svaltungur sungu)
saman fórum vér, stórar ;
elds, munk eigi fylgja
út, hríðboði, síðan,
hests, at hverjum kosti,
hranna, dýrra manni.[2]
Krýpk eigi svá, sveigir
sára linns - í ári
búum ólítinn Áta
öndur þér til handa -,
at herstefnir hafnak
heiðmildr eða þá leiðumk,
ungr kunnak, þar, þrøngvi
þínn, hollvini mína.
Finnur Jónsson's edition[3]
Thou badest this eager
Worshipper of poetry[4] farewell,
And we could answer
The same, O strife-wont warrior!
It listed me not to be delayed
Longer; therefore I sold
To the noble-born giver of gold[5]
Those words as I bought them.
I have seen the great fights
Of Swein; we fared together
Once when the cool blades[6]
Afterwards sang loudly;
Never again hereafter
Shall I follow in a host,
O king, any chieftain
More glorious than he.
This year I lie in chains
For a long while in the great ship.[7]
O swinger of the sword! I humble
Myself never so lowly,
That I betray, O wise war king,
My loyal friends or be loath
To have them. In my youth
Among my friends I found thy foe.
Translation by Monsen and Smith[8]
"Depart in peace," thou didst,
prince, bid me, the poet;
and I said the same to
seasoned tree-of-combat.[9]
Unwillingly these words in
weapon-thing returned I
as from the Fáfnir's-treasure's-
foe[5] I had received them.
Seen have I Svein tested
since we fared together—
sang loud polished swords—in
serious conflicts, ruler.
Never on shipboard shall I,
should whate'er betide me,
in fiercest fray tested
follow a better master.
Crouch I shall not, King, nor
crawl before thee—rather,
let us ready, liege, a
large ship, this year—and so
turn my back on true and
tried friends and aggrieve them.
Young when I was I held dear
him who was your enemy.
Hollander's translation[10]

One lausavísa is attributed to Bersi in the surviving fragments of Óláfs saga helga by Styrmir Kárason. But the same stanza is attributed to Sigvatr Þórðarson in Heimskringla and to Óttarr svarti in other sagas on St. Óláfr.[11] Styrmir's saga gives some information on Bersi's career in St. Óláfr's service and indicates that he died in 1030.

Bersi was at some point at the court of King Canute the Great where Sigvatr Þórðarson addressed him in verse after they had both received gifts from the king.[12] Apart from being mentioned in the kings' sagas Bersi also has a minor role in Grettis saga, chapters 15, 23 and 24, where he asks Earl Sveinn to spare Grettir Ásmundarson's life.[13]

Bersi's mother, Skáld-Torfa, was apparently also a poet but none of her works have come down to us.


See alsoEdit



  1. ^ The names can be represented or Anglicized as Bersi/Bessi/Berse/Besse Skáld-Torfuson/Skáldtorfuson/Skald-Torfuson/Skaldtorfuson/Torfuson/Torfasson/Torfason.
  2. ^ Eysteinn Björnsson translates [1]: "I will never again, under no circumstance, follow a greater leader (than this) storm-herald of fire of horse of waves."
  3. ^ Here taken from Eysteinn Björnsson's online edition of the skaldic corpus. [2]
  4. ^ The original has hagkennandi hróðrs, a kenning for "poet".
  5. ^ a b The original kenning is boði elda úthauðrs knarrar; "herald of the fire of the outer land of the knörr", i.e. "herald of the fire of the sea", i.e. "herald of the gold", i.e. "generous man". Hollander substitutes a kenning referring to the dragon Fáfnir who lay on a pile of gold.
  6. ^ The original has a kenning for "blades"; bjartar svaltungur rekninga, "bright cool tongues of swords".
  7. ^ The original has a kenning for "ship"; Áta öndurr, "ski of Áti (a sea-king)".
  8. ^ Monsen 2004, p. 253.
  9. ^ A kenning for "warrior". The kenning in the original is snarrœkir gunnar; "swift tender of gunnr (battle)". See [3].
  10. ^ Hollander 1991, p. 285.
  11. ^ Poole 1991, p. 95.
  12. ^ Monsen 2004, p. 357.
  13. ^ Fox 2001, page 54. See [4] for an alternative translation (by William Morris and Eiríkr Magnússon) of the relevant chapter or [5] for an edition of the Old Norse text.


  • Björnsson, Eysteinn (2001). Lexicon of Kennings: The Domain of Battle.
  • Fox, Denton and Hermann Pálsson (translators) (2001). Grettir's Saga. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0-8020-6165-6
  • Jónsson, Finnur (1931). Lexicon Poeticum. København: S. L. Møllers Bogtrykkeri.
  • Hollander, Lee M (editor and translator). (1991). Heimskringla: History of the Kings of Norway. University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-73061-6
  • Monsen, Erling (editor and translator) and A. H. Smith (translator) (2004). Heimskringla Or the Lives of the Norse Kings. Kessinger Publishing. ISBN 0-7661-8693-8
  • Poole, Russell G. (1991). Viking Poems on War and Peace. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0-8020-6789-1
  • Bersi Skáldtorfuson Extant poetry