Icelandic Saga - Burnt Njal --- (pref.7) [tekst, tłumaczenie i interpretacja piosenki]

Wykonawca: Icelandic Saga
Album: The Saga of Burnt Njal
Gatunek: Poetry
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Tekst piosenki


In the tenth century the homesteads of the Icelanders consisted of one
main building, in which the family lived by day and slept at night, and
of out-houses for offices and farm-buildings, all opening on a yard.
Sometimes these out-buildings touched the main building, and had doors
which opened into it, but in most cases they stood apart, and for
purposes of defence, no small consideration in those days, each might be
looked upon as a separate house.

The main building of the house was the stofa, or sitting and sleeping
room. In the abodes of chiefs and great men, this building had great
dimensions, and was then called a skáli, or hall. It was also called
eldhús, or eldáskáli, from the great fires which burned in it.... It had
two doors, the men's or main door, and the women's or lesser door. Each
of these doors opened into a porch of its own, andyri, which was often
wide enough, in the case of that into which the men's door opened, as we
see in Thrain's house at Grit water, to allow many men to stand in it
abreast. It was sometimes called forskáli. Internally the hall consisted
of three divisions, a nave and two low side aisles. The walls of these
aisles were of stone, and low enough to allow of their being mounted
with ease, as we see happened both with Gunner's skáli, and with Njal's.
The centre division or nave on the other hand, rose high above the
others on two rows of pillars. It was of timber, and had an open work
timber roof. The roofs of the side aisles were supported by posts as
well as by rafters and cross-beams leaning against the pillars of the
nave. It was on one of these cross-beams, after it had fallen down from
the burning roof, that Kari got on to the side wall and leapt out, while
Skarphedinn, when the burnt beam snapped asunder under his weight, was
unable to follow him. There were fittings of wainscot along the walls of
the side aisles, and all round between the pillars of the inner row,
supporting the roof of the nave, ran a wainscot panel. In places the
wainscot was pierced by doors opening into sleeping places shut off from
the rest of the hall on all sides for the heads of the family. In other
parts of the passages were sleeping places and beds not so shut off, for
the rest of the household. The women servants slept in the passage
behind the dais at one end of the hall. Over some halls there were upper
chambers or lofts, in one of which Gunnar of Lithend slept, and from
which he made his famous defence.

We have hitherto treated only of the passages and recesses of the side
aisles. The whole of the nave within the wainscot, between the inner
round pillars, was filled by the hall properly so called. It had long
hearths for fires in the middle, with louvres above to let out the
smoke. On either side nearest to the wainscot, and in some cases
touching it, was a row of benches; in each of these was a high seat, if
the hall was that of a great man, that on the south side being the
owner's seat. Before these seats were tables, boards, which, however, do
not seem, any more than our early Middle Age tables, to have been always
kept standing, but were brought in with, and cleared away after, each
meal. On ordinary occasions, one row of benches on each side sufficed;
but when there was a great feast, or a sudden rush of unbidden guests,
as when Flosi paid his visit to Tongue to take down Asgrim's pride, a
lower kind of seats, or stools were brought in, on which the men of
lowest rank sat, and which were on the outside of the tables, nearest to
the fire. At the end of the hall, over against the door, was a raised
platform or dais, on which also was sometimes a high seat and benches.
It was where the women eat at weddings, as we see from the account of
Hallgerda's wedding, in our Saga, and from many other passages.

In later times the seat of honour was shifted from the upper bench to
the dais; and this seems to have been the case occasionally with kings
and earls In Njal's time, if we may judge from the passage in the Saga,
where Hildigunna fits up a high seat on the dais for Flosi, which he
spurns from under him with the words, that he was "neither king nor
earl," meaning that he was a simple man, and would have nothing to do
with any of those new-fashions. It was to the dais that Asgrim betook
himself when Flosi paid him his visit, and unless Asgrim's hall was much
smaller than we have any reason to suppose would be the case in the
dwelling of so great a chief, Flosi must have eaten his meal not far
from the dais, in order to allow of Asgrim's getting near enough to aim
a blow at him with a pole-axe from the rail at the edge of the platform.
On high days and feast days, part of the hall was hung with tapestry,
often of great worth and beauty, and over the hangings all along the
wainscot, were carvings such as those which ... our Saga tells us
Thorkel Foulmouth had carved on the stool before his high seat and over
his shut bed, in memory of those deeds of "derring do" which he had
performed in foreign lands.

Against the wainscot in various parts of the hall, shields and weapons
were hung up. It was the sound of Skarphedinn's axe against the wainscot
that woke up Njal and brought him out of his shut bed, when his sons set
out on their hunt after Sigmund the white and Skiolld.

Now let us pass out of the skáli by either door, and cast our eyes at
the high gables with their carved projections, and we shall understand
at a glance how it was that Mord's counsel to throw ropes round the ends
of the timbers, and then to twist them tight with levers and rollers,
could only end, if carried out, in tearing the whole roof off the house.
It was then much easier work for Gunnar's foes to mount up on the
side-roofs as the Easterling, who brought word that his bill was at
home, had already done, and thence to attack him in his sleeping loft
with safety to themselves, after his bowstring had been cut.

Some homesteads, like those of Gunnar at Lithend, and Gísli and his
brother at Hol in Hawkdale, in the West Firths, had bowers, ladies'
chambers, where the women eat and span, and where, in both the houses
that we have named, gossip and scandal was talked with the worst
results. These bowers stood away from the other buildings....

Every Icelandic homestead was approached by a straight road which led up
to the yard round which the main building and its out-houses and
farm-buildings stood. This was fenced in on each side by a wall of
stones or turf. Near the house stood the "town" or home fields where
meadow hay was grown, and in favoured positions where corn would grow,
there were also enclosures of arable land near the house. On the uplands
and marshes more hay was grown. Hay was the great crop in Iceland; for
the large studs of horses and great herds of cattle that roamed upon the
hills and fells in summer needed fodder in the stable and byre in
winter, when they were brought home. As for the flocks of sheep, they
seem to have been reckoned and marked every autumn, and milked and shorn
in summer; but to have fought it out with nature on the hill-side all
the year round as they best could. Hay, therefore, was the main staple,
and haymaking the great end and aim of an Icelandic farmer.... Gunnar's
death in our Saga may be set down to the fact that all his men were away
in the Landisles finishing their haymaking. Again, Flosi, before the
Burning, bids all his men go home and make an end of their haymaking,
and when that is over, to meet and fall on Njal and his sons. Even the
great duty of revenge gives way to the still more urgent duty of
providing fodder for the winter store. Hayneed, to run short of hay, was
the greatest misfortune that could befall a man, who with a fine herd
and stud, might see both perish before his eyes in winter. Then it was
that men of open heart and hand, like Gunnar, helped their tenants and
neighbours, often, as we see in Gunnar's case, till they had neither hay
nor food enough left for their own household, and had to buy or borrow
from those that had. Then, too, it was that the churl's nature came out
in Otkell and others, who having enough and to spare, would not part
with their abundance for love or money.

These men were no idlers. They worked hard, and all, high and low,
worked. In no land does the dignity of labour stand out so boldly. The
greatest chiefs sow and reap, and drive their sheep, like Glum, the
Speaker's brother, from the fells. The mightiest warriors were the
handiest carpenters and smiths. Gísli Súr's son knew every corner of his
foeman's house, because he had built it with his own hands while they
were good friends. Njal's sons are busy at armourer's work, like the
sons of the mythical Ragnar before them, when the news comes to them
that Sigmund has made a mock of them in his songs. Gunnar sows his corn
with his arms by his side, when Otkell rides over him; and Hauskuld the
Whiteness priest is doing the same work when he is slain. To do
something, and to do it well, was the Icelander's aim in life, and in no
land does laziness like that of Thorkell meet with such well deserved
reproach. They were early risers and went early to bed, though they
could sit up late if need were. They thought nothing of long rides
before they broke their fast. Their first meal was at about seven
o'clock, and though they may have taken a morsel of food during the
day, we hear of no other regular daily meal till evening, when between
seven and eight again they had supper. While the men laboured on the
farm or in the smithy, threw nets for fish in the teeming lakes and
rivers, or were otherwise at work during the day, the women, and the
housewife, or mistress of the house, at their head, made ready the food
for the meals, carded wool, and sewed or wove or span. At meal-time the
food seems to have been set on the board by the women, who waited on the
men, and at great feasts, such as Gunnar's wedding, the wives of his
nearest kinsmen, and of his dearest friend, Thorhillda Skaldtongue,
Thrain's wife, and Bergthora, Njal's wife, went about from board to
board waiting on the guests.

In everyday life they were a simple sober people, early to bed and early
to rise--ever struggling with the rigour of the climate. On great
occasions, as at the Yule feasts in honour of the gods, held at the
temples, or at "arvel," "heir-ale," feasts, when heirs drank themselves
into their father's land and goods, or at the autumn feasts, which
friends and kinsmen gave to one another, there was no doubt great mirth
and jollity, much eating and hard drinking of mead and fresh-brewed ale;
but these drinks are not of a very heady kind, and one glass of spirits
in our days would send a man farther on the road to drunkenness than
many a horn of foaming mead. They were by no means that race of
drunkards and hard livers which some have seen fit to call them.

Nor were these people such barbarians as some have fancied, to whom it
is easier to rob a whole people of its character by a single word than
to take the pains to inquire into its history. They were bold warriors
and bolder sailors. The voyage between Iceland and Norway, or Iceland
and Orkney, was reckoned as nothing; but from the west firths of
Iceland, Eric the Red--no ruffian as he has been styled, though he had
committed an act of manslaughter--discovered Greenland; and from
Greenland the hardy seafarers pushed on across the main, till they made
the dreary coast of Labrador. Down that they ran until they came at last
to Vineland the good, which took its name from the grapes that grew
there. From the accounts given of the length of the days in that land,
it is now the opinion of those best fitted to judge on such matters,
that this Vineland was no other than some part of the North American
continent near Rhode Island or Massachusetts, in the United States.
Their ships were half-decked, high out of the water at stem and stern,
low in the waist, that the oars might reach the water, for they were
made for rowing as well as for sailing. The after-part had a poop. The
fore-part seems to have been without deck, but loose planks were laid
there for men to stand on. A distinction was made between long-ships or
ships of war, made long for speed, and ... ships of burden, which were
built to carry cargo. The common complement was thirty rowers, which in
warships made sometimes a third and sometimes a sixth of the crew. All
round the warships, before the fight began, shield was laid on shield,
on a rim or rail, which ran all round the bulwarks, presenting a mark
like the hammocks of our navy, by which a long-ship could be at once
detected. The bulwarks in warships could be heightened at pleasure, and
this was called "to girdle the ship for war". The merchant ships often
carried heavy loads of meal and timber from Norway, and many a one of
these half-decked yawls no doubt foundered, like Flosi's unseaworthy
ship, under the weight of her heavy burden of beams and planks, when
overtaken by the autumnal gales on that wild sea. The passages were
often very long, more than one hundred days is sometimes mentioned as
the time spent on a voyage between Norway and Iceland.

As soon as the ship reached the land, she ran into some safe bay or
creek, the great landing places on the south and south-east coasts being
Eyrar, "The Eres," as such spots are still called in some parts of the
British Isles, that is, the sandy beaches opening into lagoons which
line the shore of the marsh district called Flói; and Hornfirth, whence
Flosi and the Burners put to sea after their banishment. There the ship
was laid up in a slip, made for her, she was stripped and made snug for
the winter, a roof of planks being probably thrown over her, while the
lighter portions of her cargo were carried on pack-saddles up the
country. The timber seems to have been floated up the firths and rivers
as near as it could be got to its destination, and then dragged by
trains of horses to the spot where it was to be used.

Some of the cargo--the meal, and cloth and arms--was wanted at home;
some of it was sold to neighbours either for ready money or on trust, it
being usual to ask for the debt either in coin or in kind, the spring
after. Sometimes the account remained outstanding for a much longer
time. Among these men whose hands were so swift to shed blood, and in
that state of things which looks so lawless, but which in truth was
based upon fixed principles of justice and law, the rights of property
were so safe, that men like Njal went lending their money to overbearing
fellows like Starkad under Threecorner for years, on condition that he
should pay a certain rate of interest. So also Gunnar had goods and
money out at interest, out of which he wished to supply Unna's wants. In
fact the law of debtor and creditor, and of borrowing money at usance,
was well understood in Iceland, from the very first day that the
Northmen set foot on its shores.

If we examine the condition of the sexes in this state of society, we
shall find that men and women met very nearly on equal terms. If any
woman is shocked to read how Thrain Sigfus' son treated his wife, in
parting from her, and marrying a new one, at a moment's warning, she
must be told that Gudruna, in Laxdæla, threatened one of her three
husbands with much the same treatment, and would have put her threat
into execution if he had not behaved as she commanded him. In our Saga,
too, the gudewife of Bjorn the boaster threatens him with a separation
if he does not stand faithfully by Kari; and in another Saga of equal
age and truthfulness, we hear of one great lady who parted from her
husband, because, in playfully throwing a pillow of down at her, he
unwittingly struck her with his finger. In point of fact, the customary
law allowed great latitude to separations, at the will of either party,
if good reason could be shown for the desired change. It thought that
the worst service it could render to those whom it was intended to
protect would be to force two people to live together against their
will, or even against the will of only one of them, if that person
considered him or herself, as the case might be, ill-treated or
neglected. Gunnar no doubt could have separated himself from Hallgerda
for her thieving, just as Hallgerda could have parted from Gunnar for
giving her that slap in the face; but they lived on, to Gunnar's cost
and Hallgerda's infamy. In marriage contracts the rights of brides, like
Unna the great heiress of the south-west, or Hallgerda the flower of the
western dales, were amply provided for. In the latter case it was a
curious fact that this wicked woman retained possession of Laugarness,
near Reykjavik, which was part of her second husband Glum's property, to
her dying day, and there, according to constant tradition, she was
buried in a cairn which is still shown at the present time, and which is
said to be always green, summer and winter alike. Where marriages were
so much matter of barter and bargain, the father's will went for so much
and that of the children for so little, love matches were comparatively
rare; and if the songs of Gunnlaugr snaketongue and Kormak have
described the charms of their fair ones, and the warmth of their passion
in glowing terms, the ordinary Icelandic marriage of the tenth century
was much more a matter of business, in the first place, than of love.
Though strong affection may have sprung up afterwards between husband
and wife, the love was rather a consequence of the marriage than the
marriage a result of the love.

When death came it was the duty of the next of kin to close the eyes and
nostrils of the departed, and our Saga, in that most touching story of
Rodny's behaviour after the death of her son Hauskuld, affords an
instance of the custom. When Njal asks why she, the mother, as next of
kin, had not closed the eyes and nostrils of the corpse, the mother
answers, "That duty I meant for Skarphedinn". Skarphedinn then performs
the duty, and, at the same time, undertakes the duty of revenge. In
heathen times the burial took place on a "how" or cairn, in some
commanding position near the abode of the dead, and now came another
duty. This was the binding on of the "hellshoes," which the deceased was
believed to need in heathen times on his way either to Valhalla's
bright hall of warmth and mirth, or to Hell's dark realm of cold and
sorrow. That duty over, the body was laid in the cairn with goods and
arms, sometimes as we see was the case with Gunnar in a sitting posture;
sometimes even in a ship, but always in a chamber formed of baulks of
timber or blocks of stone, over which earth and gravel were piled....

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