25 Short Viking Funeral Poems and Readings

Updated

Viking funerals are known globally for their distinct traditions, honoring the bravest of warriors. Below, you'll find several descriptive poems written by Old Norse and English skálds, as well as some contemporary poets to read for the great warrior gone too soon.

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Shorten any of the funeral poems you find below to fit the space and time for the funeral eulogy or any other purpose such as funeral cards and celebration of life readings.

Viking Funeral Poems for Parents or Grandparents

Make any of the following poems or excerpts work for both the matriarchs and patriarchs of the family by changing the genders of nouns as suited.

1. "The House of the Wolflings" by William Morris

Considered a contemporary writer by ancient Norse standards, Morris's "The House of the Wolflings" is still symbolic of one's readiness for battle—and understanding that death waits nearby.

2. "Sea-King's Burial" by Charles Mackay

Dying and unable to fight in battle once more, King Balder asked his men to send him adrift with his crown and sword to die at sea atop a funeral pyre.

“Once alone a cry arose,
Half of anguish, half of pride,
As he sprang upon his feet,
With the flames on every side.
"I am coming!" said the king.”

3. "Valhalla" by James Jarrett

Jarrett's poem blends old Norse concepts with contemporary issues in society.

“Though my burning bier
Be but a lonely cell
And tonight I will dine
In the great hall of Valhalla
That place that still lives on
In the mind of men”

For him, Valhalla isn't just a place; it's also a state of mind. He's convinced being steadfast to his convictions serves a much greater purpose than bending the knee.

4. "Krákumál" by Unknown, Transl. by James Johnstone

The "Krákumál", the death song of Ragnar Lodbrok, is archetypal of medieval skaldic poetry. It's filled with imagery, alliteration, and rhythmic meter, as well as symbolic phrasing.   

While it's not objectively written for a patriarchal figure, it's possible to use it in the context of one's determination and perseverance, especially regarding family or friends.

5. Excerpt from Beowulf, Transl. by Burton Raffel

Because Beowulf is so long, we've pulled out a few excerpts and, where appropriate, have included those excerpts here. The following consists of the last few lines of the epic poem where mourners ride by their King's tower.

“And so Beowulf's followers
Rode, mourning their beloved leader
Crying that no better king had ever 
Lived, no prince so mild, no man
So open to his people, so deserving of praise.”

Viking Funeral Poems for a Sibling

The following poems include tales from the lives of giants, gods, and Viking warriors.

6. “An Image of Skaði” by Stefn Ullarsson Piparskeggr

In Norse mythology, Skaði was a giant and wife of the sea god Njörd. Note her fearlessness and strength in the excerpt from Piparskeggr's poem.

“Skaði strode forth, longbow in hand
hearth and Husband, house left behind
off to the woods wasters to slay
Giantess Bold Warden of Beasts.”

It'll work for that steadfast and allegiant sister—the one who was afraid of nothing and ready to defend her friends and family at a moment's notice. 

Pro-tip: the phonetic pronunciation of Skaði is "skaadee."

7. "Hjalmar's Death-Song" by Unknown

"Hjalmar's Death Song" is a poem from the Övar-Oddr, a saga about a battle on Samsø, a Danish island near Kattegat.

In it, Hjalmar describes his final moments with his love, Ingeborg. It's very descriptive, perhaps even a little unpleasant, but it skillfully describes the impending death of a brave King.

8. Excerpt from Beowulf, Transl. by Francis Barton Grummere

This excerpt is from the funeral pyre for Hnaef and other Scylding warriors. Trim it as needed or use it in its entirety.

“Oaths were given, and ancient gold
heaped from hoard. -- The hardy Scylding,
battle-thane best, on his balefire lay.
All on the pyre were plain to see
the gory sark, the gilded swine-crest,
boar of hard iron, and athelings many
slain by the sword: at the slaughter they fell.”

Pro-tip: the phonetic pronunciation of Scylding is "ʃɪ́jldɪŋ."

9. "The Last Warrior" by Eric Gustaf Geijer

Eric Gustaf Geijer is a late 18th and early 19th Century romantic Swedish poet, philosopher, and historian. His work, "The Last Warrior," (Den sidste kämpen) is steeped in the symbolism of battle-driven Viking warriors, seen here:

“I was baptized
Rodan in blood
enemies of the proposed
and despise
to sanctify the waters.”

10. "To the Gods" by Adam Oehlenschläger, Transl. by Rune Bjørnsen

Oehlenschläger's poem calls out to several gods seeking strength, bravery, love, and fruitfulness. You can choose a stanza with the best-suited god and need, or read the entire 65-line poem.

Viking Funeral Poems for a Friend

Below is an exciting mix of Old Norse, Old English, and contemporary Viking poetry. 

11. "Hakonarmal" by Snorri Sturluson

Snorri Sturluson, the author of the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda, details the "Heimskringla", also known as the "The Chronicle of the Kings of Norway". In the poem, the King—a Christian—gave privilege to the temples of Odin, saving them from destruction. 

12. Excerpt from Beowulf, Transl. by Burton Raffel

Below is an excerpt from Beowulf describing King Hygelac of Geatland.

“He was a man as brave and strong
And good, it is said, as anyone on this earth, 
A spear-bold soldier who knew no fear, 
Exalted with gifts, victorious in war, 
A king who rules his native land
Wisely and well.”

Odin rewards him with a place in Valhalla as a result.

13. "Meet Me in Valhalla" by Lilith Meredith

"Meet Me in Valhalla" doesn't hold the familiar bravado for an expected warrior victory. Instead, the poet suggests that the warriors are aware they're about to die. 

That said, dying in battle is yet a victory for Vikings hoping to gain entrance into Valhalla.

14. "Road to Valhalla" by Chris 

The warrior in "Road to Valhalla" is a kind of dream-state poem. In it, a warrior who died on a rocky shore is making their way to Valhalla. Grateful to be there, the warrior calls out to Odin, expressing delight in the endless war.

15. "Valhalla Now Nowhere" by JC Lucas

The poem by JC Lucas begins with a sense of hopefulness as the poet tries to imagine what their bearded friend is doing in Valhalla. 

However, the bitterness of death and loss grabs hold of the poet as sorrow inundated the final lines.

Short Viking Funeral Poems for a Eulogy or Prayer Card

Again, you'll find a mixture of Old Norse, Old English, and contemporary poetry below. Each one is short enough—or can be shortened enough—to be suitable for a eulogy or prayer card.

16. Excerpt from Beowulf, Transl. by Burton Raffel

In this excerpt, Beowulf offers advice to Hrothgar after Grendel's mother kills Aeschere. In it, you'll note Beowulf advises that vengeance, not sorrow, is the better warrior's response.

“Let your sorrow end! It is better for us all
To avenge our friends, not mourn them forever.
Each of us will come to the end of this life
On earth; he who can earn it should fight 
For the glory of his name; fame after death
Is the noblest of goals.”

17. "Valhalla Calls" by Ian F. White

At just 12 lines of poetry, "Valhalla Calls" quickly takes the warrior from the field into the halls of Valhalla, where feasting begins. 

It'll work well for a prayer card or as an addition to a eulogy.

18. From "Hamðismál" by Snorri Sturluson, Transl. by Paul Acker and Carolyne Larrington

The final poem in the Poetic Edda is the "Hamðismál". In the tale, King Ermaneric has his wife, Svanhild, trampled to death by horses. As a result, Gudrun (Svanhild's mother) enlists her sons to take vengeance and kill King Ermaneric. 

“We have fought well, we stand on Goth corpses, 
weary from the sword-edge like eagles on a branch; 
we have won great glory if we die now or yesterday, 
after the norns have given their verdict, no man outlasts the evening.”

19. "Valhalla Calls" by Randall L. Clifton

Clifton's poem challenges the idea that Valhalla is only for the battle-scarred warrior. In it, he believes that even though who commit suicide find their way into the halls of Valhalla because "All struggles are seen all sacrifices excepted."

20. "Fire and Ice" by Robert Frost

Frost's poem falls in line with typical Viking poetry even if the famous poet was not a Viking—he was an American poet. 

As used in the context of dying, the two elements, fire and ice, relate to Norse Mythology. Múspell (land of fire) and Niflheim (land of ice) are legendary resting places for notable Norse figures.

Funny or Uplifting Viking Funeral Poems or Readings

Great Viking poems often share descriptions of death, which means that though some of the selection below is macabre, the proper delivery can alter the general feeling of the poem.

21. "Vellekla" by Einar Skålaglam, Transl. by Rune Bjørnsen

Einar Skålaglam’s “Vellekla” is the original poem honoring King Hakon after the battle of Hjørungavåg. Note that Snorri Sturluson used part of it in his poem, the "Hakonarmal," which is mentioned earlier.

22. "Viking Song" by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

Composer David McKee Wright wrote music for "Viking Song" in 1911 as part of a voice education series from the Oliver Ditson Company. Surprisingly, sheet music is available online, and you'll note the ease of the melody for just about any voice.

23. "The Fatal Sisters" by Thomas Gray

"The Fatal Sisters" is based on the Darraðarljoð, a poem initially found in the Njáls saga. Details of the poem are grisly, as 12 Valkyries weave the fates of armies battling in Ireland.

While not an uplifting poem, it's ridiculously grotesque.

24. "Carousel of Odin" by Thomas Penrose

Feasting is generally a joyous, if not celebratory occasion, making the "Carousel of Odin" an uplifting poem. Honey, skulls, and shouts of laughter fill the halls as minstrels serenade Odin's anointed warriors.

25. "Ode II: The Renovation of the World, and Future Retribution" by Thomas James Mathias

Mathias's poem enlists the gods as speakers, which isn't unusual for this genre of poetry, but it is uncommon. Note the lengthy song, which would work well as a reading (in part or whole) for a toast at your loved one's Celebration of Life ceremony.

“Pour the sparkling beverage high; 
Be the song with horror fraught: 
Lab'ring earth, and ruin'd sky, 
Fill the soul and fix the thought.”

Viking Funeral Traditions

For ideas or help in planning a Viking-themes funeral for a loved one, check out our article on Viking prayers, pyres, and traditions

Or create a free Cake end-of-life planning profile to share your funeral decisions with a loved one, where you can include any of the poems listed above.


Sources:
  1. Acker, Paul & Larrington, Carolyne. (Eds.). "Revisiting the Poetic Edda: Essays on Old Norse heroic legend." Taylor & Francis Group, ProQuest Ebook Central, 2013. ebookcentral.proquest.com
  2. Black Mask. The Prose Edda. Cuni, 2001, is.cuni.cz.
  3. Button, Lawrence. "Dedication, The Halls of Valhalla by Lord Merlynn." All Poetry, All Poetry, 2007. allpoetry.com.  
  4. Raffel, Burton. (2016). Beowulf. Signet Classics. 
  5. "Sea-King's Burial." Scottish Poetry Selection, Rampant Scotland. (n.d.). rampantscotland.com.  
  6. Sturluson, Snorri. (1220). The Poetic Edda, translated by Henry Adams Bellows. 1936. sacred-texts.com.  
  7. Sturluson, Snorri. (1222). Prose Edda, translated by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur, 21 May 2011. Kindle Edition.
  8. White, Ian F. “Valhalla Calls.” Soul Chaser, Soul Chaser Becky, 5 May 2013. soulchaserbecky.blogspot.com.   

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