Book Review: The Poetic Edda (Translated by Carolyne Larrington)

Poetic EddaTitle: Poetic Edda
Translator: Carolyne Larrington
Publisher: Oxford Univerity Press
Date: 2014 (c.985)
Genre: Poetry / Mythology
Summary: She sees, coming up a second time, Earth from the ocean, eternally green the waterfalls plunge, an eagle soars above them, over the mountain hunting fish. After the terrible conflagration of Ragnarok, the earth rises serenely again from the ocean, and life is renewed. The Poetic Edda begins with The Seeress’ Prophecy which recounts the creation of the world and looks forward to its destruction and rebirth.

Poetic Edda (1996)Just a couple of notes before the review begins properly. I read Larrington’s revised edition from 2014 but she did initially translate the Poetic Edda in 1996. These two translations seem, in some places at least, to be rather different from one another but since 2014 was the newer, ‘revised’ edition, I decided to read that over the 1996 edition. Also, I can’t compare this edition to another English translation of the Poetic Edda because I haven’t read any. I will do one day but, for now, I’m just going to ignore the translation choices and concentrate on the book itself.

Larrington’s translation was easy to understand and the language was modernised appropriately (for example, Þ became ‘th’ which is not only the rule for translating Old Norse but also Old English) which makes the poems more accessible. I did need to look up some pronunciations but the translation is designed to be understandable while still retaining the most important aspects of the original language.

As for the actual poetry, I enjoyed reading it. There’s a wonderful mixture of comedy and tragedy, the epic and the mundane, the witty and the profound. It was a joy to read the collection and I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the mythological figures and creatures that we think we know through popular culture and recent retellings. Although this is an English translation, it felt like I was finally reading the original texts. I wasn’t because I can’t read Old Norse or Icelandic (even if some of my own regional dialect stems from Old Norse) but the poems in the collection seem to stand alone, distinct from modern retellings, and yet they still captured my imagination.

Codex RegiusOne thing that I really, really liked about this edition is the way in which it’s set out. As the Poetic Edda is a collection of Old Norse poems found in the Codex Regius (right) rather than one coherent text it makes sense that the book is set out in a way that highlights this but I really liked that there was a short introduction to each section. These intros gave some information about the poetic meter, possible dates for the poems, and much more and they helped me understand the poems better and they enabled me to connect the poems to their own context and history. I also really liked the inclusion of a ‘family tree’ for the gods and the alternate translation of the ‘The Seeress’s Prophecy’ in the appendix.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this English translation of the Poetic Edda. It may not be the best one out there, I can’t comment on that because I can’t read the source material, but the supplementary material was really useful and the poetry itself was interesting and captivating. I’d definitely recommend it.

I think I’m going to read the Hollander translation next since that one seems to be most recommended online.

(Wordery | Waterstones | OUP)

Image: ‘Lokasenna 10-27′ in Codex Regius (URL:

Read as part of the Classics Club Challenge. This post does not contain affiliate links. 

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12 thoughts on “Book Review: The Poetic Edda (Translated by Carolyne Larrington)

    1. There are lots of different translations out there but I liked this one and found it easy and pleasant to read 🙂 I hope you enjoy the Poetic Edda when you read it!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. The Poetic Edda is great but it’s a shame Snorri’s Edda isn’t as enjoyable! I wanted to read that one too but I haven’t found an English translation that I like the look of yet.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The stories are still ok, it is the very long explanations on all the different ways that Norse poetry can obscure the meaning of something by calling it something else, that I believe to be only for those with a special interest…

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’m used to long explanatory notes (which, like you said, are useful when you have a special interest in the text) but they can make it difficult to read the actual stories. I’m going to try and find an edition that keeps the explanations to a minimum then 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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