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Viking Poetry - ENG00040M

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  • Department: English and Related Literature
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Matthew Townend
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23

Module summary

In Viking Age Scandinavia, poetry was embedded in social practice and public performance. Composed in the Old Norse language, a great quantity of Viking poetry – originally oral, but later written down in manuscripts – survives to the present day, and it is an amazing body of work, full of interest and surprises.

Some Old Norse poetry – usually called ‘Eddic’ by modern scholars – was anonymous, and told mythological stories of the Norse gods and legendary heroes. But much more of the poetry that survives – now called ‘skaldic’ – is attributable to named poets, and was composed on specific, datable occasions; as early medieval poetry, the potential for reconstructing its literary history is unusually high. Skaldic poetry had many purposes: it was used to glorify rulers (‘King, another lord loftier than you will never be born’); to commemorate friends (‘I have piled a mound of praise that long will stand without crumbling in poetry’s field’); to insult enemies (‘Bjorn the windbag remains a useless loser’); and even to woo sexual partners (‘I looked at the ankles of the finely grown woman – this yearning will not die from me all my life’).

This module will examine a wide range of poetry, both Eddic and skaldic, composed in Old Norse between about 850 and 1050, and due attention will also be paid to its later preservation in Icelandic sagas and poetic treatises. Each seminar will address a different theme or topic, and will be structured around the close and detailed engagement with two or three particular poems (copies of which will be supplied). All texts studied will be available in translation as well as the original, and the module can be taken by students with no prior knowledge of Old Norse.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Spring Term 2022-23

Module aims

The aims of the module are to introduce students to a wide range of Old Norse poetry and its cultural contexts, and to develop skills in the close reading of such poetry.

Module learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, you should be able to:

  • Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with the main features of Old Norse poetry
  • Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with the cultural contexts of Old Norse poetry
  • Demonstrate skills in the close reading of Old Norse poetry
  • Evaluate key debates within the relevant critical fields dealing with Old Norse poetry
  • Produce independent arguments and ideas which demonstrate an advanced proficiency in critical thinking, research, and writing skills.


Task Length % of module mark
4,500 word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
4,500 word essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

You will receive feedback on all assessed work within the University deadline, and will often receive it more quickly. The purpose of feedback is to inform your future work; it is designed to help you to improve your work, and the Department also offers you help in learning from your feedback. If you do not understand your feedback or want to talk about your ideas further you can discuss it with your module tutor, the MA Convenor or your supervisor, during their Open Office Hours

Indicative reading

  • Anthony Faulkes (trans.), Snorri Sturluson: Edda (Everyman, 1987)
  • Carolyne Larrington (trans.), The Poetic Edda (Oxford Worlds Classics, 1996)
  • Diana Whaley (ed.), Sagas of Warrior-Poets (Penguin Classics, 2002)

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.