Odin with wolves & ravens by Johannes Wiedewelt (circa 1780)

Odin’s Advice on Wisdom and the Wise Man

These stanzas of Hávamál comprise that poem‘s primary section on wisdom and the wise person. Hávamál, translated as “Sayings of the High One,” referring to Odin, consists of many stanzas of advice on leading a good life, ranging from purely practical advice about watching for enemies (stanza 1) or drinking in moderation (stanzas 12-14), to leading a life that will be judged well at one’s death (stanza 77). Later parts of the poem also discuss love (I’m putting that charitably), the runes, and magic.

Perhaps these few proverbs still have some worth today.

53. A little sand | has a little sea,
And small are the minds of men;
Though all men are not | equal in wisdom,
Yet half-wise only are all.

54. A measure of wisdom | each man shall have,
But never too much let him know;
The fairest lives | do those men live
Whose wisdom wide has grown.

55. A measure of wisdom | each man shall have,
But never too much let him know;
For the wise man’s heart | is seldom happy,
If wisdom too great he has won.

56. A measure of wisdom | each man shall have,
But never too much let him know;
Let no man the fate | before him see,
For so is he freest from sorrow.

57. A brand from a brand | is kindled and burned,
And fire from fire begotten;
And man by his speech | is known to men,
And the stupid by their stillness.

58. He must early go forth | who fain the blood
Or the goods of another would get;
The wolf that lies idle | shall win little meat,
Or the sleeping man success.

59. He must early go forth | whose workers are few,
Himself his work to seek;
Much remains undone | for the morning-sleeper,
For the swift is wealth half won.

60. Of seasoned shingles | and strips of bark
For the thatch let one know his need,
And how much of wood | he must have for a month,
Or in half a year he will use.

61. Washed and fed | to the council fare,
But care not too much for thy clothes;
Let none be ashamed | of his shoes and hose,
Less still of the steed he rides.

Odin consults Mimir, 1895 by Carl Emil Doepler
Odin consults Mimir, 1895 by Carl Emil Doepler
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