Partially Digested Poetry

“Poetry basically starts out in the spittoon of the gods.”


Transcribed below is an origin story from Norse mythology as told on this week’s podcast from Myths and Legends. Where poetry comes from. Myths and Legends gives wry, often hilarious renderings of myths from all over the world. Check out the entire episode here.

“Odin was responsible for poetry, though we don’t know quite how responsible.
There is a winding twisting road we take to get poetry. a war had just ended and
they all needed a way to demonstrate that truce. They decided to pass around a vat
and they would all spit in it. This was an ancient peace ritual. The war had been
long and costly and they wanted this show of peace to remain a long time rather
than a stinky, slowly evaporating vat of spit, so, naturally, they formed it into a
person. That person’s name was Kvasir. He was so wise that there wasn’t a
question that he didn’t know the answer to. He traveled through worlds giving
people knowledge and eventually he ended up in the dwelling of two dwarves…
They quickly stabbed him to death and drained him of his blood. They poured the
blood into two different containers, mixed it with honey and yeast and made
mead. And whoever drank the mead became a poet or a scholar.”

The story of that mead is a long, fascinating one. I’ll summarize some of it….
Basically, a giant stole three vats of the mead from the dwarves, and Odin
eventually stole it from the giant. Odin stored all three large vats of the mead in
his belly, turned into an eagle and flew off toward Asgard with the giant hot on
his trail (somehow the giant also turned into an eagle to chase Odin). Here is
more from the podcast:

“Odin looked over his eagle shoulder and saw the giant gaining on him. He
flapped harder and harder until saw the walls of Asgard…. Somehow Asgardians
were there on the wall holding out vats in order to catch the mead.”

“Let’s just say that Odin had planned it ahead of time so that if he flew back in
eagle form that they would be able to catch the mead in these vats. It doesn’t really
make sense, I know. Odin spits the mead in three streams into the vats but there
was still a little of it left inside. He looked backwards as he was approaching wall
and he saw the giant eagle right there and he screamed. And that last little bit of
mead? Well he was so scared that he urinated a little bit…. Odin made it inside the
wall and the giant in the form of an eagle saw Thor standing at the wall and he
quickly turned around and headed back to the world of the giants.”

“So that’s why poetry was known as Odin’s gift. He gives up the mead to Æsir and
the humans and he gives them the gift of poetry. And you might be wondering
about that little extra bit (of mead) that came out of Odin the other way. Well, no
one wanted to go after it, so the Æsir just chalked it up as a loss. It did trickle
down the Bifrost bridge and down into the world of man and it became known as
the bad poets’ portion. I think we’ve all heard a little bit of this poetry from a
person who has drunk a little bit of this mead and you had to sit through someone
reading their terrible poetry. Just consider the source: that urine of Odin that came
from the fermented urin/blood of of a man made from spit–from all of the urine
splashing around in inside of Odin for about three days.”

There you have it. And I always thought that bad poetry came from bad poets and shitty first drafts.  I recommend listening to the entire thing when you get the chance.


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