Skaldic verse is a type of praise poetry, written and performed by poets known as skalds for their patrons.  It is closely associated with Viking Age Scandinavia, and was mostly recorded by later Icelandic writers.  At least part of the appeal of skaldic verse was its extremely complex verse forms: words are linked with one another through systems of alliteration which require great flexibility in vocabulary and grammar.  This complexity makes it likely that those texts recorded by later writers have been preserved as originally written.  They are most often used as part of quasi-historical sagas, where they are frequently supplied as evidence for an anecdote.  


In the complex multicultural literary environment of northern Europe, it seems to be the case that skaldic verse and Anglo-Saxon poetry informed one another.  Certainly, skaldic verse was produced at Cnut's courts: this kind of poetry would have been performed in Denmark, but also in Winchester and London between 1016 and 1035.


There is a comprehensive online database of skaldic verse, so I have just presented here a few verses which I find particularly interesting because they may suggest a connection between Cnut and Beowulf through their interest in the figure of Skjǫldr (Old English Scyld).  In each case, I have used the text from the cited volume and page of Poetry from the Kings' Sagas, and based my translation very closely on those in that edition.

Skaldic verse

Anonymous - Liðmannaflokkr

Stanza 7, PKS vol. 2, p.1024


Knútr réð ok bað bíða

(baugstalls) Dani alla;

(lundr gekk rǫskr und randir

ríkr) vá herr við díki.

Nær vas, sveit þars sóttum,

Syn, með hjalm ok brynju,

elds sem olmum heldi

elg Rennandi kennir.


Sigvatr Þórðason - Knútsdrápur

Stanza 9, PKS​ vol. 2, p.660


Létat af jǫfurr 
(ætt manna fansk) 
Jótlands etask 
ílendr (at því). 
Vildi foldar 
fæst rǭn Dana 
hlíf Skjǫldr hafa. 
Hǫfuðfremstr jǫfurr. 


Sigvatr Þórðason - Bersǫglisvísur

Stanza 12, PKS​ vol. 2, p.


Hætts, þats allir ætla
— áðr skal við því ráða — 
hárir menn, es heyrik,
hót, skjǫldungi at móti.
Greypts, þats hǫfðum hneppta,
heldr, ok niðr í feldi
— slegit hefr þǫgn á þegna — 
þingmenn nǫsum stinga.


Sigvatr Þórðason - Erfidrápa Óláfs helga

Stanza 21, PKS vol. 2, p.689


Ǭleifr réð et øfra, 
andprútt hǫfuð landi 
fulla vetr, áðr felli, 
fimmtán, á því láni. 
Hverr hafi hers inn nørðra 
heims enda sér kenndan 
 - skjǫldungr helzk an skyldi 
skemr - landreki inn fremri?


Sigvatr Þórðason - Flokkr about Erlingr Skjálgsson

Stanza 9, PKS vol. 2, pp.640-41


Erlingr vas svá jarla 
ǭtt es skjǫldungr mátti 
Ǭleifs mágr, svát œgði 
aldyggs sonar Tryggva. 
Næst gaf sína systur 
snarr búþegna harri 
(Ulfs feðr vas þat) aðra 
(aldrgipta) Rǫgnvaldi.


Óttarr svarti - Hǫfuðlausn

Stanzas 14 & 20, PKS​ vol. 2, pp.759 & 766


Valfasta, bjótt vestan, 
veðrǫrr, tváa knǫrru; 
hætt hafið ér í ótta 
opt, skjǫldunga þopti. 
Næði straumr, ef stœði, 
strangr kaupskipum angra, 
innanborðs, á unnum, 
erringar lið verra.




Gegn, (eru þér at þegnum) 
þjóðskjǫldunga góðra 
haldið hæft á veldi 
(Hjaltlendingar kenndir). 
Engi varð á jǫrðu 
ógnbráðr, áðr þér nǭðum, 
austr, sás eyjum vestan, 
ynglingr, und sik þryngvi.


Óttarr svarti - Knútsdrápur

Stanzas 2, 3 & 10, PKS vol. 2, pp.770, 771 & 779


Út fylgðu þér Jótar,   

auðmildr, flugar trauðir;

skauthereina bjó skreytir   

Skǭnunga liðvánir.

Vǭð blés of þér, vísi;    

vestr settir þú flesta,

- kunnt gørðir þú þannig    

þitt nafn - í haf stafna.


Herskjǫld bart ok helduð,

hilmir, ríkr af slíku;

hykkat, þengill, þekkðusk

þik kyrrsetu mikla.

Ætt drap Jóta dróttinn

Játgeirs í fǫr þeiri;

þveit rakt – þrár est heitinn –

þeim, stillis knor, illan.


Skjǫldungr, vannt und skildi   

skœru verk, inn sterki:

fekk blóðtrani bráðir  

brúnar Assatúnum.

Vátt, en valfall þótti   

verðung, jǫfurr, sverði,

nær fyr norðan, stóru   

nafn gnógt Danaskóga.




Þórðr Kolbeinsson - Eiríksdrápa

Stanza 13, PKS​ vol. 1, p.507


Enn at eyrar grunni 
endr Skjǫldungr of renndi, 
sás kjǫlslóðir kníði; 
Knútr langskipum útan. 
Varð, þars vildu fyrðar 
varrláð koma báðir, 
hjalmaðs jarls ok hilmis 
hœgr fundr á því dœgri.

Cnut decided and commanded all the Danes to wait; the mighty tree of the ring support went, brave, under the shields; the army fought by the moat.  Lady, it was nearly as if the master of the fire of Rennandi were holding a maddened elk, where we attacked the army with helmet and mail-shirt. 


'Ring support': shield, whose 'might tree' is a warrior; here, Cnut. 'The fire of Rennandi': gold, whose 'master' is a wealthy man; here, Cnut.







Arrived in his land, the lord of Jutland did not let himself be deprived; the race of men were pleased at that.  The Danish protector, Skjǫldr, would allow minimal plundering of the land. ...The most eminent prince


'Lord of Jutland': Cnut.  'Skjǫldr': Cnut, who claimed descent from this mythical figure.







The threat is dangerous when all grey-haired men, as I hear, intend [to revolt] against Skjǫldr's descendant; that must be prevented in advance.  It’s rather grim when assembly members hang their heads and stick their noses into their cloaks; silence has descended on your followers.


'Skjǫldr's descendant': Cnut.








Óláfr, the proud-spirited chief, ruled the land higher up for fifteen full years, before he died on that allotted land.  Which better land-ruler of the army had claimed the more northerly end of the world?  The monarch survived for a shorter time than he should have.


'Land-ruler of the army': king, here Óláfr.








Erlingr, brother-in-law of Óláfr, the very worthy son of Tryggvi, behaved in such a way against the kin of the jarls, that he terrified [them], which Skjǫldr's descendant could not.  Next the keen chief of landowners gave his other sister to Rǫgnvaldr; that was the luck of his life for Úlfr’s father.


'Skjǫldr's descendant': king, here Óláfr Tryggvason. 'Keen chief of landowners': ruler, here Óláfr. 'Úlfr’s father': Rǫgnvaldr.







Brisk in the weather of the fire of the slain, you prepared two cargo-ships from the west; benchmate of Skjǫldr's descendants, you have often ventured into danger.  The strong current would have been able to trouble the merchant-ships on the waves if a crew poorer in vigour had stood on board.


'Fire of the slain': blood, whose 'weather' is battle.  'Benchmate': friend, or associate (because benchmates eat with one another in the hall).  'Skjǫldr's descendant': kings, here a general comment about the impressive company Óláfr Haraldsson keeps



Trustworthy one, you hold fittingly onto the power of good kings of the people; the Shetlanders are known to you as your thanes.  No battle-bold king who subjugated under himself the islands in the west arose east in the land, before we got you.









The Jótar, reluctant to flee, accompanied you abroad, wealth-generous one; the adorner of sail-reindeer prepared the expected troops of the Skánungar.  The cloth billowed over you, prince; you directed a great many prows westwards across the sea; you made your name known in that way.


'Sail-reindeer': ships, whose 'adorner' is a sailor.




You carried the war-shield, prince, and prevailed, powerful by such means; I do not think, lord, you cared much for sitting in peace.  The lord of the Jótar struck the kindred of Edgar on that expedition; ruler’s son, you dealt them a harsh blow; you are called defiant.


'Lord of the Jótar': king of the Danes, here Cnut.  'Kindred of Edgar': the English, perhaps particularly the royal family.  'Ruler’s son': Cnut, whose father was Sveinn.


Strong Skjǫldungr, you performed a feat of battle under the shield; the blood-crane received dark morsels at Ashingdon.  Prince, you won by fighting a great enough name with a mighty sword nearby to the north of the Forest of Dean, and it seemed a slaughter to the retinue.


'Skjǫldungr': Cnut, who claimed descent from Skjǫldr.  'Blood-crane': raven, or perhaps eagle, because birds were associated with battles where they feasted on the dead (the 'dark morsels' which they 'received').  'Ashingdon': a decisive battle in 1016 where Cnut's forces destroyed those of Edmund Ironside.







And the Skjǫldungr, Cnut, who pounded the keel-paths [sea], again ran his longships ashore onto the shallows of the land-spit.  The meeting of the helmeted jarl and the prince proved propitious on that day, when both men wished to cross the oarstroke-land [sea].


'Skjǫldungr': Cnut, who claimed descent from Skjǫldr.  'Keel-paths': the sea, which provides a path for boats to travel through.  'Oarstroke-land': the sea.