A Study Guide 
[Index to Svipdagsmál 
and Fjölsvinnsmál
The Unity of the Two Poems 

Peter Robinson
"The Unity of Svipdagsmál"
Svipdagsmál: An Edition, (1991) p. 423

There is much more to the unity of Svipdagsmál than the poems simply telling a single story. Their unity grows out of a poetic vision which organizes verbal and narrative details into complex and interwoven patterns.
The most important such pattern is the pattern of nines. On the narrative level this expresses itself in Gróa's nine charms, in Svipdagr's eighteen questions, in Fjölsviðr's eighteen answers. Thus these patterns of nines account for forty five of the sixty seven stanzas — almost exactly two thirds — of the two poems.
Both poems balance themselves about these central patterns of nines. Each poem has a brief introduction — five verses in Gróugaldur, six in Fjölsvinnsmál — leading into a pattern of nine. Gróugaldur  ends with two stanzas of benediction after Gróa completes her nine charms; Fjölsvinnsmál ends with eight verses which unite Menglöð and Svipdagr after the completion of the thirty-six stanza question sequence.
These patterns of nines create the major framework of the poems: within that framework the poet's verbal craft creates further linkages. The nine maidens of Menglöð (Fjölsvinnsmál 38), the nine locks which guard Lævateinn (Fjölsvinnsmál.  26), and (probably, see Commentary) the nine builders of Menglöð's palace (Fjölsvinnsmál.  34) mirror the larger patterns. Each stanza within the patterns of nines is linked to the others within the same pattern by formulaic repetition (Þann gel eg þér... ; Segðu mér það, Fjölsviður) and by verbal echo: the insistent optatives of Gróa's charms (haldi, gangi, snúisk), or  Fjölsviðr's mocking repetition of Svipdagr's words (e.g. Fjölsvinnsmál.  7-8).
Outside these patterns of nines the narrative is interwoven by verbal and thematic echo. As noted above (pp. 383): Svipdagr's quest is framed by the references to destiny before he leaves (Gróugaldur 4, 7) and at his moment of triumph (Fjölsvinnsmál 47); references to munir (Gróugaldur 4, 15, Fjölsvinnsmál 50) and gaman (Fjölsvinnsmál.  5, 43, 50) interlace the narrative as Svipdagr proceeds from fear to hope and final joy.
Most revealing is the poet's use of mögr. In the first verses of Gróugaldur, Svipdagr describes himself to Gróa as her mögr 'son' (1, 5). In the last verses of Fjölsvinnsmál,  Menglöð describes Svipdagr as her mögr, her "young man; lover" (45, 49). The shift between the senses of mögr, from "son" to "young man", maps precisely the change in Svipdagr over the two poems: he has grown from his mother's son to Menglöð's lover.2  Here, the ending of Fjölsvinnsmál links to the beginning of Gróugaldur: the son whose mother helps him in Gróugaldur becomes the young man whose bride receives him at the end of Fjölsvinnsmál.  

"In my end is my beginning": Svipdagmál  begins with a son's anguished plea to his mother and ends with his bride's assertion of their eternal bliss. Affirmations of feminine power open and close the poems; powerful women — the kristin dauð kona, Menglöð's maidens — promise threat or succour. The poems' virtues are those of peace: healing, pacific conquest of danger, triumph by nonviolent means and finally loving marriage. The beauty of Svipdagmál 's integration on every level — verbal, thematic, structural —is itself an instance of the peaceful virtues the poems celebrate.
2 For the likely parallel with Sigurðr in the unusual use of mögr 'young man', and other parallels with the Sigurðr cycle, see p. 312.

*All abbreviations have been expanded.
Svipdag and Menglad
by John Bauer (1907)
Colorized by Guddipoland
[Index to Svipdagsmál