Drottkvæðr, which literally means ‘recited before the retinue’, is an Old Norse verse form resented by Snorri Sturluson in the Edda, composed ca. 1178-1241, in it’s section Hattatal (‘Enumeration of Meters’). For more information on the Edda, click here (link pending).


  • Each stanza has 8 lines broken down into 2 half stanzas (called helmingar), and each helmingar consists of 2 couplets
  • each line is 6 syllables, and each line is a single syntactic unit. This doesn’t mean that it needs to be a complete sentence (avoid the sing song), but it is a complete phrase, word group, or breath group. The number of syllables isn’t hard and fast, sometimes it can be 5, sometimes 7 or more.
    • The stanza structure is important, because odd lines and even lines have different rules, and each pair has to follow the rules together before you “pair your pairs.” More on those rules in a minute.
  • Meter…
    • The last two syllables of every line follows a stressed-unstressed pattern.
    • There must be three stressed syllables per line, with any number of unstressed syllables (I mean sort of, it’s total 6 syllables…)
  • There is internal rhyme: 
    • In each couplet there are two types of rhyme: 
      • a half rhyme in the first line, and a full rhyme in the second line. (half rhyme is where the consonant is the same but the vowel is different, unlike full rhymes where it’s the other way around.)
      • furthermore, the second set of each rhyme has to be in the 5th syllable of the line
  • There is internal and cross line alliteration (oh boy is there alliteration…): 
    • In each couplet there is alliteration in the 1st or 3rd, and 5th syllable of the first line, and the 1st syllable of the second line.
    • The alliteration in the first line happens on stressed syllable
    • lines work in pairs
    • even line staves (alliterating sounds) are called ‘head staves’ and they control the alliteration
    • odd line staves are called props, and they follow the head staves
    • for every pair of lines, the props in line (1) follow the head stave in line (2)
  • Finally, content wise. Kennings, a concept which in a way is essentially a metaphor, is central to Norse poetry and especially this one.
    • Kennings are substituting one noun with another term which is ‘made known’ by another noun
    • so, example; ‘battle=spear din’, ‘sword=fire of battle’
    • However, it’s continued by combining Kennings.
      • ‘sword=fire of spear din’
    • Theme-wise, this poetry form is a brag. Skalds (norse poets) would stand up in a party and brag a Drottkvæðr about someone either dead or alive, sometimes themselves.


Greene, Roland, and Stephen Cushman. The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. Princeton University Press, 2012.