Writing Exercises – The Hávamál

by | April 6, 2012 | Writing Exercise | 12 comments

by Ashley Lister

When I’m not writing, reading or reviewing, I teach. I teach creative writing and one of the subjects I keep going back to is poetic form.

The reasons for this are fairly clear in my mind. Coleridge defined prose as, “words in their best order.” Coleridge also defined poetry as, “the best words in the best order.” To this end, I’ve always thought anyone writing prose with a knowledge and understanding of poetry is in a position to elevate the quality of material being produced.

Which is why, this month, I’ve decided to mention the Hávamál as a poetic discipline.

The Hávamál is a Viking poem, but it is often called a book of wisdom. Written somewhere around AD 700-900, the Hávamál is one of the more well-known Eddaic poems and, amongst other things, it contains nuggets of universal wisdom that still apply today, more than a millennia after these words were first written.

Here are a couple of examples from the Hávamál:

A guest needs
giving water
fine towels and friendliness.
A cheerful word
a chance to speak
kindness and concern.

Give each other
good clothes
as friends for all to see.
To give and take
is a guarantee
of lasting love.

A typical Hávamál stanza usually contains six lines or two units of three lines each. The first two lines in each unit are tied together by alliteration, and the third is also decorated with alliteration. For those who’ve forgotten: alliteration is the repetition of similar sounds, usually the sounds of initial consonants, as illustrated below:

Better a humble
house than none.
A man is master at home.
A pair of goats
and a patched roof
are better than begging.

It’s also possible to look at the stresses used in the Hávamál but, for the purposes of this exercise, I’d prefer to see writers focusing on words of wisdom and the use of alliteration.

And that’s this month’s exercise from me: produce a six line poem in the style of the Hávamál, sharing words of erotic wisdom in the comments box below. Remember to keep a tie of alliteration between lines one and two (and four and five), and to ensure that there is some alliteration across lines three and six.

Have fun with this and I look forward to reading your words of wisdom.

Ashley Lister

Ashley Lister is a UK author responsible for more than two-dozen erotic novels written under a variety of pseudonyms. His most recent work, a non-fiction book recounting the exploits of UK swingers, is his second title published under his own name: Swingers: Female Confidential by Ashley Lister (Virgin Books; ISBN: 0753513439) Ashley’s non-fiction has appeared in a variety of magazines, including Forum, Chapter & Verse and The International Journal of Erotica. Nexus, Chimera and Silver Moon have published his full-length fiction, with shorter stories appearing in anthologies edited by Maxim Jakubowski, Rachel Kramer Bussel and Mitzi Szereto. He is very proud to be a regular contributor to ERWA.


  1. CJ Lemire

    Ooh, this looks like fun. I'll play.

    Willing tongue
    on wet cunt.
    Paroxysms of pleasure result.
    The man who licks
    the lower lips
    has one happy lady.

  2. Ashley R Lister

    CJ – I love it!

    The word 'paroxysms' gives this verse a classy edge that's almost more elevated than a traditional hávamál stanza. But that final line with its alliteration between 'has' and 'happy' really does have echoes of the wisdom of the north.

    Thanks for participating.


  3. Leatherdykeuk

    An arched spine
    and eyes half-closed
    her tongue teasing her lips.
    She trembles
    at a touch;
    a cupped hand, caressing.

  4. Ashley R Lister


    Striking imagery. This is powerful stuff we're getting here. For me, that final line is rich in tenderness.


  5. Ashley R Lister

    Just as a personal aside, I really get a kick from reading other people's poetry on here.

    The members of ERWA really are a talented group.


  6. Lisabet Sarai

    Hey, Ash!

    Is "Havamal" a single poem, then? Or a general style? (And how in the world did you learn about this?)

    Anyway, here's my attempt, not nearly as erotic as some you've gotten, but capturing the wisdom of experience.

    Fruit-firm breasts
    And tight, ripe buttocks
    Wither with age.
    Only the lush
    Unlimited mind
    Remains fertile and filthy.

    (Alliteration is my middle name…!)


  7. Ashley R Lister

    Lisabet – lovely!

    Breasts/buttocks, fertile/filthy – outstanding lexical choices.

    The hávamál is technically a single poem, although experts divide it into different parts which include stories about Odin's relationship with various women, the Gestaþáttr (words of wisdom) which we've looked at above, and some guidelines on how to use runes and cast spells.

    I came across it whilst looking into some research for a historical/fantastical story I'm currently writing.


  8. Craig Sorensen

    Hi Ash, I like this form, and I've never been introduced to it before. Given my viking heritage, it's about time, methinks.

    Here is my offering:

    A halo of red
    hair splays over silk
    glows fixed her face in motion
    Sudden pause, eyes locked
    penetration lingers, lingers
    friction pended to perfection

    I'm not certain that observations about motion versus stillness in sexuality constitute wisdom, but this was the inspiration that came.

    Thank you for that inspiration!

  9. Ashley R Lister

    With a surname like Sorenson I'm not surprised to hear you have Viking heritage.

    I'm struck here by your eloquent use of the word pended – not a common one, but perfect for the final line of this verse, especially when it's juxtaposed against friction.

    I'm delighted to hear so many people saying they have not encountered this form before. No one comes to ERWA for the old and familiar – people come here for things they haven't yet tried before 🙂

  10. Donna

    Wow, these poems are awesome! This is clearly a highly effective prompt for erotic artists :-).

    Unfortunately I was traumatized at an early age by some critics who made fun of my poetic attempts, so I have a deep blockage with the form, but I thoroughly enjoyed this mini-workshop.

  11. Ashley R Lister


    That really is a shame. Given your artistic abilities as a writer, and your knowledge of Japanese culture, I would have thought you'd be the perfect person to write haiku, senryu, renga and tanka.

    I'm genuinely cursing those critics that put you off poetry.


  12. Craig Sorensen

    I want to add my voice to Ash's regarding Donna.

    Someone who writes as beautifully as she does should venture into poetry, and I too curse those critics.

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