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Kolbeinn Tumason (1173 – 1208) was a member of the Ásbirningar family clan, and was one of the most powerful chieftains (goði) in Iceland around the turn of the 12th century. His power was probably at its height around 1200 AD. Kolbeinn used his influence to ensure that men in his favour received positions of power within the clergy, amongst them bishop Guðmundur Arason. Guðmundur, unbeknownst to Kolbeinn, proved to be an advocate of clerical independence and resented interference from the secular goði chieftains. The two were soon at odds. In 1208, Kolbeinn and his followers attacked Guðmundur and his supporters in Hjaltadalur by Víðines. The ensuing battle is known as the Battle of Víðines. Kolbeinn died in the conflict, his head bashed in with a rock.

Kolbeinn the poet

Notwithstanding his opposition to bishop Guðmundur, sources indicate that Kolbeinn was a devoutly religious man of some education. He is best known for composing the hymn Heyr himna smiður (English: "Hear, Heavenly Creator") on his deathbed. It is now a classic and often-sung Icelandic hymn. The song, which accompanies the text was composed by Þorkell Sigurbjörnsson, over 700 years later. The original text is presented here with modern Icelandic spelling and a rough, literal translation into English.

Heyr, himna smiður,
hvers er skáldið biður.
Komi mjúk til mín
miskunnin þín.
Því heit eg á þig,
þú hefur skaptan mig.
Eg er þrællinn þinn,
þú ert drottinn minn.
Guð, heit eg á þig,
að þú græðir mig.
Minnst þú, mildingur, mín,
mest þurfum þín.
Ryð þú, röðla gramur,
ríklyndur og framur,
hölds hverri sorg
úr hjartaborg.
Gæt þú, mildingur, mín,
mest þurfum þín,
helzt hverja stund
á hölda grund.
Send þú, meyjar mögur,
málsefnin fögur,
öll er hjálp af þér,
í hjarta mér.
Listen, smith of the heavens,
what the poet asks.
May softly come unto me
your mercy.
So I call on thee,
for you have created me.
I am thy slave,
you are my Lord.

God, I call on thee
to heal me.
Remember me, mild one, (or mild king. This is a pun on the word mildingur).
Most we need thee.
Drive out, O king of suns,
generous and great,
every human sorrow
from the city of the heart.

Watch over me, mild one,
Most we need thee,
truly every moment
in the world of men.
send us, son of the virgin,
good causes,
all aid is from thee,
in my heart.

References

  • Árni Daníel Júlíusson, Jón Ólafur Ísberg, Helgi Skúli Kjartansson Íslenskur sögu atlas: 1. bindi: Frá öndverðu til 18. aldar Almenna bókafélagið, Reykjavík 1989
  • Sigurður Nordal et al., Sýnisbók íslenzkra bókmennta til miðrar átjándu aldar, Reykjavík 1953.
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