Gift of Life

  • Composer: Ada Palmer
  • Format: Three voices, five voices

A five-part version of Gift of Life will be available on our upcoming Norse themed CD, Sundown.

Gift of Life tells the story of how Odin and his brothers Hoenir and Lodur created three sentient races, Elves, Dwarves and Humans.  Animals and worms already existed, since they sprang naturally from Ymir’s corpse out of which the Aesir made the Earth, but sentient life required more.  Each of the three brothers was associated with one of the three elements, Lodur with fire, Hoenir with water, and Odin with air, and each provided one third of the necessary ingredients to grant sentience.

Creator’s Comment: I tried in this song to create something which would be easy to sing along with, with a repeated chorus, but as usual I kept making the harmony more complicated.  The original setting had three voices throughout, but the final version adds voices and layers as each race is created, suggesting the increasing vitality and activity on the Earth.  There is a lot of delightful old analysis of this myth, much of it 19th century and hilariously inaccurate by modern standards, but there are interesting connections between Lodur, Odin’s fire brother, and Loki, Odin’s somewhat-fire-related adopted blood-brother.  Lodur does not do anything in the whole mythos apart from help Odin defeat Ymir and create life, whereas there are several stories of adventures involving Odin, Hoenir and Loki traveling together.  Historically this is likely a case of one figure splitting into two, or two half-merging into one.  For my purposes, however, they are definitely separate.


As the brothers surveyed their new worlds
Proud of each creation on the seas and plains
they felt one thing still missing from their work
A people who could walk with them and know their names.

And Lodur gave the life’s spark that keeps us warm in night’s dark
And Hoenir gave us the will to move
And Odin gave us the life’s breath that makes the spirit last past death
The three together, the gift of life.

They first made the elves, the most magical race
fair as the zephyrs that hardly touch the earth with their grace.
Creatures of freedom and laughter and music and light
Not good companions for the brothers born of war and stone and flame and ice.

Elves counterpoint (Sung while repeating verse)

First made we
Hide away, far from earth
We know what made you
Harsh creators, sons of monsters and ice.


They next made the dwarves, who lived deep in the earth
and learn from her how to mine and forge and conjure and curse.
Diggers and craftsmen and jealous of secrets and spells,
Not very grateful to the makers of the sunny worlds outside their stony cells.

Dwarves counterpoint (Sung while repeating verse)

Dig down, deep down, deeper down
Silver gold and iron hiding,
Melt down, beat down, smelt down, hammer down
Axe and sword and spear and cup and ring and spell.


Now the brothers walked their worlds once more
saddened by the wonders which were theirs alone
They found a pair of trees close by the shore
Straight and tall and hardy shapes much like their own.

The ash tree was solid and steady and ready to stand
and from him they made Ask, the first man
And the elm tree was supple and subtle and bursting with life
and from her they made Embla, first woman, first wife.

Their children spread many and clever and fast
and asked more questions as seasons, years, and generations passed.
The brothers brought answers and pride as the humans became
A people who could walk with them and
learn their wisdom, tell their stories,
join their battles, share their halls and know their names.

CHORUS (repeat)