Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Heiemo and the Neck

The ballad for today is a Norwegian one: Heiemo og Nykkjen (or Nøkken; Heiemo and the Neck). Heiemo is the name of our heroine, who is a singer, and the neck is our favourite sinister music-loving water spirit, as seen in such ballads as The Power of the Harp.


The ballad opens with Heiemo singing. She sings so sweetly that the neck hears her where he is far out to sea.

So immediately we see the neck's typical traits of being a music-loving water creature. What is unusual in this ballad, though, is that the neck seems to be onboard a boat ... In one version of the ballad from Hardanger there is an unusual description of the neck as "half man half boat" ...

The neck cannot resist the song he has heard, so he speaks to his steersman and tells him to sail for land. So the neck comes to land, and dresses himself up as a fine gentleman with fine clothes, a high hat, and curly golden hair. Then he makes a saddle and horse (sometimes from sand and running water), all kitted out in silver and gold, and he rides off to the party room (or church hall) where Heiemo is.

The neck asks the best singer to sing a song. And that is Heiemo. Her song impresses everyone.

The neck then says he will take Heiemo back to his boat with him. Heiemo is not happy at all at this. The neck tries to comfort her, but she is not having it. So she stabs the neck in the heart with her little knives.

So in the end Heiemo escapes with her maidenhood intact, and the neck lies dead on the ground for dogs and ravens to eat.

There are other versions of the ballad where Heiemo frees herself from the neck without using knives. In the Hardanger ballad I mentioned above, she names the neck's name, and he sinks into the depths, possibly to return ...

This Norwegian ballad has a Danish counterpart, Nøkkens Svig (The Neck's Betrayal), though there is a major difference in the way the two ballads end: in the Danish ballad the neck drags the screaming girl down with him into the water. (In Danish versions of this ballad the neck starts off in the water as well rather than on a boat ...)

by Kay Nielsen ... a dancing princess


The most common omkväde lines for versions of the ballad in the Norwegian ballad archive are: with memory / two roses sleep in there. Alternatively, we see: boy! / the maiden dances with the lord; or: wake up you noble lads / for you (or I or he) have slept too long.

There are no melodies given for this ballad in Landstad's book, and I don't see any in Berggreen's book.


There are a couple of major recordings of this ballad, both from Norwegian ladies, and both using the same melody (and omkväde ... the last of the three omkväde I mentioned above), though singing in rather different styles.

Kirsten Bråten Berg is a Norwegian singer who has been mentioned several times already on this blog. Heiemo og Nykkjen appears on her album Min Kvedarlund (1999).

Helene Bøksle is a Norwegian singer. Here is her version of Heiemo og Nykkjen from her album Elverhøy (2006).

And here is a live version from Helene Bøksle:

Finally, here is a vocal only version on YouTube from Frøya Myrxdottir. Again, she is singing the same melody / same omkväde:


Norwegian texts for this ballad are in the Balladearkivet of the Oslo University Dokumentasjonsprosjektet.
Commentary on this ballad in Norwegian, plus some other texts:

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