Poems by the Way, by William Morris

Hafbur and Signy.

Translated from the Danish.

King Hafbur & King Siward
They needs must stir up strife,
All about the sweetling Signy
Who was so fair a wife.
O wilt thou win me then,
or as fair a maid as I be?

It was the King’s son Hafbur
Woke up amid the night,
And ’gan to tell of a wondrous dream
In swift words nowise light.

“Me-dreamed I was in Heaven
Amid that fair abode,
And my true-love lay upon mine arm
And we fell from cloud to cloud.”

As there they sat, the dames and maids,
Of his words they took no keep,
Only his mother well-beloved
Heeded his dreamful sleep.

“Go get thee gone to the mountain,
And make no long delay;
To the elve’s eldest daughter
For thy dream’s areding pray.”

So the King’s son, even Hafbur,
Took his sword in his left hand,
And he’s away to the mountain
To get speech of that Lily-wand.

He beat thereon with hand all bare,
With fingers small and fine,
And there she lay, the elve’s daughter,
And well wotted of that sign.

“Bide hail, Elve’s sweetest daughter,
As on skins thou liest fair,
I pray thee by the God of Heaven
My dream arede thou clear.

“Me-dreamed I was in heaven,
Yea amid that fair abode,
And my true-love lay upon mine arm
And we fell from cloud to cloud.”

“Whereas thou dreamed’st thou wert in heaven,
So shalt thou win that may;
Dreamed’st thou of falling through the clouds,
So falls for her thy life away.”

“And if it lieth in my luck
To win to me that may,
In no sorrow’s stead it standeth me
For her to cast my life away.”

Lord Hafbur lets his hair wax long,
And will have the gear of mays,
And he rideth to King Siward’s house
And will well learn weaving ways.

Lord Hafbur all his clothes let shape
In such wise as maidens do,
And thus he rideth over the land
King Siward’s daughter to woo.

Now out amid the castle-garth
He cast his cloak aside,
And goeth forth to the high-bower
Where the dames and damsels abide.

Hail, sit ye there, dames and damsels,
Maids and queens kind and fair,
And chiefest of all to the Dane-King’s daughter
If she abideth here!

“Hail, sittest thou, sweet King’s daughter,
A-spinning the silken twine,
It is King Hafbur sends me hither
To learn the sewing fine.”

Hath Hafbur sent thee here to me?
Then art thou a welcome guest,
And all the sewing that I can
Shall I learn thee at my best.

“And all the sewing that I can
I shall learn thee lovingly,
Out of one bowl shalt thou eat with me,
And by my nurse shalt thou lie.”

King’s children have I eaten with,
And lain down by their side:
Must I lie abed now with a very nurse?
Then woe is me this tide!”

“Nay, let it pass, fair maiden!
Of me gettest thou no harm,
Out of one bowl shalt thou eat with me
And sleep soft upon mine arm.”

There sat they, all the damsels,
And sewed full craftily;
But ever the King’s son Hafbur
With nail in mouth sat he.

They sewed the hart, they sewed the hind,
As they run through the wild-wood green,
Never gat Hafbur so big a bowl
But the bottom soon was seen.

In there came the evil nurse
In the worst tide that might be:
“Never saw I fair maiden
Who could sew less craftily.

“Never saw I fair maiden
Seam worse the linen fine,
Never saw I noble maiden
Who better drank the wine.”

This withal spake the evil nurse,
The nighest that she durst:
“Never saw I yet fair maiden
Of drink so sore athirst.

“So little a seam as ever she sews
Goes the needle into her mouth,
As big a bowl as ever she gets
Out is it drunk forsooth.

“Ne’er saw I yet in maiden’s head
Two eyes so bright and bold,
And those two hands of her withal
Are hard as the iron cold.”

“Hearken, sweet nurse, whereso thou art,
Why wilt thou mock me still?
Never cast I one word at thee,
Went thy sewing well or ill.

“Still wilt thou mock, still wilt thou spy;
Nought such thou hast of me,
Whether mine eyes look out or look in
Nought do they deal with thee.”

O it was Hafbur the King’s son
Began to sew at last;
He sewed the hart, and he sewed the hind,
As they flee from the hound so fast.

He sewed the lily, and he sewed the rose,
And the little fowls of the air;
Then fell the damsels a-marvelling,
For nought had they missed him there.

Day long they sewed till the evening,
And till the long night was deep,
Then up stood dames and maidens
And were fain in their beds to sleep.

So fell on them the evening-tide,
O’er the meads the dew drave down,
And fain was Signy, that sweet thing,
With her folk to bed to be gone.

Therewith asked the King’s son Hafbur,
“And whatten a bed for me?”
“O thou shalt sleep in the bower aloft
And blue shall thy bolster be.”

She went before, sweet Signy,
O’er the high bower’s bridge aright,
And after her went Hafbur
Laughing from heart grown light.

Then kindled folk the waxlights,
That were so closely twined,
And after them the ill nurse went
With an ill thought in her mind.

The lights were quenched, the nurse went forth,
They deemed they were alone:
Lord Hafbur drew off his kirtle red,
Then first his sword outshone.

Lord Hafbur mid his longing sore
Down on the bed he sat:
I tell you of my soothfastness,
His byrny clashed thereat.

Then spake the darling Signy,
Out of her heart she said,
“Never saw I so rough a shirt
Upon so fair a maid.”

She laid her hand on Hafbur’s breast
With the red gold all a-blaze:
“Why wax thy breasts in no such wise
As they wax in other mays?”

“The wont it is in my father’s land
For maids to ride to the Thing,
Therefore my breasts are little of growth
Beneath the byrny-ring.”

And there they lay through the night so long,
The King’s son and the may,
In talk full sweet, but little of sleep,
So much on their minds there lay.

“Hearken, sweet maiden Signy,
As here alone we lie,
Who is thy dearest in the world,
And lieth thine heart most nigh?”

“O there is none in all the world
Who lieth so near to my heart
As doth the bold King Hafbur:
Ne’er in him shall I have a part.

“As doth the bold King Hafbur
That mine eyes shall never know:
Nought but the sound of his gold-wrought horn
As he rides to the Thing and fro.”

“O, is it Hafbur the King’s son
That thy loved heart holdeth dear?
Turn hither, O my well-beloved,
To thy side I lie so near.”

“If thou art the King’s son Hafbur,
Why wilt thou shame me love,
Why ridest thou not to my father’s garth
With hound, and with hawk upon glove?”

“Once was I in thy father’s garth,
With hound and hawk and all;
And with many mocks he said me nay,
In such wise did our meeting fall.”

All the while they talked together
They deemed alone they were,
But the false nurse ever stood close without,
And nought thereof she failed to hear.

O shame befall that evil nurse,
Ill tidings down she drew,
She stole away his goodly sword,
But and his byrny new.

She took to her his goodly sword,
His byrny blue she had away,
And she went her ways to the high bower
Whereas King Siward lay.

“Wake up, wake up, King Siward!
Over long thou sleepest there,
The while the King’s son Hafbur
Lies abed by Signy the fair.”

“No Hafbur is here, and no King’s son.
That thou shouldst speak this word;
He is far away in the east-countries,
Warring with knight and lord.

“Hold thou thy peace, thou evil nurse,
And lay on her no lie,
Or else tomorn ere the sun is up
In the bale-fire shall ye die.”

“O hearken to this, my lord and king,
And trow me nought but true;
Look here upon his bright white sword,
But and his byrny blue!”

Then mad of mind waxed Siward,
Over all the house ’gan he cry,
“Rise up, O mighty men of mine,
For a hardy knight is anigh:

“Take ye sword and shield in hand,
And look that they be true;
For Hafbur the King hath guested with us;
Stiffnecked he is, great deeds to do.”

So there anigh the high-bower door
They stood with spear and glaive;
“Rise up, rise up, Young Hafbur,
Out here we would thee have!”

That heard the goodly Signy
And she wrang her hands full sore:
“Hearken and heed, O Hafbur,
Who stand without by the door!”

Thank and praise to the King’s son Hafbur,
Manly he played and stout!
None might lay hand upon him
While the bed-post yet held out.

But they took him, the King’s son Hafbur,
And set him in bolts new wrought;
Then lightly he rent them asunder,
As though they were leaden and nought.

Out and spake the ancient nurse,
And she gave a rede of ill:
“Bind ye him but in Signy’s hair,
So shall hand and foot lie still.

“Take ye but one of Signy’s hairs
Hafbur’s hands to bind,
Ne’er shall he rend them asunder
His heart to her is so kind.”

Then took they two of Signy’s hairs
Bonds for his hands to be,
Nor might he rive them asunder
So dear to his heart was she.

Then spake the sweetling Signy
As the tears fast down her cheek did fall:
“O rend it asunder, Hafbur,
That gift to thee I give withal.”

Now sat the King’s son Hafbur
Amidst the castle-hall,
And thronged to behold him man and maid,
But the damsels chiefest of all.

They took him, the King’s son Hafbur,
Laid bolts upon him in that place,
And ever went Signy to and fro,
The weary tears fell down apace.

She speaketh to him in sorrowful mood:
“This will I, Hafbur, for thee,
Piteous prayer for thee shall make
My mother’s sisters three.

“For my father’s mind stands fast in this,
To do thee to hang upon the bough
On the topmost oak in the morning-tide
While the sun is yet but low.”

But answered thereto young Hafbur
Out of a wrathful mind:
“Of all heeds I heeded, this was the last,
To be prayed for by womankind.

“But hearken, true-love Signy,
Good heart to my asking turn,
When thou seest me swing on oaken-bough
Then let thy high-bower burn.”

Then answered the noble Signy,
So sore as she must moan,
“God to aid, King’s son Hafbur,
Well will I grant thy boon.”

They followed him, King Hafbur,
Thick thronging from the castle-bent:
And all who saw him needs must greet
And in full piteous wise they went.

But when they came to the fair green mead
Where Hafbur was to die,
He prayed them hold a little while:
For his true-love would he try.

“O hang me up my cloak of red,
That sight or my ending let me see.
Perchance yet may King Siward rue
My hanging on the gallows tree.”

Now of the cloak was Signy ware
And sorely sorrow her heart did rive,
She thought: “The ill tale all is told,
No longer is there need to live.”

Straightway her damsels did she call
As weary as she was of mind:
“Come, let us go to the bower aloft
Game and glee for a while to find.”

Yea and withal spake Signy,
She spake a word of price:
“To-day shall I do myself to death
And meet Hafbur in Paradise.

“And whoso there be in this our house
Lord Hafbur’s death that wrought,
Good reward I give them now
To red embers to be brought.

“So many there are in the King’s garth
Of Hafbur’s death shall be glad;
Good reward for them to lose
The trothplight mays they had.”

She set alight to the bower-aloft
And it burned up speedily,
And her good love and her great heart
Might all with eyen see.

It was the King’s son Hafbur
O’er his shoulder cast his eye,
And beheld how Signy’s house of maids
On a red low stood on high.

“Now take ye down my cloak of red,
Let it lie on the earth a-cold;
Had I ten lives of the world for one,
Nought of them all would I hold.”

King Siward looked out of his window fair,
In fearful mood enow,
For he saw Hafbur hanging on oak
And Signy’s bower on a low.

Out then spake a little page
Was clad in kirtle red:
“Sweet Signy burns in her bower aloft,
With all her mays unwed.”

Therewithal spake King Siward
From rueful heart unfain:
“Ne’er saw I two King’s children erst
Such piteous ending gain.

“But had I wist or heard it told
That love so strong should be,
Ne’er had I held those twain apart
For all Denmark given me.

O hasten and run to Signy’s bower
For the life of that sweet thing;
Hasten and run to the gallows high,
No thief is Hafbur the King.”

But when they came to Signy’s bower
Low it lay in embers red;
And when they came to the gallows tree,
Hafbur was stark and dead.

They took him the King’s son Hafbur,
Swathed him in linen white,
And laid him in the earth of Christ
By Signy his delight.
O wilt thou win me then,
or as fair a maid as I be?

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/m/morris/william/m87pb/chapter54.html

Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 22:07