The Story of the Volsungs

Appendix: Excerpts from the Poetic Edda.

Part of the Second Lay of Helgi Hundings-Bane 53

Helgi wedded Sigrun, and they begate sons together, but Helgi lived not to be old; for Dag, 54 the son of Hogni, sacrificed to Odin, praying that he might avenge his father. So Odin lent Dag his spear, and Dag met Helgi, his brother-inlaw, at a place called Fetter-grove, and thrust him through with that spear, and there fell Helgi dead; but Dag rode to Sevafell, and told Sigrun of the news.

DAG:

Loth am I, sister

Of sorrow to tell the,

For by hard need driven

Have I drawn on the greeting;

This morning fell

In Fetter-grove

The king well deemed

The best in the wide world,

Yea, he who stood

On the necks of the strong.”

SIGRUN:

All oaths once sworn

Shall bite thee sore,

The oaths that to Helgi

Once thou swarest

At the bright white

Water of Lightening, 55

And at the cold rock

That the sea runneth over.

May the ship sweep not on

That should sweep at its swiftest,

Though the wind desired

Behind thee driveth!

May the horse never run

That should run at his most might

When from thy foe’s face

Thou hast most need to flee!

May the sword never bite

That thou drawest from scabbard

But and if round thine head

In wrath it singeth!

Then should meet price be paid

For Helgi’s slaying

When a wolf thou wert

Out in the wild-wood,

Empty of good things

Empty of gladness,

With no meat for thy mouth

But dead men’s corpses!

DAG:

With mad words thou ravest,

Thy wits are gone from thee,

When thou for thy brother

Such ill fate biddest;

Odin alone

Let all this bale loose,

Casting the strife-runes

‘Twixt friends and kindred.

Rings of red gold

Will thy brother give thee,

And the stead of Vandil

And the lands of Vigdale;

Have half of the land

For thy sorrow’s healing,

O ring-arrayed sweetling

For thee and thy sons!

SIGRUN:

No more sit I happy

At Sevafell;

At day-dawn, at night

Naught love I my life

Till broad o’er the people

My lord’s light breaketh;

Till his war-horse runneth

Beneath him hither,

Well wont to the gold bit —

Till my king I welcome.

In such wise did Helgi

Deal fear around

To all his foes

And all their friends

As when the goat runneth

Before the wolf’s rage

Filled with mad fear

Down from the fell.

As high above all lords

Did Helgi beat him

As the ash-tree’s glory

From the thorn ariseth,

Or as the fawn

With the dew-fell sprinkled

Is far above

All other wild things,

As his horns go gleaming

‘Gainst the very heavens.

A barrow was raised above Helgi, but when he came in Valhall, then Odin bade him be lord of all things there, even as he; so Helgi sang —

HELGI:

Now shalt thou, Hunding

For the help of each man

Get ready the foot-bath,

And kindle the fire;

The hounds shalt thou bind

And give heed to the horses,

Give wash to the swine

Ere to sleep thou goest.

A bondmaid of Sigrun went in the evening-tide by Helgi’s mound, and there saw how Helgi rode toward it with a great company; then she sang —

BONDMAID:

It is vain things’ beguilling

That methinks I behold,

Or the ending of all things,

As ye ride, O ye dead men,

Smiting with spurs

Your horses’ sides?

Or may dead warriors

Wend their ways homeward?

THE DEAD:

No vain things’ beguiling

Is that thou beholdest,

Nor the ruin of all things;

Though thou lookest upon us,

Though we smite with spurs

Our horses’ sides;

Rather dead warriors

May wend their ways homeward.

Then went the bondmaid home, and told Sigrun, and sang —

BONDMAID:

Go out, Sigrun

From Sevafell,

If thou listest to look on

The lord of thy people!

For the mound is uncovered

Thither is Helgi come,

And his wounds are bleeding,

But the king thee biddeth

To come and stay

That stream of sorrow.

So Sigrun went into the mound to Helgi, and sang —

SIGRUN:

Now am I as fain

Of this fair meeting,

As are the hungry

Hawks of Odin,

When they wot of the slaying

Of the yet warm quarry,

Or bright with dew

See the day a-dawning.

Ah, I will kiss

My king laid lifeless,

Ere thou castest by

Thy blood-stained byrny.

O Helgi, thy hair

Is thick with death’s rime,

With the dew of the dead

Is my love all dripping;

Dead-cold are the hands

Of the son of Hogni;

How for thee, O my king,

May I win healing?

HELGI:

Thou alone, Sigrun

Of Sevafell,

Hast so done that Helgi

With grief’s dew drippeth;

O clad in gold

Cruel tears thou weepest,

Bright May of the Southlands,

Or ever thou sleepest;

Each tear in blood falleth

On the breast of thy lord,

Cold wet and bitter-sharp

Swollen with sorrow.

Ah, we shall drink

Dear draughts and lovely,

Though, we have lost

Both life and lands;

Neither shall any

Sing song of sorrow,

Though in my breast

Be wounds wide to behold:

For now are brides

In the mound abiding;

Kings’ daughters sit

By us departed.

Bow Sigrun arrayed a bed in the mound, and sang —

SIGRUN:

Here, Helgi, for thee

A bed have I dight,

Kind without woe,

O kin of the Ylfings!

To thy bosom, O king,

Will I come and sleep soft,

As I was wont

When my lord was living.

HELGI:

Now will I call

Naught not to be hoped for

Early or late

At Sevafell,

When thou in the arms

Of a dead man art laid,

White maiden of Hogni,

Here in the mound:

And thou yet quick,

O King’s daughter!

Now needs must I ride

On the reddening ways;

My pale horse must tread

The highway aloft;

West must I go

To Windhelm’s bridge

Ere the war-winning crowd

Hall-crower 56 waketh.

So Helgi rode his ways: and the others gat them gone home to the house. But the next night Sigrun bade the bondwoman have heed of the mound. So at nightfall, thenas Sigrun came to the mound, she sang:

SIGRUN:

Here now would he come,

If to come he were minded;

Sigmund’s offspring

From the halls of Odin.

O me the hope waneth

Of Helgi’s coming;

For high on the ash-boughs

Are the ernes abiding,

And all folk drift

Toward the Thing of the dreamland.

BONDMAID:

Be not foolish of heart,

And fare all alone

To the house of the dead,

O Hero’s daughter!

For more strong and dreadful

In the night season

Are all dead warriors

Than in the daylight.

But a little while lived Sigrun, because of her sorrow and trouble. But in old time folk trowed that men should be born again, though their troth be now deemed but an old wife’s dotting. And so, as folk say, Helgi and Sigrun were born again, and at that tide was he called Helgi the Scathe of Hadding, and she Kara the daughter of Halfdan; and she was a Valkyrie, even as is said in the Lay of Kara.

53 Only that part of the song is given which completes the episodes of Helgi Hunding’s-bane; the earlier part of the song differs little from the Saga.

54 Hogni, the father of Dar and Sigrun, had been slain by Helgi in battle, and Helgi had given peace to, and taken oaths of Dag.

55 One of the rivers of the under-world.

56 Hall-crower, “Salgofnir”: lit. Hall-gaper, the cock of Valhall.

Part of the Lay of Sigrdrifa 57

Now this is my first counsel,

That thou with thy kin

Be guiltless, guileless ever,

Nor hasty of wrath,

Despite of wrong done —

Unto the dead good that doeth.

Lo the second counsel,

That oath thou swearest never,

But trusty oath and true:

Grim tormenting

Gripes troth-breakers;

Cursed wretch is the wolf of vows.

This is my third rede,

That thou at the Thing

Deal not with the fools of folk;

For unwise man

From mouth lets fall

Worser word than well he wotteth.

Yet hard it is

That holding of peace

When men shall deem thee dastard,

Or deem the lie said soothly;

But woeful is home-witness,

Unless right good thou gettest it.

Ah, on another day

Drive the life from out him,

And pay the liar back for his lying.

Now behold the fourth rede:

If ill witch thee bideth,

Woe-begatting by the way,

Good going further

Rather than guesting,

Though thick night be on thee.

Far-seeing eyes

Need all sons of men

Who wend in wrath to war;

For baleful women

Bide oft by the highway,

Swords and hearts to soften.

And now the fifth rede:

As fair as thou seest

Brides on the bench abiding,

Let not love’s silver

Rule over thy sleeping;

Draw no woman to kind kissing!

For the sixth thing, I rede

When men sit a-drinking

Amid ale-words and ill-words,

Dead thou naught

With the drunken fight-staves

For wine stealeth wit from many.

Brawling and drink

Have brought unto men

Sorrow sore oft enow;

Yea, bane unto some,

And to some weary bale;

Many are the griefs of mankind.

For the seventh, I rede thee,

If strife thou raisest

With a man right high of heart,

Better fight a-field

Than burn in the fire

Within thine hall fair to behold.

The eighth rede that I give thee:

Unto all ill look thou,

And hold thine heart from all beguiling;

Draw to thee no maiden,

No man’s wife bewray thou,

Urge them not unto unmeet pleasure.

This is the ninth counsel:

That thou have heed of dead folk

Whereso thou findest them a-field;

Be they sick-dead,

Be they sea-dead,

Or come to ending by war-weapons.

Let bath be made

For such men fordone,

Wash thou hands and feet thereof,

Comb their hair and dry them

Ere the coffin has them;

Then bid them sleep full sweetly.

This for the tenth counsel:

That thou give trust never

Unto oaths of foeman’s kin,

Be’st thou bane of his brother,

Or hast thou felled his father;

Wolf in young son waxes,

Though he with gold be gladdened.

For wrong and hatred

Shall rest them never,

Nay, nor sore sorrow.

Both wit and weapons

Well must the king have

Who is fain to be the foremost.

The last rede and eleventh:

Until all ill look thou.

And watch thy friends’ ways ever

Scarce durst I look

For long life for thee, king:

Strong trouble ariseth now already.

57 This continues the first part of the lay given in Chapter XX of the Saga; and is, in fact, the original verse of Chapter xxi.

The Lay Called the Short Lay of Sigurd.

Sigurd of yore,

Sought the dwelling of Giuki,

As he fared, the young Volsung,

After fight won;

Troth he took

From the two brethren;

Oath swore they betwixt them,

Those bold ones of deed.

A may they gave to him

And wealth manifold,

Gudrun the young,

Giuki’s daughter:

They drank and gave doom

Many days together,

Sigurd the young,

And the sons of Giuki.

Until they wended

For Brynhild’s wooing,

Sigurd a-riding

Amidst their rout;

The wise young Volsung

Who knew of all ways —

Ah! He had wed her,

Had fate so willed it.

Southlander Sigurd

A naked sword,

Bright, well grinded,

Laid betwixt them;

No kiss he won

From the fair woman,

Nor in arms of his

Did the Hun King hold her,

Since he gat the young maid

For the son of Giuki.

No lack in her life

She wotted of now,

And at her death-day

No dreadful thing

For a shame indeed

Or a shame in seeming;

But about and betwixt

Went baleful fate.

Alone, abroad,

She sat of an evening,

Of full many things

She fall a-talking:

“O for my Sigurd!

I shall have death,

Or my fair, my lovely,

Laid in mine arms.

“For the word once spoken,

I sorrow sorely —

His queen is Gudrun,

I am wed to Gunnar;

The dread Norns wrought for us

A long while of woe.”

Oft with heart deep

In dreadful thoughts,

O’er ice-fields and ice-hills

She fared a-night time,

When he and Gudrun

Were gone to their fair bed,

And Sigurd wrapped

The bed-gear round her.

“Ah! Now the Hun King

His queen in arms holdeth,

While love I go lacking,

And all things longed for

With no delight

But in dreadful thought.”

These dreadful things

Thrust her toward murder:

— “Listen, Gunnar,

For thou shalt lose

My wide lands,

Yea, me myself!

Never love I my life,

With thee for my lord —

“I will fare back thither

From whence I came,

To my nighest kin

And those that know me

There shall I sit

Sleeping my life away,

Unless thou slayest

Sigurd the Hun King,

Making thy might more

E’en than his might was!

“Yea, let the son fare

After the father,

And no young wolf

A long while nourish!

For on earth man lieth

Vengeance lighter,

And peace shall be surer

If the son live not.”

Adrad was Gunnar,

Heavy-hearted was he,

And in doubtful mood

Day-long he sat.

For naught he wotted,

Nor might see clearly

What was the seemliest

Of deeds to set hand to;

What of all deeds

Was best to be done:

For he minded the vows

Sworn to the Volsung,

And the sore wrong

To be wrought against Sigurd.

Wavered his mind

A weary while,

No wont it was

Of those days worn by,

That queens should flee

From the realms of their kings.

“Brynhild to me

Is better than all,

The child of Budli

Is the best of women.

Yea, and my life

Will I lay down,

Ere I am twinned

From that woman’s treasure.”

He bade call Hogni

To the place where he bided;

With all the trust that might be,

Trowed he in him.

“Wilt thou bewray Sigurd

For his wealth’s sake?

Good it is to rule

O’er the Rhine’s metal;

And well content

Great wealth to wield,

Biding in peace

And blissful days.”

One thing alone Hogni

Had for an answer:

“Such doings for us

Are naught seemly to do;

To rend with sword

Oaths once sworn,

Oaths once sworn,

And troth once plighted.

“Nor know we on mould,

Men of happier days,

The while we four

Rule over the folk;

While the bold in battle,

The Hun King, bides living.

“And no nobler kin

Shall be known afield,

If our five sons

We long may foster;

Yea, a goodly stem

Shall surely wax.

— But I clearly see

In what wise it standeth,

Brynhild’s sore urging

O’ermuch on thee beareth.

“Guttorm shall we

Get for the slaying,

Our younger brother

Bare of wisdom;

For he was out of

All the oaths sworn,

All the oaths sworn,

And the plighted troth.”

Easy to rouse him

Who of naught recketh!

— Deep stood the sword

In the heart of Sigurd.

There, in the hall,

Gat the high-hearted vengeance;

For he can his sword

At the reckless slayer:

Out at Guttorm

Flew Gram the mighty,

The gleaming steel

From Sigurd’s hand.

Down fell the slayer

Smitten asunder;

The heavy head

And the hands fell one way,

But the feet and such like

Aback where they stood.

Gudrun was sleeping

Soft in the bed,

Empty of sorrow

By the side of Sigurd:

When she awoke

With all pleasure gone,

Swimming in blood

Of Frey’s beloved.

So sore her hands

She smote together,

That the great-hearted

Gat raised in bed;

— “O Gudrun, weep not

So woefully,

Sweet lovely bride,

For thy brethren live for thee!

“A young child have I

For heritor;

Too young to win forth

From the house of his foes. —

Black deeds and ill

Have they been a-doing,

Evil rede

Have they wrought at last.

“Late, late, rideth with them

Unto the Thing,

Such sister’s son,

Though seven thou bear, —

— But well I wot

Which way all goeth;

Alone wrought Brynhild

This bale against us.

“That maiden loved me

Far before all men,

Yet wrong to Gunnar

I never wrought;

Brotherhood I heeded

And all bounden oaths,

That none should deem me

His queen’s darling.”

Weary sighed Gudrun,

As the king gat ending,

And so sore her hands

She smote together,

That the cups arow

Rang out therewith,

And the geese cried on high

That were in the homefield.

Then laughed Brynhild

Budli’s daughter,

Once, once only,

From out her heart;

When to her bed

Was borne the sound

Of the sore greeting

Of Giuki’s daughter.

Then, quoth Gunnar,

The king, the hawk-bearer,

“Whereas, thou laughest,

O hateful woman,

Glad on thy bed,

No good it betokeneth:

Why lackest thou else

Thy lovely hue?

Feeder of foul deeds,

Fey do I deem thee,

“Well worthy art thou

Before all women,

That thine eyes should see

Atli slain of us;

That thy brother’s wounds

Thou shouldest see a-bleeding,

That his bloody hurts

Thine hands should bind.”

“No man blameth thee, Gunnar,

Thou hast fulfilled death’s measure

But naught Atli feareth

All thine ill will;

Life shall he lay down

Later than ye,

And still bear more might

Aloft than thy might.

“I shall tell thee, Gunnar,

Though well the tale thou knowest,

In what early days

Ye dealt abroad your wrong:

Young was I then,

Worn with no woe,

Good wealth I had

In the house of my brother!

“No mind had I

That a man should have me,

Or ever ye Giukings,

Rode into our garth;

There ye sat on your steeds

Three kings of the people —

— Ah! That that faring

Had never befallen!

“Then spake Atli

To me apart,

And said that no wealth

He would give unto me,

Neither gold nor lands

If I would not be wedded;

Nay, and no part

Of the wealth apportioned,

Which in my first days

He gave me duly;

Which in my first days

He counted down.

“Wavered the mind

Within me then,

If to fight I should fall

And the felling of folk,

Bold in Byrny

Because of my brother;

A deed of fame

Had that been to all folk,

But to many a man

Sorrow of mind.

“So I let all sink

Into peace at the last:

More grew I minded

For the mighty treasure,

The red-shining rings

Of Sigmund’s son;

For no man’s wealth else

Would I take unto me.

“For myself had I given

To that great king

Who sat amid gold

On the back of Grani;

Nought were his eyes

Like to your eyen,

Nor in any wise

Went his visage with yours;

Though ye might deem you

Due kings of men.

“One I loved,

One, and none other,

The gold-decked may

Had no doubtful mind;

Thereof shall Atli

Wot full surely,

When he getteth to know

I am gone to the dead.

“Far be it from me,

Feeble and wavering,

Ever to love

Another’s love —

— Yes shall my woe

Be well avenged.”

Up rose Gunnar,

The great men’s leader,

And cast his arms

About the queen’s neck;

And all went nigh

One after other,

With their whole hearts

Her heart to turn.

But then all these

From her neck she thrust,

Of her long journey

No man should let her.

Then called he Hogni

To have talk with him;

“Let all folk go

Forth into the hall,

Thine with mine —

— O need sore and mighty! —

To wot if we yet

My wife’s parting may stay.

Till with time’s wearing

Some hindrance wax.”

One answer Hogni

Had for all;

“Nay, let hard need

Have rule thereover,

And no man let her

Of her long journey!

Never born again,

May she come back thence!

“Luckless she came

To the lap of her mother,

Born into the world

For utter woe,

TO many a man

For heart-whole mourning.”

Upraised he turned

From the talk and the trouble,

To where the gem-field

Dealt out goodly treasure;

As she looked and beheld

All the wealth that she had,

And the hungry bondmaids,

And maids of the hall.

With no good in her heart

She donned her gold byrny,

Ere she thrust the sword point

Through the midst of her body:

On the boister’s far side

Sank she adown,

And, smitten with sword,

Still bethought her of redes.

“Let all come forth

Who are fain the red gold,

Or things less worthy

To win from my hands;

To each one I give

A necklace gilt over,

Wrought hangings and bed=gear,

And bright woven weed.”

All they kept silence,

And thought what to speak,

Then all at once

Answer gave:

“Full enow are death-doomed,

Fain are we to live yet,

Maids of the hall

All meet work winning.”

“From her wise heart at last

The linen-clad damsel,

The one of few years

Gave forth the word:

“I will that none driven

By hand or by word,

For our sake should lose

Well-loved life.

“Thou on the bones of you

Surely shall burn,

Less dear treasure

At your departing

Nor with Menia’s Meal 58

Shall ye come to see me.”

“Sit thee down, Gunnar,

A word must I say to thee

Of the life’s ruin

Of thy lightsome bride —

— Nor shall thy ship

Swim soft and sweetly

For all that I

Lay life adown.

“Sooner than ye might deem

Shall ye make peace with Gudrun,

For the wise woman

Shall full in the young wife

The hard memory

Of her dead husband.

“There is a may born

Reared by her mother,

Whiter and brighter

Than is the bright day;

She shall be Swanhild,

She shall be Sunbeam.

“Thou shalt give Gudrun

Unto a great one,

Noble, well-praised

Of the world’s folk;

Not with her goodwill,

Or love shalt thou give her;

Yet will Atli

Come to win her,

My very brother,

Born of Budli.

— “Ah! Many a memory

Of how ye dealt with me,

How sorely, how evilly

Ye ever beguiled me,

How all pleasure left me

The while my life lasted! —

“Fain wilt thou be

Oddrun to win,

But thy good liking

Shall Atli let;

But in secret wise

Shall ye win together,

And she shall love thee

As I had loved thee,

If in such wise

Fare had willed it.

“But with all ill

Shall Atli sting thee,

Into the strait worm-close

Shall he cast thee.

“But no long space

Shall slip away

Ere Atli too

All life shall lose,

Yea, all his weal

With the life of his sons,

For a dreadful bed

Dights Gudrun for him,

From a heart sore laden,

With the sword’s sharp edge.

“More seemly for Gudrun,

Your very sister,

In death to wend after

Her love first wed;

Had but good rede

To her been given,

Or if her heart

Had been like to my heart.

— “Faint my speech groweth —

But for our sake

Ne’er shall she lose

Her life beloved;

The sea shall have her,

High billows bear her

Forth unto Jonakr’s

Fair land of his fathers.

“There shall she bear sons,

Stays of a heritage,

Stays of a heritage,

Jonakr’s sons;

And Swanhild shall she

Send from the land,

That may born of her,

The may born of Sigurd.

“Her shall bite

The rede of Bikki,

Whereas for no good

Wins Jormunrek life;

And so is clean perished

All the kin of Sigurd,

Yea, and more greeting,

And more for Gudrun.

“And now one prayer

Yet pray I of thee —

That last word of mine

Here in the world —

So broad on the field

Be the burg of the dead

That fair space may be left

For us all to lie down,

All those that died

At Sigurd’s death!

“Hang round that burg

Fair hangings and shields,

Web by Gauls woven,

And folk of the Gauls:

There burn the Hun King

Lying beside me.

“But on the other side

Burn by the Hun King

Those who served me

Strewn with treasure;

Two at the head,

And two at the feet,

Two hounds therewith,

And two hawks moreover:

Then is all dealt

With even dealing.

“Lay there amidst us

The right-dight metal,

The sharp-edged steel,

That so lay erst;

When we both together

Into one bed went,

And were called by the name

Of man and wife.

“Never, then, belike

Shall clash behind him

Valhall’s bright door

With rings bedight:

And if my fellowship

Followeth after,

In no wretched wise

Then shall we wend.

“For him shall follow

My five bondmaids,

My eight bondsmen,

No borel folk:

Yea, and my fosterer,

And my father’s dower

That Budli of old days

Gave to his dear child.

“Much have I spoken,

More would I speak,

If the sword would give me

Space for speech;

But my words are waning,

My wounds are swelling —

Naught but truth have I told —

— And now make I ending.”

58 “Menia’s Maid” — periphrasis for gold.

THE HELL-RIDE OF BRYNHILD.

After the death of Brynhild were made two bales, one for Sigurd, and that was first burned; but Brynhild was burned on the other, and she was in a chariot hung about with goodly hangings.

And so folk say that Brynhild drave in her chariot down along the way to Hell, and passed by an abode where dwelt a certain giantess, and the giantess spake:—

THE GIANT-WOMAN

“Nay, with my goodwill

Never goest thou

Through this stone-pillared

Stead of mine!

More seemly for thee

To sit sewing the cloth,

Than to go look on

The love of another.

“What dost thou, going

From the land of the Gauls,

O restless head,

To this mine house?

Golden girl, hast thou not,

If thou listest to hearken,

In sweet wise from thy hands

The blood of men washen?”

BRYNHILD

“Nay, blame me naught,

Bride of the rock-hall,

Though I roved a warring

In the days that were;

The higher of us twain

Shall I ever be holden

When of our kind

Men make account.”

THE GIANT-WOMAN

“Thou, O Brynhild,

Budli’s daughter,

Wert the worst ever born

Into the world;

For Giuki’s children

Death hast thou gotten,

And turned to destruction

Their goodly dwelling.”

BRYNHILD

“I shall tell thee

True tale from my chariot,

O thou who naught wottest,

If thou listest to wot;

How for me they have gotten

Those heirs of Giuki,

A loveless life,

A life of lies.

“Hild under helm,

The Hlymdale people,

E’en those who knew me,

Ever would call me.

“The changeful shapes

Of us eight sisters,

The wise king bade

Under oak-tree to bear;

Of twelve winters was I,

If thou listest to wot,

When I sware to the young lord

Oaths of love.

“Thereafter gat I

Mid the folk of the Goths,

For Helmgunnar the old,

Swift journey to Hell,

And gave to Aud’s brother

The young, gain and glory;

Whereof overwrath

Waxed Odin with me.

“So he shut me in shield-wall

In Skata grove,

Red shields and white

Close set around me;

And bade him alone

My slumber to break

Who in no land

Knew how to fear.

“He set round my hall,

Toward the south quarter,

The Bane of all trees

Burning aloft;

And ruled that he only

Thereover should ride

Who should bring me the gold

O’er which Fafnir brooded.

“Then upon Grani rode

The goodly gold-strewer

To where my fosterer

Ruled his fair dwelling.

He who alone there

Was deemed best of all,

The War-lord of the Danes,

Well worthy of men.

“In peace did we sleep

Soft in one bed,

As though he had been

Naught but my brother:

There as we lay

Through eight nights wearing,

No hand in love

On each other we laid.

“Yet thence blamed me, Gudrun,

Giuki’s daughter,

That I had slept

In the arms of Sigurd;

And then I wotted

As I fain had not wotted,

That they had bewrayed me

In my betrothals.

“Ah! For unrest

All too long

Are men and women

Made alive!

Yet we twain together

Shall wear through the ages,

Sigurd and I. —

— Sink adown, O giant-wife!”

FRAGMENTS OF THE LAY OF BRYNHILD

HOGNI SAID:

“What hath wrought Sigurd

Of any wrong-doing

That the life of the famed one

Thou art fain of taking?”

GUNNAR SAID:

“To me has Sigurd

Sworn many oaths,

Sworn many oaths,

And sworn them lying,

And he bewrayed me

When it behoved him

Of all folk to his troth

To be the most trusty.”

HOGNI SAID:

“Thee hath Brynhild

Unto all bale,

And all hate whetted,

And a work of sorrow;

For she grudges to Gudrun

All goodly life;

And to thee the bliss

Of her very body.”

*******

Some the wolf roasted,

Some minced the worm,

Some unto Guttorm

Gave the wolf-meat,

Or ever they might

In their lust for murder

On the high king

Lay deadly hand.

Sigurd lay slain

On the south of the Rhine

High from the fair tree

Croaked forth the raven,

“Ah, yet shall Atli

On you redden edges,

The old oaths shall weigh

On your souls, O warriors.”

Without stood Gudrun,

Giuki’s daughter,

And the first word she said

Was even this word:

“Where then is Sigurd,

Lord of the Warfolk,

Since my kin

Come riding the foremost?

One word Hogni

Had for an answer:

“Our swords have smitten

Sigurd asunder,

And the grey horse hangs drooping

O’er his lord lying dead.”

Then quoth Brynhild,

Budli’s daughter;

“Good weal shall ye have

Of weapons and lands,

That Sigurd alone

Would surely have ruled

If he had lived

But a little longer.

“Ah, nothing seemly

For Sigurd to rule

Giuki’s house

And the folk of the Goths,

When of him five sons

For the slaying of men,

Eager for battle,

Should have been begotten!”

Then laughed Brynhild —

Loud rang the whole house —

One laugh only

From out her heart:

“Long shall your bliss be

Of lands and people,

Whereas the famed lord

You have felled to the earth!”

Then spake Gudrun,

Giuki’s daughter;

“Much thou speakest,

Many things fearful,

All grame be on Gunnar

The bane of Sigurd!

From a heart full of hate

Shall come heavy vengeance.”

Forth sped the even

Enow there was drunken,

Full enow was there

Of all soft speech;

And all men got sleep

When to bed they were gotten;

Gunnar only lay waking

Long after all men.

His feet fell he to moving,

Fell to speak to himself

The waster of men,

Still turned in his mind

What on the bough

Those twain would be saying,

The raven and erne,

As they rode their ways homeward.

But Brynhild awoke,

Budli’s daughter,

May of the shield-folk,

A little ere morning:

“Thrust ye on, hold ye back,

— Now all harm is wrought, —

To tell of my sorrow,

Or to let all slip by me?”

All kept silence

After her speaking,

None might know

That woman’s mind,

Or why she must weep

To tell of the work

That laughing once

Of men she prayed.

BRYNHILD SPAKE:

“In dreams, O Gunnar,

Grim things fell on me;

Dead-cold the hall was,

And my bed was a-cold,

And thou, lord, wert riding

Reft of all bliss,

Laden with fetters

‘Mid the host of thy foemen.”

“So now all ye,

O House of the Niblungs,

Shall be brought to naught,

O ye oath-breakers!

“Think’st thou not, Gunnar,

How that betid,

When ye let the blood run

Both in one footstep?

With ill reward

Hast thou rewarded

His heart so fain

To be the foremost!

“As well was seen

When he rode his ways,

That king of all worth,

Unto my wooing;

How the host-destroyer

Held to the vows

Sworn beforetime,

Sworn to the young king.

“For his wounding-wand

All wrought with gold,

The king beloved

Laid between us;

Without were its edges

Wrought with fire,

But with venom-drops

Deep dyed within.”

Thus this song telleth of the death of Sigurd, and setteth forth how that they slew him without doors; but some say that they slew him within doors, sleeping in his bed. But the Dutch Folk say that they slew him out in the wood: and so sayeth the ancient song of Gudrun, that Sigurd and the sons of Giuki were riding to the Thing whenas he was slain. But all with one accord say that they bewrayed him in their troth with him, and fell on him as he lay unarrayed and unawares.

THE SECOND OR ANCIENT LAY OF GUDRUN.

Thiodrek the King was in Atli’s house, and had lost there the more part of his men: so there Thiodrek and Gudrun bewailed their troubles one to the other, and she spake and said:—

A may of all mays

My mother reared me

Bright in bower;

Well loved I my brethren,

Until that Giuki

With gold arrayed me,

With gold arrayed me,

And gave me to Sigurd.

Such was my Sigurd,

Among the sons of Giuki

As is the green leek

O’er the low grass waxen,

Or a hart high-limbed

Over hurrying deer,

Or glede-red gold

Over grey silver.

Till me they begrudged,

Those my brethren,

The fate to have him,

Who was first of all men;

Nor might they sleep,

Nor sit a-dooming,

Ere they let slay

My well-loved Sigurd.

Grani ran to the Thing,

There was clatter to hear,

But never came Sigurd

Himself thereunto;

All the saddle-girt beasts

With blood were besprinkled,

As faint with the way

Neath the slayers they went.

Then greeting I went

With Grani to talk,

And with tear-furrowed cheeks

I bade him tell all;

But drooping laid Grani,

His head in the grass,

For the steed well wotted

Of his master’s slaying.

A long while I wandered,

Long my mind wavered,

Ere the kings I might ask

Concerning my king.

Then Gunnar hung head,

But Hogni told

Of the cruel slaying

Of my Sigurd:

“On the water’s far side

Lies, smitten to death,

The bane of Guttorm

To the wolves given over.

“Go, look on Sigurd,

On the ways that go southward,

There shalt thou hear

The ernes high screaming,

The ravens a-croaking

As their meat they crave for;

Thou shalt hear the wolves howling

Over thine husband.

“How hast thou, Hogni,

The heart to tell me,

Me of joy made empty,

Of such misery?

Thy wretched heart

May the ravens tear

Wide over the world,

With no men mayst thou wend.”

One thing Hogni

Had for answer,

Fallen from his high heart,

Full of all trouble:

“More greeting yet,

O Gudrun, for thee,

If my heart the ravens

Should rend asunder!”

Thence I turned

From the talk and the trouble

To go a leasing 59

What the wolves had left me;

No sigh I made

No smote hands together,

Nor did I wail

As other women

When I sat over

My Sigurd slain.

Night methought it,

And the moonless dark,

When I sat in sorrow

Over Sigurd;

Better than all things

I deemed it would be

If they would let me

Cast my life by,

Or burn me up

As they burn the birch-wood.

From the fell I wandered

Five days together,

Until the high hall

Of Half lay before me;

Seven seasons there

I sat with Thora,

The daughter of Hacon,

Up in Denmark.

My heart to gladden

With gold she wrought

Southland halls

And swans of the Dane-folk;

There had we painted

The chiefs a-playing;

Fair our hands wrought

Folk of the kings.

Red shields we did,

Doughty knights of the Huns,

Hosts spear-dight, hosts helm-dight,

All a high king’s fellows;

And the ships of Sigmund

From the land swift sailing;

Heads gilt over

And prows fair graven.

On the cloth we broidered

That tide of their battling,

Siggeir and Siggar,

South in Fion.

Then heard Grimhild,

The Queen of Gothland,

How I was abiding,

Weighed down with woe;

And she thrust the cloth from her

And called to her sons,

And oft and eagerly

Asked them thereof,

Who for her son

Would their sister atone,

Who for her lord slain

Would lay down weregild.

Fain was Gunnar

Gold to lay down

All wrongs to atone for,

And Hogni in likewise;

Then she asked who was fain

Of faring straightly,

The steed to saddle

To set forth the wain,

The horse to back,

And the hawk to fly,

To shoot forth the arrow

From out the yew-bow.

Valdarr the Dane-king

Came with Jarisleif

Eymod the third went

Then went Jarizskar;

In kingly wise

In they wended,

The host of the Longbeards;

Red cloaks had they,

Byrnies short-cut,

Helms strong hammered,

Girt with glaives,

And hair red-gleaming.

Each would give me

Gifts desired,

Gifts desired,

Speech dear to my heart,

If they might yet,

Despite my sorrow,

Win back my trust,

But in them nought I trusted.

Then brought me Grimhild

A beaker to drink of,

Cold and bitter,

Wrong’s memory to quench;

Made great was that drink

With the might of the earth,

With the death-cold sea

And the blood that Son 60 holdeth.

On that horn’s face were there

All the kin of letters

Cut aright and reddened,

How should I rede them rightly?

The ling-fish long

Of the land of Hadding,

Wheat-ears unshorn,

And wild things’ inwards.

In that mead were mingled

Many ills together,

Blood of all the wood,

And brown-burnt acorns;

The black dew of the hearth, 61

And god-doomed dead beasts’ inwards

And the swine’s liver sodden,

For wrongs late done that deadens.

Then waned my memory

When that was within me,

Of my lord ‘mid the hall

By the iron laid low.

Three kings came

Before my knees

Ere she herself

Fell to speech with me.

“I will give to thee, Gudrun,

Gold to be glad with,

All the great wealth

Of thy father gone from us,

Rings of red gold

And the great hall of Lodver,

And all fair hangings left

By the king late fallen.

“Maids of the Huns

Woven pictures to make,

And work fair in gold

Till thou deem’st thyself glad.

Alone shalt thou rule

O’er the riches of Budli,

Shalt be made great with gold,

And be given to Atli.”

“Never will I

Wend to a husband,

Or wed the brother

Of Queen Brynhild;

Naught it beseems me

With the son of Budli

Kin to bring forth,

Or to live and be merry.”

“Nay, the high chiefs

Reward not with hatred,

For take heed that I

Was the first in this tale!

To thy heart shall it be

As if both these had life,

Sigurd and Sigmund,

When thou hast borne sons.”

“Naught may I, Grimhild,

Seek after gladness,

Nor deem aught hopeful

Of any high warrior,

Since wolf and raven

Were friends together,

The greedy, the cruel,

O’er great Sigurd’s heart-blood.”

“Of all men that can be

For the noblest of kin

This king have I found,

And the foremost of all;

Him shalt thou have

Till with eld thou art heavy —

Be thou ever unwed,

If thou wilt naught of him!”

“Nay, nay, bid me not

With thy words long abiding

To take unto me

That balefullest kin;

This king shall bid Gunnar

Be stung to his bane,

And shall cut the heart

From out of Hogni.

“Nor shall I leave life

Ere the keen lord,

The eager in sword-play,

My hand shall make end of.”

Grimhild a-weeping

Took up the word then,

When the sore bale she wotted

Awaiting her sons,

And the bane hanging over

Her offspring beloved.

“I will give thee, moreover,

Great lands, many men,

Wineberg and Valberg,

If thou wilt but have them;

Hold them lifelong,

And live happy, O daughter!”

“Then him must I take

From among kingly men,

‘Gainst my heart’s desire,

From the hands of my kinsfolk;

But no joy I look

To have from that lord:

Scarce may my brother’s bane

Be a shield to my sons.”

Soon was each warrior

Seen on his horse,

But the Gaulish women

Into wains were gotten;

Then seven days long

O’er a cold land we rode,

And for seven other

Clove we the sea-waves.

But with the third seven

O’er dry land we wended.

There the gate-wardens

Of the burg, high and wide,

Unlooked the barriers

Ere the burg-garth we rode to —

*****
*****

Atli woke me

When meseemed I was

Full evil of heart

For my kin dead slain.

“In such wise did the Norns

Wake me or now.” —

Fain was he to know

Of this ill foreshowing —

“That methought, O Gudrun,

Giuki’s daughter,

That thou setst in my heart

A sword wrought for guile.”

“For fires tokening I deem it

That dreaming of iron,

But for pride and for lust

The wrath of fair women

Against some bale

Belike, I shall burn thee

For thy solace and healing

Though hateful thou art.”

“In the fair garth methought

Had saplings fallen

E’en such as I would

Should have waxen ever;

Uprooted were these,

And reddened with blood,

And borne to the bench,

And folk bade me eat of them.

“Methought from my hand then

Went hawks a-flying

Lacking their meat

To the land of all ill;

Methought that their hearts

Mingled with honey,

Swollen with blood

I ate amid sorrow.

“Lo, next two whelps

From my hands I loosened,

Joyless were both,

And both a-howling;

And now their flesh

Became naught but corpses,

Whereof must I eat

But sore against my will.”

“O’er the prey of the fishers

Will folk give doom;

From the bright white fish

The heads will they take;

Within a few nights,

Fey as they are,

A little ere day

Of that draught will they eat.”

“Ne’er since lay I down,

Ne’er since would I sleep,

Hard of heart, in my bed:—

That deed have I to do. 62

59 The original has “a vid lesa”. “Leasing” is the word still used for gleaning in many country sides in England.

60 Son was the vessel into which was poured the blood of Quasir, the God of Poetry.

61 This means soot.

62 The whole of this latter part is fragmentary and obscure; there seems wanting to two of the dreams some trivial interpretation by Gudrun, like those given by Hogni to Kostbera in the Saga, of which nature, of course, the interpretation contained in the last stanza but one is, as we have rendered it: another rendering, from the different reading of the earlier edition of “Edda” (Copenhagen, 1818) would make this refer much more directly to the slaying of her sons by Gudrun.

THE SONG OF ATLI.

Gudrun, Giuki’s daughter, avenger her brethren, as is told far and wide; first she slew the sons of Atli, and then Atli himself; and she burned the hall thereafter, and all the household with it: and about these matters is this song made:—

In days long gone

Sent Atli to Gunnar

A crafty one riding,

Knefrud men called him;

To Giuki’s garth came he,

To the hall of Gunnar,

To the benches gay-dight,

And the gladsome drinking.

There drank the great folk

‘Mid the guileful one’s silence,

Drank wine in their fair hall:

The Huns’ wrath they feared

When Knefrud cried

In his cold voice,

As he sat on the high seat,

That man of the Southland:

“Atli has sent me

Riding swift on his errands

On the bit-griping steed

Through dark woodways unbeaten,

To bid thee, King Gunnar,

Come to his fair bench

With helm well-adorned,

To the house of King Atli.

“Shield shall ye have there

And spears ashen-shafted,

Helms ruddy with gold,

And hosts of the Huns;

Saddle-gear silver gilt,

Shirts red as blood,

The hedge of the warwife,

And horses bit-griping.

“And he saith he will give you

Gnitaheath widespread,

And whistling spears

And prows well-gilded,

Might wealth

With the stead of Danpi,

And that noble wood

Men name the Murkwood.”

Then Gunnar turned head

And spake unto Hogni:

“What rede from thee, high one,

Since such things we hear?

No gold know I

On Gnitaheath,

That we for our parts

Have not portion as great.

“Seven halls we have

Fulfilled of swords,

And hilts of gold

Each sword there has;

My horse is the best,

My blade is the keenest;

Fair my bow o’er the bench is,

Gleams my byrny with gold;

Brightest helm, brightest shield,

From Kiar’s dwelling ere brought —

Better all things I have

Than all things of the Huns.”

HOGNI SAID:

“What mind has our sister

That a ring she hath sent us

In weed of wolves clad?

Bids she not to be wary?

For a wolf’s hair I found

The fair ring wreathed about;

Wolf beset shall the way be

If we wend on this errand.”

No sons whetted Gunnar,

Nor none of his kin,

Nor learned men nor wise men,

Nor such as were mighty.

Then spake Gunnar

E’en as a king should speak,

Glorious in mead-hall

From great heart and high:

“Rise up now, Fiornir,

Forth down the benches

Let the gold-cups of great ones

Pass in hands of my good-men!

Well shall we drink wine,

Draughts dear to our hearts,

Though the last of all feasts

In our fair house this be!

“For the wolves shall rule

O’er the wealth of the Niblungs,

With the pine-woods’ wardens

In Gunnar perish:

And the black-felled bears

With fierce teeth shall bite

For the glee of the dog kind,

If again comes not Gunnar.”

Then good men never shamed,

Greeting aloud,

Led the great king of men

From the garth of his home;

And cried the fair son

Of Hogni the king:

“Fare happy, O Lords,

Whereso your hearts lead you!”

Then the bold knights

Let their bit-griping steeds

Wend swift o’er the fells,

Tread the murk-wood unknown,

All the Hunwood was shaking

As the hardy ones fared there;

O’er the green meads they urged

Their steeds shy of the goad.

Then Atli’s land saw they;

Great towers and strong,

And the bold men of Bikki,

Aloft on the burg:

The Southland folks’ hall

Set with benches about,

Dight with bucklers well bounden,

And bright white shining shields.

There drank Atli,

The awful Hun king,

Wine in his fair hall;

Without were the warders,

Gunnar’s folk to have heed of,

Lest they had fared thither

With the whistling spear

War to wake ‘gainst the king.

But first came their sister

As they came to the hall,

Both her brethren she met,

With beer little gladdened:

“Bewrayed art thou, Gunnar!

What dost thou great king

To deal war to the Huns?

Go thou swift from the hall!

Better, brother, hadst thou

Fared here in thy byrny

Than with helm gaily dight

Looked on Atli’s great house:

Them hadst sat then in saddle

Through days bright with the sun

Fight to awaken

And fair fields to redden:

“O’er the folk fate makes pale

Should the Norn’s tears have fallen,

The shield mays of the Huns

Should have known of all sorrow;

And King Atli himself

To worm-close should be brought;

But now is the worm-close

Kept but for thee.”

Then spake Gunnar

Great ‘mid the people:

“Over-late sister

The Niblungs to summon;

A long way to seek

The helping of warriors,

The high lord unshamed,

From the hills of the Rhine!”

*****
*****

Seven Hogni beat down

With his sword sharp-grinded,

And the eighth man he thrust

Amidst of the fire.

Ever so shall famed warrior

Fight with his foemen,

As Hogni fought

For the hand of Gunnar.

But on Gunnar they fell,

And set him in fetters,

And bound hard and fast

That friend of Burgundians;

Then the warrior they asked

If he would buy life,

But life with gold

That king of the Goths.

Nobly spake Gunnar,

Great lord of the Niblungs;

“Hogni’s bleeding heart first

Shall lie in mine hand,

Cut from the breast

Of the bold-riding lord,

With bitter-sharp knife

From the son of the king.”

With guile the great one

Would they beguile,

On the wailing thrall

Laid they hand unwares,

And cut the heart

From out of Hjalli,

Laid it bleeding on trencher

And bare it to Gunnar.

“Here have I the heart

Of Hjalli the trembler,

Little like the heart

Of Hogni the hardy:

As much as it trembleth

Laid on the trencher

By the half more it trembled

In the breast of him hidden.”

Then laughed Hogni

When they cut the heart from him,

From the crest-smith yet quick,

Little thought he to quail.

The hard acorn of thought

From the high king they took,

Laid it bleeding on trencher

And bare it Gunnar.

“Here have I the heart

Of Hogni the hardy,

Little like to the heart

Of Hjalli the trembler.

Howso little it quaketh

Laid here on the dish,

Yet far less it quaked

In the breast of him laid.

“So far mayst thou bide

From men’s eyen, O Atli,

As from that treasure

Thou shalt abide!

“Behold in my heart

Is hidden for ever

That hoard of the Niblungs,

Now Hogni is dead.

Doubt threw me two ways

While the twain of us lived,

But all that is gone

Now I live on alone.

“The great Rhine shall rule

O’er the hate-raising treasure,

That gold of the Niblungs,

The seed of the gods:

In the weltering water

Shall that wealth lie a-gleaming,

Or it shine on the hands

Of the children of Huns!”

Then cried Atli,

King of the Hun-folk,

“Drive forth your wains now

The slave is fast bounden.”

And straightly thence

The bit-shaking steeds

Drew the hoard-warden,

The war-god to his death.

Atli the great king,

Rode upon Glaum,

With shields set round about,

And sharp thorns of battle:

Gudrun, bound by wedlock

To these, victory made gods of,

Held back her tears

As the hall she ran into.

“Let it fare with thee, Atli,

E’en after thine oaths sworn

To Gunnar fell often;

Yea, oaths sworn of old time,

By the sun sloping southward,

By the high burg of Sigry,

By the fair bed of rest,

By the red ring of Ull!”

Now a host of men

Cast the high king alive

Into a close

Crept o’er within

With most foul worms,

Fulfilled of all venom,

Ready grave to dig

In his doughty heart.

Wrathful-hearted he smote

The harp with his hand,

Gunnar laid there alone;

And loud rang the strings. —

In such wise ever

Should hardy ring-scatterer

Keep gold from all folk

In the garth of his foeman.

Then Atli would wend

About his wide land,

On his steed brazen shod,

Back from the murder.

Din there was in the garth,

All thronged with the horses;

High the weapon-song rose

From men come from the heath.

Out then went Gudrun,

‘Gainst Atli returning,

With a cup gilded over,

To greet the land’s ruler;

“Come, then, and take it,

King glad in thine hall,

From Gudrun’s hands,

For the hell-farers groan not!”

Clashed the beakers of Atli,

Wine-laden on bench,

As in hall there a-gathered,

The Huns fell a-talking,

And the long-bearded eager ones

Entered therein,

From a murk den new-come,

From the murder of Gunnar.

Then hastened the sweet-faced

Delight of the shield-folk,

Bright in the fair hall,

Wine to bear to them:

The dreadful woman

Gave dainties withal

To the lords pale with fate,

Laid strange word upon Atli:

“The hearts of thy sons

Hast thou eaten, sword-dealer,

All bloody with death

And drenched with honey:

In most heavy mood

Brood o’er venison of men!

Drink rich draughts therewith,

Down the high benches send it!

“Never callest thou now

From henceforth to thy knee

Fair Erp or fair Eiril,

Bright-faced with the drink;

Never seest thou them now

Amidmost the seat,

Scattering the gold,

Or shafting of spears;

Manes trimming duly,

Or driving steeds forth!”

Din arose from the benches,

Dread song of men was there,

Noise ‘mid the fair hangings,

As all Hun’s children wept;

All saving Gudrun,

Who never gat greeting,

For her brethren bear-hardy

For her sweet sons and bright,

The young ones, the simple

Once gotten with Atli.

*****
*****

The seed of gold

Sowed the swan-bright woman,

Rings of red gold

She gave to the house-carls;

Fate let she wax,

Let the bright gold flow forth,

In naught spared that woman

The store-houses’ wealth.

Atli unaware

Was a-weary with drink;

No weapon had he,

No heeding of Gudrun —

Ah, the pity would be better,

When in soft wise they twain

Would full often embrace

Before the great lords!

To the bed with sword-point

Blood gave she to drink

With a hand fain of death,

And she let the dogs loose:

Then in from the hall-door —

— Up waked the house-carls —

Hot brands she cast,

Gat revenge for her brethren.

To the flame gave she all

Who therein might be found;

Fell adown the old timbers,

Reeked all treasure-houses;

There the shield-mays were burnt,

Their lives’ span brought to naught;

In the fierce fire sank down

All the stead of the Budlungs.

Wide told of is this —

Ne’er sithence in the world,

Thus fared bride clad in byrny

For her brothers’ avenging;

For behold, this fair woman

To three kings of the people,

Hath brought very death

Or ever she died!

THE WHETTING OF GUDRUN.

Gudrun went down unto the sea whenas she had slain Atli, and she cast herself therein, for she was fain to end her life: but nowise might she drown. She drave over the firths to the land of King Jonakr, and he wedded her, and their sons were Sorli, and Erp, and Hamdir, and there was Swanhild, Sigurd’s daughter, nourished: and she was given to Jormunrek the Mighty. Now Bikki was a man of his, and gave such counsel to Randver, the king’s son, as that he should take her; and with that counsel were the young folk well content.

Then Bikki told the king, and the king let hang Randver, but bade Swanhild be trodden under horses’ feet. But when Gudrun heard thereof, she spake to her sons —

Words of strife heard I,

Huger than any,

Woeful words spoken,

Sprung from all sorrow,

When Gudrun fierce-hearted

With the grimmest of words

Whetter her sons

Unto the slaying.

“Why are ye sitting here?

Why sleep ye life away?

Why doth it grieve you nought?

Glad words to speak,

Now when your sister —

Young of years was she —

Has Jormunrek trodden

With the treading of horses? —

“Black horses and white

In the highway of warriors;

Grey horses that know

The roads of the Goths. —

“Little like are ye grown

To that Gunnar of old days!

Nought are your hearts

As the heart of Hogni!

Well would ye seek

Vengeance to win

If your mood were in aught

As the mood of my brethren,

Or the hardy hearts

Of the Kings of the Huns!”

Then spake Hamdir,

The high-hearted —

“Little didst thou

Praise Hogni’s doings,

When Sigurd woke

From out of sleep,

And the blue-white bed-gear

Upon thy bed

Grew red with man’s blood —

With the blood of thy mate!

“Too baleful vengeance

Wroughtest thou for thy brethren

Most sore and evil

When thy sons thou slewedst,

Else all we together

On Jormunrek

Had wrought sore vengeance

For that our sister.

“Come, bring forth quickly

The Hun kings’ bright gear,

Since thou has urged us

Unto the sword-Thing!”

Laughing went Gudrun

To the bower of good gear,

Kings’ crested helms

From chests she drew,

And wide-wrought byrnies

Bore to her sons:

Then on their horses

Load laid the heroes.

Then spake Hamdir,

The high-hearted —

“Never cometh again

His mother to see

The spear-god laid low

In the land of the Goths.

That one arvel mayst thou

For all of us drink,

For sister Swanhild,

And us thy sons.”

Greeted Gudrun

Giuki’s daughter;

Sorrowing she went

In the forecourt to sit,

That she might tell,

With cheeks tear-furrowed,

Her weary wail

In many a wise.

“Three fires I knew,

Three hearths I knew,

To three husbands’ houses

Have I been carried;

And better than all

Had been Sigurd alone,

He whom my brethren

Brought to his bane.

“Such sore grief as that

Methought never should be,

Yet more indeed

Was left for my torment

Then, when the great ones

Gave me to Atli.

“My fair bright boys

I bade unto speech,

Nor yet might I win

Weregild for my bale,

Ere I had hewn off

Those Niblungs’ heads.

“To the sea-strand I went

With the Norns sorely wroth,

For I would thrust from me

The storm of their torment;

But the high billows

Would not drown, but bore me

Forth, till I stepped a-land

Longer to live.

“Then I went a-bed —

— Ah, better in the old days,

This was the third time! —

To a king of the people;

Offspring I brought forth,

Props of a fair house,

Props of a fair house,

Jonakr’s fair sons.

“But around Swanhild

Bond-maidens sat,

Her, that of all mine

Most to my heart was;

Such was my Swanhild,

In my hall’s midmost,

As is the sunbeam

Fair to beheld.

“In gold I arrayed her,

And goodly raiment,

Or ever I gave her

To the folk of the Goths.

That was the hardest

Of my heavy woes,

When the bright hair, —

O the bright hair of Swanhild! —

In the mire was trodden

By the treading of horses.

“This was the sorest,

When my love, my Sigurd,

Reft of glory

In his bed gat ending:

But this the grimmest

When glittering worms

Tore their way

Through the heart of Gunnar.

“But this the keenest

When they cut to the quick

Of the hardy heart

Of the unfeared Hogni.

Of much of bale I mind me,

Of many griefs I mind me;

Why should I sit abiding

Yet more bale and more?

“Thy coal-black horse,

O Sigurd, bridle,

The swift on the highway!

O let him speed hither!

Here sitteth no longer

Son or daughter,

More good gifts

To give to Gudrun!

“Mindst thou not, Sigurd,

Of the speech betwixt us,

When on one bed

We both sat together,

O my great king —

That thou wouldst come to me

E’en from the hall of Hell,

I to thee from the fair earth?

“Pile high, O earls

The oaken pile,

Let it be the highest

That ever queen had!

Let the fire burn swift,

My breast with woe laden,

And thaw all my heart,

Hard, heavy with sorrow!”

Now may all earls

Be bettered in mind,

May the grief of all maidens

Ever be minished,

For this tale of sorrow

So told to its ending.

THE LAY OF HAMDIR

Great deeds of bale

In the garth began,

At the sad dawning

The tide of Elves’ sorrow

When day is a-waxing

And man’s grief awaketh,

And the sorrow of each one

The early day quickeneth.

Not now, not now,

Nor yesterday,

But long ago

Has that day worn by,

That ancientest time,

The first time to tell of,

Then, whenas Gudrun,

Born of Giuki,

Whetter her sons

To Swanhild’s avenging.

“Your sister’s name

Was naught but Swanhild,

Whom Jormunrek

With horses has trodden! —

White horses and black

On the war-beaten way,

Grey horses that go

On the roads of the Goths.

“All alone am I now

As in holt is the aspen;

As the fir-tree of boughs,

So of kin am I bare;

As bare of things longed for

As the willow of leaves

When the bough-breaking wind

The warm day endeth.

“Few, sad, are ye left

O kings of my folk!

Yet alone living

Last shreds of my kin!

“Ah, naught are ye grown

As that Gunnar of old days;

Naught are your hearts

As the heart of Hogni!

Well would ye seek

Vengeance to win

If your hearts were in aught

As the hearts of my brethren!”

Then spake Hamdir

The high-hearted:

“Nought hadst thou to praise

The doings of Hogni,

When they woke up Sigurd

From out of slumber,

And in bed thou sat’st up

‘Mid the banes-men’s laughter.

“Then when thy bed=gear,

Blue-white, well woven

By art of craftsmen

All swam with thy king’s blood;

The Sigurd died,

O’er his dead corpse thou sattest,

Not heeding aught gladsome,

Since Gunnar so willed it.

“Great grief for Atli

Gatst thou by Erp’s murder,

And the end of thine Eitil,

But worse grief for thyself.

Good to use sword

For the slaying of others

In such wise that its edge

Shall not turn on ourselves!”

Then well spake Sorli

From a heart full of wisdom:

“No words will I

Make with my mother,

Though both ye twain

Need words belike —

What askest thou, Gudrun,

To let thee go greeting?

“Weep for thy brethren,

Weep for thy sweet sons,

And thy nighest kinsfolk

Laid by the fight-side!

Yea, and thou Gudrun,

May’st greet for us twain

Sitting fey on our steeds

Doomed in far lands to die.”

From the garth forth they went

With hearts full of fury,

Sorli and Hamdir,

The sons of Gudrun,

And they met on the way

The wise in all wiles:

“And thou little Erp,

What helping from thee?”

He of alien womb

Spake out in such wise:

“Good help for my kin,

Such as foot gives to foot,

Or flesh-covered hand

Gives unto hand!”

“What helping for foot

That help that foot giveth,

Or for flesh-covered hand

The helping of hand?”

Then spake Erp

Yet once again

Mock spake the prince

As he sat on his steed:

“Fool’s deed to show

The way to a dastard!”

“Bold beyond measure,”

Quoth they, “is the base-born!”

Out from the sheath

Drew they the sheath-steel,

And the glaives’ edges played

For the pleasure of hell;

By the third part they minished

The might that they had,

Their young kin they let lie

A-cold on the earth.

Then their fur-cloaks they shook

And bound fast their swords,

In webs goodly woven

Those great ones were clad;

Young they went o’er the fells

Where the dew was new-fallen

Swift, on steeds of the Huns,

Heavy vengeance to wreak.

Forth stretched the ways,

And an ill way they found,

Yea, their sister’s son 63

Hanging slain upon tree —

Wolf-trees by the wind made cold

At the town’s westward

Loud with cranes’ clatter —

Ill abiding there long!

Din in the king’s hall

Of men merry with drink,

And none might hearken

The horses’ tramping

Or ever the warders

Their great horn winded.

Then men went forth

To Jormunrek

To tell of the heeding

Of men under helm:

“Give ye good counsel!

Great ones are come hither,

For the wrong of men mighty

Was the may to death trodden.”

“Loud Jormunrek laughed,

And laid hand to his beard,

Nor bade bring his byrny,

But with the wine fighting,

Shook his red locks,

On his white shield sat staring,

And in his hand

Swung the gold cup on high.

“Sweet sight for me

Those twain to set eyes on,

Sorli and Hamdir,

Here in my hall!

Then with bowstrings

Would I bind them,

And hang the good Giukings

Aloft on the gallows!”

*****
*****

Then spake Hrothglod

From off the high steps,

Spake the slim-fingered

Unto her son, —

— For a threat was cast forth

Of what ne’er should fall —

“Shall two men alone

Two hundred Gothfolk

Bind or bear down

In the midst of their burg?”

*****
*****

Strife and din in the hall,

Cups smitten asunder

Men lay low in blood

From the breasts of Goths flowing.

Then spake Hamdir,

The high-hearted:

“Thou cravedst, O king,

From the coming of us,

The sons of one mother,

Amidmost thine hall —

Look on these hands of thine,

Look on these feet of thine,

Cast by us, Jormunrek,

On to the flame!”

Then cried aloud

The high Gods’ kinsman 64

Bold under byrny, —

Roared he as bears roar;

“Stones to the stout ones

That the spears bite not,

Nor the edges of steel,

These sons of Jonakr!”

*****
*****

QUOTH SORLI:

“Bale, brother, wroughtst thou

By that bag’s 65 opening,

Oft from that bag

Rede of bale cometh!

Heart hast thou, Hamdir,

If thou hadst heart’s wisdom

Great lack in a man

Who lacks wisdom and lore!”

HAMDIR SAID:

“Yes, off were the head

If Erp were alive yet,

Our brother the bold

Whom we slew by the way;

The far-famed through the world —

Ah, the fares drave me on,

And the man war made holy,

There must I slay!”

SORLI SAID:

“Unmeet we should do

As the doings of wolves are,

Raising wrong each ‘gainst other

As the dogs of the Norns,

The greedy ones nourished

In waste steads of the world.

In strong wise have we fought,

On Goths’ corpses we stand,

Beat down by our edges,

E’en as ernes on the bough.

Great fame our might winneth,

Die we now, or tomorrow, —

No man lives till eve

Whom the fates doom at morning.”

At the hall’s gable-end

Fell Sorli to earth,

But Hamdir lay low

At the back of the houses.

Now this is called the Ancient Lay of Hamdir.

63 Randver, the son of their sister’s husband.

64 Odin, namely.

65 “Bag”, his mouth.

THE LAMENT OF ODDRUN.

There was a king hight Heidrik, and his daughter was called Borgny, and the name of her lover was Vilmund. Now she might nowise be made lighter of a child she travailed with, before Oddrun, Atil’s sister, came to her, — she who had been the love of Gunnar, Giuki’s son. But of their speech together has this been sung:

I have hear tell

In ancient tales

How a may there came

To Morna-land,

Because no man

On mould abiding

For Heidrik’s daughter

Might win healing.

All that heard Oddrun,

Atil’s sister,

How that the damsel

Had heavy sickness,

So she led from stall

Her bridled steed,

And on the swart one

Laid the saddle.

She made her horse wend

O’er smooth ways of earth,

Until to a high-built

Hall she came;

Then the saddle she had

From the hungry horse,

And her ways wended

In along the wide hall,

And this word first

Spake forth therewith:

“What is most famed,

Afield in Hunland,

Or what may be

Blithest in Hunland?”

QUOTH THE HANDMAID:

“Here lieth Borgny,

Borne down by trouble,

Thy sweet friend, O Oddrun,

See to her helping!”

ODDRUN SAID:

“Who of the lords

Hath laid this grief on her,

Why is the anguish

Of Borgny so weary?”

THE HANDMAID SAID:

“He is hight Vilmund,

Friend of hawk-bearers,

He wrapped the damsel

In the warm bed-gear

Five winters long

Without her father’s wotting.”

No more than this

They spake methinks;

Kind sat she down

By the damsel’s knee;

Mightily sand Oddrun,

Sharp piercing songs

By Borgny’s side:

Till a maid and a boy

Might tread on the world’s ways,

Blithe babes and sweet

Of Hogni’s bane:

Then the damsel forewearied

The word took up,

The first word of all

That had won from her:

“So may help thee

All helpful things,

Fey and Freyia,

And all the fair Gods,

As thou hast thrust

This torment from me!”

ODDRUN SAID:

“Yet no heart had I

For thy helping,

Since never wert thou

Worthy of helping,

But my word I held to,

That of old was spoken

When the high lords

Dealt out the heritage,

That every soul

I would ever help.”

BORGNY SAID:

“Right mad art thou, Oddrun,

And reft of thy wits,

Whereas thou speakest

Hard words to me

Thy fellow ever

Upon the earth

As of brothers twain,

We had been born.”

ODDRUN SAID:

“Well I mind me yet,

What thou saidst that evening,

Whenas I bore forth

Fair drink for Gunnar;

Such a thing, saidst thou,

Should fall out never,

For any may

Save for me alone.”

Mind had the damsel

Of the weary day

Whenas the high lords

Dealt out the heritage,

And she sat her down,

The sorrowful woman,

To tell of the bale,

And the heavy trouble.

“Nourished was I

In the hall of kings —

Most folk were glad —

‘Mid the council of great ones:

In fair life lived I,

And the wealth of my father

For five winters only,

While yet he had life.

“Such were the last words

That ever he spake,

The king forewearied,

Ere his ways he went;

For be bade folk give me

The gold red-gleaming,

And give me in Southlands

To the son of Grimhild.

“But Brynhild he bade

To the helm to betake her,

And said that Death-chooser

She should become;

And that no better

Might ever be born

Into the world,

If fate would not spoil it.

“Brynhild in bower

Sewed at her broidery,

Folk she had

And fair lands about her;

Earth lay a-sleeping,

Slept the heavens aloft

When Fafnir’s-bane

The burg first saw.

“Then was war waged

With the Welsh-wrought sword

And the burg all broken

That Brynhild owned;

Nor wore long space,

E’en as well might be,

Ere all those wiles

Full well she knew.

“Hard and dreadful

Was the vengeance she drew down,

So that all we

Have woe enow.

Through all lands of the world

Shall that story fare forth

How she did her to death

For the death of Sigurd.

“But therewithal Gunnar

The gold-scatterer

Did I fall to loving

And should have loved him.

Rings of red gold

Would they give to Atli,

Would give to my brother

Things goodly and great.

“Yea, fifteen steads

Would they give for me,

And the load of Grani

To have as a gift;

But then spake Atli,

That such was his will,

Never gift to take

From the sons of Giuki.

“But we in nowise

Might love withstand,

And mine head must I lay

On my love, the ring-breaker;

And many there were

Among my kin,

Who said that they

Had seen us together.

“Then Atli said

That I surely never

Would fall to crime

Or shameful folly:

But now let no one

For any other,

That shame deny

Where love has dealing.

“For Atli sent

His serving-folk

Wide through the murkwood

Proof to win of me,

And thither they came

Where they ne’er should have come,

Where one bed we twain

Had dight betwixt us.

“To those men had we given

Rings of red gold,

Naught to tell

Thereof to Atli,

But straight they hastened

Home to the house,

And all the tale

To Atli told.

‘Whereas from Gudrun

Well they hid it,

Though better by half

Had she have known it.

*****
*****

“Din was there to hear

Of the hoofs gold-shod,

When into the garth

Rode the sons of Giuki.

“There from Hogni

The heart they cut,

But into the worm-close

Cast the other.

There the king, the wise-hearted,

Swept his harp-strings,

For the might king

Had ever mind

That I to his helping

Soon should come.

“But now was I gone

Yet once again

Unto Geirmund,

Good feast to make;

Yet had I hearing,

E’en out from Hlesey,

How of sore trouble

The harp-strings sang.

“So I bade the bondmaids

Be ready swiftly,

For I listed to save

The life of the king,

And we let our ship

Swim over the sound,

Till Atli’s dwelling

We saw all clearly.

Then came the wretch 66

Crawling out,

E’en Atli’s mother,

All sorrow upon her!

A grave gat her sting

In the heart of Gunnar,

So that no helping

Was left for my hero.

“O gold-clad woman,

Full oft I wonder

How I my life

Still hold thereafter,

For methought I loved

That light in battle,

The swift with the sword,

As my very self.

“Thou hast sat and hearkened

As I have told thee

Of many an ill-fate,

Mine and theirs —

Each man liveth

E’en as he may live —

Now hath gone forth

The greeting of Oddrun.”

66 Atli’s mother took the form of the only adder that was not lulled to sleep by Gunnar’s harp-playing, and who slew him.

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