In this book is told of the deeds of Sigurd, and of his sojourn with the Niblungs, and in the end of how he died.
And now of the Niblung people the tale beginneth to tell,
How they deal with the wind and the weather; in the cloudy drift they dwell
When the war is awake in the mountains, and they drive the desert spoil,
And their weaponed hosts unwearied through the misty hollows toil;
But again in the eager sunshine they scour across the plain,
And spear by spear is quivering, and rein is laid by rein,
And the dust is about and behind them, and the fear speeds on before,
As they shake the flowery meadows with the fleeting flood of war.
Yea, when they come from the battle, and the land lies down in peace,
No less in gear of warriors they gather earth’s increase,
And helmed as the Gods of battle they drive the team afield:
These come to the council of elders with sword and spear and shield,
And shout to their war-dukes’ dooming of their uttermost desire:
These never bow the helm-crest before the High–Gods’ fire
But show their swords to Odin, and cry on Vingi–Thor
With the dancing of the ring-mail and the smitten shields of war:
Yet though amid their high-tides of the deaths of men they sing,
And of swords in the battle broken, and the fall of many a king,
Yet they sing it wreathed with the flowers and they praise the gift and the gain
Of the war-lord sped to Odin as he rends the battle atwain.
And their days are young and glorious, and in hope exceeding great
With sword and harp and beaker on the skirts of the Norns they wait.
Now the King of this folk is Giuki, and he sits in the Niblung hall
When the song of men goes roofward and the shields shine out from the wall;
And his queen in the high-seat sitteth, the woman overwise,
Grimhild the kin of the God-folk, the wife of the glittering eyes:
And his sons on each hand are sitting; there is Gunnar the great and fair,
With the lovely face of a king ’twixt the night of his wavy hair:
And there is the wise-heart Hogni; and his lips are close and thin,
And grey and awful his eyen, and a many sights they win:
And there is Guttorm the youngest, of the fierce and wandering glance,
And the heart that never resteth till the swords in the war-wind dance:
And there is Gudrun his daughter, and light she stands by the board,
And fair are her arms in the hall as the beaker’s flood is poured:
She comes, and the earls keep silence; she smiles, and men rejoice;
She speaks, and the harps unsmitten thrill faint to her queenly voice.
So blossom the days of the Niblungs, and great is their hope’s increase ’Twixt the merry days of battle and the tide of their guarded peace:
There is many a noon of joyance, and many an eve’s delight,
And many a deed for the doing ’twixt the morning and the night.
Now betimes on a morning of summer that Giuki’s daughter arose,
Alone went the fair-armed Gudrun to her flowery garden-close;
And she went by the bower of women, and her damsels saw her thence,
And her nurse went down to meet her as she came by the rose-hung fence,
And she saw that her eyes were heavy as she trod with doubtful feet
Betwixt the rose and the lily, nor blessed the blossoms sweet:
And she spake:
“What ails thee, daughter, as one asleep to tread
O’er the grass of the merry summer and the daisies white and red?
And to have no heart for the harp-play, or the needle’s mastery,
Where the gold and the silk are framing the Swans of the Goths on the sea,
And helms and shields of warriors, and Kings on the hazelled isle?
Why hast thou no more joyance on the damsels’ glee to smile?
Why biddest thou not to the wild-wood with horse and hawk and hound?
Why biddest thou not to the heathland and the eagle-haunted ground
To meet thy noble brethren as they ride from the mountain-road?
Hast thou deemed the hall of the Niblungs a churlish poor abode?
Wouldst thou wend away from thy kindred, and scorn thy fosterer’s praise?
— Or is this the beginning of love and the first of the troublous days?”
Then spake the fair-armed Gudrun: “Nay, nought I know of scorn
For the noble kin of the Niblungs, or the house where I was born;
No pain of love hath smit me, and no evil days begin,
And I shall be fain tomorrow of the deeds that the maidens win:
But if I wend the summer in dull unlovely seeming,
It comes of the night, O mother, and the tide of last night’s dreaming.”
Then spake the ancient woman: “Thy dream to me shalt thou show;
Such oft foretell but the weather, and the airts whence the wind shall blow.”
Blood-red was waxen Gudrun, and she said: “But little it is:
Meseems I sat by the door of the hall of the Niblungs’ bliss,
And from out of the north came a falcon, and a marvellous bird it was;
For his feathers were all of gold, and his eyes as the sunlit glass,
And hither and thither he flew about the kingdoms of Kings,
And the fear of men went with him, and the war-blast under his wings:
But I feared him never a deal, nay, hope came into my heart,
And meseemed in his war-bold ways I also had a part;
And my eyes still followed his wings as hither and thither he swept
O’er the doors and the dwellings of King-folk; till the heart within me leapt,
For over the hall of the Niblungs he hung a little space,
Then stooped to my very knees, and cried out kind in my face:
And fain and full was my heart, and I took him to my breast,
And fair methought was the world and a home of infinite rest.”
Her speech dropped dead as she spake, and her eyes from the nurse she turned,
But now and again thereafter the flush in her fair cheek burned,
And her eyes were dreamy and great, as of one who looketh afar.
But the nurse laughed out and answered: “Such the dreams of maidens are;
And if thou hast told me all ’tis a goodly dream, forsooth:
For what should I call this falcon save a glorious kingly youth,
Who shall fly full wide o’er the world in fame and victory,
Till he hangs o’er the Niblung dwelling and stoops to thy very knee?
And fain and full shall thine heart be, when his cheek shall cherish thy breast,
And fair things shalt thou deem of the world as a place of infinite rest.”
But cold grew the maiden’s visage: “God wot thou hast plenteous lore
In the reading of dreams, my mother; but thou lovest thy fosterling sore,
And the good and the evil alike shall turn in thine heart to good;
Wise too is my mother Grimhild, but I fear her guileful mood,
Lest she love me overmuch, and fashion all dreams to ill.
Now who is the wise of woman, who herein hath measureless skill?
For her forthright would I find, how far soever I fare,
Lest I wend like a fool in the world, and rejoice with my feet in the snare.”
Quoth the nurse: “Though the dream be goodly and its reading easy and light,
It is nought but a little matter if thy golden wain be dight,
And thou ride to the land of Lymdale, the little land and green,
And come to the hall of Brynhild, the maid and the shielded Queen,
The Queen and the wise of women, who sees all haps to come:
And ’twill be but light to bid her to seek thy dream-tale home;
Though surely shall she arede it in e’en such wise as I;
And so shall the day be merry and the summer cloud go by.”
“Thou hast spoken well,” said Gudrun, “let us tarry now no whit;
For wise in the world is the woman, and knoweth the ways of it.”
So they make the yoke-beasts ready, and dight the wains for the way,
And the maidens gather together, and their bodies they array,
And gird the laps of the linen, and do on the dark-blue gear,
And bind with the leaves of summer the wandering of their hair:
Then they drive by dale and acre, o’er heath and holt they wend,
Till they come to the land of the waters, and the lea by the woodland’s end;
And there is the burg of Brynhild, the white-walled house and long,
And the garth her fathers fashioned before the days of wrong.
So fare their feet on the earth by the threshold of the Queen,
And Brynhild’s damsels abide them, for their goings had been seen;
And the mint and the blossomed woodruff they strew before their feet,
And their arms of welcome take them, and they kiss them soft and sweet,
And they go forth into the feast-hall, the many-pillared house;
Most goodly were its hangings and its webs were glorious
With tales of ancient fathers, and the Swans of the Goths on the sea,
And weaponed Kings on the island, and great deeds yet to be;
And the host of Odin’s Choosers, and the boughs of the fateful Oak,
And the gush of Mimir’s Fountain, and the Midworld–Serpent’s yoke.
So therein the maidens enter, but Gudrun all out-goes,
As over the leaves of the garden shines the many-folded rose:
Amidst and alone she standeth; in the hall her arms shine white,
And her hair falls down behind her like a cloak of the sweet-breathed night,
As she casts her cloak to the earth, and the wind of the flowery tide
Runs over her rippling raiment and stirs the gold at her side.
But she stands and may scarce move forward, and a red flush lighteth her face
As her eyes seek out Queen Brynhild in the height of the golden place.
But lo, as a swan on the sea spreads out her wings to arise
From the face of the darksome ocean when the isle before her lies,
So Brynhild arose from her throne and the fashioned cloths of blue
When she saw the Maid of the Niblungs, and the face of Gudrun knew;
And she gathers the laps of the linen, and they meet in the hall, they twain,
And she taketh her hands in her hands and kisseth her sweet and fain:
And she saith: “Hail, sister and queen! for we deem thy coming kind:
Though forsooth the hall of Brynhild is no weary way to find:
How fare the kin of the Niblungs? is thy mother happy and hale,
And the ancient of days, thy father, the King of all avail?”
“It is well with my house,” said Gudrun, “and my brethren’s days are fair,
And my mother’s morns are joyous, and her eves have done with care;
And my father’s heart is happy, and the Niblung glory grows,
And the land in peace is lying ’neath the lily and the rose:
But love and the mirth of summer have moved my heart to come
To look on thy measureless beauty, and seek thy glory home.”
“O be thou welcome!” said Brynhild; “it is good when queen-folk meet.
Come now, O goodly sister, and sit in my golden seat:
There are lovely hours before us, and the half of the summer day;
And what is the night of summer that eve should drive thee away?”
So they sat, they twain, in the high-seat; and the maidens bore them wine,
And they handled Dwarf-wrought treasures with their fingers fair and fine,
And lovely they were together, and they marvelled each at each:
Yet oft was Gudrun silent, and she faltered in her speech,
As they matched great Kings and their war-deeds, and told of times that were,
And their fathers’ fathers’ doings, and the deaths of war-lords dear.
And at last the twain sat silent, and spake no word at all,
And the western sky waxed ruddy, for the sun drew near its fall;
And the speech of the murmuring maidens, and the voice of the toil of folk,
Died out in the hall of Brynhild as the garden-song awoke.
Then Brynhild took up the word, and her voice was soft as she said:
“We have told of the best of King-folk, the living and the dead;
But hast thou heard, my sister, how the world grows fair with the word
Of a King from the mountains coming, a great and marvellous lord,
Who hath slain the Foe of the Gods, and the King that was wise from of old;
Who hath slain the great Gold-wallower, and gotten the ancient Gold;
And the hand of victory hath he, and the overcoming speech,
And the heart and the eyes triumphant, and the lips that win and teach?”
Then met the eyes of the women, and Brynhild’s word died out,
And bright flushed Gudrun’s visage, and her lips were moved with doubt.
But again spake Brynhild the wise:
“He is come of a marvellous kin,
And of men that never faltered, and goodly days shall he win:
Yea now to this land is he coming, and great shall be his fame;
He is born of the Volsung King-folk, and Sigurd is his name.”
Then all the heart laughed in her, but the speech of her lips died out,
And red and pale waxed Gudrun, and her lips were moved with doubt,
Till she spake as a Queen of the Earth:
“Sister, the day grows late,
And meseemeth the watch of the earl-folk looks oft from the Niblung gate
For the gleam of our golden wains and the dust-cloud thin and soft;
But nought shall they now behold them till the moon-lamp blazeth aloft.
Farewell, and have thanks for thy welcome and thy glory that I have seen,
And I bid thee come to the Niblungs while the summer-ways are green,
That we thine heart may gladden as thou gladdenedst ours today.”
And she rose and kissed her sweetly as one that wendeth away:
But Brynhild looked upon her and said: “Wilt thou depart,
And leave the word unspoken that lieth on thine heart?”
Then Gudrun faltered and spake: “Yea, hither I came in sooth,
With a dream for thine eyes of wisdom, and a prayer for thine heart of ruth:
But young in the world am I waxen, and the scorn of folk I fear
When I speak to the ears of the wise, and a maiden’s dream they hear.”
“I shall mock thee nought,” said Brynhild; “yet who shall say indeed
But my heart shall fear thee rather, nor help thee in thy need?”
Then spake the daughter of Giuki: “Lo, this was the dream I dreamed:
For without by the door of the Niblungs I sat in the morn, as meseemed;
Then I saw a falcon aloft, and a glorious bird he was,
And his feathers glowed as the gold, and his eyes as the sunlit glass:
Hither and thither he flew about the kingdoms of Kings,
And fear was borne before him, and death went under his wings:
Yet I feared him not, but loved him, and mine eyes must follow his ways,
And the joy came into my heart, and hope of the happy days:
Then over the hall of the Niblungs he hung a little space
And stooped to my very knees, and cried out kind in my face;
And fain and full was my heart, and I took him to my breast,
And I cherished him soft and warm, for I deemed I had gotten the best.”
So speaketh the Maid of the Niblungs, and speech her lips doth fail,
And she gazeth on Brynhild’s visage, and seeth her waxen pale,
As she saith: “’Tis a dream full goodly, and nought hast thou to fear;
Some glory of Kings shall love thee and thine heart shall hold him dear.”
Again spake the daughter of Giuki: “Not yet hast thou hearkened all:
For meseemed my breast was reddened, as oft by the purple and pall,
But my heart was heavy within it, and I laid my hand thereon,
And the purple of blood enwrapped me, and the falcon I loved was gone.”
Yet pale was the visage of Brynhild, and she said: “Is it then so strange
That the wedding-lords of the Niblungs their lives in the battle should change?
Thou shalt wed a King and be merry, and then shall come the sword,
And the edges of hate shall be whetted and shall slay thy love and thy lord,
And dead on thy breast shall he fall: and where then is the measureless moan?
From the first to the last shalt thou have him, and scarce shall he die alone.
Rejoice, O daughter of Giuki! there is worse in the world than this:
He shall die, and thou shalt remember the days of his glory and bliss.”
“I woke, and I wept,” said Gudrun, “for the dear thing I had loved:
Then I slept, and again as aforetime were the gates of the dream-hall moved,
And I went in the land of shadows; and lo I was crowned as a queen,
And I sat in the summer-season amidst my garden green;
And there came a hart from the forest, and in noble wise he went,
And bold he was to look on, and of fashion excellent
Before all beasts of the wild-wood; and fair gleamed that glorious-one,
And upreared his shining antlers against the very sun.
So he came unto me and I loved him, and his head lay kind on my knees,
And fair methought the summer, and a time of utter peace.
Then darkened all the heavens and dreary grew the tide,
And medreamed that a queen I knew not was sitting by my side,
And from out of the din and the darkness, a hand and an arm there came,
And a golden sleeve was upon it, and red rings of the Queen-folk’s fame:
And the hand was the hand of a woman: and there came a sword and a thrust
And the blood of the lovely wood-deer went wide about the dust.
Then I cried aloud in my sorrow, and lo, in the wood I was,
And all around and about me did the kin of the wild-wolves pass.
And I called them friends and kindred, and upreared a battle-brand,
And cried out in a tongue that I knew not, and red and wet was my hand.
Lo now, the dream I have told thee, and nought have I held aback.
O Brynhild, what wilt thou tell me of treason and murder and wrack?”
Long Brynhild stood and pondered and weary-wise was her face,
And she gazed as one who sleepeth, till thus she spake in a space:
“One dream in twain hast thou told, and I see what I saw e’en now,
But beyond is nought but the darkness and the measureless midnight’s flow:
Thy dream is all areded; I may tell thee nothing more:
Thou shalt live and love and lose, and mingle in murder and war.
Is it strange, O child of the Niblungs, that thy glory and thy pain
Must be blent with the battle’s darkness and the unseen hurrying bane?
Do ye, of all folk on the earth, pray God for the changeless peace,
And not for the battle triumphant and the fruit of fame’s increase?
For the rest, thou mayst not be lonely in thy welfare or thy woe,
But hearts with thine heart shall be tangled: but the queen and the hand thou shalt know.
When we twain are wise together; thou shalt know of the sword and the wood,
Thou shalt know of the wild-wolves’ howling and thy right-hand wet with blood,
When the day of the smith is ended, and the stithy’s fire dies out,
And the work of the master of masters through the feast-hall goeth about.”
They stand apart by the high-seat, and each on each they gaze
As though they forgat the summer, and the tide of the passing days,
And abode the deeds unborn and the Kings’ deaths yet to be,
As the merchant bideth deedless the gold in his ships on the sea.
At last spake the wise-heart Brynhild: “O glorious Niblung child!
The dreams and the word we have hearkened, and the dreams and the word have been wild.
Thou hast thy life and thy summer, and the love is drawing anear;
Take these to thine heart to cherish, and deem them good and dear,
Lest the Norns should mock our knowledge and cast our fame aside,
And our doom be empty of glory as the hopeless that have died.
Farewell, O Niblung Maiden! for day on day shall come
Whilst thou shalt live rejoicing mid the blossom of thine home.
Now have thou thanks for thy greeting and thy glory that I have seen;
And come thou again to Lymdale while the summer-ways are green.”
So the hall-dusk deepens upon them till the candles come arow,
And they drink the wine of departing and gird themselves to go;
And they dight the dark-blue raiment and climb to the wains aloft
While the horned moon hangs in the heaven and the summer wind blows soft.
Then the yoke-beasts strained at the collar, and the dust in the moon arose,
And they brushed the side of the acre and the blooming dewy close;
Till at last, when the moon was sinking and the night was waxen late,
The warders of the earl-folk looked forth from the Niblung gate,
And saw the gold pale-gleaming, and heard the wain-wheels crush
The weary dust of the summer amidst the midnight hush.
So came the daughter of Giuki from the hall of Brynhild the queen
When the days of the Niblungs blossomed and their hope was springing green.
Full fair was the land of Lymdale, and great were the men thereof,
And Heimir the King of the people was held in marvellous love;
And his wife was the sister of Brynhild, and the Queen of Queens was she;
And his sons were noble striplings, and his daughters sweet to see;
And all these lived on in joyance through the good days and the ill,
Nor would shun the war’s awaking; but now that the war was still
They looked to the wethers’ fleeces and what the ewes would yield,
And led their bulls from the straw-stall, and drave their kine afield;
And they dealt with mere and river and all waters of their land,
And cast the glittering angle, and drew the net to the strand,
And searched the rattling shallows, and many a rock-walled well,
Where the silver-scaled sea-farers, and the crook-lipped bull-trout dwell.
But most when their hearts were merry ’twas the joy of carle and quean
To ride in the deeps of the oak-wood, and the thorny thicket green:
Forth go their hearts before them to the blast of the strenuous horn,
Where the level sun comes dancing down the oaks in the early morn:
There they strain and strive for the quarry, when the wind hath fallen dead
In the odorous dusk of the pine-wood, and the noon is high o’erhead:
There oft with horns triumphant their rout by the lone tree turns,
When over the bison’s lea-land the last of sunset burns;
Or by night and cloud all eager with shaft on string they fare,
When the wind from the elk-mead setteth, or the wood-boar’s tangled lair:
For the wood is their barn and their storehouse, and their bower and feasting-hall,
And many an one of their warriors in the woodland war shall fall.
So now in the sweet spring season, on a morn of the sunny tide
Abroad are the Lymdale people to the wood-deers’ house to ride:
And they wend towards the sun’s uprising, and over the boughs he comes,
And the merry wind is with him, and stirs the woodland homes;
But their horns to his face cast clamour, and their hooves shake down the glades,
And the hearts of their hounds are eager, and oft they redden blades;
Till at last in the noon they tarry in a daisied wood-lawn green,
And good and gay is their raiment, and their spears are sharp and sheen,
And they crown themselves with the oak-leaves, and sit, both most and least,
And there on the forest venison and the ancient wine they feast;
Then they wattle the twigs of the thicket to bear their spoil away,
And the toughness of the beech-boughs with the woodbine overlay:
With the voice of their merry labour the hall of the oakwood rings,
For fair they are and joyous as the first God-fashioned Kings.
Now they gather their steeds together, that ere the moon is born
The candles of King Heimir may shine on harp and horn:
But as they stand by the stirrup and hand on rein is laid,
All eyes are turned to beholding the eastward-lying glade,
For thereby comes something glorious, as though an earthly sun
Were lit by the orb departing, lest the day should be wholly done;
Lo now, as they stand astonied, a wonder they behold,
For a warrior cometh riding, and his gear is all of gold;
And grey is the steed and mighty beneath that lord of war,
And a treasure of gold he beareth, and the gems of the ocean’s floor:
Now they deem the war-steed wondrous and the treasure strange they deem,
But so exceeding glorious doth the harnessed rider seem,
That men’s hearts are all exalted as he draweth nigh and nigher,
And there are they abiding in fear and great desire:
For they look on the might of his limbs, and his waving locks they see,
And his glad eyes clear as the heavens, and the wreath of the summer tree
That girdeth the dread of his war-helm, and they wonder at his sword,
And the tinkling rings of his hauberk, and the rings of the ancient
Hoard: And they say: Are the Gods on the earth? did the world change yesternight?
Are the sons of Odin coming, and the days of Baldur the bright?
But forth stood Heimir the ancient, and of Gods and men was he chief
Of all who have handled the harp; and he stood betwixt blossom and leaf,
And thrust his spear in the earth and cast abroad his hands:
“Hail, thou that ridest hither from the North and the desert lands!
Now thy face is turned to our hall-door and thereby must be thy way;
And, unless the time so presseth that thou ridest night and day,
It were good that thou lie in my house, and hearken the clink of the horn,
Whether peace in thy hand thou bear us, or war on thy saddle be borne;
Whether wealth thou seek, or friends, or kin, or a maiden lost,
Or hast heart for the building of cities nor wilt hold thee aback for the cost;
If fame thou wilt have among King-folk, to the land of the Kings art thou come,
Or wouldst thou adown to the sea-flood, thou must pass by the garth of our home.
Yea art thou a God from the heavens, who wilt deem me little of worth,
And art come for the wrack of my realm and wilt cast King Heimir forth,
Thou knowest I fear thee nothing, and no worse shall thy welcome be:
Or art thou a wolf of the hearth, none here shall meddle with thee:—
Yet lo, as I look on thine eyen, and behold thy hope and thy mirth,
Meseems thou art better than these, some son of the Kings of the
Then spake the treasure-bestrider — for his horse e’en now had he reined
By the King and the earls of the people where the boughs of the thicket waned:— “Yea
I am a son of the Kings; but my kin have passed away,
And once were they called the Volsungs, and the sons of God were they:
I am young, but have learned me wisdom; I am lone, but deeds have I done;
I have slain the Foe of the Gods, and the Bed of the Worm have I won.
But meseems that the earth is lovely, and that each day springeth anew
And beareth the blossom of hope, and the fruit of deeds to do.
And herein thou sayest the sooth, that I seek the fame of Kings,
And with them would I do and undo and be heart of their warfarings:
And for this o’er the Glittering Heath to the kingdoms of earth am I come,
And over the head of Hindfell, and I seek the earl-folk’s home
That is called the lea of Lymdale ’twixt the wood and the water-side;
For men call it the gate of the world where the Kings of Men abide:
Nor the least of God-folk am I, nor the wolf of the Kings accursed,
But Sigurd the son of Sigmund in the land of the Helper nursed:
And I thank thee, lord, for thy bidding, and tonight will I bide in thine hall,
And fare on the morrow to Lymdale and the deeds thenceforward to fall.”
Then Sigurd leapt from Greyfell, and men were marvelling there
At the sound of his sweet-mouthed wisdom, and his body shapen fair.
But Heimir laughed and answered: “Now soon shall the deeds befall,
And tonight shalt thou ride to Lymdale and tonight shalt thou bide in my hall:
For I am the ancient Heimir, and my cunning is of the harp,
Though erst have I dealt in the sword-play while the edge of war was sharp.”
Then Sigurd joyed to behold him, for a god-like King he was,
And amid the men of Lymdale did the Son of Sigmund pass;
And their hearts are high uplifted, for across the air there came
A breath of his tale half-spoken and the tidings of his fame;
And their eyes are all unsatiate of gazing on his face,
For his like have they never looked on for goodliness and grace.
So they bear him the wine of welcome, and then to the saddle they leap
And get them forth from the wood-ways to the lea-land of the sheep,
And the bull-fed Lymdale meadows; and thereover Sigurd sees
The long white walls of Heimir amidst the blossomed trees:
Then the slim moon rises in heaven, and the stars in the tree-tops shine,
But the golden roof of Heimir looks down on the torch-lit wine,
And the song of men goes roofward in praise of Sigmund’s Son,
And a joy to the Lymdale people is his glory new-begun.
So there abideth Sigurd with the Lymdale forest-lords
In mighty honour holden, and in love beyond all words,
And thence abroad through the people there goeth a rumour and breath
Of the great Gold-wallower’s slaying, and the tale of the Glittering
Heath, And a word of the ancient Treasure and Greyfell’s gleaming Load;
And the hearts of men grew eager, and the coming deeds abode.
But warily dealeth Sigurd, and he wends in the woodland fray
As one whose heart is ready and abides a better day:
In the woodland fray he fareth, and oft on a day doth ride
Where the mighty forest wild-bulls and the lonely wolves abide;
For as then no other warfare do the lords of Lymdale know,
And the axe-age and the sword-age seem dead a while ago,
And the age of the cleaving of shields, and of brother by brother slain,
And the bitter days of the whoredom, and the hardened lust of gain;
But man to man may hearken, and he that soweth reaps,
And hushed is the heart of Fenrir in the wolf-den of the deeps.
Now is it the summer-season, and Sigurd rideth the land,
And his hound runs light before him, and his hawk sits light on his hand,
And all alone on a morning he rides the flowery sward
Betwixt the woodland dwellings and the house of Lymdale’s lord;
And he hearkens Greyfell’s going as he wends adown the lea,
And his heart for love is craving, and the deeds he deems shall be;
And he hears the Wrath’s sheath tinkling as he rides the daisies down
And he thinks of his love laid safely in the arms of his renown.
But lo, as he rides the meadows, before him now he sees
A builded burg arising amid the leafy trees,
And a white-walled house on its topmost with a golden roof-ridge done,
And thereon the clustering dove-kind in the brightness of the sun.
So Sigurd stayed to behold it, for the heart within him laughed,
But e’en then, as the arrow speedeth from the mighty archer’s draught,
Forth fled the falcon unhooded from the hand of Sigurd the King,
And up, and over the tree-boughs he shot with steady wing:
Then the Volsung followed his flight, for he looked to see him fall
On the fluttering folk of the doves, and he cried the backward call
Full oft and over again; but the falcon heeded it nought,
Nor turned to his kingly wrist-perch, nor the folk of the pigeons sought,
But flew up to a high-built tower, and sat in the window a space,
Crying out like the fowl of Odin when the first of the morning they face,
And then passed through the open casement as an erne to his eyrie goes.
Much marvelled the Son of Sigmund, and rode to the fruitful close:
For he said: Here a great one dwelleth, though none have told me thereof,
And he shall give me my falcon, and his fellowship and love.
So he came to the gate of the garth, and forth to the hall-door rode,
And leapt adown from Greyfell, and entered that fair abode;
For full lovely was it fashioned, and great was the pillared hall,
And fair in its hangings were woven the deeds that Kings befall,
And the merry sun went through it and gleamed in gold and horn;
But afield or a-fell are its carles, and none labour there that morn,
And void it is of the maidens, and they weave in the bower aloft,
Or they go in the outer gardens ’twixt the rose and the lily soft:
So saith Sigurd the Volsung, and a door in the corner he spies
With knots of gold fair-carven, and the graver’s masteries:
So he lifts the latch and it opens, and he comes to a marble stair,
And aloft by the same he goeth through a tower wrought full fair.
And he comes to a door at its topmost, and lo, a chamber of Kings,
And his falcon there by the window with all unruffled wings.
But a woman sits on the high-seat with gold about her head,
And ruddy rings on her arms, and the grace of her girdle-stead;
And sunlit is her rippled linen, and the green leaves lie at her feet,
And e’en as a swan on the billow where the firth and the out-sea meet.
On the dark-blue cloths she sitteth, so fair and softly made
Are her limbs by the linen hidden, and so white is she arrayed.
But a web of gold is before her, and therein by her shuttle wrought
The early days of the Volsungs and the war by the sea’s rim fought,
And the crowned queen over Sigmund, and the Helper’s pillared hall,
And the golden babe uplifted to the eyes of duke and thrall;
And there was the slender stripling by the knees of the Dwarf-folk’s lord,
And the gift of the ancient Gripir, and the forging of the Sword;
And there were the coils of Fafnir, and the hooded threat of death,
And the King by the cooking-fire, and the fowl of the Glittering Heath;
And there was the headless King-smith and the golden halls of the Worm,
And the laden Greyfell faring through the land of perished storm;
And there was the head of Hindfell, and the flames to the sky-floor driven;
And there was the glittering shield-burg, and the fallow bondage riven;
And there was the wakening woman and the golden Volsung done,
And they twain o’er the earthly kingdoms in the lonely evening sun:
And there were fells and forests, and towns and tossing seas,
And the Wrath and the golden Sigurd for ever blent with these,
In the midst of the battle triumphant, in the midst of the war-kings’ fall,
In the midst of the peace well-conquered, in the midst of the praising hall.
There Sigurd stood and marvelled, for he saw his deeds that had been,
And his deeds of the days that should be, fair wrought in the golden sheen:
And he looked in the face of the woman, and Brynhild’s eyes he knew,
But still in the door he tarried, and so glad and fair he grew,
That the Gods laughed out in the heavens to see the Volsung’s seed;
And the breeze blew in from the summer and over Brynhild’s weed,
Till his heart so swelled with the sweetness that the fair word stayed in his mouth,
And a marvel beloved he seemeth, as a ship new-come from the south:
And still she longed and beheld him, nor foot nor hand she moved
As she marvelled at her gladness, and her love so well beloved.
But at last through the sounds of summer the voice of Sigurd came,
And it seemed as a silver trumpet from the house of the fateful fame;
And he spake: “Hail, lady and queen! hail, fairest of all the earth!
Is it well with the hap of thy life-days, and thy kin and the house of thy birth?”
She said: “My kin is joyous, and my house is blooming fair,
And dead, both root and branches, is the tree of their travail and care.”
He spake: “I have longed, I have wondered if thy heart were well at ease,
If the hope of thy days had blossomed and born thee fair increase.”
“O have thou thanks,” said Brynhild, “for thine heart that speaketh kind!
Yea, the hope of my days is accomplished, and no more there is to find.”
And again she spake in a space: “The road hath been weary and long,
But well hast thou ridden it, Sigurd, and the sons of God are strong.”
He said: “I have sought, O Brynhild, and found the heart of thine home;
And no man hath asked or holpen, and all unbidden I come.”
She said: “O welcome hither! for the heart of the King I knew,
And thine hope that overcometh, and thy will that nought shall undo.”
“Unbidden I came,” he answered, “yet it is but a little space
Since I heard thy voice on the mountain, and thy kind lips cherished my face.”
She rose from the dark-blue raiment, and trembling there she stood,
And no word her lips had gotten that her heart might deem it good:
And his heart went forth to meet her, yet nought he moved for a while,
Until the God-kin’s laughter brake blooming from a smile
And he cried: “It is good, O Brynhild, that we draw exceeding near,
Lest Odin mock Kings’ children that the doom of fate they fear.”
Then forth she stepped from the high-seat, and forth from the threshold he came,
Till both their bodies mingling seemed one glory and the same,
And far o’er all fulfilment did the souls within them long,
As at breast and at lips of the faithful the earthly love strained strong;
And fresh from the deeps of the summer the breeze across them blew,
But nought of the earth’s desire, or the lapse of time they knew.
Then apart, but exceeding nigh, for a little while they stand,
Till Brynhild toucheth her lord, and taketh his hand in her hand,
And she leadeth him through the chamber, and sitteth down in her seat;
And him she setteth beside her, and she saith:
“It is right and meet
That thou sit in this throne of my fathers, since thy gift today I have:
Thou hast given it altogether, nor aught from me wouldst save;
And thou knowest the tale of women, how oft it haps on a day
That of such gifts men repent them, and their lives are cast away.”
He said: “I have cast it away as the tiller casteth the seed,
That the summer may better the spring-tide, and the autumn winter’s need:
For what were the fruit of our lives if apart they needs must pass,
And men shall say hereafter: Woe worth the hope that was!”
She said: “That day shall dawn the best of all earthly days
When we sit, we twain, in the high-seat in the hall of the people’s praise:
Or else, what fruit of our life-days, what fruit of our death shall be?
What fruit, save men’s remembrance of the grief of thee and me?”
He said: “It is sharper to bear than the bitter sword in the breast,
O woe, to think of it now in the days of our gleaning of rest!”
Said Brynhild: “I bid thee remember the word that I have sworn,
How the sun shall turn to blackness, and the last day be outworn,
Ere I forget thee, Sigurd, and the kindness of thy face.”
And they kissed and the day grew later and noon failed the golden place.
But Sigurd said: “O Brynhild, remember how I swore
That the sun should die in the heavens and day come back no more,
Ere I forget thy wisdom and thine heart of inmost love.
Lo now, shall I unsay it, though the Gods be great above,
Though my life should last for ever, though I die tomorrow morn,
Though I win the realm of the world, though I sink to the thrall-folk’s scorn?”
She said: “Thou shalt never unsay it, and thy heart is mine indeed:
Thou shalt bear my love in thy bosom as thou helpest the earth-folk’s need:
Thou shalt wake to it dawning by dawning; thou shalt sleep and it shall not be strange:
There is none shall thrust between us till our earthly lives shall change.
Ah, my love shall fare as a banner in the hand of thy renown,
In the arms of thy fame accomplished shall it lie when we lay us adown.
O deathless fame of Sigurd! O glory of my lord!
O birth of the happy Brynhild to the measureless reward!”
So they sat as the day grew dimmer, and they looked on days to come,
And the fair tale speeding onward, and the glories of their home;
And they saw their crowned children and the kindred of the kings,
And deeds in the world arising and the day of better things;
All the earthly exaltation, till their pomp of life should be passed,
And soft on the bosom of God their love should be laid at the last.
But when words have a long while failed them, and the night is nigh at hand,
They arise in the golden glimmer, and apart and anigh they stand:
Then Brynhild stooped to the Wrath, and touched the hilts of the sword,
Ere she wound her arms round Sigurd and cherished the lips of her lord:
Then sweet were the tears of Brynhild, and fast and fast they fell,
And the love that Sigurd uttered, what speech of song may tell?
But he turned and departed from her, and her feet on the threshold abode
As he went through the pillared feast-hall, and forth to the night he rode:
So he turned toward the dwelling of Heimir and his love and his fame seemed one,
And all full-well accomplished, what deeds soe’er were done:
And the love that endureth for ever, and the endless hope he bore.
As he faced the change of Heaven and the chance of worldly war.
What aileth the men of Lymdale, that their house is all astir?
Shall the hunt be up in the forest, or hath the shield-hung fir
Brought war from the outer ocean to their fish-belovèd stream?
Or have the piping shepherds beheld the war-gear gleam
Adown the flowery sheep-dales? or betwixt the poplars grey
Have the neat-herds seen the banners of the drivers of the prey?
No, the forest shall be empty of the Lymdale men this morn,
And the wells of the Lymdale river have heard no battle-horn,
Nor the sheep in the flowery hollows seen any painted shield,
And nought from the fear of warriors bide the neat-herds from the field;
Yet full is the hall of Heimir with eager earls of war,
And the long-locked happy shepherds are gathered round the door,
And the smith has left his stithy, and the wife has left her rock,
And the bright thrums hang unwinded by the maiden’s weaving-stock:
And there is the wife and the maiden, the elder and the boy;
And scarce shall you tell what moves them, much sorrow or great joy.
But lo, as they gather and hearken by the door of Heimir’s hall,
The wave of a mighty music on the souls of men doth fall,
And they bow their heads and hush them, because for a dear guest’s sake
Is Heimir’s hand in the harp-strings and the ancient song is awake,
And the words of the Gods’ own fellow, and the hope of days gone by;
Then deep is that song-speech laden with the deeds that draw anigh,
And many a hope accomplished, and many an unhoped change,
And things of all once spoken, now grown exceeding strange;
Then keen as the battle-piercer the stringèd speech arose,
And the hearts of men went with it, as of them that meet the foes;
Then soared the song triumphant as o’er the world well won,
Till sweet and soft it ended as a rose falls ’neath the sun;
But thereafter was there silence till the earls cast up the shout,
And the whole house clashed and glittered as the tramp of men bore out,
And folk fell back before them; then forth the earl-folk pour,
And forth comes Heimir the Ancient and stands by his fathers’ door:
And then is the feast-hall empty and none therein abides:
For forth on the cloudy Greyfell the Son of Sigmund rides,
And the Helm of Awe he beareth, and the Mail-coat all of gold,
That hath not its like in the heavens nor has earth of its fellow told,
And the Wrath to his side is girded, though the peace-strings wind it round,
Yet oft and again it singeth, and strange is its sheathèd sound:
But beneath the King in his war-gear and beneath the wondrous Sword
Are the red rings of the Treasure, and the gems of Andvari’s Hoard,
And light goes Greyfell beneath it, and oft and o’er again
He neighs out hope of battle, for the heart of the beast is fain.
So there sitteth Sigurd the Volsung, and is dight to ride his ways,
For the world lies fair before him and the field of the people’s praise;
And he kisseth the ancient Heimir, and haileth the folk of the land,
And he crieth kind and joyous as the reins lie loose in his hand:
“Farewell, O folk of Lymdale, and your joy of the summer-tide!
For the acres whiten, meseemeth, and the harvest-field is wide:
Who knows of the toil that shall be, when the reaping-hook gleams grey,
And the knees of the strong are loosened in the afternoon of day?
Who knows of the joy that shall be, when the reaper cometh again,
And his sheaves are crowned with the blossoms, and the song goes up from the wain?
But now let the Gods look to it, to hinder or to speed!
But the love and the longing I know, and I know the hand and the deed.”
And he gathered the reins together, and set his face to the road,
And the glad steed neighed beneath him as they fared from the King’s abode,
And out past the dewy closes; but the shouts went up to the sky,
Though some for very sorrow forbore the farewell cry,
Nor was any man but heavy that the godlike guest should go;
And they craved for that glad heart guileless, and that face without a foe.
But Greyfell fareth onward, and back to the dusky hall
Now goeth the ancient Heimir, and back to bower and stall,
And back to hammer and shuttle go earl and carle and quean;
And piping in the noontide adown the hollows green
Go the yellow-headed shepherds amidst the scattered sheep;
And all hearts a dear remembrance and a hope of Sigurd keep.
But forth by dale and lealand doth the Son of Sigmund wend,
Till far away lies Lymdale and the folk of the forest’s end;
And he rides a heath unpeopled and holds the westward way,
Till a long way off before him come up the mountains grey;
Grey, huge beyond all telling, and the host of the heapèd clouds,
The black and the white together, on that rock-wall’s coping crowds;
But whiles are rents athwart them, and the hot sun pierceth through,
And there glow the angry cloud-caves ’gainst the everlasting blue,
And the changeless snow amidst it; but down from that cloudy head
The scars of fires that have been show grim and dusky-red;
And lower yet are the hollows striped down by the scanty green,
And lingering flecks of the cloud-host are tangled there-between,
White, pillowy, lit by the sun, unchanged by the drift of the wind.
Long Sigurd looked and marvelled, and up-raised his heart and his mind;
For he deemed that beyond that rock-wall bode his changèd love and life
On the further side of the battle, and the hope, and the shifting strife:
So up and down he rideth, till at even of the day
A hill’s brow he o’ertoppeth that had hid the mountains grey;
Huge, blacker they showed than aforetime, white hung the cloud-flecks there,
But red was the cloudy crown, for the sun was sinking fair:
A wide plain lay beneath him, and a river through it wound
Betwixt the lea and the acres, and the misty orchard ground;
But forth from the feet of the mountains a ridgèd hill there ran
That upreared at its hithermost ending a builded burg of man;
And Sigurd deemed in his heart as he looked on the burg from afar,
That the high Gods scarce might win it, if thereon they fell with war;
So many and great were the walls, so bore the towers on high
The threat of guarded battle, and the tale of victory.
Then swift he hasteneth downward, lest day be wholly spent
Ere he come to the gate well warded, and the walls’ beleaguerment;
For his heart is eager to hearken what men-folk therein dwell
And the name of that noble dwelling, and the tale that it hath to tell.
So he rides by the tilth of the acres, ’twixt the overhanging trees,
And but seldom now and again a glimpse of the burg he sees,
Till he comes to the flood of the river, and looks up from the balks of the bridge;
Then how was the plain grown little ’neath that mighty burg of the ridge
O’erhung by the cloudy mountains and the ash of another day,
Whereto the slopes clomb upward till the green died out in the grey,
And the grey in the awful cloud-land, where the red rents went and came
Round the snows no summers minish and the far-off sunset flame:
But lo, the burg at the ridge-end! have the Gods been building again
Since they watched the aimless Giants pile up the wall of the plain,
The house for none to dwell in? Or in what days lived the lord
Who ’neath those thunder-forges upreared that battle’s ward?
Or was not the Smith at his work, and the blast of his forges awake,
And the world’s heart poured from the mountain for that ancient people’s sake?
For as waves on the iron river of the days whereof nothing is told
Stood up the many towers, so stark and sharp and cold;
But dark-red and worn and ancient as the midmost mountain-sides
Is the wall that goeth about them; and its mighty compass hides
Full many a dwelling of man whence the reek now goeth aloft,
And the voice of the house-abiders, the sharp sounds blent with the soft:
But one house in the midst is unhidden and high up o’er the wall it goes;
Aloft in the wind of the mountains its golden roof-ridge glows,
And down mid its buttressed feet is the wind’s voice never still;
And the day and the night pass o’er it and it changes to their will,
And whiles is it glassy and dark, and whiles is it white and dead,
And whiles is it grey as the sea-mead, and whiles is it angry red;
And it shimmers under the sunshine and grows black to the threat of the storm,
And dusk its gold roof glimmers when the rain-clouds over it swarm,
And bright in the first of the morning its flame doth it uplift,
When the light clouds rend before it and along its furrows drift.
Upriseth the heart of Sigurd, but ever he rideth forth
Till he comes to the garth and the gateway built up in the face of the north:
Then e’en as a wind from the mountains he heareth the warders’ speech,
As aloft in the mighty towers they clamour each to each:
Then horn to horn blew token, and far and shrill they cried,
And he heard, as the fishers hearken the cliff-fowl over the tide:
But he rode in under the gate, that was long and dark as a cave
Bored out in the isles of the northland by the beat of the restless wave;
And the noise of the winds was within it, and the sound of swords unseen,
As the night when the host is stirring and the hearts of Kings are keen.
But no man stayed or hindered, and the dusk place knew his smile,
And into the court of the warriors he came forth after a while,
And looked aloft to the hall-roof, high up and grey as the cloud,
For the sun was wholly perished; and there he crieth aloud:
“Ho, men of this mighty burg, to what folk of the world am I come?
And who is the King of battles who dwells in this lordly home?
Or perchance are ye of the Elf-kin? are ye guest-fain, kind at the boards
Or murder-churls and destroyers to gain and die by the sword?”
Then the spears in the forecourt glittered and the swords shone over the wall,
But the song of smitten harp-strings came faint from the cloudy hall.
And he hearkened a voice and a crying: “The house of Giuki the King,
And the Burg of the Niblung people and the heart of their warfaring.”
There were many men about him, and the wind in the wall-nook sang,
And the spears of the Niblungs glittered, and the swords in the forecourt rang.
But they looked on his face in the even, and they hushed their voices and gazed,
For fear and great desire the hearts of men amazed.
Now cometh an earl to King Giuki as he sits in godlike wise
With his sons, the Kings of battle, and his wife of the glittering eyes,
And the King cries out at his coming to tell why the watch-horns blew;
But the earl saith: “Lord of the people, choose now what thou wilt do;
For here is a strange new-comer, and he saith, to thee alone
Will he tell of his name and his kindred, and the deeds that his hand hath done.
But he beareth a Helm of Aweing and a Hauberk all of gold,
That hath not its like in the heavens nor has earth of its fellow told;
And strange is all his raiment, and he beareth a Dwarf-wrought sword,
And his war-steed beareth beneath him red rings of a mighty Hoard,
And the ancient gems of the sea-floor: there he sits on his cloud-grey steed,
And his eyes are bright in the even, and we deem him mighty indeed,
And our hearts are upraised at his coming; but how shall I tell thee or say
If he be a King of the Kings and a lord of the earthly day,
Or if rather the Gods be abroad and he be one of these?
But forsooth no battle he biddeth, nor craveth he our peace.
So choose herein, King Giuki, wilt thou bid the man begone
To his house of the earth or the heavens, lest a worser deed be won,
Or wilt thou bid him abide in the Niblung peace and love?
And meseems if thus thou doest, thou shalt never repent thee thereof.”
Then uprose the King of the Niblungs, and was clad in purple and pall,
And his sheathed sword lay in his hand, as he gat him adown the hall,
And abroad through the Niblung doorway; and a mighty man he was,
And wise and ancient of days: so there by the earls doth he pass,
And beholdeth the King on the war-steed and looketh up in his face:
But Sigurd smileth upon him in the Niblungs’ fencèd place,
As the King saith: “Gold-bestrider, who into our garth wouldst ride,
Wilt thou tell thy name to a King, who biddeth thee here abide
And have all good at our hands? for unto the Niblungs’ home
And the heart of a war-fain people from the weary road are ye come;
And I am Giuki the King: so now if thou nam’st thee a God,
Look not to see me tremble; for I know of such that have trod
Unfeared in the Burg of the Niblungs; nor worser, nor better at all
May fare the folk of the Gods than the Kings in Giuki’s hall;
So I bid thee abide in my house, and when many days are o’er,
Thou shalt tell us at last of thine errand, if thou bear us peace or war.”
Then all rejoiced at his word till the swords on the bucklers rang,
And adown from the red-gold Treasure the Son of Sigmund sprang,
And he took the hand of Giuki, and kissed him soft and sweet,
And spake: “Hail, ancient of days! for thou biddest me things most meet,
And thou knowest the good from the evil: few days are over and gone
Since my father was old in the world ere the deed of my making was won;
But Sigmund the Volsung he was, full ripe of years and of fame;
And I, who have never beheld him, am Sigurd called of name;
Too young in the world am I waxen that a tale thereof should be told,
And yet have I slain the Serpent, and gotten the Ancient Gold,
And broken the bonds of the weary, and ridden the Wavering Fire.
But short is mine errand to tell, and the end of my desire:
For peace I bear unto thee, and to all the kings of the earth,
Who bear the sword aright, and are crowned with the crown of worth;
But unpeace to the lords of evil, and the battle and the death;
And the edge of the sword to the traitor, and the flame to the slanderous breath:
And I would that the loving were loved, and I would that the weary should sleep,
And that man should hearken to man, and that he that soweth should reap.
Now wide in the world would I fare, to seek the dwellings of Kings,
For with them would I do and undo, and be heart of their warfarings;
So I thank thee, lord, for thy bidding, and here in thine house will
I bide, And learn of thine ancient wisdom till forth to the field we ride.”
Glad then was the murmur of folk, for the tidings had gone forth,
And its breath had been borne to the Niblungs, and the tale of
But the King said: “Welcome, Sigurd, full fair of deed and of word!
And here mayst thou win thee fellows for the days of the peace and the sword;
For not lone in the world have I lived, but sons from my loins have sprung,
Whose deeds with the rhyme are mingled, and their names with the people’s tongue.”
Then he took his hand in his hand, and into the hall they passed,
And great shouts of salutation to the cloudy roof were cast;
And they rang from the glassy pillars, and the Gods on the hangings stirred,
And afar the clustering eagles on the golden roof-ridge heard,
And cried out on the Sword of the Branstock as they cried in the other days:
Then the harps rang out in the hall, and men sang in Sigurd’s praise;
And a flood of great remembrance, and the tales of the years gone by
Swept over the soul of Sigurd, and his fathers seemed anigh;
And he looked to the cloudy hall-roof, and anigh seemed Odin the Goth,
And the Valkyrs holding the garland, and the crown of love and of troth;
And his soul swells up exalted, and he deems that high above,
In the glorious house of the heavens, are the outstretched hands of his love;
And she stoops to the cloudy feast-hall, and the wavering wind is her voice,
And her odorous breath floats round him, as she bids her King rejoice.
But now on the daÃ¯s he meeteth the kin of Giuki the wise:
Lo, here is the crownèd Grimhild, the queen of the glittering eyes;
Lo, here is the goodly Gunnar with the face of a king’s desire;
Lo, here is Hogni that holdeth the wisdom tried in the fire;
Lo, here is Guttorm the youngest, who longs for the meeting swords;
Lo, here, as a rose in the oak-boughs, amid the Niblung lords
Is the Maid of the Niblungs standing, the white-armed Giuki’s child;
And all these looked long on Sigurd and their hearts upon him smiled.
So Grimhild greeted the guest, and she deemed him fair and sweet,
And she deemed him mighty of men, and a king for the queen-folk meet.
Then Gunnar the goodly war-king spake forth his greeting and speed,
And deemed him noble and great, and a fellow for kings in their need:
And Hogni gave him his greeting, and none his eyes might dim,
And he smiled as the winter sun on the shipless ocean’s rim.
Then greeted him Guttorm the young, and cried out that his heart was glad
That the Volsung lived in their house, that a King of the Kings they had.
Then silent awhile the Maiden, the fair-armed Gudrun, stood,
Yet might all men see by her visage that she deemed his coming good;
But at last the gold she taketh, and before him doth she stand,
And she poureth the wine of King-folk, and stretcheth forth her hand,
And she saith: “Hail, Sigurd the Volsung! may I see thy joy increase,
And thy shielded sons beside thee, and thy days grown old in peace!”
And he took the cup from her hand, and drank, while his heart rejoiced
At the Niblung Maiden’s beauty, and her blessing lovely-voiced;
And he thanked her well for the greeting, and no guile in his heart was grown,
But he thought of his love enfolded in the arms of his renown.
So the Niblungs feast glad-hearted through the undark night and kind,
And the burden of all sorrow seems fallen far behind
On the road their lives have wended ere that happiest night of nights,
And the careless days and quiet seem but thieves of their delights;
For their hearts go forth before them toward the better days to come,
When all the world of glory shall be called the Niblungs’ home:
Yea, as oft in the merry season and the morning of the May
The birds break out a-singing for the world’s face waxen gay,
And they flutter there in the blossoms, and run through the dewy grass,
As they sing the joy of the spring-tide, that bringeth the summer to pass;
And they deem that for them alone was the earth wrought long ago.
And no hate and no repentance, and no fear to come they know;
So fared the feast of the Niblungs on the eve that Sigurd came
In the day of their deeds triumphant, and the blossom of their fame.
Now gone is the summer season and the harvest of the year,
And amid the winter weather the deeds of the Niblungs wear;
But nought is their joyance worsened, or their mirth-tide waxen less,
Though the swooping mountain tempest howl round their ridgy ness,
Though a house of the windy battle their streeted burg be grown,
Though the heaped-up, huddled cloud-drift be their very hall-roofs crown,
Though the rivers bear the burden, and the Rime–Gods grip and strive,
And the snow in the mirky midnoon across the lealand drive.
But lo, in the stark midwinter how the war is smitten awake,
And the blue-clad Niblung warriors the spears from the wall-nook take,
And gird the dusky hauberk, and the ruddy fur-coat don,
And draw the yellowing ermine o’er the steel from Welshland won.
Then they show their tokened war-shields to the moon-dog and the stars,
For the hurrying wind of the mountains has borne them tale of wars.
Lo now, in the court of the warriors they gather for the fray,
Before the sun’s uprising, in the moonless morn of day;
And the spears by the dusk gate glimmer, and the torches shine on the wall,
And the murmuring voice of women comes faint from the cloudy hall:
Then the grey dawn beats on the mountains mid a drift of frosty snow,
And all men the face of Sigurd mid the swart-haired Niblungs know;
And they see his gold gear glittering mid the red fur and the white,
And high are the hearts uplifted by the hope of happy fight;
And they see the sheathed Wrath shimmer mid the restless Welsh-wrought swords,
And their hearts rejoice beforehand o’er the fall of conquered lords;
And they see the Helm of Aweing and the awful eyes beneath,
And they deem the victory glorious, and fair the warrior’s death.
So forth through that cave of the gate from the Niblung Burg they fare,
And they turn their backs on the plain, and the mountain-slopes they dare,
And the place of the slaked earth-forges, as the eastering wind shall lead,
And but few swords bide behind them the Niblung Burg to heed.
But lo, in the jaws of the mountains how few and small they seem,
As dusky-strange in the snow-drifts their knitted hauberks gleam:
Lo, now at the mountains’ outmost ’neath Sigurd’s gleaming eyes
How wide in the winter season the citied lealand lies:
Lo, how the beacons are flaring, and the bell-swayed steeples rock,
And the gates of cities are shaken with the back-swung door-leaves’ shock:
And, lo, the terror of towns, and the land that the winter wards,
And over the streets snow-muffled the clash of the Niblung swords.
But the slaves of the Kings are gathered, and their host the battle abides,
And forth in the front of the Niblungs the golden Sigurd rides;
And Gunnar smites on his right hand, and Hogni smites on the left,
And glad is the heart of Guttorm, and the Southland host is cleft
As the grey bill reapeth the willows in the autumn of the year,
When the fish lie still in the eddies, and the rain-flood draweth anear.
Now sheathed is the Wrath of Sigurd; for as wax withstands the flame,
So the Kings of the land withstood him and the glory of his fame.
And before the grass is growing, or the kine have fared from the stall,
The song of the fair-speech-masters goes up in the Niblung hall,
And they sing of the golden Sigurd and the face without a foe,
And the lowly man exalted and the mighty brought alow:
And they say, when the sun of summer shall come aback to the land,
It shall shine on the fields of the tiller that fears no heavy hand;
That the sheaf shall be for the plougher, and the loaf for him that sowed,
Through every furrowed acre where the Son of Sigmund rode.
Full dear was Sigurd the Volsung to all men most and least,
And now, as the spring drew onward, ’twas deemed a goodly feast
For the acre-biders’ children by the Niblung Burg to wait,
If perchance the Son of Sigmund should ride abroad by the gate:
For whosoever feared him, no little-one, forsooth,
Would shrink from the shining eyes and the hand that clave out truth
From the heart of the wrack and the battle: it was then, as his gold gear burned
O’er the balks of the bridge and the river, that oft the mother turned,
And spake to the laughing baby: “O little son, and dear,
When I from the world am departed, and whiles a-nights ye hear
The best of man-folk longing for the least of Sigurd’s days,
Thou shalt hearken to their story, till they tell forth all his praise,
And become beloved and a wonder, as thou sayest when all is sung, ’And I too once beheld him in the days when I was young.’”
Men say that the white-armed Gudrun, the lovely Giuki’s child,
Looked long on Sigurd’s visage in the winter weather wild
On the eve of the Kings’ departure; and she bore him wine and spake:
“Thou goest to the war, O Sigurd, for the Niblung brethren’s sake;
And so women send their kindred on many a doubtful tide,
And dead full oft on the death-field shall the hope of their lives abide;
Nor must they fear beforehand, nor weep when all is o’er;
But thou, our guest and our stranger, thou goest to the war,
And who knows but thine hand may carry the hope of all the earth;
Now therefore if thou deemest that my prayer be aught of worth,
Nor wilt scorn the child of a Niblung that prays for things to come,
Pledge me for thy glad returning, and the sheaves of fame borne home!”
He laughed, for his heart was merry for the seed of battle sown,
For the fruit of love’s fulfilment, and the blossom of renown;
And he said: “I look in the wine-cup and I see goodwill therein;
Be merry, Maid of the Niblungs; for these are the prayers that win!”
He drank, and the soul within him to the love and the glory turned,
And all unmoved was her visage, howso her heart-strings yearned.
But again when the bolt of battle on the sleeping kings had been hurled,
And the gold-tipped cloud of the Niblungs had been sped on the winter world,
And once more in that hall of the stories was dight triumphant feast,
And in joy of soul past telling sat all men most and least,
There stood the daughter of Giuki by the king-folk’s happy board,
And grave and stern was Gudrun as the wine of kings she poured:
But Sigurd smiled upon her, and he said:
“O maid, rejoice
For thy pledge’s fair redeeming, and the hope of thy kindly voice!
Thou hast prayed for the guest and the stranger, and, lo, from the battle and wrack
Is the hope of the Niblungs blossomed, and thy brethren’s lives come back.”
She turned and looked upon him, and the flush ran over her face,
And died out as the summer lightning, that scarce endureth a space;
But still was her visage troubled, as she said: “Hast thou called me kind
Because I feared for earth’s glory when point and edge are blind?
But now is the night as the day, when thou bringest my brethren home,
And back in the arms of thy glory the Niblung hope has come.”
But his eyes look kind upon her, and the trouble passeth away,
And there in the hall of the Niblungs is dark night as glorious day.
Now spring o’er the winter prevaileth, and the blossoms brighten the field;
But lo, in the flowery lealands the gleam of spear and shield,
For swift to the tidings of warfare speeds on the Niblung folk,
And the Kings to the sea are riding, and the battle-laden oak.
Now the isle-abiders tremble, and the dwellers by the sea
And the nesses flare with the beacons, and the shepherds leave the lea,
As the tale of the golden warrior speeds on from isle to isle.
Now spread is the snare of treason, and cast is the net of guile,
And the mirk-wood gleams with the ambush, and venom lurks at the board;
And whiles and again for a little the fair fields gleam with the sword,
And the host of the isle-folk gather, nigh numberless of tale:
But how shall its bulk and its writhing the willow-log avail
When the red flame lives amidst it? Lo now, the golden man
In the towns from of old time famous, by the temples tall and wan;
How he wends with the swart-haired Niblungs through the mazes of the streets,
And the hosts of the conquered outlands and their uncouth praying meets.
There he wonders at their life-days and their fond imaginings,
As he bears the love of Brynhild through the houses of the kings,
Where his word shall do and undo, and with crowns of kings shall he deal;
And he laughs to scorn the treasure where thieves break through and steal,
And the moth and the rust are corrupting: and he thinks the time is long
Till the dawning of love’s summer from the cloudy days of wrong.
So they raise and abase and alter, then turn about and ride,
Mid the peace of the sword triumphant, to the shell-strown ocean’s side;
And they bear their glory away to the mouth of the fishy stream,
And again in the Niblung lealand doth the Welsh-wrought war-gear gleam,
And they come to the Burg of the Niblungs and the mighty gate of war,
And betwixt the gathered maidens through its dusky depths they pour,
And with war-helms done with blossoms round the Niblung hall they sing
In the windless cloudless even and the ending of the spring;
Yea, they sing the song of Sigurd and the face without a foe,
And they sing of the prison’s rending and the tyrant laid alow,
And the golden thieves’ abasement, and the stilling of the churl,
And the mocking of the dastard where the chasing edges whirl;
And they sing of the outland maidens that thronged round Sigurd’s hand,
And sung in the streets of the foemen of the war-delivered land;
And they tell how the ships of the merchants come free and go at their will,
And how wives in peace and safety may crop the vine-clad hill;
How the maiden sits in her bower, and the weaver sings at his loom,
And forget the kings of grasping and the greedy days of gloom;
For by sea and hill and township hath the Son of Sigmund been.
And looked on the folk unheeded, and the lowly people seen.
Then into the hall of the Niblungs go the battle-staying earls,
And they cast the spoil in the midmost; the webs of the out-sea pearls,
And the gold-enwoven purple that on hated kings was bright;
Fair jewelled swords accursèd that never flashed in fight;
Crowns of old kings of battle that dastards dared to wear;
Great golden shields dishonoured, and the traitors’ battle-gear;
Chains of the evil judges, and the false accusers’ rings,
And the cloud-wrought silken raiment of the cruel whores of kings.
And they cried: “O King of the people, O Giuki old of years,
Lo, the wealth that Sigurd brings thee from the fashioners of tears!
Take thou the gift, O Niblung, that the Volsung seed hath brought!
For we fought on the guarded fore-shore, in the guileful wood we fought;
And we fought in the traitorous city, and the murder-halls of kings;
And Sigurd showed us the treasure, and won us the ruddy rings
From the jaws of the treason and death, and redeemed our lives from the snare,
That the uttermost days might know it, and the day of the Niblungs be fair:
And all this he giveth to thee, as the Gods give harvest and gain,
And sit in their thrones of the heavens of the praise of the people fain.”
Then Sigurd passed through the hall, and fair was the light of his eyes,
And he came to King Giuki the ancient, and Grimhild the overwise,
And stooped to the elder of days and kissed the war-wise head;
And they loved him passing sore as a very son of their bed.
But he stood in the sight of the people, and sweet he was to see,
And no foe and no betrayer, and no envier now hath he:
But Gunnar the bright in the battle deems him his earthly friend,
And Hogni is fain of his fellow, howso the day’s work end,
And Guttorm the young is joyous of the help and gifts he hath;
And all these would shine beside him in the glory of his path;
There is none to hate or hinder, or mar the golden day,
And the light of love flows plenteous, as the sun-beams hide the way.
Now there was the white-armed Gudrun, the lovely Giuki’s child,
And her eyes beheld his glory, but her heart was unbeguiled,
And the dear hope fainted in her: I am frail and weak, she saith,
And he so great and glorious with the eyes that look on death!
Yet she comes, and speaks before him as she bears the golden horn:
“The world is glad, O Sigurd, that ever thou wert born,
And I with the world am rejoicing: drink now to the Niblung bliss,
That I, a deedless maiden, may thank thee well for this!”
So he drank of the cup at her bidding and laughed, and said, “Forsooth,
Good-will with the cup is blended, and the very heart of ruth:
Yet meseems thy words are merrier than thine inmost soul this eve;
Nay, cast away thy sorrow, lest the Kings of battle grieve!”
She smiled and departed from him, and there in the cloudy hall
To the feast of their glad returning the Niblung children fall;
And far o’er the flowery lealand the shepherds of the plain
Behold the litten windows, and know that Kings are fain.
So fares the tale of Sigurd through all kingdoms of the earth,
And the tale is told of his doings by the utmost ocean’s girth;
And fair feast the merchants deem it to warp their sea-beat ships
High up the Niblung River, that their sons may hear his lips
Shed fair words o’er their ladings and the opened southland bales;
Then they get them aback to their countries, and tell how all men’s tales
Are nought, and vain and empty in setting forth his grace,
And the unmatched words of his wisdom, and the glory of his face.
Came the wise men too from the outlands, and the lords of singers’ fame,
That men might know hereafter the deeds that knew his name;
And all these to their lands departed, and bore aback his love,
And cherished the tree of his glory, and lived glad in the joy thereof.
But men say that howsoever all other folk of earth
Loved Sigmund’s son rejoicing, and were bettered of their mirth,
Yet ever the white-armed Gudrun, the dark-haired Niblung Maid,
From the barren heart of sorrow her love upon him laid:
He rejoiceth, and she droopeth; he speaks and hushed is she;
He beholds the world’s days coming, nought but Sigurd may she see;
He is wise and her wisdom falters; he is kind, and harsh and strange
Comes the voice from her bosom laden, and her woman’s mercies change.
He longs, and she sees his longing, and her heart grows cold as a sword,
And her heart is the ravening fire, and the fretting sorrows’ hoard.
Ah, shall she not wander away to the wilds and the wastes of the deer,
Or down to the measureless sea-flood, and the mountain marish drear?
Nay, still shall she bide and behold him in the ancient happy place,
And speak soft as the other women with wise and queenly face.
Woe worth the while for her sorrow, and her hope of life forlorn!
— Woe worth the while for her loving, and the day when she was born!
Now again in the latter summer do those Kings of the Niblungs ride
To chase the sons of the plunder that curse the ocean-side:
So over the oaken rollers they run the cutters down
Till fair in the first of the deep are the glittering bows up-thrown;
But, shining wet and steel-clad, men leap from the surfy shore,
And hang their shields on the gunwale, and cast abroad the oar;
Then full to the outer ocean swing round the golden beaks,
And Sigurd sits by the tiller and the host of the spoilers seeks.
But lo, by the rim of the out-sea where the masts of the Vikings sway,
And their bows plunge down to the sea-floor as they ride the ridgy way,
And show the slant decks covered with swords from stem to stern:
Hark now, how the horns of battle for the clash of warriors yearn,
And the mighty song of mocking goes up from the thousands of throats,
As down the wind and landward the raven-banner floats:
For they see thin streaks and shining o’er the waters’ face draw nigh,
And about each streak a foam-wake as the wet oars toss on high;
And they shout; for the silent Niblungs round those great sea-castles throng,
And the eager men unshielded swarm up the heights of wrong.
Then from bulwark unto bulwark the Wrath’s flame sings and leaps,
And the unsteered manless dragons drift down the weltering deeps,
And the waves toss up a shield-foam, and hushed are the clamorous throats
And dead in the summer even the raven-banner floats,
And the Niblung song goes upward, as the sea-burgs long accursed
Are swept toward the field-folk’s houses, and the shores they saddened erst:
Lo there on the poop stands Sigurd mid the black-haired Niblung kings,
And his heart goes forth before him toward the day of better things,
And the burg in the land of Lymdale, and the hands that bide him there.
But now with the spoil of the spoilers mid the Niblungs doth he fare,
When the Kings have dight the beacons and the warders of the coast,
That fire may call to fire for the swift redeeming host.
Then they fare to the Burg of the people, and leave that lealand free
That a maid may wend untroubled by the edges of the sea;
And glad in the autumn season they sit them down again
By the shrines of the Gods of the Niblungs, and the hallowed hearths of men.
So there on an eve is Sigurd in the ancient Niblung hall,
Where the cloudy hangings waver and the flickering shadows fall,
And he sits by the Kings on the high-seat, and wise of men he seems,
And of many a hidden marvel past thought of man he dreams:
On the Head of Hindfell he thinketh, and how fair the woman was,
And how that his love hath blossomed, and the fruit shall come to pass;
And he thinks of the burg in Lymdale, and how hand met hand in love,
Nor deems him aught too feeble the heart of the world to move;
And more than a God he seemeth, and so steadfast and so great,
That the sea of chance wide-weltering ’neath his will must needs abate.
High riseth the glee of the people, and the song and the clank of the cup
Beat back from pillar to pillar, to the cloud-blue roof go up;
And men’s hearts rejoice in the battle, and the hope of coming days,
Till scarce may they think of their fathers, and the kings of bygone praise.
But Giuki looketh on Sigurd and saith from heart grown fain:
“To sit by the silent wise-one, how mighty is the gain!
Yet we know this long while, Sigurd, that lovely is thy speech;
Wilt thou tell us the tales of the ancient, and the words of masters teach?
For the joy of our hearts is stormy with mighty battles won,
And sweet shall be their lulling with thy tale of deeds agone.”
Then they brought the harp to Sigurd, and he looked on the ancient man,
As his hand sank into the strings, and a ripple over them ran,
And he looked forth kind o’er the people, and all men on his glory gazed,
And hearkened, hushed and happy, as the King his voice upraised;
There he sang of the works of Odin, and the hails of the heavenly coast,
And the sons of God uprising, and the Wolflings’ gathering host;
And he told of the birth of Rerir, and of Volsung yet unborn,
All the deeds of his father’s father, and his battles overworn;
Then he told of Signy and Sigmund, and the changing of their lives;
Tales of great kings’ departing, and their kindred and their wives.
But his song and his fond desire go up to the cloudy roof,
And blend with the eagles’ shrilling in the windy night aloof.
So he made an end of his story, and he sat and longed full sore
That the days of all his longing as a story might be o’er:
But the wonder of the people, and their love of Sigurd grew,
And green grew the tree of the Volsungs, as the Branstock blossomed anew.
Now up rose Grimhild the wise-wife, and she stood by Sigurd and said:
“There is none of the kings of kingdoms that may match thy goodlihead:
Lo now, thou hast sung of thy fathers; but men shall sing of thee,
And therewith shall our house be remembered, and great shall our glory be.
I beseech thee hearken a little to a faithful word of mine,
When thou of this cup hast drunken; for my love is blent with the wine.”
He laughed and took the cup: But therein with the blood of the earth
Earth’s hidden might was mingled, and deeds of the cold sea’s birth,
And things that the high Gods turn from, and a tangle of strange love,
Deep guile, and strong compelling, that whoso drank thereof
Should remember not his longing, should cast his love away,
Remembering dead desire but as night remembereth day.
So Sigurd looked on the horn, and he saw how fair it was scored
With the cunning of the Dwarf-kind and the masters of the sword;
And he drank and smiled on Grimhild above the beaker’s rim,
And she looked and laughed at his laughter; and the soul was changed in him.
Men gazed and their hearts sank in them, and they knew not why it was,
Why the fair-lit hall was darkling, nor what had come to pass:
For they saw the sorrow of Sigurd, who had seen but his deeds erewhile,
And the face of the mighty darkened, who had known but the light of its smile.
But Grimhild looked and was merry: and she deemed her life was great,
And her hand a wonder of wonders to withstand the deeds of Fate:
For she saw by the face of Sigurd and the token of his eyes
That her will had abased the valiant, and filled the faithful with lies,
And blinded the God-born seer, and turned the steadfast athwart,
And smitten the pride of the joyous, and the hope of the eager heart;
The hush of the hall she hearkened, and the fear of men she knew,
But all this was a token unto her, and great pride within her grew,
As she saw the days that were coming from the well-spring of her blood;
Goodly and glorious and great by the kings of her kindred she stood,
And faced the sorrow of Sigurd, and her soul of that hour was fain;
For she thought: I will heal the smitten, I will raise up the smitten and slain,
And take heed where the Gods were heedless, and build on where they began,
And frame hope for the unborn children and the coming days of man.
Then she spake aloud to the Volsung: “Hear this faithful word of mine!
For the draught thou hast drunken, O Sigurd, and my love was blent with the wine:
O Sigurd, son of the mighty, thy kin are passed away,
But uplift thine heart and be merry, for new kin hast thou gotten today;
Thy father is Giuki the King, and Grimhild thy mother is made,
And thy brethren are Gunnar and Hogni and Guttorm the unafraid.
Rejoice for a kingly kindred, and a hope undreamed before!
For the folk shall be wax in the fire that withstandeth the Niblung war;
The waste shall bloom as a garden in the Niblung glory and trust,
And the wrack of the Niblung people shall burn the world to dust:
Our peace shall still the world, our joy shall replenish the earth;
And of thee it cometh, O Sigurd, the gold and the garland of worth!”
But the heart was changed in Sigurd; as though it ne’er had been
His love of Brynhild perished as he gazed on the Niblung Queen:
Brynhild’s belovèd body was e’en as a wasted hearth,
No more for bale or blessing, for plenty or for dearth.
— O ye that shall look hereafter, when the day of Sigurd is done,
And the last of his deeds is accomplished, and his eyes are shut in the sun,
When ye look and long for Sigurd, and the image of Sigurd behold,
And his white sword still as the moon, and his strong hand heavy and cold,
Then perchance shall ye think of this even, then perchance shall ye wonder and cry, “Twice over,
King, are we smitten, and twice have we seen thee die.”
As folk of the summer feasters, who have fallen to feast in the morn,
And have wreathed their brows with roses ere the first of the clouds was born;
Beneath the boughs were they sitting, and the long leaves twinkled about,
And the wind with their laughter was mingled, nor held aback from their shout,
Amidst of their harp it lingered, from the mouth of their horn went up,
Round the reek of their roast was it breathing, o’er the flickering face of their cup —
— Lo now, why sit they so heavy, and why is their joy-speech dead,
Why are the long leaves drooping, and the fair wind hushed overhead? —
Look out from the sunless boughs to the yellow-mirky east,
How the clouds are woven together o’er that afternoon of feast;
There are heavier clouds above them, and the sun is a hidden wonder,
It rains in the nether heaven, and the world is afraid with the thunder:
E’en so in the hall of the Niblungs, and the holy joyous place,
Sat the earls on the marvel gazing, and the sorrow of Sigurd’s face.
Men say that a little after the evil of that night
All waste is the burg of Brynhild, and there springeth a marvellous light
On the desert hard by Lymdale, and few men know for why;
But there are, who say that a wildfire thence roareth up to the sky
Round a glorious golden dwelling, wherein there sitteth a Queen
In remembrance of the wakening, and the slumber that hath been;
Wherein a Maid there sitteth, who knows not hope nor rest
For remembrance of the Mighty, and the Best come forth from the Best.
But the hushed Kings sat in the feast-hall, till Grimhild cried on the harp,
And the minstrels’ fingers hastened, and the sound rang clear and sharp
Beneath the cloudy roof-tree, but no joyance with it went,
And no voice but the eagles’ crying with the stringèd song was blent;
And as it began, it ended, and no soul had been moved by its voice,
To lament o’er the days passed over, or in coming days to rejoice.
Late groweth the night o’er the people, but no word hath Sigurd said,
Since he laughed o’er the glittering Dwarf-gold and raised the cup to his head:
No wrath in his eyes is arisen, no hope, nor wonder, nor fear;
Yet is Sigurd’s face as boding to folk that behold him anear,
As the mountain that broodeth the fire o’er the town of man’s delights,
As the sky that is cursed nor thunders, as the God that is smitten nor smites.
So silent sitteth the Volsung o’er the blindness of the wrong,
But night on the Niblungs waxeth, and their Kings for the morrow long,
And the morrow of tomorrow that the light may be fair to their eyes,
And their days as the days of the joyous: so now from the throne they arise,
And their men depart from the feast-hall, their care in sleep to lay,
But none durst speak with Sigurd, nor ask him, whither away,
As he strideth dumb from amidst them; and all who see him deem
That he heedeth the folk of the Niblungs but as people of a dream.
So they fall away from about him, till he stands in the forecourt alone;
Then he fares to the kingly stables, nor knoweth he his own,
Nor backeth the cloudy Greyfell, but a steed of the Kings he bestrides
And forth through the gate of the Niblungs and into the night he rides:
— Yea he with no deed before him, and he in the raiment of peace;
And the moon in the mid-sky wadeth, and is come to her most increase.
In the deedless dark he rideth, and all things he remembers save one,
And nought else hath he care to remember of all the deeds he hath done:
He hasteneth not nor stayeth; he lets the dark die out
Ere he comes to the burg of Brynhild and rides it round about;
And he lets the sun rise upward ere he rideth thence away,
And wendeth he knoweth not whither, and he weareth down the day;
Till lo, a plain and a river, and a ridge at the mountains’ feet
With a burg of people builded for the lords of God-home meet.
O’er the bridge of the river he rideth, and unto the burg-gate comes
In no lesser wise up-builded than the gate of the heavenly homes:
Himseems that the gate-wards know him, for they cry out each to each,
And as whispering winds in the mountains he hears their far-off speech.
So he comes to the gate’s huge hollow, and amidst its twilight goes,
And his horse is glad and remembers, and that road of King-folk knows;
And the winds are astir in its arches with the sound of swords unseen,
And the cries of kings departed, and the battles that have been.
So into a garth of warriors from that dusk he rideth out
And no man stayeth nor hindereth; there he gazeth round about,
And seeth a glorious dwelling, a mighty far-famed place,
As the last of the evening sunlight shines fair on his weary face;
And there is a hall before him, and huge in the even it lies,
A mountain grey and awful with the Dwarf-folk’s masteries:
And the houses of men cling round it, and low they seem and frail,
Though the wise and the deft have built them for a long-enduring tale:
There the wind sings loud in the wall-nook, and the spears are sparks on the wall,
And the swords are flaming torches as the sun is hard on his fall:
He falls, and the even dusketh o’er that sword-renownèd close,
But Sigurd bideth and broodeth for the Niblung house he knows,
And he hath a thought within him that he rideth forth from shame,
And that men have forgotten the greeting and are slow to remember his fame.
But forth from the hall came a shouting, and the voice of many men,
And he deemed they cried “Hail, Sigurd! thou art welcome home again!”
Then he looked to the door of the feast-hall and behold it seemed to him
That its wealth of graven stories with more than the dusk was dim;
With the waving of white raiment and the doubtful gleam of gold.
Then there groweth a longing within him, nor his heart will he withhold;
But he rideth straight to the doorway, and the stories of the door:
And there sitteth Giuki the ancient, the King, the wise of war,
And Grimhild the kin of the God-folk, the wife of the glittering eyes;
And there is the goodly Gunnar, and Hogni the overwise,
And Guttorm the young and the war-fain; and there in the door and the shade,
With eyes to the earth cast downward, is the white-armed Niblung Maid.
But all these give Sigurd greeting, and hail him fair and well;
And King Giuki saith:
Sigurd! what tidings wilt thou tell
Of thy deeds since yestereven? or whitherward wentst thou?”
Then unto the earth leapt the Volsung, and gazed with doubtful brow
On the King and the Queen and the Brethren, and the white-armed
Giuki’s Child, Yet amidst all these in a measure of his heavy heart was beguiled:
He spread out his hands before them, and he spake:
“O, what be ye,
Who ask of the deeds of Sigurd, and seek of the days to be?
Are ye aught but the Niblung children? for meseems I would ask for a gift,
But the thought of my heart is unstable, and my hope as the winter-drift;
And the words may not be shapen. — But speak ye, men of the earth,
Have ye any new-found tidings, or are deeds come nigh to the birth?
Are there knots for my sword to sunder? are there thrones for my hand to shake?
And to which of the Gods shall I give, and from which of the Kings shall
I take? Or in which of the houses of man-folk henceforward shall I dwell?
O speak, ye Niblung children, and the tale to Sigurd tell!”
None answered a word for a space; but Gudrun wept in the door,
And the noise of men came outward and of feet that went on the floor.
Then Grimhild stood before him, and took him by the hand,
And she said: “In the hall are gathered the earls of the Niblung land.
Come thou with the Mother of Kings and sit in thy place tonight,
That the cheer of the earls may be bettered, nor the war-dukes lose delight.”
“Come, brother and king,” said Gunnar, “for here of all the earth
Is the place that may not lack thee, and the folk that loves thy worth.”
“Come, Sigurd the wise,” said Hogni, “and so shall thy visage cheer
The folk that is bold for tomorrow, and the hearts that know no fear.”
“Come, Sigurd the keen,” said Guttorm, “for thy sword lies light in the sheath,
And oft shall we ride together to face the fateful death.”
No word at all spake Gudrun, as she stood in the doorway dim,
But turned her face from beholding as she reached her hand to him.
Then Sigurd nought gainsaid them, but into the hall he passed,
And great shouts of salutation to the cloudy roof were cast,
And rang back from the glassy pillars, and the woven God-folk stirred,
And afar the clustering eagles on the golden roof-ridge heard,
And cried out on the Sword of the Branstock as they cried in other days;
And the harps rang out in the hall, and men sang in Sigurd’s praise.
But he looked to the right and the left, and he knew there was ruin and lack,
And the death of yestereven, and the days that should never come back;
And he strove, but nought he remembered of the matters that he would,
Save that great was the flood of sorrow that had drowned his days of good:
Then he deemed that the sons of the earl-folk, e’en mid their praising word,
Were looking on his trouble as a people sore afeard;
And the gifts that the Gods had given the pride in his soul awoke,
And kindled was Sigurd’s kindness by the trouble of the folk;
And he thought: I shall do and undo, as while agone I did,
And abide the time of the dawning, when the night shall be no more hid!
Then he lifted his head like a king, and his brow as a God’s was clear,
And the trouble fell from the people, and they cast aside their fear;
And scarce was his glory abated as he sat in the seat of the Kings
With the Niblung brethren about him, and they spake of famous things,
And the dealings of lords of the earth; but he spake and answered again
And thrust by the grief of forgetting, and his tangled thought and vain,
And cast his care on the morrow, that the people might be glad.
Yet no smile there came to Sigurd, and his lips no laughter had;
But he seemeth a king o’er-mighty, who hath won the earthly crown,
In whose hand the world is lying, who no more heedeth renown.
But now speaketh Grimhild the Queen: “Rise, daughter of my folk,
For thou seest my son is weary with the weight of the careful yoke;
Go, bear him the wine of the Kings, and hail him over the gold,
And bless the King for his coming to the heart of the Niblung fold.”
Upriseth the white-armed Gudrun, and taketh the cup in her hand;
Dead-pale in the night of her tresses by Sigurd doth she stand,
And strives with the thought within her, and finds no word to speak:
For such is the strength of her anguish, as well might slay the weak;
But her heart is a heart of the Queen-folk and of them that bear earth’s kings,
And her love of her lord seems lovely, though sore the torment wrings,
— How fares it with words unspoken, when men are great enow,
And forth from the good to the good the strong desires shall flow?
Are they wasted e’en as the winds, the barren maids of the sky,
Of whose birth there is no man wotteth, nor whitherward they fly?
Lo, Sigurd lifteth his eyes, and he sees her silent and pale,
But fair as Odin’s Choosers in the slain kings’ wakening dale,
But sweet as the mid-fell’s dawning ere the grass beginneth to move;
And he knows in an instant of time that she stands ’twixt death and love,
And that no man, none of the Gods can help her, none of the days,
If he turn his face from her sorrow, and wend on his lonely ways.
But she sees the change in his eyen, and her queenly grief is stirred,
And the shame in her bosom riseth at the long unspoken word,
And again with the speech she striveth; but swift is the thought in his heart
To slay her trouble for ever, and thrust her shame apart.
And he saith:
“O Maid of the Niblungs, thou art weary-faced this eve:
Nay, put thy trouble from thee, lest the shielded warriors grieve!
Or tell me what hath been done, or what deed have men forborne,
That here mid the warriors’ joyance thy life-joy lieth forlorn?
For so may the high Gods help me, as nought so much I would,
As that round thine head this even might flit unmingled good!”
He seeth the love in her eyen, and the life that is tangled in his,
And the heart cries out within him, and man’s hope of earthly bliss;
And again would he spare her the speech, as she strives with her longing sore.
“Here are glad men about us, and a joyous folk of war.
And they that have loved thee for long, and they that have cherished mine heart;
But we twain alone are woeful, as sad folk sitting apart.
Ah, if I thy soul might gladden! if thy lips might give me peace!
Then belike were we gladdest of all; for I love thee more than these.
The cup of goodwill that thou bearest, and the greeting thou wouldst say,
Turn these to the cup of thy love, and the words of the troth-plighting day;
The love that endureth for ever, and the never-dying troth,
To face the Norns’ undoing, and the Gods amid their wrath.”
Then he taketh the cup and her hands, and she boweth meekly adown,
Till she feels the arms of Sigurd round her trembling body thrown:
A little while she doubteth in the mighty slayer’s arms
As Sigurd’s love unhoped-for her barren bosom warms;
A little while she struggleth with the fear of his mighty fame,
That grows with her hope’s fulfilment; ruth rises with wonder and shame;
For the kindness grows in her soul, as forgotten anguish dies,
And her heart feels Sigurd’s sorrow in the breast whereon she lies;
Then the fierce love overwhelms her, and as wax in the fervent fire
All dies and is forgotten in the sweetness of desire;
And close she clingeth to Sigurd, as one that hath gotten the best
And fair things of the world she deemeth, as a place of infinite rest.
That night sleeps Sigurd the Volsung, and awakes on the morrow-morn,
And wots at the first but dimly what thing in his life hath been born:
But the sun cometh up in the autumn, and the eve he remembered,
And the word he hath given to Gudrun to love her to the death;
And he longs for the Niblung maiden, that her love may cherish his heart,
Lest e’en as a Godhead banished he dwell in the world apart:
The new sun smiteth his body as he leaps from the golden bed,
And doeth on his raiment and is fair apparelled;
Then he goes his ways through the chambers, and greeteth none at all
Till he comes to the garth and the garden in the nook of the Niblung wall.
Now therein, mid the yellowing leafage, and the golden blossoms spent,
Alone and lovely and eager the white-armed Gudrun went;
Swift then he hasteneth toward her, and she bideth his drawing near,
And now in the morn she trembleth; for her love is blent with fear;
And wonder is all around her, for she deemed till yestereve,
When she saw the earls astonied, and the golden Sigurd grieve,
That on some most mighty woman his joyful love was set;
And love hath made her humble, and her race doth she forget,
And her noble and mighty heart from the best of the Niblungs sprung,
The sons of the earthly War–Gods of the days when the world was young.
Yea she feareth her love and his fame, but she feareth his sorrow most,
Lest he spake from a heart o’erladen and counted not the cost.
But lo, the love of his eyen, and the kindness of his face!
And joy her body burdens, and she trembleth in her place,
And sinks in the arms that cherish with a faint and eager cry,
And again on the bosom of Sigurd doth the head of Gudrun lie.
Fairer than yestereven doth Sigurd deem his love,
And more her tender wooing and her shame his soul doth move;
And his words of peace and comfort come easier forth from him,
And woman’s love seems wondrous amidst his trouble dim;
Strange, sweet, to cling together! as oft and o’er again
They crave and kiss rejoicing, and their hearts are full and fain.
Then a little while they sunder, and apart and anigh they stand,
And Sigurd’s eyes grow awful as he stretcheth forth his hand,
And his clear voice saith:
“O Gudrun, now hearken while I swear
That the sun shall die for ever and the day no more be fair.
Ere I forget thy pity and thine inmost heart of love!
Yea, though the Kings be mighty, and the Gods be great above,
I will wade the flood and the fire, and the waste of war forlorn,
To look on the Niblung dwelling, and the house where thou wert born.”
Strange seemed the words to Sigurd that his gathering love compelled,
And sweet and strange desire o’er his tangled trouble welled.
But bright flashed the eyes of Gudrun, and she said: “King, as for me,
If thou sawest the heart in my bosom, what oath might better thee?
Yet my words thy words shall cherish, as thy lips my lips have done.
— Herewith I swear, O Sigurd, that the earth shall hate the sun,
And the year desire but darkness, and the blossoms shrink from day,
Ere my love shall fail, beloved, or my longing pass away!”
Now they go from the garth and the garden, and hand in hand they come
To the hall of the kings of aforetime, and the heart of the Niblung home.
There they go ’neath the cloudy roof-tree, and on to the high-seat fair,
And there sitteth Giuki the ancient, and the guileful Grimhild is there,
With the swart-haired Niblung brethren; and all these are exceeding fain,
When they look on Sigurd and Gudrun, and the peace that enwrappeth the twain,
For in her is all woe forgotten, sick longing little seen,
And the shame that slayeth pity, and the self-scorn of a Queen;
And all doubt in love is swallowed, and lovelier now is she
Than a picture deftly painted by the craftsmen over sea;
And her face is a rose of the morning by the night-tide framed about,
And the long-stored love of her bosom from her eyes is leaping out.
But how fair is Sigurd the King that beside her beauty goes!
How lovely is he shapen, how great his stature shows!
How kind is the clasping right-hand, that hath smitten the battle acold!
How kind are the awful eyen that no foeman durst behold!
How sweet are the lips unsmiling, and the brow as the open day!
What man can behold and believe it, that his life shall pass away?
So he standeth proud by the high-seat, and the sun through the vast hall pours
And the Gods on the hangings waver as the wind goes by the doors,
And abroad are the sounds of man-folk, and the eagles cry from the roof,
And the ancient deeds of Sigmund seem fallen far aloof;
And dead are the fierce days fallen, and the world is soft and sweet,
As the Son of the Volsungs speaketh in noble words and meet:
“O hearken, King of the Niblungs, O ancient of the days!
Time was, when alone I wandered, and went on the wasteland ways,
And sore my soul desired the harvest of the sword:
Then I slew the great Gold-wallower, and won the ancient Hoard,
And I turned to the dwellings of men; for I longed for measureless fame,
And to do and undo with the Kings, and the pride of the Kings to tame;
And I longed for the love of the King-folk; but who desired my soul,
Who stayed my feet in his dwelling, who showed the weary the goal,
Who drew me forth from the wastes, and the bitter kinless dearth,
Till I came to the house of Giuki and the hallowed Niblung hearth?
Count up the deeds and forbearings, count up the words of the days
That show forth the love of the Niblungs and the ancient people’s praise.
Nay, number the waves of the sea, and the grains of the yellow sand,
And the drops of the rain in the April, and the blades of the grassy land!
And what if one heart of the Niblungs had stored and treasured it all,
And hushed, and moved but softly, lest one grain thereof should fall?
If she feared the barren garden, and the sunless fallow field?
How then should the spring-tide labour, and the summer toil to yield!
And so may the high Gods help me, as I from this day forth
Shall toil for her exalting to the height of worldly worth,
If thou stretch thine hands forth, Giuki, and hail me for thy son:
Then there as thou sitt’st in thy grave-mound when thine earthly day is done,
Thou shalt hear of our children’s children, and the crownèd kin of kings,
And the peace of the Niblung people in the day of better things;
And then mayst thou be merry of the eve when Sigurd came,
In the day of the deeds of the Niblungs and the blossom of their fame,
Stretch forth thine hands to thy son: for I bid thy daughter to wife,
And her life shall withhold my death-day, and her death shall stay my life.”
Then spoke the ancient Giuki: “Hail, Sigurd, son of mine eld!
And I bless the Gods for the day that mine ancient eyes have beheld:
Now let me depart in peace, since I know for very sooth
That waxen e’en as the God-folk shall the Niblungs blossom in youth.
Come, take thy mother’s greeting, and let thy brethren say
How well they love thee, Sigurd, and how fair they deem the day.”
Then lowly bendeth Sigurd ’neath the guileful Grimhild’s hand,
And he kisseth the Kings of the Niblungs, and about him there they stand,
The war-fain, darkling kindred; and all their words are praise,
And the love of the tide triumphant, and the hope of the latter days.
Hark now, on the morrow morning how the blast of the mighty horn
From the builded Burg of the Niblungs goes over the acres shorn,
And the roads are gay with the riders, and the bull in the stall is left,
And the plough is alone in the furrow, and the wedge in the hole half-cleft;
And late shall the ewes be folded, and the kine come home to the pail,
And late shall the fires be litten in the outmost treeless dale:
For men fare to the gate of Giuki and the ancient cloudy hall,
And therein are the earls assembled and the kings wear purple and pall,
And the flowers are spread beneath them, and the bench-cloths beaten with gold;
And the walls are strange and wondrous with the noble stories told:
For new-hung is the ancient dwelling with the golden spoils of the south,
And men seem merry for ever, and the praise is in each man’s mouth,
And the name of Sigurd the Volsung, the King and the Serpent’s Bane,
Who exalteth the high this morning and blesseth the masters of gain:
For men drink the bridal of Sigurd and the white-armed Niblung maid,
And the best with the best shall be mingled, and the gold with the gold o’erlaid.
So, fair in the hall is the feasting and men’s hearts are uplifted on high,
And they deem that the best of their life-days are surely drawing anigh,
As now, one after other, uprise the scalds renowned,
And their well-belovèd voices awake the hoped-for sound,
In the midmost of the high-tide, and the joy of feasting lords.
Then cometh a hush and a waiting, and the light of many swords
Flows into the hall of Giuki by the doorway of the King,
And amid those flames of battle the war-clad warriors bring
The Cup of daring Promise and the hallowed Boar of SÃ´n,
And men’s hearts grow big with longing and great is the hope-tide grown;
For bright the Son of Sigmund ariseth by the board,
And unwinds the knitted peace-strings that hamper Regin’s Sword:
Then fierce is the light on the high-seat as men set down the Cup
Anigh the hand of Sigurd, and the edges blue rise up,
And fall on the hallowed Wood-beast: as a trump of the woeful war
Rings the voice of the mighty Volsung as he speaks the words of yore:
“By the Earth that groweth and giveth, and by all the Earth’s increase
That is spent for Gods and man-folk; by the sun that shines on these;
By the Salt–Sea-Flood that beareth the life and death of men;
By the Heavens and Stars that change not, though earth die out again;
By the wild things of the mountain, and the houseless waste and lone;
By the prey of the Goths in the thicket and the holy Beast of SÃ´n,
I hallow me to Odin for a leader of his host,
To do the deeds of the highest, and never count the cost:
And I swear, that whatso great-one shall show the day and the deed,
I shall ask not why nor wherefore, but the sword’s desire shall speed:
And I swear to seek no quarrel, nor to swerve aside for aught,
Though the right and the left be blooming, and the straight way wend to nought:
And I swear to abide and hearken the prayer of any thrall,
Though the war-torch be on the threshold and the foemen’s feet in the hall:
And I swear to sit on my throne in the guise of the kings of the earth,
Though the anguish past amending, and the unheard woe have birth:
And I swear to wend in my sorrow that none shall curse mine eyes
For the scowl that quelleth beseeching, and the hate that scorneth the wise.
So help me Earth and Heavens, and the Under-sky and Seas,
And the Stars in their ordered houses, and the Norns that order these!”
And he drank of the Cup of the Promise, and fair as a star he shone,
And all men rejoiced and wondered, and deemed Earth’s glory won.
Then came the girded maidens, and the slim earls’ daughters poured,
And uprose the dark-haired Gunnar and bare was the Niblung sword;
Blue it gleamed in the hand of the folk-king as he laid it low on the
Beast, And took oath as the Goths of aforetime in the hush of the people’s feast: “I will work for the craving of
Kings, and accomplish the will of the great,
Nor ask what God withstandeth, nor hearken the tales of fate;
When a King my life hath exalted, and wrought for my hope and my gain,
For every deed he hath done me, thereto shall I fashion twain.
I shall bear forth the fame of the Niblungs through all that hindereth;
In my life shall I win great glory, and be merry in my death.”
So sweareth the lovely war-king and drinketh of the Cup,
And the joy of the people waxeth and their glad cry goeth up.
But again came the girded maidens: earls’ daughters pour the wine,
And bare is the blade of Hogni in the feast-hall over the Swine;
Then he cries o’er the hallowed Wood-beast: “Earth, hearken, how I swear
To beseech no man for his helping, and to vex no God with prayer;
And to seek out the will of the Norns, and look in the eyes of the curse;
And to laugh while the love aboundeth, lest the glad world grow into worse;
Then if in the murder I laugh not, O Earth, remember my name,
And oft tell it aloud to the people for the Niblungs’ fated shame!”
Then he drank of the Cup of the Promise, and all men hearkened and deemed
That his speech was great and valiant, and as one of the wise he seemed.
Then the linen-folded maidens of the earl-folk lift the gold
But the earls look each on the other, and Guttorm’s place behold,
And empty it lieth before them; for the child hath wearied of peace,
And he sits by the oars in the East-seas, and winneth fame’s increase.
Nor then, nor ever after, o’er the Holy Beast he spake,
When mighty hearts were exalted for the golden Sigurd’s sake.
But now crieth Giuki the Ancient: “O fair sons, well have ye sworn,
And gladdened my latter-ending, and my kingly hours outworn;
Full fain from the halls of Odin on the world’s folk shall I gaze
And behold all hearts rejoicing in the Niblungs’ glorious days.”
Glad cries of earls rose upward and beat on the cloudy roof,
And went forth on the drift of the autumn to the mountains far aloof:
Speech stirred in the hearts of the singers, and the harps might not refrain,
And they called on the folk of aforetime of the Niblung joy to be fain.
But Sigurd sitteth by Gudrun, and his heart is soft and kind,
And the pity swelleth within it for the days when he was blind;
And with yet another pity, lest his sorrow seen o’erweigh
Her fond desire’s fulfilment, and her fair soul’s blooming-day:
And many a word he frameth his kingly fear to hide,
And the tangle of his trouble, that her joy may well abide.
But the joy so filleth Gudrun and the triumph of her bliss,
That oft she sayeth within her: How durst I dream of this?
How durst I hope for the days wherein I now shall dwell,
And that assurèd joyance whereof no tongue may tell?
So fares the feast in glory till thin the night doth grow,
And joy hath wearied the people, and to rest and sleep they go:
Then dight is the fateful bride-bed, and the Norns will hinder nought
That the feet of the Niblung Maiden to the chamber of Kings be brought,
And the troth is pledged and wedded, and the Norns cast nought before
The feet of Sigurd the Volsung and the bridal chamber-door.
All hushed was the house of the Niblungs, and they two were left alone,
And kind as a man made happy was the golden Sigurd grown,
As there in the arms of the mighty he clasped the Niblung Maid;
But her spirit fainted within her, and her very soul was afraid,
And her mouth was empty of words when their lips were sundered a space,
And in awe and utter wonder she gazed upon his face;
As one who hath prayed for a God in the dwelling of man to abide,
And he comes, and the face unfashioned his ruth and his mercy must hide.
She trembled and wept before him, till at last amidst her tears
The joy and the hope of women fell on her unawares,
And she sought the hands that had held her, and the face that her face had blessed,
And the bosom of Sigurd the Mighty, the hope of her earthly rest.
Then he spake as she hearkened and wondered: “With the Kings of men I rode,
And none but the men of the war-fain our coming swords abode:
O, dear was the day of the riding, and the hope of the clashing swords!
O, dear were the deeds of battle, and the fall of Odin’s lords,
When I met the overcomers, and beheld them overcome,
When we rent the spoil from the spoilers, and led the chasers home!
O, sweet was the day of the summer when we won the ancient towns,
And we stood in the golden bowers and took and gave the crowns!
And sweet were the suppliant faces, and the gifts and the grace we gave,
And the life and the wealth unhoped for, and the hope to heal and save:
And sweet was the praise of the Niblungs, and dear was the song that arose
O’er the deed assured, accomplished, and the death of the people’s foes!
O joyful deeds of the mighty! O wondrous life of a King!
Unto thee alone will I tell it, and his fond imagining,
That but few of the people wot of, as he sits with face unmoved
In the place where kings have perished, in the seat of kings beloved!”
His kind arms clung about her, and her face to his face he drew;
“The life of the kings have I conquered, but this is strange and new;
And from out the heart of the striving a lovelier thing is born,
And the love of my love is sweeter and these hours before the morn.”
Again she trembled before him and knew not what she feared,
And her heart alone, unhidden, deemed her love too greatly dared;
But the very body of Sigurd, the wonder of all men,
Cast cherishing arms about her, and kissed her mouth again,
And in love her whole heart melted, and all thought passed away,
Save the thought of joy’s fulfilment and the hours before the day;
She murmured words of loving as his kind lips cherished her breast,
And the world waxed nought but lovely and a place of infinite rest.
But it was long thereafter ere the sun rose o’er their love,
And lit the world of autumn and the pale sky hung above;
And it stirred the Gods in the heavens, and the Kings of the Goths it stirred,
Till the sound of the world awakening in their latter dreams they heard;
And over the Burg of the Niblungs the day spread fair and fresh
O’er the hopes of the ancient people and those twain become one flesh.
Now it fell on a day of the spring-tide that followed on these things,
That Sigurd fares to the meadows with Gunnar and Hogni the Kings;
For afar is Guttorm the youngest, and he sails the Eastern Seas,
And fares with war-shield hoisted to win him fame’s increase.
So come the Kings to the Doom-ring, and the people’s Hallowed Field,
And no dwelling of man is anigh it, and no acre forced to yield;
There stay those Kings of the people alone in weed of war,
And they cut a strip of the greensward on the meadow’s daisied floor,
And loosen it clean in the midst, while its ends in the earth abide;
Then they heave its midmost aloft, and set on either side
An ancient spear of battle writ round with words of worth;
And these are the posts of the door, whose threshold is of the earth
And the skin of the earth is its lintel: but with war-glaives gleaming bare
The Niblung Kings and Sigurd beneath the earth-yoke fare;
Then each an arm-vein openeth, and their blended blood falls down
On Earth the fruitful Mother where they rent her turfy gown:
And then, when the blood of the Volsungs hath run with the Niblung blood,
They kneel with their hands upon it and swear the brotherhood:
Each man at his brother’s bidding to come with the blade in his hand,
Though the fire and the flood should sunder, and the very Gods withstand:
Each man to love and cherish his brother’s hope and will;
Each man to avenge his brother when the Norns his fate fulfill:
And now are they foster-brethren, and in such wise have they sworn
As the God-born Goths of aforetime, when the world was newly born.
But among the folk of the Niblungs goes forth the tale of the same,
And men deem the tidings a glory and the garland of their fame.
So is Sigurd yet with the Niblungs, and he loveth Gudrun his wife,
And wendeth afield with the brethren to the days of the dooming of life;
And nought his glory waneth, nor falleth the flood of praise:
To every man he hearkeneth, nor gainsayeth any grace,
And glad is the poor in the Doom-ring when he seeth his face mid the
Kings, For the tangle straighteneth before him, and the maze of crookèd things.
But the smile is departed from him, and the laugh of Sigurd the young,
And of few words now is he waxen, and his songs are seldom sung.
Howbeit of all the sad-faced was Sigurd loved the best;
And men say: Is the king’s heart mighty beyond all hope of rest?
Lo, how he beareth the people! how heavy their woes are grown!
So oft were a God mid the Goth-folk, if he dwelt in the world alone.
Now Giuki the King of the Niblungs must change his life at the last,
And they lay him down in the mountains and a great mound over him cast:
For thus had he said in his life-days: “When my hand from the people shall fade,
Up there on the side of the mountains shall the King of the Niblungs be laid,
Whence one seeth the plain of the tillage and the fields where man-folk go;
Then whiles in the dawn’s awakening, when the day-wind riseth to blow,
Shall I see the war-gates opening, and the joy of my shielded men
As they look to the field of the dooming: and whiles in the even again
Shall I see the spoil come homeward, and the host of the Niblungs pour
Through the gates that the Dwarf-folk builded and the well-belovèd door.”
So there lieth Giuki the King, mid steel and the glimmer of gold,
As the sound of the feastful Niblungs round his misty house is rolled:
But Gunnar is King of the people, and the chief of the Niblung land;
A man beloved for his mercy, and his might and his open hand;
A glorious king in the battle, a hearkener at the doom,
A singer to sing the sun up from the heart of the midnight gloom.
On a day sit the Kings in the high-seat when Grimhild saith to her son:
“O Gunnar, King belovèd, a fair life hast thou won;
On the flood, in the field hast thou wrought, and hung the chambers with gold;
Far abroad mid many a people are the tidings of thee told:
Now do a deed for thy mother and the hallowed Niblung hearth,
Lest the house of the mighty perish, and our tale grow wan with dearth.
If thou do the deed that I bid thee, and wed a wife of the Kings,
No less shalt thou cleave the war-helms and scatter the ruddy rings.”
He said: “Meseemeth, mother, thou speaketh not in haste,
But hast sought and found beforehand, lest thy fair words fall to waste.”
She said: “Thou sayest the sooth; I have found the thing I sought:
A Maid for thee is shapen, and a Queen for thee is wrought:
In the waste land hard by Lymdale a marvellous hall is built,
With its roof of the red gold beaten, and its wall-stones over-gilt:
Afar o’er the heath men see it, but no man draweth nigher,
For the garth that goeth about it is nought but the roaring fire,
A white wall waving aloft; and no window nor wicket is there,
Whereby the shielded earl-folk or the sons of the merchants may fare:
But few things from me are hidden, and I know in that hall of gold
Sits Brynhild, white as a wild-swan where the foamless seas are rolled;
And the daughter of Kings of the world, and the sister of Queens is she,
And wise, and Odin’s Chooser, and the Breath of Victory:
But for this cause sitteth she thus in the ring of the Wavering Flame,
That no son of the Kings will she wed save the mightiest master of fame,
And the man who knoweth not fear, and the man foredoomed of fate
To ride through her Wavering Fire to the door of her golden gate:
And for him she sitteth and waiteth, and him shall she cherish and love,
Though the Kings of the world should withstand it, and the Gods that sit above.
Speak thou, O mighty Gunnar! — nay rather, Sigurd my son,
Say who but the lord of the Niblungs should wed with this glorious one?”
Long Sigurd gazeth upon her, and slow he sayeth again:
“I know thy will, my mother; of all the sons of men,
Of all the Kings unwedded, and the kindred of the great,
It is meet that my brother Gunnar should ride to her golden gate.”
Then laughed Gunnar and answered: “May a king of the people fear?
May a king of the harp and the hall-glee hold such a maid but dear?
Yet nought have I and my kindred to do with fateful deeds;
Lo, how the fair earth bloometh, and the field fulfilleth our needs,
And our swords rust not in our scabbards, and our steeds bide not in the stall,
And oft are the shields of the Niblungs drawn clanking down from the wall;
And I sit by my brother Sigurd, and no ill there is in our life,
And the harp and the sword is beside me, and I joy in the peace and the strife.
So I live, till at last in the sword-play midst the uttermost longing of fame
I shall change my life and be merry, and leave no hated name.
Yet nevertheless, my mother, since the word has thus gone forth,
And I wot of thy great desire, I will reach at this garland of worth;
And I bid you, Kings and Brethren, with the wooer of Queens to ride,
That ye tell of the thing hereafter, and the deeds that shall betide.”
“It were well, O Son,” said Grimhild, “in such fellowship to fare;
But not today nor tomorrow; the hearts of the Gods would I wear,
And know of the will of the Norns; for a mighty matter is this,
And a deed all lands shall tell of, and the hope of the Niblung bliss.”
So apart for long dwelt Grimhild, and mingled the might of the earth
With the deeds of the chilly sea, and the heart of the cloudland’s dearth;
And all these with the wine she mingled, and sore guile was set therein,
Blindness, and strong compelling for such as dared to win:
And she gave the drink to her sons; and withal unto Gunnar she spake,
And told him tales of the King-folk, and smote desire awake;
Till many a time he bethinks him of the Maiden sitting alone,
And the Queen that was shapen for him; till a dream of the night is she grown,
And a tale of the day’s desire, and the crown of all his praise:
And the net of the Norns was about him, and the snare was spread in his ways,
And his mother’s will was spurring adown the way they would;
For she was the wise of women and the framer of evil and good.
In the May-morn riseth Gunnar with fair face and gleaming eyes,
And he calleth on Sigurd his brother, and he calleth on Hogni the wise:
“Today shall we fare to the wooing, for so doth our mother bid;
We shall go to gaze on marvels, and things from the King-folk hid.”
So they do on the best of their war-gear, and their steeds are dight for the road,
And forth to the sun neigheth Greyfell as he neighed ’neath the
Golden Load: But or ever they leap to the saddle, while yet in the door they stand,
Thereto cometh Grimhild the wise-wife, and on each head layeth her hand,
As she saith: “Be mighty and wise, as the kings that came before!
For they knew of the ways of the Gods, and the craft of the Gods they bore:
And they knew how the shapes of man-folk are the very images
Of the hearts that abide within them, and they knew of the shaping of these.
Be wise and mighty, O Kings, and look in mine heart and behold
The craft that prevaileth o’er semblance, and the treasured wisdom of old!
I hallow you thus for the day, and I hallow you thus for the night,
And I hallow you thus for the dawning with my fathers’ hidden might.
Go now, for ye bear my will while I sit in the hall and spin;
And tonight shall be the weaving, and tomorn the web shall ye win.”
So they leap to the saddles aloft, and they ride and speak no word,
But the hills and the dales are awakened by the clink of the sheathèd sword:
None looks in the face of the other, but the earth and the heavens gaze,
And behold those kings of battle ride down the dusty ways.
So they come to the Waste of Lymdale when the afternoon is begun,
And afar they see the flame-blink on the grey sky under the sun:
And they spur and speak no word, and no man to his fellow will turn;
But they see the hills draw upward and the earth beginning to burn:
And they ride, and the eve is coming, and the sun hangs low o’er the earth,
And the red flame roars up to it from the midst of the desert’s dearth.
None turns or speaks to his brother, but the Wrath gleams bare and red,
And blood-red is the Helm of Aweing on the golden Sigurd’s head,
And bare is the blade of Gunnar, and the first of the three he rides,
And the wavering wall is before him and the golden sun it hides.
Then the heart of a king’s son failed not, but he tossed his sword on high
And laughed as he spurred for the fire, and cried the Niblung cry;
But the mare’s son saw and imagined, and the battle-eager steed,
That so oft had pierced the spear-hedge and never failed at need,
Shrank back, and shrieked in his terror, and spite of spur and rein
Fled fast as the foals unbitted on Odin’s pasturing plain;
Wide then he wheeled with Gunnar, but with hand and knee he dealt,
And the voice of a lord belovèd, till the steed his master felt,
And bore him back to the brethren; by Greyfell Sigurd stood,
And stared at the heart of the fire, and his helm was red as blood;
But Hogni sat in his saddle, and watched the flames up-roll;
And he said: “Thy steed has failed thee that was once the noblest foal
In the pastures of King Giuki; but since thine heart fails not,
And thou wouldst not get thee backward and say, The fire was hot,
And the voices pent within it were singing nought but death,
Let Sigurd lend thee his steed that wore the Glittering Heath,
And carried the Bed of the Serpent, and the ancient ruddy rings.
So perchance may the mocks be lesser when men tell of the Niblung
Then Sigurd looked on the twain, and he saw their swart hair wave
In the wind of the waste and the flame-blast, and no answer awhile he gave.
But at last he spake: “O brother, on Greyfell shalt thou ride,
And do on the Helm of Aweing and gird the Wrath to thy side,
And cover thy breast with the war-coat that is throughly woven of gold,
That hath not its like in the heavens nor has earth of its fellow told:
For this is the raiment of Kings when they ride the Flickering Fire,
And so sink the flames before them and the might of their desire.”
Then Hogni laughed in his heart, and he said: “This changing were well
If so might the deed be accomplished; but perchance there is more to tell:
Thou shalt take the war-steed, Gunnar, and enough or nought it shall be:
But the coal-blue gear of the Niblungs the golden hall shall see.”
Then Sigurd looked on the speaker, as one who would answer again,
But his words died out on the waste and the fire-blast made them vain.
Then he casteth the reins to his brother, and Gunnar praiseth his gift,
And springeth aloft to the saddle as the fair sun fails from the lift;
And Sigurd looks on the burden that Greyfell doth uprear,
The huge king towering upward in the dusky Niblung gear:
There sits the eager Gunnar, and his heart desires the deed,
And of nought he recketh and thinketh, but a fame-stirred warrior’s need;
But Greyfell trembleth nothing and nought of the fire doth reck:
Then the spurs in his flank are smitten, and the reins lie loose on his neck,
And the sharp cry springeth from Gunnar — no handbreadth stirred the beast;
The dusk drew on and over and the light of the fire increased,
And still as a shard on the mountain in the sandy dale alone
Was the shape of the cloudy Greyfell, nor moved he more than the stone;
But right through the heart of the fire for ever Sigurd stared,
As he stood in the gold red-litten with the Wrath’s thin edges bared.
No word for a while spake any, till Gunnar leaped to the earth,
And the anger wrought within him, and the fierce words came to birth:
“Who mocketh the King of the Niblungs in the desert land forlorn?
Is it thou, O Sigurd the Stranger? is it thou, O younger-born?
Dost thou laugh in the hall, O Mother? dost thou spin, and laugh at the tale
That has drawn thy son and thine eldest to the sword and the blaze of the bale?
Or thou, O God of the Goths, wilt thou hide and laugh thy fill,
While the hands of the fosterbrethren the blood of brothers spill?”
But the awful voice of Sigurd across the wild went forth:
“How changed are the words of Gunnar! where wend his ways of worth?
I mock thee not in the desert, as I mocked thee not in the mead,
When I swore beneath the turf-yoke to help thy fondest need:
Nay, strengthen thine heart for the work, for the gift that thy manhood awaits;
For I give thee a gift, O Niblung, that shall overload the Fates,
And how may a King sustain it? but forbear with the dark to strive;
For thy mother spinneth and worketh, and her craft is awake and alive.”
Then Hogni spake from the saddle: “The time, and the time is come
To gather the might of our mother, and of her that spinneth at home.
Forbear all words, O Gunnar, and anigh to Sigurd stand,
And face to face behold him, and take his hand in thine hand:
Then be thy will as his will, that his heart may mingle with thine,
And the love that he sware ’neath the earth-yoke with thine hope may intertwine.”
Then the wrath from the Niblung slippeth and the shame that anger hath bred,
And the heavy wings of the dreamtide flit over Gunnar’s head:
But he doth by his brother’s bidding, and Sigurd’s hand he takes,
And he looks in the eyes of the Volsung, though scarce in the desert he wakes.
There Hogni sits in the saddle aloof from the King’s desire,
And little his lips are moving, as he stares on the rolling fire,
And mutters the spells of his mother, and the words she bade him say:
But the craft of the kings of aforetime on those Kings of the battle lay;
Dark night was spread behind them, and the fire flared up before,
And unheard was the wind of the wasteland mid the white flame’s wavering roar.
Long Sigurd gazeth on Gunnar, till he sees, as through a cloud,
The long black locks of the Niblung, and the King’s face set and proud:
Then the face is alone on the dark, and the dusky Niblung mail
Is nought but the night before him: then whiles will the visage fail,
And grow again as he gazeth, black hair and gleaming eyes,
And fade again into nothing, as for more of vision he tries:
Then all is nought but the night, yea the waste of an emptier thing,
And the fire-wall Sigurd forgetteth, nor feeleth the hand of the King:
Nay, what is it now he remembereth? it is nought that aforetime he knew,
And no world is there left him to live in, and no deed to rejoice in or rue;
But frail and alone he fareth, and as one in the sphere-stream’s drift,
By the starless empty places that lie beyond the lift:
Then at last is he stayed in his drifting, and he saith, It is blind and dark;
Yet he feeleth the earth at his feet, and there cometh a change and a spark,
And away in an instant of time is the mirk of the dreamland rolled,
And there is the fire-lit midnight, and before him an image of gold,
A man in the raiment of Gods, nor fashioned worser than they:
Full sad he gazeth on Sigurd from the great wide eyes and grey;
And the Helm that Aweth the people is set on the golden hair,
And the Mail of Gold enwraps him, and the Wrath in his hand is bare.
Then Sigurd looks on his arm and his hand in his brother’s hand,
And thereon is the dark grey mail-gear well forged in the southern land;
Then he looks on the sword that he beareth, and, lo, the eager blade
That leaps in the hand of Gunnar when the kings are waxen afraid;
And he turns his face o’er his shoulder, and the raven-locks hang down
From the dark-blue helm of the Dwarf-folk, and the rings of the
Then a red flush riseth against him in the face ne’er seen before,
Save dimly in the mirror or the burnished targe of war,
And the foster-brethren sunder, and the clasped hands fall apart;
But a change cometh over Sigurd, and the fierce pride leaps in his heart;
He knoweth the soul of Gunnar, and the shaping of his mind;
He seeketh the words of Sigurd, and Gunnar’s voice doth he find,
As he cries: “I know thy bidding; let the world be lief or loth,
The child is unborn that shall hearken how Sigurd rued his oath!
Well fare thou brother Gunnar! what deed shall I do this eve
That I shall never repent of, that thine heart shall never grieve?
What deed shall I do this even that none else may bring to the birth,
Nay, not the King of the Niblungs, and the lord of the best of the earth?”
The flames rolled up to the heavens, and the stars behind were bright,
Dark Hogni sat on his war-steed, and stared out into the night,
And there stood Gunnar the King in Sigurd’s semblance wrapped,
— As Sigurd walking in slumber, for in Grimhild’s guile was he lapped,
That his heart forgat his glory, and the ways of Odin’s lords,
And the thought was frozen within him, and the might of spoken words.
But Sigurd leapeth on Greyfell, and the sword in his hand is bare,
And the gold spurs flame on his heels, and the fire-blast lifteth his hair;
Forth Greyfell bounds rejoicing, and they see the grey wax red,
As unheard the war-gear clasheth, and the flames meet over his head,
Yet a while they see him riding, as through the rye men ride,
When the word goes forth in the summer of the kings by the ocean-side;
But the fires were slaked before him and the wild-fire burned no more
Than the ford of the summer waters when the rainy time is o’er.
Not once turned Sigurd aback, nor looked o’er the ashy ring,
To the midnight wilderness drear and the spell-drenched Niblung King:
But he stayed and looked before him, and lo, a house high-built
With its roof of the red gold beaten, and its wall-stones over-gilt:
So he leapt adown from Greyfell, and came to that fair abode,
And dark in the gear of the Niblungs through the gleaming door he strode:
All light within was that dwelling, and a marvellous hall it was,
But of gold were its hangings woven, and its pillars gleaming as glass,
And Sigurd said in his heart, it was wrought erewhile for a God:
But he looked athwart and endlong as alone its floor he trod,
And lo, on the height of the daÃ¯s is upreared a graven throne,
And thereon a woman sitting in the golden place alone;
Her face is fair and awful, and a gold crown girdeth her head;
And a sword of the kings she beareth, and her sun-bright hair is shed
O’er the laps of the snow-white linen that ripples adown to her feet:
As a swan on the billow unbroken ere the firth and the ocean meet,
On the dark-blue cloths she sitteth, in the height of the golden place,
Nor breaketh the hush of the hall, though her eyes be set on his face.
Now he sees this is even the woman of whom the tale hath been told,
E’en she that was wrought for the Niblungs, the bride ordained from of old,
And hushed in the hall he standeth, and a long while looks in her eyes,
And the word he hath shapen for Gunnar to his lips may never arise.
The man in Gunnar’s semblance looked long and knew no deed;
And she looked, and her eyes were dreadful, and none would help her need.
Then the image of Gunnar trembled, and the flesh of the War–King shrank;
For he heard her voice on the silence, and his heart of her anguish drank:
“King, King, who art thou that comest, thou lord of the cloudy gear?
What deed for the weary-hearted shall thy strange hands fashion here?”
The speech of her lips pierced through him like the point of the bitter sword,
And he deemed that death were better than another spoken word:
But he clencheth his hand on the war-blade, and setteth his face as the brass,
And the voice of his brother Gunnar from out his lips doth pass:
“When thou lookest on me, O Goddess, thou seest Gunnar the King,
The King and the lord of the Niblungs, and the chief of their warfaring.
But art thou indeed that Brynhild of whom is the rumour and fame,
That she bideth the coming of kings to ride her Wavering Flame,
Lest she wed the little-hearted, and the world grow evil and vile?
For if thou be none other I will speak again in a while.”
She said: “Art thou Gunnar the Stranger? O art thou the man that I see?
Yea, verily I am Brynhild: what other is like unto me?
O men of the Earth behold me! hast thou seen, O labouring Earth,
Such sorrow as my sorrow, or such evil as my birth?”
Then spake the Wildfire’s Trampler that Gunnar’s image bore:
“O Brynhild, mighty of women, be thou glorious evermore!
Thou seest Gunnar the Niblung, as he sits mid the Niblung lords,
And rides with the gods of battle in the fore-front of the swords.
Now therefore awaken to life! for this eve have I ridden thy Fire,
When but few of the kings would outface it, to fulfil thine heart’s desire.
And such love is the love of the kings, and such token have women to know
That they wed with God’s belovèd, and that fair from their bed shall outgrow
The stem of the world’s desire, and the tree that shall not be abased,
Till the day of the uttermost trial when the war-shield of Odin is raised.
So my word is the word of wooing, and I bid thee remember thine oath,
That here in this hall fair-builded we twain may plight the troth;
That here in the hall of thy waiting thou be made a wedded wife,
And be called the Queen of the Niblungs, and awaken unto life.”
Hard rang his voice in the hall, and a while she spake no word,
And there stood the Image of Gunnar, and leaned on his bright blue sword:
But at last she cried from the high-seat: “If I yet am alive and awake,
I know no words for the speaking, nor what answer I may make.”
She ceased and he answered nothing; and a hush on the hall there lay,
And the moon slipped over the windows as he clomb the heavenly way;
And no whit stirred the raiment of Brynhild: till she hearkened the
Wooer’s voice, As he said: “Thou art none of the women that swear and forswear and rejoice,
Forgetting the sorrow of kings and the Gods and the labouring earth.
Thou shalt wed with King Gunnar the Niblung and increase his worth with thy worth.”
And again was there silence a while, and the War–King leaned on his sword
In the shape of his foster-brother; then Brynhild took up the word:
“Hail Gunnar, King of the Niblungs! tonight shalt thou lie by my side,
For thou art the Gods’ belovèd, and for thee was I shapen a bride:
For thee, for the King, have I waited, and the waiting now is done;
I shall bear Earth’s kings on my bosom and nourish the Niblung’s son.
Though women swear and forswear, and are glad no less in their life,
Tonight shall I wed with the King-folk and be called King Gunnar’s wife.
Come Gunnar, Lord of the Niblungs, and sit in my fathers’ seat!
For for thee alone was it shapen, and the deed is due and meet.”
Up she rose exceeding glorious, and it was as when in May
The blossomed hawthorn stirreth with the dawning-wind of day;
But the Wooer moved to meet her, and amid the golden place
They met, and their garments mingled and face was close to face;
And they turned again to the high-seat, and their very right hands met,
And King Gunnar’s bodily semblance beside her Brynhild set.
But over his knees and the mail-rings the high King laid his sword,
And looked in the face of Brynhild and swore King Gunnar’s word:
He swore on the hand of Brynhild to be true to his wedded wife,
And before all things to love her till all folk should praise her life.
Unmoved did Brynhild hearken, and in steady voice she swore
To be true to Gunnar the Niblung while her life-days should endure;
So she swore on the hand of the Wooer: and they two were all alone,
And they sat a while in the high-seat when the wedding-troth was done,
But no while looked each on the other, and hand fell down from hand,
And no speech there was betwixt them that their hearts might understand.
At last spake the all-wise Brynhild: “Now night is beginning to fade,
Fair-hung is the chamber of Kings, and the bridal bed is arrayed.”
He rose and looked upon her: as the moon at her utmost height,
So pale was the visage of Brynhild, and her eyes as cold and bright:
Yet he stayed, nor stirred from the high-seat, but strove with the words for a space,
Till she took the hand of the King and led him down from his place,
And forth from the hall she led him to the chamber wrought for her love;
The fairest chamber of earth, gold-wrought below and above,
And hung were the walls fair-builded with the Gods and the kings of the earth
And the deeds that were done aforetime, and the coming deeds of worth.
There they went in one bed together; but the foster-brother laid ’Twixt him and the body of Brynhild his bright blue battle-blade,
And she looked and heeded it nothing; but e’en as the dead folk lie,
With folded hands she lay there, and let the night go by:
And as still lay that Image of Gunnar as the dead of life forlorn,
And hand on hand he folded as he waited for the morn.
So oft in the moonlit minster your fathers may ye see
By the side of the ancient mothers await the day to be.
Thus they lay as brother by sister — and e’en such had they been to behold,
Had he borne the Volsung’s semblance and the shape she knew of old.
Night hushed as the moon fell downward, and there came the leaden sleep
And weighed down the head of the War–King, that he lay in slumber deep,
And forgat today and tomorrow, and forgotten yesterday;
Till he woke in the dawn and the daylight, and the sun on the gold floor lay,
And Brynhild wakened beside him, and she lay with folded hands
By the edges forged of Regin and the wonder of the lands,
The Light that had lain in the Branstock, the hope of the Volsung Tree,
The Sunderer, the Deliverer, the torch of days to be:
Then he strove to remember the night and what deeds had come to pass,
And what deeds he should do hereafter, and what manner of man he was;
For there in the golden chamber lay the dark unwonted gear,
And beside his cheek on the pillow were long locks of the raven hair:
But at last he remembered the even and the deed he came to do,
And he turned and spake to Brynhild as he rose from the bolster blue:
“I give thee thanks, fair woman, for the wedding-troth fulfilled;
I have come where the Norns have led me, and done as the high Gods willed:
But now give we the gifts of the morning, for I needs must depart to my men
And look on the Niblung children, and rule o’er the people again.
But I thank thee well for thy greeting, and thy glory that I have seen,
For but little thereto are those tidings that folk have told of the
Queen. Henceforth with the Niblung people anew beginneth thy life,
And fair days of peace await thee, and fair days of glorious strife.
And my heart shall be grieved at thy grief, and be glad of thy well-doing,
And all men shall say thou hast wedded a true heart and a king.”
So spake he in semblance of Gunnar, and from off his hand he drew
A ring of the spoils of the Southland, a marvel seen but of few,
And he set the ring on her finger, and she turned to her lord and spake: “I thank thee,
King, for thy goodwill, and thy pledge of love I take.
Depart with my troth to thy people: but ere full ten days are o’er
I shall come to the Sons of the Niblungs, and then shall we part no more
Till the day of the change of our life-days, when Odin and Freyia shall call.
Lo, here, my gift of the morning! ’twas my dearest treasure of all;
But thou art become its master, and for thee was it fore-ordained,
Since thou art the man of mine oath and the best that the earth hath gained.”
And lo, ’twas the Grief of Andvari, and the lack that made him loth,
The last of the God-folk’s ransom, the Ring of Hindfell’s oath;
Now on Sigurd’s hand it shineth, and long he looketh thereon,
But it gave him back no memories of the days that were bygone.
Then in most exceeding sorrow rose Sigurd from the bed,
And again lay Brynhild silent as an image of the dead.
Then the King did on his war-gear and girt his sword to his side,
And was e’en as an image of Gunnar when the Niblungs dight them to ride.
And she on the bed of the bridal, remembering hope that was,
Lay still, and hearkened his footsteps from the echoing chamber pass.
So forth from the hall goes the Wooer, and slow and slow he goes,
As a conquered king from his city fares forth to meet his foes;
And he taketh the reins of Greyfell, nor yet will back him there,
But afoot through the cold slaked ashes of yester-eve doth fare,
With his eyes cast down to the earth; till he heareth the wind, and a cry,
And raiseth a face brow-knitted and beholdeth men anigh,
And beholdeth Hogni the King set grey on his coal-black steed,
And beholdeth the image of Sigurd, the King in the golden weed:
Then he stayeth and stareth astonished and setteth his hand to his sword;
Till Hogni cries from his saddle, and his word is a kindly word:
“Hail, brother, and King of the people! hail, helper of my kin!
Again from the death and the trouble great gifts hast thou set thee to win
For thy friends and the Niblung children, and hast crowned thine earthly fame,
And increased thine exceeding glory and the sound of thy lovèd name.”
Nought Sigurd spake in answer but looked straight forth with a frown,
And stretched out his hand to Gunnar, as one that claimeth his own.
Then no word speaketh Gunnar, but taketh his hand in his hand,
And they look in the eyes of each other, and a while in the desert they stand
Till the might of Grimhild prevaileth, and the twain are as yester-morn;
But sad was the golden Sigurd, though his eyes knew nought of scorn:
And he spake:
“It is finished, O Gunnar! and I will that our brotherhood
May endure through the good and the evil as it sprang in the days of the good;
But I bid thee look to the ending, that the deed I did yest’reve
Bear nought for me to repent of, for thine heart of hearts to grieve.
Thou art troth-plight, O King of the Niblungs, to Brynhild Queen of the earth,
She hath sworn thine heart to cherish and increase thy worth with her worth:
She shall come to the house of Gunnar ere ten days are past and o’er;
And thenceforth the life of Brynhild shall part from thy life no more,
Till the doom of our kind shall speed you, and Odin and Freyia shall call,
And ye bide the Day of the Battle, and the uttermost changing of all.”
The praise and thanks they gave him! the words of love they spake!
The tale that the world should hear of, deeds done for Sigurd’s sake!
They were lovely might you hear them: but they lack; for in very deed
Their sound was clean forgotten in the day of Sigurd’s need.
But as yet are those King-folk lovely, and no guile of heart they know,
And, in troth and love rejoicing, by Sigurd’s side they go:
O’er heath and holt they hie them, o’er hill and dale they ride,
Till they come to the Burg of the Niblungs and the war-gate of their pride;
And there is Grimhild the wise-wife, and she sits and spins in the hall.
“Rejoice, O mother,” saith Gunnar, “for thy guest hath holpen all
And this eve shall thy sons be merry: but ere ten days are o’er
Here cometh the Maid, and the Queen, the Wise, and the Chooser of war;
So wrought is the will of the Niblungs and their blossoming boughs increase,
And joyous strife shall we dwell in, and merry days of peace.”
So that night in the hall of the ancient they hold high-tide again,
And the Gods on the Southland hangings smile out full fair and fain,
And the song goes up of Sigurd, and the praise of his fame fulfilled,
But his speech in the dead sleep lieth, and the words of his wisdom are chilled:
And men say, the King is careful, for he thinks of the people’s weal,
And his heart is afraid for our trouble, lest the Gods our joyance steal.
But that night, when the feast was over, to Gudrun Sigurd came,
And she noted the ring on his finger, and she knew it was nowise the same
As the ring he was wont to carry; so she bade him tell thereof:
Then he turned unto her kindly, and his words were words of love;
Nor his life nor his death he heeded, but told her last night’s tale:
Yea he drew forth the sword for his slaying, and whetted the edges of bale;
For he took that Gold of Andvari, that Curse of the uttermost land,
And he spake as a king that loveth, and set it on her hand;
But her heart was exceeding joyous, as he kissed her sweet and soft,
And bade her bear it for ever, that she might remember him oft
When his hand from the world was departed and he sat in Odin’s home.
But no one of his words she forgat when the latter days were come,
When the earth was hard for her footsteps, and the heavens were darkling above
And but e’en as a tale that is told were waxen the years of her love,
Yea thereof, from the Gold of Andvari, the sparks of the waters wan,
Sprang a flame of bitter trouble, and the death of many a man,
And the quenching of the kindreds, and the blood of the broken troth,
And the Grievous Need of the Niblungs and the Sorrow of Odin the Goth.
So wear the ten days over, and the morrow-morn is come,
And the light-foot expectation flits through the Niblung home,
And the girded hope is ready, and all people are astir,
When the voice of the keen-eyed watchman from the topmost tower they hear: “Look forth from the
Burg, O Niblungs, and the war-gate of renown!
For the wind is up in the morning, and the may-blooms fall adown,
And the sun on the earth is shining, and the clouds are small and high,
And here is a goodly people and an army drawing anigh.”
Then horsed are the sons of the earl-folk, and their robes are glittering-gay,
And they ride o’er the bridge of the river adown the dusty way,
Till they come on a lovely people, and the maids of war they meet,
Whose cloaks are blue and broidered, and their girded linen sweet;
And they ride on the roan and the grey, and the dapple-grey and the red,
And many a bloom of the may-tide on their crispy locks is shed:
Fair, young are the sons of the earl-folk, and they laugh for love and glee,
As the lovely-wristed maidens on the summer ways they see.
But lo, mid the sweet-faced fellows there cometh a golden wain,
Like the wain of the sea beshielded with the signs of the war-god’s gain:
Snow-white are its harnessed yoke-beasts, and its bench-cloths are of blue,
Inwrought with the written wonders that ancient women knew;
But nought therein there sitteth save a crownèd queen alone,
Swan-white on the dark-blue bench-cloths and the carven ivory throne;
Abashed are sons of the earl-folk of their laughter and their glee,
When the glory of Queen Brynhild on the summer ways they see.
But they hear the voice of the woman, and her speech is soft and kind:
“Are ye the sons of the Niblungs, and the folk I came to find,
O young men fair and lovely? So may your days be long,
And grow in gain and glory, and fail of grief and wrong!”
Then they hailed her sweet and goodly, and back again they rode
By the bridge o’er the rushing river to the gate of their abode;
And high aloft, half-hearkened, rang the joyance of the horn,
And the cry of the Ancient People from their walls of war was borne
O’er the tilth of the plain, and the meadows, and the sheep-fed slopes that lead
From the God-built wall of the mountains to the blossoms of the mead.
Then up in the wain stood Brynhild, and her voice was sweet as she said: “Is this the house of
Gunnar, and the man I swore to wed?”
But she hearkened the cry from the gateway and the hollow of the door:
“Yea this is the dwelling of Gunnar, and the house of the God of War:
There is none of the world so mighty, be he outland King or Goth,
Save Sigurd the mighty Volsung and the brother of his troth.”
Then spake Brynhild and said: “Lo, a house of ancient Kings,
Wrought for great deeds’ fulfilment, and the birth of noble things!
Be the bloom of the earth upon it, and the hope of the heavens above!
May peace and joy abide there, and the full content of love!
And when our days are done with, and we lie alow in rest,
May its lords returning homeward still deem they see the best!”
She spake with voice unfaltering, and the golden wain moved on,
And all men deemed who heard her that great gifts their home had won.
So she passed through the dusk of the doorway, and the cave of the war-fair folk,
Wherein the echoing horse-hoofs as the sound of swords awoke,
And the whispering wind of the may-tide from the cloudy wall smote back,
And cried in the crown of the roof-arch of battle and the wrack;
And the voice of maidens sounded as kings’ cries in the day of the wrath,
When the flame is on the threshold and the war-shields strew the path.
So fair in the sun of the forecourt doth Brynhild’s wain shine bright,
And the huge hall riseth before her, and the ernes cry out from its height,
And there by the door of the Niblungs she sees huge warriors stand,
Dark-clad, by the shoulders greater than the best of any land,
And she knoweth the chiefs of the Niblungs, the dreaded dukes of war:
But one in cloudy raiment stands a very midst the door,
And ruddy and bright is his visage, and his black locks wave in the wind,
And she knoweth the King of the Niblungs and the man she came to find:
Then nought she lingered nor loitered, but stepped to the earth adown
With right-hand reached to the War–God, the wearer of the crown;
And she said:
“I behold thee, Gunnar, the King of War that rode
Through the waves of the Flickering Fire to the door of mine abode,
To lie by my side in the even, and waken in the morn;
And for this I needs must deem thee the best of all men born,
The highest-hearted, the greatest, the staunchest of thy love:
And that such the world yet holdeth, my heart is fain thereof:
And for thee I deem was I fashioned, and for thee the oath I swore
In the days of my glory and wisdom, ere the days of youth were o’er.
May the bloom of the earth be upon thee, and the hope of the heavens above,
May the blessing of days be upon thee, and the full content of love!
Mayst thou see our children’s children, and the crownèd kin of kings!
May no hope from thine eyes be hidden of the day of better things!
May the fire ne’er stay thy glory, nor the ocean-flood thy fame!
Through ages of all ages may the wide world praise thy name!
Yea oft may the word be spoken when low we lie at rest, ’It befell in the days of Gunnar, the happiest and the best!’
All this may the high Gods give thee, and thereto a gift I give,
The body of Queen Brynhild so long as both we live.”
With unmoved face, unfaltering, the blessing-words she said,
But the joy sprang up in Gunnar and increased his goodlihead,
And he cast his arms about her and kissed her on the mouth,
And he said:
“The gift is greater than all treasure of the south:
As glad as my heart this moment, so glad may be thy life,
And the world be never weary of the joy of Gunnar’s wife!”
She spake no word, and smiled not, but she held his hand henceforth.
And he said: “Now take the greetings of my men, the most of worth.”
Then she turned her face to the war-dukes, and hearkened to their praise,
And she spake in few words sweetly, and blessed their coming days.
Then again spake Gunnar and said: “Lo, Hogni my brother is this;
But Guttorm is far on the East-seas, and seeketh the warrior’s bliss;
A third there is of my brethren, and my house holds none so great;
In the hall by the side of my sister thy face doth he await.”
Then Brynhild turned unto Hogni, and he greeted her fair and well,
And she prayed all blessings upon him, and a tale that the world should tell:
Then again she spake unto Gunnar: “I had deemed ye had been but three
Who sprang from the loins of Giuki; is this fourth akin unto thee,
This hall-abider the mighty?”
He said: “He is nought of our blood.
But the Gods have sent him to usward to work us measureless good:
It is even Sigurd the Volsung, the best man ever born,
The man that the Gods withstand not, my friend, and my brother sworn.”
She heard the name, and she changed not, but her feet went forth as he led,
And under the cloudy roof-tree Queen Brynhild bowed her head.
Then, were there a man so ancient as had lived beyond his peers
On the earth, that beareth all things, a twice-told tale of years,
He had heard no sound so mighty as the shout that shook the wall
When Brynhild’s feet unhearkened first trod the Niblung hall.
No whit the clamour stirred her; but her godlike eyes she raised
And betwixt the hedge of the earl-folk on the golden high-seat gazed,
And the man that sat by Gudrun: but e’en as the rainless cloud
Ere the first of the tempest ariseth the latter sun doth shroud,
And men look round and shudder, so Grimhild came between
The silent golden Sigurd and the eyes of the mighty Queen,
And again heard Brynhild greeting, and again she spake and said:
“O Mother of the Niblungs, such hap be on thine head,
As thy love for me, the stranger, was past the pain of words!
Mayst thou see thy son’s sons glorious in the meeting of the swords!
Mayst thou sleep and doubt thee nothing of the fortunes of thy race!
Mayst thou hear folk call yon high-seat the earth’s most happy place!”
Then the Wise-wife hushed before her, and a little fell aside,
And nought from the eyes of Brynhild the high-seat now did hide;
And the face so long desired, unchanged from time agone,
In the house of the Cloudy People from the Niblung high-seat shone:
She stood with her hand in Gunnar’s, and all about and around
Were the unfamiliar faces, and the folk that day had found;
But her heart ran back through the years, and yet her lips did move
With the words she spake on Hindfell, when they plighted troth of love.
Lo, Sigurd fair on the high-seat by the white-armed Gudrun’s side,
In the midst of the Cloudy People, in the dwelling of their pride!
His face is exceeding glorious and awful to behold;
For of all his sorrow he knoweth and his hope smit dead and cold:
The will of the Norns is accomplished, and, lo, they wend on their ways,
And leave the mighty Sigurd to deal with the latter days:
The Gods look down from heaven, and the lonely King they see,
And sorrow over his sorrow, and rejoice in his majesty.
For the will of the Norns is accomplished, and outworn is Grimhild’s spell,
And nought now shall blind or help him, and the tale shall be to tell:
He hath seen the face of Brynhild, and he knows why she hath come,
And that his is the hand that hath drawn her to the Cloudy People’s home:
He knows of the net of the days, and the deeds that the Gods have bid,
And no whit of the sorrow that shall be from his wakened soul is hid:
And his glory his heart restraineth, and restraineth the hand of the strong
From the hope of the fools of desire and the wrong that amendeth wrong;
And he seeth the ways of the burden till the last of the uttermost end.
But for all the measureless anguish, and the woe that nought may amend,
His heart speeds back to Hindfell, and the dawn of the wakening day;
And the hours betwixt are as nothing, and their deeds are fallen away
As he looks on the face of Brynhild; and nought is the Niblung folk,
But they two are again together, and he speaketh the words he spoke,
When he swore the love that endureth, and the truth that knoweth not change;
And Brynhild’s face drew near him with eyes grown stern and strange.
— Lo, such is the high Gods’ sorrow, and men know nought thereof,
Who cry out o’er their undoing, and wail o’er broken love.
Now she stands on the floor of the high-seat, and for e’en so little a space
As men may note delaying, she looketh on Sigurd’s face,
Ere she saith:
“I have greeted many in the Niblungs’ house today,
And for thee is the last of my greetings ere the feast shall wear away:
Hail, Sigurd, son of the Volsungs! hail, lord of Odin’s storm!
Hail, rider of the wasteland and slayer of the Worm!
If aught thy soul shall desire while yet thou livest on earth,
I pray that thou mayst win it, nor forget its might and worth.”
All grief, sharp scorn, sore longing, stark death in her voice he knew,
But gone forth is the doom of the Norns, and what shall he answer thereto,
While the death that amendeth lingers? and they twain shall dwell for awhile
In the Niblung house together by the hearth that forged the guile;
Yet amid the good and the guileless, and the love that thought no wrong,
Shall they fashion the deeds to remember, and the fame that endureth for long:
And oft shall he look on Brynhild, and oft her words shall he hear,
And no hope and no beseeching in his inmost heart shall stir.
So he spake as a King of the people in whom all fear is dead,
And his anguish no man noted, as the greeting-words he said:
“Hail, fairest of all things fashioned! hail, thou desire of eyes!
Hail, chooser of the mightiest, and teacher of the wise!
Hail, wife of my brother Gunnar! in might may thy days endure,
And in peace without a trouble that the world’s weal may be sure!”
She heard and turned unto Gunnar as a queen that seeketh her place,
But to Gudrun she gave no greeting, nor beheld the Niblung’s face.
Then up stood the wife of Sigurd and strove with the greeting-word,
But the cold fear rose in her heart, and the hate within her stirred,
And the greeting died on her lips, and she gazed for a moment or twain
On the lovely face of Brynhild, and so sat in the high-seat again,
And turned to her lord beside her with many a word of love.
But the song sprang up in the hall, and the eagles cried from above,
And forth to the freshness of May went the joyance of the feast:
And Sigurd sat with the Niblungs, and gave ear to most and to least,
And showed no sign to the people of the grief that on him lay;
Nor seemeth he worser to any than he was on the yesterday.
So there are all these abiding in the Burg of the ancient folk
Mid the troth-plight sworn and broken, and the oaths of the earthly yoke.
Then Guttorm comes from his sea-fare, and is waxen fierce and strong,
A man in the wars delighting, blind-eyed through right and wrong:
Still Sigurd rides with the Brethren, as oft in the other days,
And never a whit abateth the sound of the people’s praise;
They drink in the hall together, they doom in the people’s strife,
And do every deed of the King-folk, that the world may rejoice in their life.
There now is Brynhild abiding as a Queen in the house of the Kings,
And hither and thither she wendeth through the day of queenly things;
And no man knoweth her sorrow; though whiles is the Niblung bed
Too hot and weary a dwelling for the temples of her head,
And she wends, as her wont was aforetime, when the moon is riding high,
And the night on the earth is deepest; and she deemeth it good to lie
In the trench of the windy mountains, and the track of the wandering sheep,
While soft in the arms of Sigurd Queen Gudrun lieth asleep:
There she cries on the lovely Sigurd, and she cries on the love and the oath,
And she cries on the change and the vengeance, and the death to deliver them both.
But her crying none shall hearken, and her sorrow nought shall know,
Save the heart of the golden Sigurd, and the man fast bound in woe:
So she wendeth her back in the dawning, toward the deeds and the dwellings of men,
And she sits in the Niblung high-seat, and is fair and queenly again.
Close now is her converse with Gudrun, and sore therein she strives
Lest the barren stark contention should mingle in their lives;
And she humbles her oft before her, as before the Queen of the earth,
The mistress, the overcomer, the winner of all that is worth:
And Gudrun beareth it all, and deemeth it little enow
Though the wife of Sigurd be worshipped: and the scorn in her heart doth grow,
Of every soul save Sigurd: for that tale of the night she bears
Scarce hid ’twixt the lips and the bosom; and with evil eye she hears
Songs sung of the deeds of Gunnar, and the rider of the fire,
Who mocked at the bane of King-folk to win his heart’s desire:
But Sigurd’s will constraineth, and with seeming words of peace
She deals with the converse of Brynhild, and the days her load increase.
Men tell how the heart-wise Hogni grew wiser day by day;
He knows of the craft of Grimhild, and how she looketh to sway
The very council of God-home and the Norns’ unchanging mind;
And he saith that well-learned is his mother, but that e’en her feet are blind
Down the path that she cannot escape from: nay oft is she nothing, he saith,
Save a staff for the foredoomed staying, and a sword for the ordered death;
And that he will be wiser than this, nor thrust his desire aside,
Nor smother the flame of his hatred; but the steed of the Norns will he ride,
Till he see great marvels and wonders, and leave great tales to be told:
And measureless pride is in him, a stern heart, stubborn and cold.
But of Gunnar the Niblung they say it, that the bloom of his youth is o’er,
And many are manhood’s troubles, and they burden him oft and sore.
He dwells with Brynhild his wife, with Grimhild his mother he dwells,
And noble things of his greatness, of his joy, the rumour tells;
Yet oft and oft of an even he thinks of that tale of the night,
And the shame springs fresh in his heart at his brother Sigurd’s might;
And the wonder riseth within him, what deed did Sigurd there,
What gift to the King hath he given: and he looks on Brynhild the fair,
The fair face never smiling, and the eyes that know no change,
And he deems in the bed of the Niblungs she is but cold and strange;
And the Lie is laid between them, as the sword lay while agone.
He hearkens to Grimhild moreover, and he deems she is driving him on,
He knoweth not whither nor wherefore: but she tells of the measureless
Gold, And the Flame of the uttermost Waters, and the Hoard of the kings of old:
And she tells of kings’ supplanters, and the leaders of the war,
Who take the crown of song-craft, and the tale when all is o’er:
She tells of kings’ supplanters, and saith: Perchance ’twere well,
Might some tongue of the wise of the earth of those deeds of the night-tide tell:
She tells of kings’ supplanters: I am wise, and the wise I know,
And for nought is the sword-edge whetted, save the smiting of the blow:
Old friends are last to sever, and twain are strong indeed,
When one the King’s shame knoweth, and the other knoweth his need.
So Gunnar hearkens and hearkens, and he saith, It is idle and worse:
If the oath of my brother be broken, let the earth then see to the curse!
But again he hearkens and hearkens, and when none may hear his thought
He saith in the silent night-tide: Shall my brother bring me to nought?
Must my stroke be a stroke of the guilty, though on sackless folk it fall?
Shall a king sit joy-forsaken mid the riches of his hall?
And measureless pride is in Gunnar, and it blends with doubt and shame,
And the unseen blossom is envy and desire without a name.
But fair-faced, calm as a God who hath none to call his foes,
Betwixt the Kings and the people the golden Sigurd goes;
No knowledge of man he lacketh, and the lore he gained of old
From the ancient heart of the Serpent and the Wallower on the Gold
Springs fresh in the soul of Sigurd; the heart of Hogni he sees,
And the heart of his brother Gunnar, and he grieveth sore for these.
But he seeth the heart of Brynhild, and knoweth her lonely cry
When the waste is all about her, and none but the Gods are anigh:
And he knoweth her tale of the night-tide, when desire, that day doth dull,
Is stirred by hope undying, and fills her bosom full
Of the sighs she may not utter, and the prayers that none may heed;
Though the Gods were once so mighty the smiling world to speed.
And he knows of the day of her burden, and the measure of her toil,
And the peerless pride of her heart, and her scorn of the fall and the foil.
And the shadowy wings of the Lie, that with hand unwitting he led
To the Burg of the ancient people, brood over board and bed;
And the hand of the hero faileth, and seared is the sight of the wise,
And good is at one with evil till the new-born death shall arise.
In the hall sitteth Sigurd by Brynhild, in the council of the Kings,
And he hearkeneth her spoken wisdom, and her word of lovely things:
In the field they meet, and the wild-wood; on the acre and the heath;
And scarce may he tell if the meeting be worse than the coward’s death,
Or better than life of the righteous: but his love is a flaming fire,
That hath burnt up all before it of the things that feed desire.
The heart of Gudrun he seeth, her heart of burning love,
That knoweth of nought but Sigurd on the earth, in the heavens above,
Save the foes that encompass his life, and the woman that wasteth away ’Neath the toil of a love like her love, and the unrewarded day:
For hate her eyes hath quickened, and no more is Gudrun blind,
And sure, though dim it may be, she seeth the days behind:
And the shadowy wings of the Lie, that the hand unwitting led
To the love and the heart of Gudrun, brood over board and bed;
And for all the hand of the hero and the foresight of the wise,
From the heart of a loving woman shall the death of men arise.
It was most in these latter days that his fame went far abroad,
The helper, the overcomer, the righteous sundering sword;
The loveliest King of the King-folk, the man of sweetest speech,
Whose ear is dull to no man that his helping shall beseech;
The eye-bright seer of all things, that wasteth every wrong,
The straightener of the crooked, the hammer of the strong:
Lo, such was the Son of Sigmund in the days whereof I tell,
The dread of the doom and the battle; and all children loved him well.
Now it happed on a summer season mid the blossom of the year,
When the clouds were high and little, and the sun exceeding clear,
That Queen Brynhild arose in the morning, and longed for the eddying pool,
And the Water of the Niblungs her summer sleep to cool:
So she set her face to the river, where the hawthorn and the rose
Hide the face of the sunlit water from the yellow-blossomed close
And the house-built Burg of the Niblungs; for there by a grassy strand
The shallow water floweth o’er white and stoneless sand
And deepeneth up and outward; and the bank on the further side
Goes high and shear and rocky the water’s face to hide
From the plain and the horse-fed meadow: there the wives of the
Niblungs oft Would play in the wide-spread water when the summer days were soft;
And thither now goes Brynhild, and the flowery screen doth pass,
When lo, fair linen raiment falls before her on the grass,
And she looks, and there is Gudrun, the white-armed Niblung child,
All bare for the sunny river and the water undefiled.
Round she turned with her face yet dreamy with the love of yesternight,
Till the flush of anger changed it: but Brynhild’s face grew white,
Though soft she spake and queenly:
“Hail, sister of my lord!
Thou art fair in the summer morning ’twixt the river and the sward!”
Then she disarrayed her shoulders and cast her golden girth,
And she said: “Thou art sister of Gunnar, and the kin of the best of the earth;
So shalt thou go before me to meet the water cold.”
Then, smiling nowise kindly, doth Gudrun her behold,
And she saith: “Thou art wrong, Queen Brynhild, to give the place to me,
For she that is wife of the greatest more than sister-kin shall be.
— Nay, if here were the sister of Sigurd ne’er before me should she go,
Though sister were she surely of the best that the earth-folk know:
Yet I linger not, since thou biddest, for the courteous of women thou art;
And the love of the night and the morning is heavy at my heart;
For the best of the world was beside me, while thou layest with Gunnar the
She laughs and leaps, and about her the glittering waters spring:
But Brynhild laugheth in answer, and her face is white and wan
As swift she taketh the water; and the bed-gear of the swan
Wreathes long folds round about her as she wadeth straight and swift
Where the white-scaled slender fishes make head against the drift:
Then she turned to the white-armed Gudrun, who stood far down the stream
In the lapping of the west-wind and the rippling shallows’ gleam,
And her laugh went down the waters, as the war-horn on the wind,
When the kings of war are seeking, and their foes are fain to find.
But Gudrun cried upon her, and said: “Why wadest thou so
In the deeps and the upper waters, and wilt leave me here below?”
Then e’en as one transfigured loud Brynhild cried, and said:
“So oft shall it be between us at hall and board and bed;
E’en so in Freyia’s garden shall the lilies cover me,
While thou on the barren footways thy gown-hem folk shall see:
E’en so shall the gold cloths lap me, when we sit in Odin’s hall,
While thou shiverest, little hidden, by thy lord, the Helper’s thrall,
By the serving-man of Gunnar, who all his bidding doth,
And waits by the door of the bower while his master plighteth the troth:
But my mate is the King of the King-folk who rode the Wavering Fire,
And mocked at the ruddy death to win his heart’s desire.
Lo now, it is meet and righteous that ye of the happy days
Should bow the heads and wonder at the wedding all men praise.
O, is it not goodly and sweet with the best of the earth to dwell,
And the man that all shall worship when the tale grows old to tell!
For the woe and the anguish endure not, but the tale and the fame endure,
And as wavering wind is the joyance, but the Gods’ renown shall be sure:
It is well, O ye troth-breakers! there was found a man to ride
Through the waves of my Flickering Fire to lie by Brynhild’s side.”
Then no word answered Gudrun till she waded up the stream
And stretched forth her hand to Brynhild, and thereon was a golden gleam,
And she spake, and her voice was but little:
“Thou mayst know by this token and sign
If the best of the kings of man-folk and the master of masters is thine.”
White waxed the face of Brynhild as she looked on the glittering thing:
And she spake: “By all thou lovest, whence haddest thou the ring?”
Then Gudrun laughed in her glory the face of the Queen to see:
“Thinkst thou that my brother Gunnar gave the Dwarf-wrought ring to me?”
Nought spake the glorious woman, but as one who clutcheth a knife
She turned on the mocking Gudrun, and again spake Sigurd’s wife:
“I had the ring, O Brynhild, on the night that followed the morn,
When the semblance of Gunnar left thee in thy golden hall forlorn:
And he, the giver that gave it, was the Helper’s war-got thrall,
And the babe King Elf uplifted to the war-dukes in the hall;
And he rode with the heart-wise Regin, and rode the Glittering Heath,
And gathered the Golden Harvest and smote the Worm to the death:
And he rode with the sons of the Niblungs till the words of men must fail
To tell of the deeds of Sigurd and the glory of his tale:
Yet e’en as thou sayst, O Brynhild, the bidding of Gunnar he did,
For he cloaked him in Gunnar’s semblance and his shape in Gunnar’s hid:—
Thou all-wise Queen of the Niblungs, was this so hard a part
For the learned in the lore of Regin, who ate of the Serpent’s heart?
— Thus he wooed the bride for Gunnar, and for Gunnar rode the fire;
And he held thine hand for Gunnar, and lay by thy dead desire.
We have known thee for long, O Brynhild, and great is thy renown;
In this shalt thou joy henceforward and nought in thy wedding crown.”
Now is Brynhild wan as the dead, and she openeth her mouth to speak,
But no word cometh outward: then the green bank doth she seek,
And casteth her raiment upon her, and flees o’er the meadow fair,
As though flames were burning beneath it, and red gleeds the daisies were:
But fair with face triumphant from the water Gudrun goes,
And with many a thought of Sigurd the heart within her glows.
And yet as she walked the meadow a fear upon her came,
What deeds are the deeds of women in their anguish and their shame;
And many a heavy warning and many a word of fate
By the lips of Sigurd spoken she remembereth overlate;
Yet e’en to the heart within her she dissembleth all her dread.
Daylong she sat in her bower in glee and goodlihead,
But when the day was departing and the earl-folk drank in the hall
She went alone in the garden by the nook of the Niblung wall;
There she thought of that word in the river, and of how it were better unsaid,
And she looked with kind words to hide it, as men bury their battle-dead
With the spice and the sweet-smelling raiment: in the cool of the eve she went
And murmured her speech of forgiveness and the words of her intent,
While her heart was happy with love: then she lifted up her face,
And lo, there was Brynhild the Queen hard by in the leafy place;
Then the smile from her bright eyes faded and a flush came over her cheek
And she said: “What dost thou, Brynhild? what matter dost thou seek?”
But the word of Sigurd smote her, and she spake ere the answer came:
“Hard speech was between us, Brynhild, and words of evil and shame;
I repent, and crave thy pardon: wilt thou say so much unto me,
That the Niblung wives may be merry, as great queens are wont to be?”
But no word answered Brynhild, and the wife of Sigurd spake:
“Lo, I humble myself before thee for many a warrior’s sake,
And yet is thine anger heavy — well then, tell all thy tale,
And the grief that sickens thine heart, that a kindly word may avail.”
Then spake Brynhild and said: “Thou art great and livest in bliss,
And the noble queens and the happy should ask better tidings than this:
For ugly words must tell it; thou shouldst scarce know what they mean;
Thou, the child of the mighty Niblungs, thou, Sigurd’s wedded queen.
It is good to be kindly and soft while the heart hath all its will.”
Said the Queen: “There is that in thy word that the joy of my heart would kill.
I have humbled myself before thee, and what further shall I say?”
Then spake Brynhild the Queen: “I spake heavy words today;
And thereof do I repent me; but one thing I beseech thee and crave:
That thou speak but a word in thy turn my life and my soul to save:
— Yea the lives of many warriors, and the joy of the
And the days of the unborn children, and the health of the days to come —
Say thou it was Gunnar thy brother that gave thee the Dwarf-lord’s ring,
And not the glorious Sigurd, the peerless lovely King;
E’en so will I serve thee for ever, and peace on this house shall be,
And rest ere my departing, and a joyous life for thee;
And long life for the lovely Sigurd, and a glorious tale to tell.
O speak, thou sister of Gunnar, that all may be better than well!”
But hard grew the heart of Gudrun, and she said: “Hast thou heard the tale
That the wives of the Niblungs lie, lest the joy of their life-days fail?
Wilt thou threaten the house of the Niblungs, wilt thou threaten my love and my lord?
— It was
Sigurd that lay in thy bed with thee and the edge of the sword;
And he told me the tale of the night-tide, and the bitterest tidings thereof,
And the shame of my brother Gunnar, how his glory was turned to a scoff;
And he set the ring on my finger with sweet words of the sweetest of men,
And no more from me shall it sunder — lo, wilt thou behold it again?”
And her hand gleamed white in the even with the ring of Andvari thereon,
The thrice-cursed burden of greed and the grain from the needy won;
Then uprose the voice of Brynhild, and she cried to the towers aloft:
“O house of the ancient people, I blessed thee sweet and soft;
In the day of my grief I blessed thee, when my life seemed evil and long;
Look down, O house of the Niblungs, on the hapless Brynhild’s wrong!
Lest the day and the hour be coming when no man in thy courts shall be left
To remember the woe of Brynhild, and the joy from her life-days reft;
Lest the grey wolf howl in the hall, and the wood-king roll in the porch,
And the moon through thy broken rafters be the Niblungs’ feastful torch.”
“O God-folk hearken,” cried Gudrun, “what a tale there is to tell!
How a Queen hath cursed her people, and the folk that hath cherished her well!”
“O Niblung child,” said Brynhild, “what bitterer curse may be
Than the curse of Grimhild thy mother, and the womb that carried thee?”
“Ah fool!” said the wife of Sigurd, “wilt thou curse thy very friend?
But the bitter love bewrays thee, and thy pride that nought shall end.”
“Do I curse the accursèd?” said Brynhild, “but yet the day shall come,
When thy word shall scarce be better on the threshold of thine home;
When thine heart shall be dulled and chilly with e’en such a mingling of might,
As in Sigurd’s cup she mingled, and thou shalt not remember aright.”
Out-brake the child of the Niblungs: “A witless lie is this;
But thou sickenest sore for Sigurd, and the giver of all bliss:
A ruthless liar thou art: thou wouldst cut off my glory and gain,
Though it further thine own hope nothing, and thy longing be empty and vain.
Ah, thou hungerest after mine husband! — yet greatly art thou wed,
And high o’er the kings of the Goth-folk doth Gunnar rear the head.”
“Which one of the sons of Giuki,” said Brynhild, “durst to ride
Through the waves of my Flickering Fire to lie by Brynhild’s side?
Thou shouldst know him, O Sister of Kings; let the glorious name be said,
Lest mine oath in the water be written, and I wake up, vile and betrayed,
In the arms of the faint-heart dastard, and of him that loveth life,
And casteth his deeds to another, and the wooing of his wife.”
“Yea, hearken,” said she of the Niblungs, “what words the stranger saith!
Hear the words of the fool of love, how she feareth not the death,
Nor to cry the shame on Gunnar, whom the King-folk tremble before:
The wise and the overcomer, the crown of happy war!”
Said Brynhild: “Long were the days ere the Son of Sigmund came;
Long were the days and lone, but nought I dreamed of the shame.
So may the day come, Grimhild, when thine eyes know not thy son!
Think then on the man I knew not, and the deed thy guile hath done!”
Then coldly laughed Queen Gudrun, and she said: “Wilt thou lay all things
On the woman that hath loved thee and the Mother of the Kings?
O all-wise Queen of the Niblungs, was this change too hard a part
For the learned in the lore of Regin, who ate of the Serpent’s heart?”
Then was Brynhild silent a little, and forth from the Niblung hall
Came the sound of the laughter of men to the garth by the nook of the wall;
And a wind arose in the twilight, and sounds came up from the plain
Of kine in the dew-fall wandering, and of oxen loosed from the wain,
And the songs of folk free-hearted, and the river rushing by;
And the heart of Brynhild hearkened and she cried with a grievous cry:
“O Sigurd, O my Sigurd, we twain were one, time was,
And the wide world lay before us and the deeds to bring to pass!
And now I am nought for helping, and no helping mayst thou give;
And all is marred and evil, and why hast thou heart to live?”
She held her peace for anguish, and forth from the hall there came
The shouts of the joyous Niblungs, and the sound of Sigurd’s name:
And Brynhild turned from Gudrun, and lifted her voice and said:
“O evil house of the Niblungs, may the day of your woe and your dread
Be meted with the measure of the guile ye dealt to me,
When ye sealed your hearts from pity and forgat my misery!”
And she turned to flee from the garden; but her gown-lap Gudrun caught,
And cried: “Thou evil woman, for thee were the Niblungs wrought,
And their day of the fame past telling, that they should heed thy life?
Dear house of the Niblung glory, fair bloom of the warriors’ strife,
How well shalt thou stand triumphant, when all we lie in the earth
For a little while remembered in the story of thy worth!”
But the lap of her linen raiment did Brynhild tear from her hold
And spake from her mouth brought nigher, and her voice was low and cold:
“Such pride and comfort in Sigurd henceforward mayst thou find,
Such joy of his life’s endurance, as thou leav’st me joy behind!”
But turmoil of wrath wrapt Gudrun, that she knew not the day from the night,
And she hardened her heart for evil as the warriors when they smite:
And she cried: “Thou filled with murder, my love shall blossom and bloom
When thou liest in the hell forgotten! smite thence from the deedless gloom,
Smite thence at the lovely Sigurd, from the dark without a day!
Let the hand that death hath loosened the King of Glory slay!”
So died her words of anger, and her latter speech none heard,
Save the wind of the early night-tide and the leaves by its wandering stirred;
For amidst her wrath and her blindness was the hapless Brynhild gone:
And she fled from the Burg of the Niblungs and cried to the night alone:
“O Sigurd, O my Sigurd, what now shall give me back
One word of thy loving-kindness from the tangle and the wrack?
O Norns, fast bound from helping, O Gods that never weep,
Ye have left stark death to help us, and the semblance of our sleep!
Yet I sleep and remember Sigurd; and I wake and nought is there,
Save the golden bed of the Niblungs, and the hangings fashioned fair:
If I stretch out mine hand to take it, that sleep that the sword-edge gives,
How then shall I come on Sigurd, when again my sorrow lives
In the dreams of the slumber of death? O nameless, measureless woe,
To abide on the earth without him, and alone from earth to go!”
So wailed the wife of Gunnar, as she fled through the summer night,
And unwitting around she wandered, till again in the dawning light
She stood by the Burg of the Niblungs, and the dwelling of her lord.
Awhile bode the white-armed Gudrun on the edge of the daisied sward,
Till she shrank from the lonely flowers and the chill, speech-burdened wind.
Then she turned to the house of her fathers and her golden chamber kind;
And for long by the side of Sigurd hath she lain in light-breathed sleep,
While yet the winds of night-tide round the wandering Brynhild sweep.
On the morrow awakeneth Gudrun; and she speaketh with Sigurd and saith:
“For what cause is Brynhild heavy, and as one who abideth but death?”
“Yea,” Sigurd said, “is it so? as a great queen she goes upon earth,
And thoughtful of weighty matters, and things that are most of worth.”
“It was other than this,” said Gudrun, “that I deemed her yesterday;
All men would have said great trouble on the wife of Gunnar lay.”
“Is it so?” said Sigurd the Volsung, “Ah, I sore misdoubt me then,
That thereof shall we hear great tidings that shall be for the ruin of men.”
“Why grieveth she so,” said Gudrun, “a queen so mighty and wise,
The Chooser of the war-host, the desire of many eyes,
The Queen of the glorious Gunnar, the wife of the man she chose?
And she sits by his side on the high-seat, as the lily blooms by the rose.”
“Where then in the world was Brynhild,” said he, “when she spake that word,
And said that her belovèd was her very earthly lord?”
Then was Sigurd silent a little, and Gudrun spake no more;
For despite the heart of the Niblungs, and her love exceeding sore,
With fear her soul was smitten for the word that Sigurd spake,
And yet more for his following silence; and the stark death seemed to awake
And stride through the Niblung dwelling, and the sunny morn grew dim:
Till, lo, the voice of the Volsung, and the speech came forth from him:
“Hearken, Gudrun my wife; the season is nigh at hand,
Yea, the day is now on the threshold, when thou alone in the land
Shalt answer for Sigurd departed, and shalt say that I loved thee well;
And yet if thou hear’st men say it, then true is the tale to tell,
That Brynhild was my belovèd in the tide and the season of youth;
And as great as is thy true-love, e’en so was her love and her truth.
But for this cause thus have I spoken, that the tale of the night hast thou told,
And cast the word unto Brynhild, and shown her the token of gold.
— A deed for the slaying of many, and the ending of my life,
Since I betrayed her unwitting. — Yet grieve not, Gudrun my wife!
For cloudy of late were the heavens with many a woven lie,
And now is the clear of the twilight, when the slumber draweth anigh.
But call up the soul of the Niblungs, and harden thine heart to bear,
For wert thou not sprung from the mighty, today were thy portion of fear:
Yea, thou wottest it even as I; but I see thine heart arise,
And the soul of the mighty Niblungs, and fair is the love in thine eyes.”
Then forth went the King from the chamber to the council of the Kings,
And he sat with the wise in the Doom-ring for the sifting of troublous things,
And rejoiced the heart of the people: and the Wrath kept watch by his side.
And his eyen were nothing dimmer than on many a joyous tide.
But abed lay Brynhild the Queen, as a woman dead she lay,
And no word for better or worse to the best of her folk would she say:
So they bore the tidings to Gunnar, and said: “Queen Brynhild ails
With a sickness whereof none knoweth, and death o’er her life prevails.”
Then uprose Gunnar the Niblung, and he went to Brynhild his wife,
And prayed her to strengthen her heart for the glory of his life:
But she gave not a word in answer, nor turned to where he stood,
And there rose up a fear in his heart, and he looked for little of good:
There he bode for a long while silent, and the thought within him stirred
Of wise speech of his mother Grimhild, and many a warning word:
But he spake:
“Art thou smitten of God, unto whom shall we cast the prayer?
Art thou wronged by one of the King-folk, for whom shall the blades be bare?”
Belike she never heard him; she lay in her misery,
And the slow tears gushed from her eyen and nought of the world would she see.
But ill thoughts arose in Gunnar, and remembrance of the speech
Erst spoken low by Grimhild; yet he turned his heart to beseech,
And he spake again:
“O Brynhild, if I ever made thee glad,
If the glory of the great-ones of my gift thine heart hath had.
As mine heart hath been faithful to thee, as I longed for thy life-days’ gain,
Tell now of thy toil and thy trouble that we each of each may be fain!”
Nought spake she, nothing she moved, and the tears were dried on her cheek;
But the very words of Grimhild did Gunnar’s memory seek;
He sought and he found and considered; and mighty he was and young,
And he thought of the deeds of his fathers and the tales of the
Niblungs sung; How they bore no God’s constraining, and rode through the wrong and the right
That the storm of their wrath might quicken, and their tempest carry the light.
The words of his mother he gathered and the wrath-flood over him rolled,
And with it came many a longing, that his heart had never told,
Nay, scarce to himself in the night-tide, for the gain of the ruddy rings,
And the fame of the earth unquestioned and the mastery over kings,
And he sole King in the world-throne, unequalled, unconstrained;
And with wordless wrath he fretted at the bonds that his glory had chained,
And the bitter anger stirred him, and at last he spake and cried:
“How long, O all-wise Brynhild, like the dead wilt thou abide,
Nor speak to thy lord and thy husband and the man that rode thy Fire,
And mocked at the bane of King-folk to accomplish thy desire?
I deem thou sickenest, Brynhild, with the love of a mighty-one,
The foe, the King’s supplanter, he that so long hath shone
Mid the honour of our fathers, and the lovely Niblung house,
Like a serpent amidst of the treasure that the day makes glorious.”
Yet never a word she answered, nor unto the great King turned,
Till through all the patience of King-folk the flame of his anger burned,
And his voice was the rattling thunder, as he cried across the bed:
“O who art thou, fearful woman? art thou one of the first of the dead?
Hast thou long ago seen and hated the tide of the Niblung praise,
And clad thee in flesh twice over for the bane of our happy days?
Art thou come from the far-off country that none may live and behold
For the bane of the King of the Niblungs, and of Sigurd lord of the
Then she raised herself on her elbow and turned her eyes on the King:
“O tell me, Gunnar,” she said, “that thou gavest Andvari’s Ring
To thy sister the white-armed Gudrun! — thou, not thy captain of war,
The son of the God-born Volsungs, the Lord of the Treasure of yore!
O swear it that I may live! that I may be glad in thine hall,
And weave with the wisdom of women, and broider the purple and pall,
And look in thy face at the chess-play, and drink of thy carven cup,
And whisper a word in season when the voice of the wise goes up,
And speak thee the speech of kindness by the hallowed Niblung hearth.
O swear it, King of the Niblungs, lest thine honour die of the dearth!
O swear it, lord I have wedded, lest mine honour come to nought,
And I be but a wretch and a bondmaid for a year’s embracing bought!”
Till his heart hath heard her meaning at the golden bed he stares,
And the last of the words she speaketh flit empty past his ears;
For he knows that the tale of the night-tide hath been told and understood,
And now of her shame was he deeming e’en worse than Brynhild would.
So he turns from her face and the chamber with his glory so undone,
That he saith the Gods did evil when the mighty work they won,
And wrought the Burg of the Niblungs, and fashioned his fathers’ days,
And led them on to the harvest of the deeds and the people’s praise.
And nought he sees to amend it, save the hungry eyeless sword,
And the war without hope or honour, and the strife without reward.
So alone he goeth his ways, and the morn to the noontide falls,
And the sun goeth down in the heavens, and fades from the Niblung walls,
And the dusk and the dark draw over, and no man the King may see.
But Sigurd sits in the hall mid the war-dukes’ company:
Alone of the Kings in the Doom-ring, and the council of the wise,
By the street and the wharf and the burg-gate he shines in the people’s eyes;
Stately and lovely to look on he heareth of good and of ill,
And he knitteth up and divideth, with life and death at his will.
Now the sun cometh up in the morning and shines o’er holt and heath,
And the wall of the mighty mountains, and the sheep-fed slopes beneath,
And the horse-fed plain and the river, and the acres of the wheat,
And the herbs of bane and of healing, and the garden hedges sweet;
It shines on the sea and the shepherd, and the husbandman’s desire;
On the Niblung Burg it shineth and smiteth the vanes afire;
And in Gudrun’s bower it shineth, and seeth small joy therein,
For hushed the fair-clad maidens the work of women win;
Then Gudrun looketh about her, and she saith:
“Why sit ye so,
That I hearken but creak of the loom-stock and the battens’ homeward blow?
Why is your joy departed and your sweet speech fallen dumb?
Are the Niblungs fled from the battle, is their war-host overcome?
Have the Norns given forth their shaming? have they fallen in the fight?
Yet the sun shines notwithstanding, and the world around is bright.”
Then answered a noble woman, and the wise of maids was she:
“Thou knowest, O lovely lady, that nought of this may be;
Yet with woe that the world shall hearken the glorious house is filled,
On the hearth of all men hallowed the cup of joy is spilled.
— A dread, an untimely hour, an exceeding evil day!”
Then the wife of Sigurd answered: “Arise and go thy way
To the chamber of Queen Brynhild, and bid her wake at last,
For that long have we slept and slumbered, and the deedless night is passed:
Bid her wake to the deeds of queen-folk, and be glad as the world-queens are
When they look on the people that loves them, and thrust all trouble afar.
Let her foster her greatness and glory, and the fame no ages forget,
That tomorn may as yesterday blossom, yea more abundantly yet.”
Then arose the light-foot maiden: but she stayed and spake by the door:
“O Gudrun, I durst not behold her, for the days of her joyance are o’er,
And the days of her life are numbered, and her might is waxen weak,
And she lieth as one forsaken, and no word her lips will speak,
Nay, not to her lord that loveth: but all we deem, O Queen,
That the wrath of the Gods is upon her for ancient deeds unseen.”
Nought answered the white-armed Gudrun, but the fear in her soul arose,
For she thought of the golden Sigurd, and the compassing of foes,
And great grew the dread of her maidens as they gazed upon her face:
But she rose and looked not backward as she hastened from her place,
And sought the King of the Niblungs by hall and chamber and stair,
And bright was the pure mid-morning and the wind was fresh and fair.
So she came on her brother Gunnar, as he sat apart and alone,
Arrayed in the Niblung war-gear, nor moved he more than the stone
In the jaws of the barren valley and the man-deserted dale;
On his knees was the breadth of the sunshine, and thereon lay the edges pale,
The war-flame of the Niblungs, the sword that his right hand knew:
White was the fear on her lips, and hard at her heart it drew.
As she spake:
“I have found thee, O brother! O Gunnar, go to her and say
That my heart is grieved with her grief and I mourn for her evil day.”
Then Gunnar answered her word, but his words were heavy and slow:
“Thou know’st not the words thou speakest — and wherefore should I go,
Since I am forbidden to share it, the woe or the weal of her heart?
Look thou on the King of the Niblungs, how he sitteth alone and apart,
Fast bound in the wiles of women, and the web that a traitor hath spun,
And no deed for his hand he knoweth, or to do or to leave undone.”
Wan-faced from before him she fled, and she went with hurrying feet,
And no child of man in her going would she look upon or greet,
Till she came unto Hogni the Wise; and he sat in his war-array,
The coal-blue gear of the Niblungs, and the sword o’er his knees there lay:
She sickened, and said: “What dost thou? what then is the day and the deed,
That the sword on thy knees is naked, and thou clad in the warrior’s weed?
Go in, go in to Brynhild, and tell her how I mourn
For the grief whereof none wotteth that hath made her days forlorn.”
“It is good, my sister,” said Hogni, “to abide in the harness of war
When the days and the days are changing, and the Norns’ feet stand by the door.
I will nowise go in unto Brynhild, lest the evil tide grow worse.
For what woman will bear the sorrow and burden her soul with a curse
If she may escape it unbidden? and there are words that wound
Far worse than the bitter edges, though wise in the air they sound.
Bide thou and behold things fated! Hast thou learned how men may teach
The stars in their ordered courses, or lead the Norns with speech?”
She stood and trembled before him, nor durst she long behold
The silent face of Hogni and the far-seeing eyes and cold.
So she gat her forth from before him, and Sigurd her husband she sought,
And the speech on her lips was ready, till the chill fear made it nought;
For apart and alone was he sitting in all his war-gear clad,
And Fafnir’s Helm of Aweing, and Regin’s Wrath he had,
And over the breast of Sigurd was the Hauberk all of gold
That hath not the like in the heavens nor has earth of its fellow told.
But he set her down beside him and said: “What fearest thou then?
What terror strideth in daylight mid the peace of the Niblung men?”
She cried: “The Helm and the Sword, and the golden guard of thy breast!”
“So oft, O wife,” said Sigurd, “is a war-king clad the best
When the peril quickens before him, and on either hand is doubt;
Thus men wreathe round the beaker whence the wine shall be soon poured out.
But hope thou not overmuch, for the end is not today;
And fear thou little indeed, for not long shall the sword delay:
But speak, O daughter of Giuki, for thy lips scarce held the word
Ere thou sawest the gleam of my hauberk and the edge of the ancient
Sword, The Light that hath lain in the Branstock, the hope of the Volsung tree,
The Sunderer, the Deliverer, the torch of days to be.”
She sighed; for her heart was heavy for the days but a while agone,
When the death was little dreamed of, and the joy was lightly won;
And her soul was bitter with anger for the day that Brynhild had led
To the heart of the Niblung glory: but fear thrust on, and she said:
“O my lord, O Sigurd the mighty, an evil day is this,
A chill, an untimely hour for the blooming of our bliss!
Go in to my sister Brynhild, and tell her of very sooth
That my heart for her sorrow sorrows, and is sick for woe and ruth.”
“The hour draws nigh,” said Sigurd, “for I know of the speech and the word
That is kind in the air to hearken, and is worse than the whetted sword.
Now is Brynhild sore encompassed by a tide of measureless woe,
And amidst and anear, as I see it, she seeth the death-star grow.
Yet belike it is, O Gudrun, that thy will herein shall be done;
But now depart, I pray thee, and leave thy lord alone:
Heavy and hard shall it be, for a season shall it endure,
But the grief and the sorrow shall perish, and the fame of the Gods is sure.”
Yet she sat by his side and spake not, and a while at his glory she gazed,
For his face o’erpassed the brightness that so long the folk had praised,
And she durst not question or touch him, and at last she rose from his side,
And gat her away soft-footed, and wandered far and wide
Through the house and the Burg of the Niblungs; yet durst she never more
Go look on the Niblung Brethren as they sat in their harness of war.
But the morn to the noon hath fallen, and the afternoon to the eve,
And the beams of the westering sun the Niblung wall-stones leave,
And yet sitteth Sigurd alone; then the sun sinketh down into night,
And the moon ariseth in heaven, and the earth is pale with her light:
And there sitteth Sigurd the Volsung in the gold and the harness of war
That was won from the heart-wise Fafnir and the guarded Treasure of yore,
But pale is the Helm of Aweing, and wan are the ruddy rings:
So whiles in a city forsaken ye see the shapes of kings,
And the lips that the carvers wrought, while their words were remembered and known,
And the brows men trembled to look on in the long-enduring stone,
And their hands once unforgotten, and their breasts, the walls of war;
But now are they hidden marvels to the wise and the master of lore,
And he nameth them not, nor knoweth, and their fear is faded away.
E’en so sat Sigurd the Volsung till the night waxed moonless and grey,
Till the chill dawn spread o’er the lowland, and the purple fells grew clear
In the cloudless summer dawn-dusk, and the sun was drawing anear:
Then reddened the Burg of the Niblungs, and the walls of the ancient folk,
And a wind came down from the mountains and the living things awoke
And cried out for need and rejoicing; till, lo, the rim of the sun
Showed over the eastern ridges, and the new day was begun;
And the beams rose higher and higher, and white grew the Niblung wall,
And the spears on the ramparts glistered and the windows blazed withal,
And the sunlight flooded the courts, and throughout the chambers streamed:
Then bright as the flames of the heaven the Helm of Aweing gleamed,
Then clashed the red rings of the Treasure, as Sigurd stood on his feet,
And went through the echoing chambers, as the winds in the wall-nook beat;
And there in the earliest morning while the lords of the Niblungs lie ’Twixt light sleep and awakening they hear the clash go by,
And their dreams are of happy battle, and the songs that follow fame,
And the hope of the Gods accomplished, and the tales of the ancient name,
Ere Sigurd came to the Niblungs and faced their gathered foes.
But on to the chamber of Brynhild alone in the morning he goes,
And the sun lieth broad across it, and the door is open wide
As the last of the women had left it; then he lifted his voice and cried:
“Awake, arise, O Brynhild! for the house is smitten through
With the light of the sun awakened, and the hope of deeds to do.”
She spake: “Art thou come to behold me? thou, the mightiest and the worst
Of the pitiless betrayers, that the hope of my life hath nursed.”
He said: “It is I that awake thee, and I give thee the life and the days
For fulfilling the deedful measure, and the cup of the people’s praise.”
She cried: “O the gifts of Sigurd! — Ah why didst thou cast me aside,
That we twain should be dwelling, the strangers, in the house of the
Niblung pride? What life is the death in life? what deeds — where the shame cometh up
Betwixt the speech of the wise-ones and the draught of the welcoming cup;
And the shame and repentance awaketh when the song in the harp is awake?
Where we rise in the morning for nothing, and lie down for no love’s sake?
Where thou ridest forth to the battle and the dead hope dulleth thy light,
And with shame thy hand is cumbered when the sword is uplifted to smite?
O Sigurd, what hast thou done, that the gifts are cast aback?
— O nay, no life of repentance! — but the bitter sword and the wrack!”
“O Brynhild, live!” said the Volsung, “for what shall the world be then
When thou from the earth art departed, and the hallowed hearths of men?”
She said: “Woe worth the while for the word that hath come from thy mouth!
As the bitter weltering ocean to the shipman dying of drouth,
E’en so is the life thou biddest, since thou pitiedst not thine own,
Nor thy love, nor the hope of thy life-days, but must dwell as a glory alone!”
“It is truer to tell,” said Sigurd, “that mine heart in thy love was enwrapped
Till the evil hour of the darkening, and the eyeless tangle had happed:
And thereof shalt thou know, O Brynhild, on one day better than I,
When the stroke of the sword hath been smitten, and the night hath seen me die:
Then belike in thy fresh-springing wisdom thou shalt know of the dark and the deed,
And the snare for our feet fore-ordered from whence they shall never be freed.
But for me, in the net I awakened and the toils that unwitting I wove,
And no tongue may tell of the sorrow that I had for thy wedded love:
But I dwelt in the dwelling of kings; so I thrust its seeming apart
And I laboured the field of Odin: and e’en this was a joy to my heart,
That we dwelt in one house together, though a stranger’s house it were.”
“O late, and o’erlate!” cried Brynhild —“may the dead folk hearken and hear?
All was and today it is not — And the Oath unto Gunnar is sworn,
Shall I live the days twice over, and the life thou hast made forlorn?”
And she heard the words of Hindfell and the oath of the earlier day,
Till the daylight darkened before her, and all memory passed away,
And she cried: “I may live no longer, for the Gods have forgotten the earth,
And my heart is the forge of sorrow, and my life is a wasting dearth.”
Then once again spake Sigurd, once only and no more:
A pillar of light all golden he stood on the sunlit floor;
And his eyes were the eyes of Odin, and his face was the hope of the world,
And his voice was the thunder of even when the bolt o’er the mountains is hurled:
The fairest of all things fashioned he stood ’twixt life and death,
And the Wrath of Regin rattled, and the rings of the Glittering Heath,
As he cried:
“I am Sigurd the Volsung, and belike the tale shall be true
That no hand on the earth may hinder what my hand would fashion and do:
And what God or what man shall gainsay it if our love be greater than these,
The pride and the glory of Sigurd, and the latter days’ increase?
O live, live, Brynhild belovèd! and thee on the earth will I wed,
And put away Gudrun the Niblung — and all those shall be as the dead.”
But so swelled the heart within him as he cast the speech abroad,
That the golden wall of the battle, the fence unrent by the sword.
The red rings of the uttermost ocean on the breast of Sigurd brake:
And he saw the eyes of Brynhild, and turned from the word she spake:
“I will not wed thee, Sigurd, nor any man alive.”
Then Sigurd goes out from before her; and the winds in the wall-nook strive,
And the craving of fowl and the beast-kind with the speech of men is blent,
And the voice of the sons of the Niblungs; and their day’s first hour is spent
As he goes through the hall of the War-dukes, and many an earl is astir,
But none durst question Sigurd lest of evil days he hear:
So he comes to his kingly chamber, and there sitteth Gudrun alone,
And the fear in her soul is minished, but the love and the hatred are grown:
She is wan as the moonlit midnight; but her heart is cold and proud,
And she asketh him nought of Brynhild, and nought he speaketh aloud.
Ere the noon ariseth Brynhild, and forth abroad she goes,
And sits by the wall of her bower ’twixt the lily and the rose;
Great dread and sickness is on her, as it shall be once on the morn
When the uttermost sun is arisen ’neath the blast of the world-shaking horn:
Her maidens come and go, but none dares cast her a word;
From the wall the warders behold her, and turn round to the spear and the sword;
Yea, few dare speak of Brynhild as morning fadeth in noon
In the Burg of the ancient people mid the stir and the glory of June.
Then cometh forth speech from Brynhild, and she calls to her maidens and saith: “Go tell ye the
King of the Niblungs that I am arisen from death,
And come forth from the uttermost sickness, and with him I needs must speak:
That we look into weighty matters and due deeds for king-folk seek.”
So they went and returned not again, and it was but a little space
Ere she looked, and behold, it was Gunnar that stood before her face,
And his war-gear darkened the noon-tide and the grey helm gleamed from his head,
But his eyes were fearful beneath it: then she gazed on the heavens and said:
“Thou art come, O King of the Niblungs; what mighty deed is to frame
That thou wearest the cloudy harness, and the arms of the Niblung name?”
He spake: “O woman, thou mockest! what King of the people is here?
Are not all kings confounded, and all peoples’ shame laid bare?
Shall the Gods grow little to help, or men grow great to amend?
Nay, the hunt is up in the world and the Gods to the forest will wend,
And their hearts are exceeding merry as they ride and drive the prey:
But what if the bear grin on them, and the wood-beast turn to bay?
What now if the whelp of their breeding a wolf of the world be grown,
To cry out in the face of their brightness and mar their glad renown?”
She heeded him not, nor hearkened: but he said: “Thou wert wise of old;
And hither I come at thy bidding: let the thought of thine heart be told.”
She said: “What aileth thee, Gunnar? time was thou wert great and glad.
And that was yester-morning: how then is the good turned bad?”
He said: “I was glad in my dreams, and I woke and my glory was dead.”
“Hath a God then wrought thee evil, or one of the King-folk?” she said.
He said: “In the snare am I taken, in the web that a traitor hath spun;
And no deed knoweth my right-hand to do or to leave undone.”
“I look upon thee,” said Brynhild, “I know thy race and thy name.
Yet meseems the deed thou sparest, to amend thine evil and shame.”
“Nought, nought,” he said, “may amend it, save the hungry eyeless sword.
And the war without hope or honour, and the strife without reward.”
“Thou hast spoken the word,” said Brynhild, “if the word is enough, it is well.
Let us eat and drink and be merry, that all men of our words may tell!”
“O all-wise woman,” said Gunnar, “what deed lieth under the tongue?
What day for the dearth of the people, when the seed of thy sowing hath sprung?”
She said: “Our garment is Shame, and nought the web shall rend,
Save the day without repentance, and the deed that nought may amend.”
“Speak, mighty of women,” said Gunnar, “and cry out the name and the deed
That the ends of the Earth may hearken, and the Niblungs’ grievous
“To slay,” she said, “is the deed, to slay a King ere the morn,
And the name is Sigurd the Volsung, my love and thy brother sworn.”
She turned and departed from him, and he knew not whither she went;
But he took his sword from the girdle and the peace-strings round it rent,
And into the house he gat him, and the sunlit fair abode,
But his heart in the mid-mirk waded, as through the halls he strode,
Till he came to a chamber apart; and Grimhild his mother was there,
And there was his brother Hogni in the cloudy Niblung gear:
Him-seemed there was silence between them as of them that have spoken, and wait
Till the words of their mouths be accomplished by slow unholpen Fate:
But they turned to the door, and beheld him, and he took his sheathèd sword
And cast it adown betwixt them, and it clashed half bare on the board,
And Grimhild spake as it clattered: “For whom are the peace-strings rent?
For whom is the blood-point whetted and the edge of thine intent?”
He said: “For the heart of Sigurd; and thus all is rent away
Betwixt this word and his slaying, save a little hour of day.”
Then spake Hogni and answered: “All lands beneath the sun
Shall know and hearken and wonder that such a deed must be done.”
“Speak, brother of Kings,” said Gunnar, “dost thou know deeds better or worse
That shall wash us clean from shaming, and redeem our lives from the curse?”
“I am none of the Norns,” said Hogni, “nor the heart of Odin the Goth,
To avenge the foster-brethren, or broken love and troth:
Thy will is the story fated, nor shall I look on the deed
With uncursed hands unreddened, and edges dulled at need.”
Again spake Grimhild the wise-wife: “Where then is Guttorm the brave?
For he blent not his blood with the Volsung’s, nor his oath to Sigurd gave,
Nor called on Earth to witness, nor went beneath the yoke;
And now is he Sigurd’s foeman; and who may curse his stroke?”
Then Hogni laughed and answered: “His feet on the threshold stand:
Forged is thy sword, O Mother, and its hilts are come to hand,
And look that thou whet it duly; for the Norns are departed now;
From the blood of our foster-brother no branch of bale shall grow;
Hoodwinked are the Gods of heaven, their sleep-dazed eyes are blind;
They shall peer and grope through the darkness, and nought therein shall find,
Save the red right hand of Guttorm, and his lips that never swore;
At the young man’s deed shall they wonder, and all shall be covered o’er:
Ho, Guttorm, enter, and hearken to the counsel of the wise!”
Then in through the door strode Guttorm fair-clad in hunter’s guise,
With no steel save his wood-knife girded; but his war-fain eyes stared wild,
As he spake: “What words are ye hiding from the youngest Niblung child?
What work is to win, my brethren, that ye sit in warrior’s weed,
And tell me nought of the glory, and cover up the deed?”
Then uprose Grimhild the wise-wife, and took the cup again;
Night-long had she brewed that witch-drink and laboured not in vain,
For therein was the creeping venom, and hearts of things that prey
On the hidden lives of ocean, and never look on day;
And the heart of the ravening wood-wolf and the hunger-blinded beast
And the spent slaked heart of the wild-fire the guileful cup increased:
But huge words of ancient evil about its rim were scored,
The curse and the eyeless craving of the first that fashioned sword.
So the cup in her hand was gleaming, as she turned unto Guttorm and spake; “Be merry,
King of the War-fain! we hold counsel for thy sake:
The work is a God’s son’s slaying, and thine is the hand that shall smite,
That thy name may be set in glory and thy deeds live on in light.”
Forth flashed the flame from his eyen, and he cried: “Where then is the foe,
This dread of mine house and my brethren, that my hand may lay him alow?”
“Drink, son,” she said, “and be merry! and I shall tell his name,
Whose death shall crown thy life-days, and increase thy fame with his fame.”
He drinketh and craveth for battle, and his hand for a sword doth seek,
And he looketh about on his brethren, but his lips no word may speak;
They speak the name, and he hears not, and again he drinks of the cup
And knows not friend nor kindred, and the wrath in his heart wells up,
That no God may bear unmingled, and he cries a wordless cry,
As the last of the day is departing and the dusk time drawing anigh.
Then Grimhild goes from the chamber, and bringeth his harness of war,
And therewith they array his body, and he drinketh the cup once more,
And his heart is set on the murder, and now may he understand
What soul is dight for the slaying, and what quarry is for his hand.
For again, they tell him of Sigurd, and the man he remembereth,
And praiseth his mighty name and his deeds that laughed on death.
Now dusk and dark draw over, and through the glimmering house
They go to the place of the Niblungs, the high hall and glorious;
For hard by is the chamber of Sigurd: there dight in their harness of war
In their thrones sit Gunnar and Hogni, but Guttorm stands on the floor
With his blue blade naked before them: the torches flare from the wall
And the woven God-folk waver, but the hush is deep in the hall,
And those Niblung faces change not, though the slow moon slips from her height
And earth is acold ere dawning, and new winds shake the night.
Now it was in the earliest dawn-dusk that Guttorm stirred in his place,
And the mail-rings tinkled upon him, as he turned his helm-hid face,
And went forth from the hall and the high-seat; but the Kings sat still in their pride
And hearkened the clash of his going and heeded how it died.
Slow, all alone goeth Guttorm to Sigurd’s chamber door,
And all is open before him, and the white moon lies on the floor
And the bed where Sigurd lieth with Gudrun on his breast,
And light comes her breath from her bosom in the joy of infinite rest.
Then Guttorm stands on the threshold, and his heart of the murder is fain,
And he thinks of the deeds of Sigurd, and praiseth his greatness and gain;
Bright blue is his blade in the moonlight — but lo, how Sigurd lies,
As the carven dead that die not, with fair wide-open eyes;
And their glory gleameth on Guttorm, and the hate in his heart is chilled,
And he shrinketh aback from the threshold and knoweth not what he willed.
But his brethren heed and hearken, and they hear the clash draw nigh,
But they stir no whit in their pride, though the lord of all creatures should die.
Then they see where cometh Guttorm, but they cast him never a word,
For white ’neath the flickering torches they see his unstained sword;
But he gazed on those Kings of the kindred, and the beast of war awoke;
And his heart was exceeding wrathful with the tarrying of the stroke:
And he strode to the chamber of Sigurd, and again they heeded well
How the clash, in the cloister awakened, by the threshold died and fell.
But Guttorm gazed from the threshold, and the moon was fading away
From the golden bed of Sigurd, and the Niblung woman lay
On the bosom of the Volsung, and her hand lay light on her lord;
But dread were his eyes wide-open, and they gleamed against the sword,
And Guttorm shrank from before them, and back to the hall he came:
There the biding brethren behold him flash wild in the torches’ flame,
Nor stir their lips to question; but their swords on their knees are laid;
The torches faint in the dawning, and they see his unstained blade.
Now dieth moon and candle, and though the day be nigh
The roof of the hall fair-builded seems far aloof as the sky,
But a glimmer grows on the pavement and the ernes on the roof-ridge stir:
Then the brethren hist and hearken, for a sound of feet they hear,
And into the hall of the Niblungs a white thing cometh apace:
But the sword of Guttorm upriseth, and he wendeth from his place,
And the clash of steel goes with him; yet loud as it may sound
Still more they hear those footsteps light-falling on the ground,
And the hearts of the Niblungs waver, and their pride is smitten acold,
For they look on that latest comer, and Brynhild they behold:
But she sits by their side in silence, and heeds them nothing more
Than the grey soft-footed morning heeds yester-even’s war.
But Guttorm clashed in the cloisters and through the silence strode
And scarce on the threshold of Sigurd a little while abode:
There the moon from the floor hath departed and heaven without is grey,
And afar in the eastern quarter faint glimmer streaks of day.
Close over the head of Sigurd the Wrath gleams wan and bare,
And the Niblung woman stirreth, and her brow is knit with fear;
But the King’s closed eyes are hidden, loose lie his empty hands,
There is nought ’twixt the sword of the slayer and the Wonder of all
Lands. Then Guttorm laughed in his war-rage, and his sword leapt up on high,
As he sprang to the bed from the threshold and cried a wordless cry,
And with all the might of the Niblungs through Sigurd’s body thrust,
And turned and fled from the chamber, and fell amid the dust,
Within the door and without it, the slayer slain by the slain;
For the cast of the sword of Sigurd had smitten his body atwain
While yet his cry of onset through the echoing chambers went.
Woe’s me! how the house of the Niblungs by another cry was rent,
The wakening wail of Gudrun, as she shrank in the river of blood
From the breast of the mighty Sigurd: he heard it and understood,
And rose up on the sword of Guttorm, and turned from the country of death,
And spake words of loving-kindness as he strove for life and breath:
“Wail not, O child of the Niblungs! I am smitten, but thou shalt live,
In remembrance of our glory, mid the gifts the Gods shall give!”
She stayed her cry to hearken, and her heart well nigh stood still:
But he spake: “Mourn not, O Gudrun, this stroke is the last of ill;
Fear leaveth the House of the Niblungs on this breaking of the morn;
Mayst thou live, O woman belovèd, unforsaken, unforlorn!”
Then he sank aback on the sword, and down to his lips she bent
If some sound therefrom she might hearken; for his breath was well-nigh spent: “It is
Brynhild’s deed,” he murmured, “and the woman that loves me well;
Nought now is left to repent of, and the tale abides to tell.
I have done many deeds in my life-days, and all these, and my love, they lie
In the hollow hand of Odin till the day of the world go by.
I have done and I may not undo, I have given and I take not again:
Art thou other than I, Allfather, wilt thou gather my glory in vain?”
There was silence then in the chamber, as the dawn spread wide and grey,
And hushed was the hall of the Niblungs at the entering-in of day.
Long Gudrun hung o’er the Volsung and waited the coming word;
Then she stretched out her hand to Sigurd and touched her love and her lord,
And the broad day fell on his visage, and she knew she was there alone,
And her heart was wrung with anguish and she uttered a weary moan:
Then Brynhild laughed in the hall, and the first of men’s voices was that
Since when on yester-even the kings in the high-seat had sat.
But the wrath of Gunnar was kindled and the words of the king out-brake, “Woe’s me, thou wonder of women! thou art glad for no man’s sake,
Nay not for thine own, meseemeth, for thou bidest here as the dead,
As the pale ones stricken deedless, whose tale of life is sped.”
She hearkened him not nor answered; and day came on apace,
And they heard the anguish of Gudrun and her voice in the ancient place.
“Awake, O House of the Niblungs! for my kin hath slain my lord.
Awake, awake, to the murder, and the edges of the sword!
Awake, go forth and be merry! and yet shall the day betide,
When ye stand in the garth of the foemen, and death is on every side,
And ye look about and around you, and right and left ye look
For the least of the hours of Sigurd, and his hand that the battle shook:
Then be your hope as mine is, then face ye death and shame
As I face the desolation, and the days without a name!”
And she shrieked as the woe gathered on her, and the sun rose over her head: “Wake, wake,
O men of this house, for Sigurd the Volsung is dead!”
In the house rose rumour and stir, and men stood up in the morn,
And their hearts with doubt were shaken, as if with the Uttermost Horn:
The cry and the calling spread, and shields clashed down from the wall,
And swords in the chamber glittered, and men ran apace to the hall.
Nor knew what man to question, nor who had tidings to give,
Nor what were the days thenceforward wherein the folk should live.
But ever the word is amongst them that Sigurd the Volsung is slain,
And the spears in the hall were tossing as the rye in the windy plain.
But they look aloft to the high-seat and they see the gleam of the gold:
And Gunnar the King of battle, and Hogni wise and cold,
And Brynhild the wonder of women; and her face is deadly pale,
And the Kings are clad in their war-gear, and bared are the edges of bale.
Then cold fear falleth upon them, but the noise and the clamour abate,
And they look on the war-wise Gunnar and awhile for his word they wait;
But e’en as he riseth above them, doth a shriek through the tumult ring:
“Awake, O House of the Niblungs, for slain is Sigurd the King!”
Then nothing faltered Gunnar, but he stood o’er the Niblung folk,
And over the hall woe-stricken the words of pride he spoke:
“Mourn now, O Niblung people, for gone is Sigurd our guest,
And Guttorm the King is departed, and this is our day of unrest;
But all this of the Norns was fore-ordered, and herein is Odin’s hand;
Cast down are the mighty of men-folk, but the Niblung house shall stand:
Mourn then today and tomorrow, but the third day waken and live,
For the Gods died not this morning, and great gifts they have to give.”
He spake and awhile was silence, and then did the cry outbreak,
And many there were of the Earl-folk that wept for Sigurd’s sake;
And they wept for their little children, and they wept for those unborn,
Who should know the earth without him and the world of his worth forlorn.
But wild is the wailing of women as they fare to the place of the dead,
Where cold is Gudrun sitting mid the waste of Sigurd’s bed.
Then they take the man belovèd, and bear him forth to the hall,
And spread the linen above him, and cloth of purple and pall;
And meekly Gudrun followeth, and she sitteth down thereby,
But mute is her mouth henceforward, and she giveth forth no cry,
And no word of lamentation, though far abroad they weep
For the gift of the Gods departed, and the golden Sigurd’s sleep.
Meanwhile elsewhere the women and the wives of the Niblungs wail
O’er the body of King Guttorm and array him for the bale,
And Grimhild opens her treasure and bears forth plenteous gold
And goodly things for his journey, and the land of Death acold.
So rent is the joy of the Niblungs; and their simple days and fain
From that ancient house are departed, and who shall buy them again?
For he, the redeemer, the helper, the crown of all their worth,
They looked upon him and wondered, they loved; and they thrust him forth.
Of old in the days past over was Gudrun blent with the dead,
As she sat in measureless sorrow o’er Sigurd’s wasted bed,
But no sigh came from her bosom, nor smote she hand in hand,
Nor wailed with the other women, and the daughters of the land;
Then the wise of the Earls beheld her, smit cold with her dread intent,
And they rose one after other, and before the Queen they went;
Men ancient, men mighty in battle, men sweet of speech were there,
And they loved her, and entreated, and spake good words to hear:
But no tears and no lamenting in Gudrun’s heart would strive
With the deadly chill of sorrow that none may bear and live.
Now there were the King-folk’s daughters, and wives of the Earls of war,
The fair, and the noble-hearted, the wise in ancient lore;
And they rose one after other, and stood before the Queen
To tell of their woes past over, and the worst their eyes had seen:
There was Giaflaug, Giuki’s sister, she was old and stark to see,
And she said:
“O heavyhearted; they slew my King from me:
Look up, O child of the Niblungs, and hearken mournful things
Of the woes of living man-folk and the daughters of the Kings!
Dead now is the last of my brethren; to the dead my sister went;
My son and my little daughter in the earliest days were spent:
On the earth am I living loveless, long past are the happy days,
They lie with things departed and vain and foolish praise,
And the hopes of hapless people: yet I sit with the people’s lords
When men are hushed to hearken the least of all my words.
What else is the wont of the Niblungs? why else by the Gods were they wrought,
Save to wear down lamentation, and make all sorrow nought?”
No word of woe gat Gudrun, nor had she will to weep,
Such weight of woe was on her for the golden Sigurd’s sleep:
Her heart was cold and dreadful; nor good from ill she knew
For the love they had taken from her, and the day with nought to do.
Then troth-plight maids forsaken, and never-wedded ones,
And they that mourned dead husbands and the hope of unborn sons,
These told of their bitterest trouble and the worst their eyes had seen; “Yet all we live to love thee, and the glory of the
Look up, look up, O Gudrun! what rest for them that wail
If the Queens of men shall tremble, and the God-kin faint and fail?”
No voice gat Gudrun’s sorrow, no care she had to weep;
For the deeds of the day she knew not, nor the dreams of Sigurd’s sleep:
Her heart was cold and dreadful; nor good from ill she knew,
Because of her love departed, and the day with nought to do.
Then spake a Queen of Welshland, and Herborg hight was she:
“O frozen heart of sorrow, the Norns dealt worse with me:
Of old, in the days departed, were my brave ones under shield,
Seven sons, and the eighth, my husband, and they fell in the Southland field:
Yet lived my father and mother, yet lived my brethren four,
And I bided their returning by the sea-washed bitter shore:
But the winds and death played with them, o’er the wide sea swept the wave,
The billows beat on the bulwarks and took what the battle gave:
Alone I sang above them, alone I dight their gear
For the uttermost journey of all men, in the harvest of the year:
Nor wakened spring from winter ere I left those early dead;
With bound hands and shameful body I went as the sea-thieves led:
Now I sit by the hearth of a stranger; nor have I weal nor woe,
Save the hope of the Niblung masters and the sorrow of a foe.”
No wailing word gat Gudrun, no thought she had to weep
O’er the sundering tide of Sigurd, and the loved lord’s lonely sleep:
Her heart was cold and dreadful; nor good from ill she knew,
Since her love was taken from her and the day of deeds to do.
Then arose a maid of the Niblungs, and Gullrond was her name,
And betwixt that Queen of Welshland and Gudrun’s grief she came:
And she said: “O foster-mother, O wise in the wisdom of old,
Hast thou spoken a word to the dead, and known them hear and behold?
E’en so is this word thou speakest, and the counsel of thy face.”
All heed gave the maids and the warriors, and hushed was the spear-thronged place,
As she stretched out her hand to Sigurd, and swept the linen away
From the lips that had holpen the people, and the eyes that had gladdened the day;
She set her hand unto Sigurd, and turned the face of the dead
To the moveless knees of Gudrun, and again she spake and said:
“O Gudrun, look on thy loved-one; yea, as if he were living yet
Let his face by thy face be cherished, and thy lips on his lips be set!”
Then Gudrun’s eyes fell on it, and she saw the bright-one’s hair
All wet with the deadly dew-fall, and she saw the great eyes stare
At that cloudy roof of the Niblungs without a smile or frown;
And she saw the breast of the mighty and the heart’s wall rent adown:
She gazed and the woe gathered on her, so exceeding far away
Seemed all she once had cherished from that which near her lay;
She gazed, and it craved no pity, and therein was nothing sad,
Therein was clean forgotten the hope that Sigurd had:
Then she looked around and about her, as though her friend to find,
And met those woeful faces but as grey reeds in the wind,
And she turned to the King beneath her and raised her hands on high,
And fell on the body of Sigurd with a great and bitter cry;
All else in the house kept silence, and she as one alone
Spared not in that kingly dwelling to wail aloud and moan;
And the sound of her lamentation the peace of the Niblungs rent,
While the restless birds in the wall-nook their song to the green leaves sent;
And the geese in the home-mead wandering clanged out beneath the sun;
For now was the day’s best hour, and its loveliest tide begun.
Long Gudrun lay on Sigurd, and her tears fell fast on the floor
As the rain in midmost April when the winter-tide is o’er,
Till she heard a wail anigh her and how Gullrond wept beside,
Then she knew the voice of her pity, and rose upright and cried:
“O ye, e’en such was my Sigurd among these Giuki’s sons,
As the hart with the horns day-brightened mid the forest-creeping ones;
As the spear-leek fraught with wisdom mid the lowly garden grass;
As the gem on the gold band’s midmost when the council cometh to pass,
And the King is lit with its glory, and the people wonder and praise.
— O people, Ah thy craving for the least of my Sigurd’s days!
O wisdom of my Sigurd! how oft I sat with thee
Thou striver, thou deliverer, thou hope of things to be!
O might of my love, my Sigurd! how oft I sat by thy side,
And was praised for the loftiest woman and the best of Odin’s pride!
But now am I as little as the leaf on the lone tree left,
When the winter wood is shaken and the sky by the North is cleft.”
Then her speech grew wordless wailing, and no man her meaning knew;
Till she hushed her swift and turned her; for a laugh her wail pierced through,
As a whistling shaft the night-wind in some foe-encompassed wood;
And lo, by the nearest pillar the wife of Gunnar stood;
There stood the allwise Brynhild ’gainst the golden carving pressed,
As she stared at the wound of Sigurd and that rending of his breast:
But she felt the place fallen silent, and the speechless anger set
On her own chill, bitter sorrow; and the eyes of the women met,
And they stood in the hall together, as they stood that while ago,
When they twain in Brynhild’s dwelling of days to come would know:
But every soul kept silence, and all hearts were chill as stone
As Brynhild spake:
“Thou woman, shall thine eyes be wet alone?
Shalt thou weep and speak in thy glory, when I may weep no more,
When I speak, and my speech is as silence to the man that loved me sore?”
Then folk heard the woe of Gudrun, and the bitterness of hate:
“Day cursed o’er every other! when they opened wide the gate,
And Kings in gold arrayed them, and all men the joy might hear,
As Greyfell neighed in the forecourt the world’s delight to bear,
And my brethren shook the world-ways as they rode to Brynhild’s bower,
— An ill day — an evil woman — a most untimely hour!”
But she wailed: “The seat is empty, and empty is the bed,
And earth is hushed henceforward of the words my speech-friend said!
Lo, the deeds of the sons of Giuki, and my brethren of one womb!
Lo, the deeds of the sons of Giuki for the latter days of doom!
O hearken, hearken Gunnar! May the dear Gold drag thee adown,
And Greyfell’s ruddy Burden, and the Treasure of renown,
And the rings that ye swore the oath on! yea, if all avengers die,
May Earth, that ye bade remember, on the blood of Sigurd cry!
Be this land as waste as the trothplight that the lips of fools have sworn!
May it rain through this broken hall-roof, and snow on the hearth forlorn!
And may no man draw anigh it to tell of the ruin and the wrack!
Yea, may I be a mock for the idle if my feet come ever aback,
If my heart think kind of the chambers, if mine eyes shall yearn to behold
The fair-built house of my fathers, the house beloved of old!”
Then she waileth out before them, and hideth her face from the day,
And she casteth her down from the high-seat and fleeth fast away;
And forth from the Hall of the Niblungs, and forth from the Burg is she gone,
And forth from the holy dwellings, and a long way forth alone,
Till she comes to the lonely wood-waste, the desert of the deer
By the feet of the lonely mountains, that no man draweth anear;
But the wolves are about and around her, and death seems better than life,
And folding the hands and forgetting a merrier thing than strife;
And for long and long thereafter no man of Gudrun knows,
Nor who are the friends of her life-days, nor whom she calleth her foes.
But how great in the hall of the Niblungs is the voice of weeping and wail!
Men bide on the noon’s departing, men bide till the eve shall fail,
Then they wend one after other to the sleep that all men win,
Till few are the hall-abiders, and the moon is white therein,
And no sound in the house may ye hearken save the ernes that stir o’erhead,
And the far-off wail o’er Guttorm and the wakeners o’er the dead:
But still by the carven pillar doth the all-wise Brynhild stand
A-gaze on the wound of Sigurd, nor moveth foot nor hand,
Nor speaketh word to any, of them that come or go
Round the evil deed of the Niblungs and the corner-stone of woe.
Once more on the morrow-morning fair shineth the glorious suns
And the Niblung children labour on a deed that shall be done.
For out in the people’s meadows they raise a bale on high,
The oak and the ash together, and thereon shall the Mighty lie;
Nor gold nor steel shall be lacking, nor savour of sweet spice,
Nor cloths in the Southlands woven, nor webs of untold price:
The work grows, toil is as nothing; long blasts of the mighty horn
From the topmost tower out-wailing o’er the woeful world are borne.
But Brynhild lay in her chamber, and her women went and came,
And they feared and trembled before her, and none spake Sigurd’s name;
But whiles they deemed her weeping, and whiles they deemed indeed
That she spake, if they might but hearken, but no words their ears might heed;
Till at last she spake out clearly:
“I know not what ye would;
For ye come and go in my chamber, and ye seem of wavering mood
To thrust me on, or to stay me; to help my heart in woe,
Or to bid my days of sorrow midst nameless folly go.”
None answered the word of Brynhild, none knew of her intent;
But she spake: “Bid hither Gunnar, lest the sun sink o’er the bent,
And leave the words unspoken I yet have will to speak.”
Then her maidens go from before her, and that lord of war they seek,
And he stands by the bed of Brynhild and strives to entreat and beseech,
But her eyes gaze awfully on him, and his lips may learn no speech.
And she saith:
“I slept in the morning, or I dreamed in the waking-hour,
And my dream was of thee, O Gunnar, and the bed in thy kingly bower,
And the house that I blessed in my sorrow, and cursed in my sorrow and shame,
The gates of an ancient people, the towers of a mighty name:
King, cold was the hall I have dwelt in, and no brand burned on the hearth;
Dead-cold was thy bed, O Gunnar, and thy land was parched with dearth:
But I saw a great King riding, and a master of the harp,
And he rode amidst of the foemen, and the swords were bitter-sharp,
But his hand in the hand-gyves smote not, and his feet in the fetters were fast,
While many a word of mocking at his speechless face was cast.
Then I heard a voice in the world: ’O woe for the broken troth,
And the heavy Need of the Niblungs, and the Sorrow of Odin the Goth!
Then I saw the halls of the strangers, and the hills, and the dark-blue sea,
Nor knew of their names and their nations, for earth was afar from me,
But brother rose up against brother, and blood swam over the board,
And women smote and spared not, and the fire was master and lord.
Then, then was the moonless mid-mirk, and I woke to the day and the deed,
The deed that earth shall name not, the day of its bitterest need.
Many words have I said in my life-days, and little more shall I say:
Ye have heard the dream of a woman, deal with it as ye may:
For meseems the world-ways sunder, and the dusk and the dark is mine,
Till I come to the hall of Freyia, where the deeds of the mighty shall shine.’”
So hearkened Gunnar the Niblung, that her words he understood,
And he knew she was set on the death-stroke, and he deemed it nothing good:
But he said: “I have hearkened, and heeded thy death and mine in thy words:
I have done the deed and abide it, and my face shall laugh on the swords;
But thee, woman, I bid thee abide here till thy grief of soul abate;
Meseems nought lowly nor shameful shall be the Niblung fate;
And here shalt thou rule and be mighty, and be queen of the measureless
Gold, And abase the kings and upraise them; and anew shall thy fame be told,
And as fair shall thy glory blossom as the fresh fields under the spring.”
Then he casteth his arms about her, and hot is the heart of the King
For the glory of Queen Brynhild and the hope of her days of gain,
And he clean forgetteth Sigurd and the foster-brother slain:
But she shrank aback from before him, and cried: “Woe worth the while
For the thoughts ye drive back on me, and the memory of your guile!
The Kings of earth were gathered, the wise of men were met;
On the death of a woman’s pleasure their glorious hearts were set,
And I was alone amidst them — Ah, hold thy peace hereof!
Lest the thought of the bitterest hours this little hour should move.”
He rose abashed from before her, and yet he lingered there;
Then she said: “O King of the Niblungs, what noise do I hearken and hear?
Why ring the axes and hammers, while feet of men go past,
And shields from the wall are shaken, and swords on the pavement cast,
And the door of the treasure is opened; and the horn cries loud and long,
And the feet of the Niblung children to the people’s meadows throng?”
His face was troubled before her, and again she spake and said:
“Meseemeth this is the hour when men array the dead;
Wilt thou tell me tidings, Gunnar, that the children of thy folk
Pile up the bale for Guttorm, and the hand that smote the stroke?”
He said: “It is not so, Brynhild; for that Giuki’s son was burned
When the moon of the middle heaven last night toward dawning turned.”
They looked on each other and spake not; but Gunnar gat him gone,
And came to his brother Hogni, the wise-heart Giuki’s son,
And spake: “Thou art wise, O Hogni; go in to Brynhild the queen,
And stay her swift departing; or the last of her days hath she seen.”
“It is nought, thy word,” said Hogni; “wilt thou bring dead men aback,
Or the souls of kings departed midst the battle and the wrack?
Yet this shall be easier to thee than the turning Brynhild’s heart;
She came to dwell among us, but in us she had no part;
Let her go her ways from the Niblungs with her hand in Sigurd’s hand.
Will the grass grow up henceforward where her feet have trodden the land?”
“O evil day,” said Gunnar, “when my queen must perish and die!”
“Such oft betide,” saith Hogni, “as the lives of men flit by;
But the evil day is a day, and on each day groweth a deed,
And a thing that never dieth; and the fateful tale shall speed.
Lo now, let us harden our hearts and set our brows as the brass,
Lest men say it, ’They loathed the evil and they brought the evil to pass.’”
So they spake, and their hearts were heavy, and they longed for the morrow morn,
And the morrow of tomorrow, and the new day yet to be born.
But Brynhild cried to her maidens: “Now open ark and chest,
And draw forth queenly raiment of the loveliest and the best,
Red rings that the Dwarf-lords fashioned, fair cloths that queens have sewed,
To array the bride for the mighty, and the traveller for the road.”
They wept as they wrought her bidding and did on her goodliest gear;
But she laughed mid the dainty linen, and the gold-rings fashioned fair:
She arose from the bed of the Niblungs, and her face no more was wan;
As a star in the dawn-tide heavens, mid the dusky house she shone:
And they that stood about her, their hearts were raised aloft
Amid their fear and wonder: then she spake them kind and soft:
“Now give me the sword, O maidens, wherewith I sheared the wind
When the Kings of Earth were gathered to know the Chooser’s mind.”
All sheathed the maidens brought it, and feared the hidden blade,
But the naked blue-white edges across her knees she laid,
And spake: “The heaped-up riches, the gear my fathers left,
All dear-bought woven wonders, all rings from battle reft,
All goods of men desired, now strew them on the floor,
And so share among you, maidens, the gifts of Brynhild’s store.”
They brought them mid their weeping, but none put forth a hand
To take that wealth desired, the spoils of many a land:
There they stand and weep before her, and some are moved to speech,
And they cast their arms about her and strive with her, and beseech
That she look on her loved-ones’ sorrow and the glory of the day.
It was nought; she scarce might see them, and she put their hands away
And she said: “Peace, ye that love me! and take the gifts and the gold
In remembrance of my fathers and the faithful deeds of old.”
Then she spake: “Where now is Gunnar, that I may speak with him?
For new things are mine eyes beholding and the Niblung house grows dim,
And new sounds gather about me, that may hinder me to speak
When the breath is near to flitting, and the voice is waxen weak.”
Then upright by the bed of the Niblungs for a moment doth she stand,
And the blade flasheth bright in the chamber, but no more they hinder her hand
Than if a God were smiting to rend the world in two:
Then dulled are the glittering edges, and the bitter point cleaves through
The breast of the all-wise Brynhild, and her feet from the pavement fail,
And the sigh of her heart is hearkened mid the hush of the maidens’ wail.
Chill, deep is the fear upon them, but they bring her aback to the bed,
And her hand is yet on the hilts, and sidelong droopeth her head.
Then there cometh a cry from withoutward, and Gunnar’s hurrying feet
Are swift on the kingly threshold, and Brynhild’s blood they meet.
Low down o’er the bed he hangeth and hearkeneth for her word,
And her heavy lids are opened to look on the Niblung lord,
And she saith:
“I pray thee a prayer, the last word in the world I speak,
That ye bear me forth to Sigurd, and the hand my hand would seek;
The bale for the dead is builded, it is wrought full wide on the plain,
It is raised for Earth’s best Helper, and thereon is room for twain:
Ye have hung the shields about it, and the Southland hangings spread,
There lay me adown by Sigurd and my head beside his head:
But ere ye leave us sleeping, draw his Wrath from out the sheath,
And lay that Light of the Branstock, and the blade that frighted deaths
Betwixt my side and Sigurd’s, as it lay that while agone,
When once in one bed together we twain were laid alone:
How then when the flames flare upward may I be left behind?
How then may the road he wendeth be hard for my feet to find?
How then in the gates of Valhall may the door of the gleaming ring
Clash to on the heel of Sigurd, as I follow on my king?”
Then she raised herself on her elbow, but again her eyelids sank,
And the wound by the sword-edge whispered, as her heart from the iron shrank,
And she moaned: “O lives of man-folk, for unrest all overlong
By the Father were ye fashioned; and what hope amendeth a wrong?
Now at last, O my belovèd, all is gone; none else is near,
Through the ages of all ages, never sundered, shall we wear.”
Scarce more than a sigh was the word, as back on the bed she fell,
Nor was there need in the chamber of the passing of Brynhild to tell;
And no more their lamentation might the maidens hold aback,
But the sound of their bitter mourning was as if red-handed wrack
Ran wild in the Burg of the Niblungs, and the fire were master of all.
Then the voice of Gunnar the war-king cried out o’er the weeping hall:
“Wail on, O women forsaken, for the mightiest woman born!
Now the hearth is cold and joyless, and the waste bed lieth forlorn.
Wail on, but amid your weeping lay hand to the glorious dead,
That not alone for an hour may lie Queen Brynhild’s head:
For here have been heavy tidings, and the Mightiest under shield
Is laid on the bale high-builded in the Niblungs’ hallowed field.
Fare forth! for he abideth, and we do Allfather wrong,
If the shining Valhall’s pavement await their feet o’erlong.”
Then they took the body of Brynhild in the raiment that she wore,
And out through the gate of the Niblungs the holy corpse they bore,
And thence forth to the mead of the people, and the high-built shielded bale;
Then afresh in the open meadows breaks forth the women’s wail
When they see the bed of Sigurd and the glittering of his gear;
And fresh is the wail of the people as Brynhild draweth anear,
And the tidings go before her that for twain the bale is built,
That for twain is the oak-wood shielded and the pleasant odours spilt.
There is peace on the bale of Sigurd, and the Gods look down from on high,
And they see the lids of the Volsung close shut against the sky,
As he lies with his shield beside him in the Hauberk all of gold,
That has not its like in the heavens, nor has earth of its fellow told;
And forth from the Helm of Aweing are the sunbeams flashing wide,
And the sheathèd Wrath of Sigurd lies still by his mighty side.
Then cometh an elder of days, a man of the ancient times,
Who is long past sorrow and joy, and the steep of the bale he climbs;
And he kneeleth down by Sigurd, and bareth the Wrath to the sun
That the beams are gathered about it, and from hilt to blood-point run,
And wide o’er the plain of the Niblungs doth the Light of the
Branstock glare, Till the wondering mountain-shepherds on that star of noontide stare,
And fear for many an evil; but the ancient man stands still
With the war-flame on his shoulder, nor thinks of good or of ill,
Till the feet of Brynhild’s bearers on the topmost bale are laid,
And her bed is dight by Sigurd’s; then he sinks the pale white blade
And lays it ’twixt the sleepers, and leaves them there alone —
He, the last that shall ever behold them — and his days are well nigh done.
Then is silence over the plain; in the noon shine the torches pale
As the best of the Niblung Earl-folk bear fire to the builded bale:
Then a wind in the west ariseth, and the white flames leap on highs
And with one voice crieth the people a great and mighty cry,
And men cast up hands to the Heavens, and pray without a word,
As they that have seen God’s visage, and the face of the Father have heard.
They are gone — the lovely, the mighty, the hope of the ancient Earth:
It shall labour and bear the burden as before that day of their birth:
It shall groan in its blind abiding for the day that Sigurd hath sped,
And the hour that Brynhild hath hastened, and the dawn that waketh the dead:
It shall yearn, and be oft-times holpen, and forget their deeds no more,
Till the new sun beams on Baldur, and the happy sealess shore.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:58