Sigurd the Volsung

Book II, Pre-Kelmscott Edition, 1876, edited by Stuart Blersch

THE STORY OF
SIGURD THE VOLSUNG
AND THE FALL OF THE NIBLUNGS.

BOOK II.
REGIN.

NOW THIS IS THE FIRST BOOK OF THE LIFE AND DEATH OF SIGURD THE VOLSUNG, AND THEREIN IS TOLD OF THE BIRTH OF HIM, AND OF HIS DEALINGS WITH REGIN THE MASTER OF MASTERS, AND OF HIS DEEDS IN THE WASTE PLACES OF THE EARTH.

I.  Of the birth of Sigurd the son of Sigmund.

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Peace lay on the land of the Helper and the house of Elf his son;
There merry men went bedward when their tide of toil was done,
And glad was the dawn's awakening, and the noontide fair and glad:
There no great store had the franklin, and enough the hireling had;
And a child might go unguarded the length and breadth of the land
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With a purse of gold at his girdle and gold rings on his hand.
'Twas a country of cunning craftsmen, and many a thing they wrought,
That the lands of storm desired, and the homes of warfare sought.
But men deemed it o'er-well warded by more than its stems of fight,
And told how its earth-born watchers yet lived of plenteous might.
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So hidden was that country, and few men sailed its sea,
And none came o'er its mountains of men-folk's company.
But fair-fruited, many-peopled, it lies a goodly strip,
'Twixt the mountains cloudy-headed and the sea-flood's surging lip,
And a perilous flood is its ocean, and its mountains, who shall tell
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What things, in their dales deserted and their wind-swept heaths may dwell.

Now a man of the Kings, called Gripir, in this land of peace abode:
The son of the Helper’s father, though never lay his load
In the womb of the mother of Kings that the Helper’s brethren bore;
But of Giant kin was his mother, of the folk that are seen no more;
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Though whiles as ye ride some fell-road across the heath there comes
The voice of their lone lamenting o’er their changed and conquered homes.
A long way off from the sea-strand and beneath the mountains’ feet
Is the high-built hall of Gripir, where the waste and the tillage meet;
A noble and plentiful house, that a little men-folk fear.
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But beloved of the crag-dwelling eagles and the kin of the woodland deer.
A man of few words was Gripir, but he knew of all deeds that had been,
And times there came upon him, when the deeds to be were seen:
No sword had he held in his hand since his father fell to field,
And against the life of the slayer he bore undinted shield:
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Yet no fear in his heart abided, nor desired he aught at all,
But he noted the deeds that had been, and looked for what should befall.

Again, in the house of the Helper there dwelt a certain man
Beardless and low of stature, of visage pinched and wan:
So exceeding old was Regin, that no son of man could tell
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In what year of the days passed over he came to that land to dwell:
But the youth of King Elf had he fostered, and the Helper's youth thereto,
Yea and his father's father's: the lore of all men he knew,
And was deft in every cunning, save the dealings of the sword:
So sweet was his tongue-speech fashioned, that men trowed his every word;
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His hand with the harp-strings blended was the mingler of delight
With the latter days of sorrow; all tales he told aright;
The Master of the Masters in the smithying craft was he;
And he dealt with the wind and the weather and the stilling of the sea;
Nor might any learn him leech-craft, for before that race was made,
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And that man-folk's generation, all their life-days had he weighed.

In this land abideth Hiordis amid all people’s praise
Till cometh the time appointed: in the fulness of the days
Through the dark and the dusk she travailed, till at last in the dawning hour
Have the deeds of the Volsungs blossomed, and born their latest flower;
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In the bed there lieth a man-child, and his eyes look straight on the sun,
And lo, the hope of the people, and the days of a king are begun.

Men say of the serving-women, when they cried on the joy of the morn,
When they handled the linen raiment, and washed the king new-born,
When they bore him back unto Hiordis, and the weary and happy breast,
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And bade her be glad to behold it, how the best was sprung from the best,
Yet they shrank in their rejoicing before the eyes of the child,
So bright and dreadful were they; yea though the spring morn smiled,
And a thousand birds were singing round the fair familiar home,
And still as on other mornings they saw folk go and come,
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Yet the hour seemed awful to them, and the hearts within them burned
As though of fateful matters their souls were newly learned.

But Hiordis looked on the Volsung, on her grief and her fond desire,
And the hope of her heart was quickened, and her joy was a living fire;
And she said: “Now one of the earthly on the eyes of my child hath gazed
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Nor shrunk before their glory, nor stayed her love amazed:
I behold thee as Sigmund beholdeth— and I was the home of thine heart —
Woe’s me for the day when thou wert not, and the hour when we shall part!”

Then she held him a little season on her weary and happy breast
And she told him of Sigmund and Volsung and the best sprung forth from the best:
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She spake to the new-born baby as one who might understand,
And told him of Sigmund’s battle, and the dead by the sea-flood’s strand,
And of all the wars passed over, and the light with darkness blent.

So she spake, and the sun rose higher, and her speech at last was spent,
And she gave him back to the women to bear forth to the people’s kings,
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That they too may rejoice in her glory and her day of happy things.

But there sat the Helper of Men with King Elf and his Earls in the hall,
And they spake of the deeds that had been, and told of the times to befall,
And they hearkened and heard sweet voices and the sound of harps draw nigh,
Till their hearts were exceeding merry and they knew not wherefore or why:
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Then, lo, in the hall white raiment, as thither the damsels came,
And amid the hands of the foremost was the woven gold aflame.

"O daughters of earls," said the Helper, "what tidings then do ye bear?
Is it grief in the merry morning, or joy or wonder or fear?"

Quoth the first: "It is grief for the foemen that the Masters of God-home would grieve."

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Said the next: "'Tis a wonder of wonders, that the hearkening world shall believe."

"A fear of all fears," said the third, "for the sword is uplifted on men."

"A joy of all joys," said the fourth, "once come, and it comes not again!"

“Lo, son,” said the ancient Helper, “glad sit the earls and the lords!
Lookst thou not for a token of tidings to follow such-like words?”

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Saith King Elf: “Great words of women! or great hath our dwelling become.”

Said the women: “Words shall be greater, when all folk shall praise our home.”

“What then hath betid,” said King Elf, “do the high Gods stand in our gate?”

“Nay,” said they, “else were we silent, and they should be telling of fate.”

“Is the bidding come,” said the Helper, “that we wend the Gods to see?”

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“Many summers and winters,” they said, “ye shall live on the earth, it may be.”

Said a young man: “Will ye be telling that all we shall die no more?”

“Nay,” they answered, “nay, who knoweth but the change may be hard at the door?”

“Come ships from the sea,” said an elder, “with all gifts of the Eastland gold?”

“Was there less than enough,” said the women, “when last our treasure was told?”

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“Speak then,” said the ancient Helper, “let the worst and the best be said.”

Quoth they: “’Tis the Queen of the Isle-folk, she is weary-sick on her bed.”

Said King Elf: “Yet ye come rejoicing; what more lieth under the tongue?”

They said: "The earth is weary: but the tender blade hath sprung,
That shall wax till beneath its branches fair bloom the meadows green;
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For the Gods and they that were mighty were glad erewhile with the Queen."

Said King Elf: "How say ye, women? Of a King new-born do ye tell,
By a God of the Heavens begotten in our fathers' house to dwell?"

"By a God of the Earth," they answered; "but greater yet is the son,
Though long were the days of Sigmund, and great are the deeds he hath done."

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Then she with the golden burden to the kingly high-seat stepped
And away from the new-born baby the purple cloths she swept,
And cried: "O King of the people, long mayst thou live in bliss,
As our hearts today are happy! Queen Hiordis sends thee this,
And she saith that the world shall call it by the name that thou shalt name;
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Now the gift to thee is given, and to thee is brought the fame."

Then e'en as a man astonied King Elf the Volsung took,
While his feast-hall's ancient timbers with the cry of the earl-folk shook;
For the eyes of the child gleamed on him till he was as one who sees
The very Gods arising mid their carven images;
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To his ears there came a murmur of far seas beneath the wind
And the tramp of fierce-eyed warriors thorugh the outland forest blind;
The sound of hosts of battle, cries round the hoisted shield,
Low talk of the gathered wise-ones in the Goth-folk's holy field:
So the thought in a little moment through King Elf the Mighty ran
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Of the years and their building and burden, and toil of the sons of man,
The joy of folk and their sorrow, and the hope of deeds to do:
With the love of many peoples was the wise king smitten through,
As he hung o'er the new-born Volsung: but at last he raised his head,
And looked forth kind o'er his people, and spake aloud and said:

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"O Sigmund King of Battle; O man of many days,
Whom I saw mid the shields of the fallen and the dead men's silent praise,
Lo, how hath the dark tide perished and the dawn of day begun!
And now, O mighty Sigmund, wherewith shall we name thy son?"

But there rose up a man most ancient, and he cried: "Hail Dawn of the Day!
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How many things shalt thou quicken, how many shalt thou slay!
How many things shalt thou waken, how many lull to sleep!
How many things shalt thou scatter, how many gather and keep!
O me, how thy love shall cherish, how thine hate shall wither and burn!
How the hope shall be sped from thy right hand, nor the fear to thy left return!
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O thy deeds that men shall sing of! O thy deeds that the Gods shall see!
O SIGURD, Son of the Volsungs, O Victory yet to be!"

Men heard the name and they knew it, and they caught it up in the air,
And it went abroad by the windows and the doors of the feast-hall fair,
It went through street and market; o'er meadow and acre it went,
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And over the wind-stirred forest and the dearth of the sea-beat bent,
And over the sea-flood's welter, till the folk of the fishers heard,
And the hearts of the isle-abiders on the sun-scorched rocks were stirred.

But the Queen in her golden chamber, the name she hearkened and knew
And she heard the flock of the women, as back to the chamber they drew,
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And the name of Sigurd entered, and the body of Sigurd was come,
And it was as if Sigmund were living and she still in her lovely home;
Of all folk of the world was she well, and a soul fulfilled of rest
As alone in the chamber she wakened and Sigurd cherished her breast.

But men feast in the merry noontide, and glad is the April green
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That a Volsung looks on the sunlight and the night and the darkness have been.
Earls think of marvellous stories, and along the golden strings
Flit words of banded brethren and names of war-fain Kings:
All the days of the deeds of Sigmund who was born so long ago;
All deeds of the glorious Signy, and her tarrying-tide of woe;
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Men tell of the years of Volsung, and how long agone it was
That he changed his life in battle, and brought the tale to pass:
Then goeth the word of the Giants, and the world seems waxen old
For the dimness of King Rerir and the tale of his warfare told:
Yet unhushed are the singers’ voices, nor yet the harp-strings cease
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While yet is left a rumour of the mirk-wood’s broken peace,
And of Sigi the very ancient, and the unnamed Sons of God,
Of the days when the Lords of Heaven full oft the world-ways trod.

So stilleth the wind in the even and the sun sinks down in the sea,
And men abide the morrow and the Victory yet to be.

 

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