THE STORY OF
SIGURD THE VOLSUNG
AND THE FALL OF THE NIBLUNGS.
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.
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
'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.
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
Now a man of the Kings, called Gripir, in this land of peace abode:
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.
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:
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
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;
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,
In this land abideth Hiordis amid all people’s praise
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,
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,
As though of fateful matters their souls were newly learned.
But Hiordis looked on the Volsung, on her grief and her fond desire,
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 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,
But there sat the Helper of Men with King Elf and his Earls in the hall,
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?
Quoth the first: "It is grief for the foemen that the Masters of God-home would grieve."
"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!
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?”
“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?”
“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,
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."
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;
Then e'en as a man astonied King Elf the Volsung took,
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
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:
"O Sigmund King of Battle; O man of many days,
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!
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,
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 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
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;
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
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,