Sigurd the Volsung

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

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

BOOK III.
BRYNHILD.

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.

 

I. Of the Dream of Gudrun the Daughter of Giuki


4100

AND now of the Niblung people the tale beginneth to tell,
Howtheydeal with the wind and theweather; in the cloudy drift they dwell
When the wax 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 sunsbine they scour across the plain,
4105
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,
4110
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
4115
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.
4120
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,
4125
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 gray and awful his eyen, and a many sights they win :
4130
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;
4135
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

4140

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
4145
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,
4150
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 ?
4155
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 ;
4160
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 ;
4165
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,
4170
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
4175
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."

4180

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 :
4185
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."

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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.
4195
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,
4200
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 ;
4205
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.
4210
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,
4215
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.
4220
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,
4225
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,
4230
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
4235
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 :
4240
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.
4245
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."

4250

"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,
4255
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.
4260
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 :
4265
"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 ;
4270
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.
4275
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 :

4280

" 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,
4285
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 ?"

4290

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
4295
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 :
4300
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
4305
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.
4310
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,
4315
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,
4320
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 ;
4325
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
4330
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,
4335
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.
4340
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.
4345
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 :
4350
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,
4355
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,
4360
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,
4365
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 the summer, and the love is drawing anear ;
Take these to thine heart to cherish, and deem them good and dear,
4370
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 ;
4375
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.
4380
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
4385
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.

 

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