Sigurd the Volsung

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

IV. Of Sigurd's riding to the Niblungs

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-beloved stream ?
Or have the piping shepherds beheld the war-gear gleam
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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.
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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 :
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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
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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 ;
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Then keen as the battle-piercer the stringed 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,
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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,
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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 sheathed sound :
But beneath the King in his war-gear and beneath the wondrous Sword
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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 ;
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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,
4725
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."

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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 ;
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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 noon-tide adown the hollows green
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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.
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Till a long way off before him come up the mountains grey ;
Grey, huge beyond all telling, and the host of the heaped 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,
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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.

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>Long Sigurd looked and marvelled, and up-raised his heart and his mind ;
For he deemed that beyond that rock-wall bode his changed 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 ;
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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 ridged hill there ran
4765
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.
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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,
4775
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,
4780
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
4785
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 ;
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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 ;
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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 ;
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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
4805
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 :
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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,
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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 ?
4820
Or perchance are ye of the Elf-kin ? are ye guest-fain, kind at the board,
Or murder-churls and destroyers to gain and die by the sword ?"

Then the spears in the forecourt glitteredand 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,
4825
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.

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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
4835
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,
4840
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 ?
4845
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."

4850

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 :
4855
But Sigurd smileth upon him in the Niblungs' fenced 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 ;
4860
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,
4865
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,
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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,
4875
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 ;
4880
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,
4885
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 Sigurd's worth.
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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,
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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 ;
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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,
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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 dais he meeteth the kin of Giuki the wise :
Lo, here is the crownfed Grimhild, the queen of the glittering eyes;
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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 ;
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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 :
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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,
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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 !"

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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,
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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 :
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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,
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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.

 

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