Sigurd the Volsung

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

 

V. Of Sigurd's warfaring in the company of the Niblungs, and of his great fame and glory

Now gone is the summer season and the harvest of the year,
And amid the winter weather the deeds of the Niblungs wear ;
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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,
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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.
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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,
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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;
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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,
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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:
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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,
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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
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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,
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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;
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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,
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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,
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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 sayst when all is sung,
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'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 ;
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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 ;
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Now therefore if thou deem est that ray 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 lovers fulfillment, and the blossom of renown ;
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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,
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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 stem was Gudrun as the wine of kings she poured :
But Sigurd smiled upon her, and he said :
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" 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,
5045
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."

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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,
5055
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.
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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
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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,
5070
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,
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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,
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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.
5085
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 ;
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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 Sigmimd been,
And looked on the folk unheeded, and the lowly people seen.

Then into the hall of the Niblungs go the battle-staying earls,
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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 accursed 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 ;
5100
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 !
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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:
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And all this he giveth to thee, as the Gods give harvest and gain.
And sit in their thrones of the heaven, 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 ;
5115
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.
5120
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,
5125
And her eves 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,
5130
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 ;
5135
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.

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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 tlie opened southland bales ;
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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 ;
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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,
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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.
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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,
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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 !

 

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