VI. Of the Cup of evil drink that Grimhild the Wise-wife gave to Sigurd
Now again in the latter summer do those Kings of the Niblungs ride
Till fair in the first of the deep are the glittering bows up-thrown ;
But; shining wet and steel-clad, men leap from the surfy shore.
And hang their shields on the gunwale, and cast abroad the oar ;
Then full to the outer ocean swing round the golden beaks,
But lo, by the rim of the out-sea where the masts of the Vikings sway,
And their bows plunge down to the sea-floor as they ride the ridgy way.
And show the slant decks covered with swords from stem to stem :
Hark now, how the horns of battle for the clash of warriors yearn,
As down the wind and landward the raven-banner floats :
For they see thin streaks and shining o'er the waters' face draw nigh,
And about each streak a foam-wake as the wet oars toss on high ;
And they shout ; for the silent Niblungs round those great sea-castles throng,
Then from bulwark unto bulwark the Wrath's flame sings and leaps,
And the unsteered manless dragons drift down the weltering deeps,
And the waves toss up a shield-foam, and hushed are the clamorous throats,
And dead in the summer even the raven-banner floats,
Are swept toward the field-folk's houses, and the shores they saddened erst :
Lo there on the poop stands Sigurd mid the black-haired Niblung kings.
And his heart goes forth before him toward the day of better things,
And the burg in the land of Lymdale, and the hands that bide him there.
But now with the spoil of the spoilers mid the Niblungs doth he fare,
By the shrines of the Gods of the Niblungs, and the hallowed hearths of men.
So there on an eve is Sigurd in the ancient Niblung hall.
On the Head of Hindfell he thinketh, and how fair the woman was,
And how that his love hath blossomed, and the fruit shall come to pass;
And he thinks of the burg in Lymdale, and how hand met hand in love,
Nor deems him aught too feeble the heart of the world to move ;
That the sea of chance wide-weltering 'neath his will must needs abate.
High riseth the glee of the people, and the song and the clank of the cup
But Giuki looketh on Sigurd and saith from heart grown fain :
And sweet shall be their lulling with thy tale of deeds agone."
Then they brought the harp to Sigurd, and he looked on the ancient man,
There he sang of the works of Odin, and the halls of the heavenly coast
And the sons of God uprising, and the Wolflings' gathering host ;
And he told of the birth of Rerir, and of Volsung yet unborn
All the deeds of his father's father, and his battles overworn ;
Tales of great kings' departing, and their kindred and their wives.
But his song and his fond desire go up to the cloudy roof,
And blend with the eagles' shrilling in the windy night aloof
So he made an end of his story, and he sat and longed full sore
But the wonder of the people, and their love of Sigurd grew.
And green grew the tree of the Volsungs, as the Branstock blossomed anew.
Now up rose Grimhild the wise-wife, and she stood by Sigurd and said :
And therewith shall our house be remembered, and great shall our glory be.
I beseech thee hearken a little to a faithful word of mine,
When thou of this cup hast drunken ; for my love is blent with the wine."
He laughed and took the cup : But therein with the blood of the earth
And things that the high Gods turn from, and a tangle of strange love,
Deep guile, and strong compelling, that whoso drank thereof
Should remember not his longing, should cast his love away.
Remembering dead desire but as night remembereth day.
So Sigurd looked on the horn, and he saw how fair it was scored
For they saw the sorrow of Sigurd, who had seen but his deeds erewhile,
And the face of the mighty darkened, who had known but the light of its smile.
But Grimhild looked and was merry ; and she deemed her life was great.
That her will had abased the valiant, and filled the faithful with lies.
And blinded the God-born seer, and turned the steadfast athwart,
And smitten the pride of the joyous, and the hope of the eager heart ;
The hush of the hall she hearkened, and the fear of men she knew,
As she saw the days that were coming from the well-spring of her blood ;
Goodly and glorious and great by the kings of her kindred she stood,
And faced the sorrow of Sigurd, and her soul of that hour was fain ;
For she thought: I will heal the smitten, I will raise up the smitten and slain,
And frame hope for the unborn children and the coming days of man.
Then she spake aloud to the Volsung : "Hear this faithful word of mine !
Thy father is Giuki the King, and Grimhild thy mother is made,
And thy brethren are Gunnar and Hogni and Guttorai the unafraid.
Rejoice for a kingly kindred, and a hope undreamed before !
For the folk shall be wax in the fire that withstandeth the Niblung war ;
And the wrack of the Niblung people shall burn the world to dust :
Our peace shall still the world, our joy shall replenish the earth ;
And of thee it cometh, O Sigurd, the gold and the garland of worth !"
But the heart was changed in Sigurd ; as though it ne'er had been
Brynhild's beloved body was e'en as a wasted hearth.
No more for bale or blessing, for plenty or for dearth.
— O ye that shall look hereafter, when the day of Sigurd is done,
And the last of his deeds is accomplished, and his eyes are shut in the sun,
And his white sword still as the moon, and his strong hand heavy and cold,
Then perchance shall ye think of this even, then perchance shall ye wonder and cry,
'Twice over. King, are we smitten, and twice have we seen thee die.'
As folk of the summer feasters, who have fallen to feast in the morn,
Beneath the boughs were they sitting, and the long leaves twinkled about.
And the wind with their laughter was mingled, nor held aback from their shout,
Amidst of their harp it lingered, from the mouth of their horn went up,
Round the reek of their roast was it breathing, o'er the flickering face of their cup -
Why are the long leaves drooping, and the fair wind hushed overhead ? —
Look out from the sunless boughs to the yellow-mirky east.
How the clouds are woven together o'er that afternoon of feast ;
There are heavier clouds above them, and the sun is a hidden wonder,
E'en so in the hall of the Niblungs, and the holy joyous place.
Sat the earls on the marvel gazing, and the sorrow of Sigurd's face.
Men say that a little after the evil of that night
But there are, who say that a wildfire thence roareth up to the sky
Round a glorious golden dwelling, wherein there sitteth a Queen
In remembrance of the wakening, and the slumber that hath been ;
Wherein a Maid there sitteth, who knows not hope nor rest
But the hushed Kings sat in the feast-hall, till Grimhild cried on the harp,
To lament o'er the days passed over, or in coming days to rejoice.
Late groweth the night o'er the people, but no word hath Sigurd said,
Since he laughed o'er the glittering Dwarf-gold and raised the cup to his head :
No wrath in his eyes is arisen, no hope, nor wonder, nor fear ;
As the mountain that broodeth the fire' o'er the town of man's delights,
As the sky that is cursed nor thunders, as the God that is smitten nor smites.
So silent sitteth the Volsung o'er the blindness of the wrong,
And their days as the days of the joyous : so now from the throne they arise.
And their men depart from the feast-hall, their care in sleep to lay.
But none durst speak with Sigurd, nor ask him, whither away,
As he strideth dumb from amidst them; and all who see him deem
So they fall away from about him, till he stands in the forecourt alone ;
Then he fares to the kingly stables, nor knoweth he his own,
Nor backeth the cloudy Greyfell, but a steed of the Kings he bestrides
And forth through the gate of the Niblungs and into the night he rides :
And the moon in the mid-sky wadeth, and is come to her most increase.
In the deedless dark he rideth, and all things he remembers save one,
And he lets the sun rise upward ere he rideth thence away.
And wendeth he knoweth not whither, and he weareth down the day ;
Till lo, a plain and a river, and a ridge at the mountains' feet
With a burg of people builded for the lords of God-home meet.
In no lesser wise up-builded than the gate of the heavenly homes :
Hiraseems that the gate-wards know him, for they cry out each to each.
And as whispering winds in the mountains he hears their far-off speech.
So he comes to the gate*s huge hollow, and amidst its twilight goes.
And the winds are astir in its arches with the sound of swords unseen,
And the cries of kings departed, and the battles that have been.
So into a garth of warriors from that dusk he rideth out
As the last of the evening sunlight shines fair on his weary face :
And there is a hall before him, and huge in the even it lies,
A mountain grey and awful with the Dwarf-folk's masteries :
And the houses of men cling round it, and low they seem and frail,
There the wind sings loud in the wall-nook, and the spears are sparks on the wall,
And the swords are flaming torches as the sun is hard on his fall :
He falls, and the even dusketh o'er that sword-renowned close,
But Sigurd bideth and broodeth for the Niblung house he knows,
And that men have forgotten the greeting and are slow to remember his fame.
But forth from the hall came a shouting, and the voice of many men.
With the waving of white raiment and the doubtful gleam of gold.
Then there groweth a longing within him, nor his heart will he withhold ;
But he rideth straight to the doorway, and the stories of the door :
And there sitteth Giuki the ancient, the King, the wise of war,
And there is the goodly Gunnar, and Hogni the overwise,
And Guttorm the young and the war-fain ; and there in the door and the shade,
With eyes to the earth cast downward, is the white-armed Niblung Maid.
But all these give Sigurd greeting, and hail him fair and well ;
And King Giuki saith :
Of thy deeds since yestereven ? or whitherward wentst thou ?"
Then unto the earth leapt the Volsung, and gazed with doubtful brow
Who ask of the deeds of Sigurd, and seek of the days to be ?
Are ye aught but the Niblung children ? for meseems I would ask for a gift,
But the thought of my heart is unstable, and my hope as the winter-drift ;
And the words may not be shapen. — But speak ye, men of the earth,
Are there knots for my sword to sunder? are there thrones for my hand to shake ?
And to which of the Gods shall I give, and from which of the Kings shall I take?
Or in which of the houses of man-folk henceforward shall I dwell ?
O speak, ye Niblung children, and the tale to Sigurd tell !"
None answered a word for a space ; but Gudrun wept in the door.
" Come, brother and king," said Gunnar, "for here of all the earth
"Come, Sigurd the wise," said Hogni, "and so shall thy visage cheer
"Come, Sigurd the keen," said Guttorm, "for thy sword lies light in the sheath,
No word at all spake Gudrun, as she stood in the doorway dim,
Then Sigurd nought gainsaid them, but into the hall he passed,
And rang back from the glassy pillars, and the woven God-folk 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 other days ;
And the harps rang out in the hall, and men sang in Sigurd's praise.
But he looked to the right and the left, and he knew there was ruin and lack.
And the gifts that the Gods had given the pride in his soul awoke,
And kindled was Sigurd's kindness by the trouble of the folk ;
And he thought : I shall do and undo, as while agone I did,
And abide the time of the dawning, when the night shall be no more hid !
And the trouble fell from the people, and they cast aside their fear ;
And scarce was his glory abated as he sat in the seat of the Kings
With the Niblung brethren about him, and they spake of famous things,
And the dealings of lords of the earth ; but he spake and answered again
And cast his care on the morrow, that the people might be glad.
Yet no smile there came to Sigurd, and his lips no laughter had ;
But he seemeth a king o'er-mighty, who hath won the earthly crown,
In whose hand the world is lying, who no more heedeth renown.
But now speaketh Grimhild the Queen : "Rise, daughter of my folk.
Upriseth the white-armed Gudrun, and taketh the cup in her hand ;
And strives with the thought within her, and finds no word to speak :
For such is the strength of her anguish, as well might slay the weak ;
But her heart is a heart of the Queen-folk and of them that bear earth's kings,
And her love of her lord seems lovely, though sore the torment wrings.
And forth from the good to the good the strong desires shall flow ?
Are they wasted e'en as the winds, the barren maids of the sky,
Of whose birth there is no man wotteth, nor whitherward they fly ?
Lo, Sigurd lifteth his eyes, and he sees her silent and pale.
But sweet as the mid-felFs dawning ere the grass beginneth to move;
And he knows in an instant of time that she stands 'twixt death and love,
And that no man, none of the Gods can help her, none of the days,
If he turn his face from her sorrow, and wend on his lonely ways.
And the shame in her bosom riseth at the long unspoken word,
And again with the speech she striveth : but swift is the thought in his heart
To slay her trouble for ever, and thrust her shame apart.
And he saith :
"O Maid of the Niblungs, thou art weary-faced this eve :
Or tell me what hath been done, or what deed have men forborne,
That here mid the warriors' joyance thy life-joy lieth forlorn?
For so may the high Gods help me, as nought so much I would.
As that round thine head this even might flit unmingled good !"
He seeth the love in her eyen, and the life that is tangled in his,
"Here are glad men about us, and a joyous folk of war
Ah, if I thy soul might gladden ! if thy lips might give me peace !
Then belike were we gladdest of all ; for I love thee more than these.
The cup of goodwill that thou bearest, and the greeting thou wouldst say.
Turn these to the cup of thy love, and the words of the troth-plighting day;
To face the Norns' undoing, and the Gods amid their wrath."
Then he taketh the cup and her hands, and she boweth meekly adown,
A little while she struggleth with the fear of his mighty fame,
That grows with her hope's fulfillment; ruth rises with wonder and shame;
For the kindness grows in her soul, as forgotten anguish dies.
And her heart feels Sigurd's sorrow in the breast whereon she lies ;
All dies and is forgotten in the sweetness of desire ;
And close she clingeth to Sigurd, as one that hath gotten the best
And fair things of the world she deemeth, as a place of infinite rest