Sigurd the Volsung

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

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
To chase the sons of the plunder that curse the ocean-side :
5170
So over the oaken rollers they run the cutters down
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,
5175
And Sigurd sits by the tiller and the host of the spoilers seeks.
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,
5180
And the mighty song of mocking goes up from the thousands of throats,
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,
5185
And the eager men unshielded swarm up the heights of wrong.
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,
5190
And the Niblung song goes upward, as the sea-burgs long accursed
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.

5195

But now with the spoil of the spoilers mid the Niblungs doth he fare,
When the Kings have dight the beacons and the warders of the coast.
That fire may call to fire for the swift redeeming host.
Then they fare to the Burg of the people, and leave that lealand free
That a maid may wend untroubled by the edges of the sea ;
5200
And glad in the autumn season they sit them down again
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.
Where the cloudy hangings waver and the flickering shadows fall,
And he sits by the Kings on the high-seat, and wise of men he seems,
5205
And of many a hidden marvel past thought of man he dreams :
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 ;
5210
And more than a God he seemeth, and so steadfast and so great,
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
Beat back from pillar to pillar, to the cloud-blue roof go up ;
And men's hearts rejoice in the batde, and the hope of coming days,
5215
Till scarce may they think of their fathers, and the kings of bygone praise.

But Giuki looketh on Sigurd and saith from heart grown fain :
"To sit by the silent wise-one, how mighty is the gain !
Yet we know this long while, Sigurd, that lovely is thy speech ;
Wilt thou tell us the tales of the ancient, and the words of masters teach?
5220
For the joy of our hearts is stormy with mighty battles won,
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,
As his hand sank into the strings, and a ripple over them ran.
And he looked forth kind o'er the people, and all men on his glory gazed.
5225
And hearkened, hushed and happy, as the King his voice upraised ;
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 ;
5230
Then he told of Signy and Sigmund, and the changing of their lives ;
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
5235
That the days of all his longing as a story might be o'er :
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 :
"There is none of the kings of kingdoms that may match thy goodlihead :
5240
Lo now, thou hast sung of thy fathers ; but men shall sing of thee,
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
5245
Earth's hidden might was mingled, and deeds of the cold sea's birth,
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.

5250

So Sigurd looked on the horn, and he saw how fair it was scored
With the cunning of the Dwarf-kind and the masters of the sword ;
And he drank and smiled on Grimhild above the beaker's rim,
And she looked and laughed at his laughter; and the soul was changed in him.
Men gazed and their hearts sank in them, and they knew not why it was,
5255
Why the fair-lit hall was darkling, nor what had come to pass :
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.
And her hand a wonder of wonders to withstand the deeds of Fate :
5260
For she saw by the face of Sigurd and the token of his eyes
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,
5265
But all this was a token unto her, and great pride within her grew.
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,
5270
And take heed where the Gods were heedless, and build on where they began.
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 !
For the draught thou hast drunken, O Sigurd, and my love was blent with the wine:
O Sigurd, son of the mighty, thy kin are passed away,
5275
But uplift thine heart and be merry, for new kin hast thou gotten today ;
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 ;
5280
The waste shall bloom as a garden in the Niblung glory and trust.
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
5285
His love of Brynhild perished as he gazed on the Niblung Queen :
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,
5290
When ye look and long for Sigurd, and the image of Sigurd behold,
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,
5295
And have wreathed their brows with roses ere the first of the clouds was born ;
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 -
5300
— Lo now, why sit they so heavy, and why is their joy-speech dead,
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,
5305
It rains in the nether heaven, and the world is afraid with the thunder :
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
All waste is the burg of Brynhild, and there springeth a marvellous light
5310
On the desert hard by Lymdale, and few men know for why ;
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
5315
For remembrance of the Mighty, and the Best come forth from the Best.

But the hushed Kings sat in the feast-hall, till Grimhild cried on the harp,
And the minstrels' fingers hastened, and the sound rang clear and sharp
Beneath the cloudy roof-tree, but no joyance with it went.
And no voice but the eagles' crying with the stringed song was blent ;
5320
And as it began, it ended, and no soul had been moved by its voice,
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 ;
5325
Yet is Sigurd's face as boding to folk that behold him anear,
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,
But night on the Niblungs waxeth, and their Kings for the morrow long.
5330
And the morrow of tomorrow that the light may be fair to their eyes,
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
5335
That he heedeth the folk of the Niblungs but as people of a dream.
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 :
5340
— Yea he with no deed before him, and he in the raiment of peace ;
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 nought else hath he care to remember of all the deeds he hath done :
He hasteneth not nor stayeth ; he lets the dark die out
5345
Ere he comes to the burg of Brynhild and rides it round about ;
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.
5350
O'er the bridge of the river he rideth, and unto the burg-gate comes
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.
5355
And his horse is glad and remembers, and that road of King-folk knows ;
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
And no man stayeth nor hindereth ; tiiere he gazeth round about,
5360
And seeth a glorious dwelling, a mighty far-famed place.
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,
5365
Though the wise and the deft have built them for a long-enduring tale :
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,
5370
And he hath a thought within him that he rideth forth from shame.
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.
And he deemed they cried "Hail Sigurd ! thou art welcome home again !"
Then he looked to the door of the feast-hall and behold it seemed to him
5375
That its wealth of graven stories with more that the dusk was dim ;
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,
5380
And Grimhild the kin of the God-folk, the wife of the glittering eyes ;
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 :
5385
"Hail, Sigurd ! what tidings wilt thou tell
Of thy deeds since yestereven ? or whitherward wentst thou ?"

Then unto the earth leapt the Volsung, and gazed with doubtful brow
On the King and the Queen and the Brethren, and the white-armed Giuki's Child,
Yet amidst all these in a measure of his heavy heart was beguiled :
He spread out his hands before them, and he spake :
5390
" O, what be ye,
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,
5395
Have ye any new-found tidings, or are deeds come nigh to the birth?
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 !"

5400

None answered a word for a space ; but Gudrun wept in the door.
And the noise of men came outward and of feet that went on the floor.
Then Grimhild stood before him, and took him by the hand,
And she said : "In the hall are gathered the earls of the Niblung land.
Come thou with the Mother of Kings and sit in thy place tonight.
5405
That the cheer of the earls may be bettered, nor the war-dukes lose delight."

" Come, brother and king," said Gunnar, "for here of all the earth
Is the place that may not lack thee, and the folk that loves thy worth."

"Come, Sigurd the wise," said Hogni, "and so shall thy visage cheer
The folk that is bold for tomorrow, and the hearts that know no fear."

5410

"Come, Sigurd the keen," said Guttorm, "for thy sword lies light in the sheath,
And oft shall we ride together to face the fateful death."

No word at all spake Gudrun, as she stood in the doorway dim,
But turned her face from beholding as she reached her hand to him.

Then Sigurd nought gainsaid them, but into the hall he passed,
5415
And great shouts of salutation to the cloudy roof were cast,
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.

5420

But he looked to the right and the left, and he knew there was ruin and lack.
And the death of yestereven, and the days that should never come back;
And he strove, but nought he remembered of the matters that he would.
Save that great was the flood of sorrow that had drowned his days of good :
Then he deemed that the sons of the earl-folk, e'en mid their praising word.
5425
Were looking on his trouble as a people sore afeard;
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 !
5430
Then he lifted his head like a king, and his brow as a God's was clear.
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
5435
And thrust by the grief of forgetting, and his tangled thought and vain.
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.

5440

But now speaketh Grimhild the Queen : "Rise, daughter of my folk.
For thou seest my son is weary with the weight of the careful yoke ;
Go, bear him the wine of the Kings, and hail him over the gold,
And bless the King for his coming to the heart of the Niblung fold."

Upriseth the white-armed Gudrun, and taketh the cup in her hand ;
5445
Dead-pale in the night of her tresses by Sigurd doth she stand.
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.
5450
— How fares it with words unspoken, when men are great enow.
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.
5455
But fair as Odin's Choosers in the slain kings' wakening dale,
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.
5460
But she sees the change in his eyen, and her queenly grief is stirred,
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 :
5465
Nay, put thy trouble from thee, lest the shielded warriors grieve !
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 !"

5470

He seeth the love in her eyen, and the life that is tangled in his,
And the heart cries out within him, and man's hope of earthly bliss ;
And again would he spare her the speech, as she strives with her longing sore,

"Here are glad men about us, and a joyous folk of war
And they that have loved thee for long, and they that have cherished mine heart;
5475
But we twain alone are woeful, as sad folk sitting apart.
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;
5480
The love that endureth for ever, and the never-dying troth.
To face the Norns' undoing, and the Gods amid their wrath."

Then he taketh the cup and her hands, and she boweth meekly adown,
Till she feels the arms of Sigurd round her trembling body thrown:
A little while she doubteth in the mighty slayer's arms
5485
As Sigurd's love unhoped-for her barren bosom warms ;
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 ;
5490
Then the fierce love overwhelms her, and as wax in the fervent fire
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

 

Back to top