Sigurd the Volsung

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

 

VII. Of the Wedding of Sigurd the Volsung

That night sleeps Sigurd the Volsung, and awakes on the morrow-morn,
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And wots at the first but dimly what thing in his life hath been born :
But the sun cometh up in the autumn, and the eve he remembereth,
And the word he hath given to Gudrun to love her to the death ;
And he longs for the Niblung maiden, that her love may cherish his heart,
Lest e'en as a Godhead banished he dwell in the world apart :
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The new sun smiteth his body as he leaps from the golden bed,
And doeth on his raiment and is fair apparelled ;
Then he goes his ways through the chambers, and greeteth none at all
Till he comes to the garth and the garden in the nook of the Niblung wall.

Now therein, mid the yellowing leafage, and the golden blossoms spent.
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Alone and lovely and eager the white-armed Gudrun went ;
Swift then he hasteneth toward her, and she bideth his drawing near,
And now in the morn she trembleth ; for her love is blent with fear ;
And wonder is all around her, for she deemed till yestereve,
When she saw the earls astonied, and the golden Sigurd grieve,
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That on some most mighty woman his joyful love was set ;
And love hath made her humble, and her race doth she forget,
And her noble and mighty heart from the best of the Niblungs spung,
The sons of the earthly War-Gods of the days when the world was young.
Yea she feareth her love and his fame, but she feareth' his sorrow most,
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Lest he spake from a heart o'erladen and counted not the cost.
But lo, the love of his eyen, and the kindness of his face !
And joy her body burdens, and she trembleth in her place,
And sinks in the arms that -cherish with a faint and eager cry.
And again on the bosom of Sigurd doth the head of Gudrun lie.

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Fairer than yestereven doth Sigurd deem his love,
And more her tender wooing and her shame his soul doth move ;
And his words of peace and comfort come easier forth from him.
And woman's love seems wondrous amidst his trouble dim;
Strange, sweet, to cling together ! as oft and o'er again
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They crave and kiss rejoicing, and their hearts are full and fain.

Then a little while they sunder, and apart and anigh they stand
And Sigurd's eyes grow awful as he stretcheth forth his hand,
And his clear voice saith :
"O Gudrun, now hearken while I swear
That the sun shall die for ever and the day no more be fair,
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Ere I forget thy pity and thine inmost heart of love !
Yea, though the Kings be mighty, and the Gods be great above,
I will wade the flood and the fire, and the waste of war forlorn
To look on the Niblung dwelling, and the house where thou wert born."

Strange seemed the words to Sigurd that his gathering love compelled,
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And sweet and strange desire o'er his tangled trouble welled.

But bright flashed the eyes of Gudrun, and she said : "King, as for me,
If thou sawest the heart in my bosom, what oath might better thee ?
Yet my words thy words shall cherish, as thy lips my lips have done.
— Herewith I swear, O Sigurd, that the earth shall hate the sun,
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And the year desire but darkness, and the blossoms shrink from day,
Ere my love shall fail, beloved, or my longing pass away !"

Now they go from the garth and the garden, and hand in hand they come
To the hall of the kings of aforetime, and the heart of the Niblung home.
There they go 'neath the cloudy roof-tree, and on to the high-seat fair,
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And there sitteth Giuki the ancient, and the guileful Grimhild is there,
With the swart-haired Niblung brethren; and all these are exceeding fain,
When they look on Sigurd and Gudrun, and the peace that enwrappeth the twain.
For in her is all woe forgotten, sick longing little seen,
And the shame that slayeth pity, and the self-scorn of a Queen ;
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And all doubt in love is swallowed, and lovelier now is she
Than a picture deftly painted by the craftsmen over sea ;
And her face is a rose of the morning by the night-tide framed about,
And the long-stored love of her bosom from her eyes is leaping out.
But how fair is Sigurd the King that beside her beauty goes !
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How lovely is he shapen, how great his stature shows !
How kind is the clasping right-hand, that hath smitten the battle acold !
How kind are the awful eyen that no foeman durst behold !
How sweet are the lips unsmiling, and the brow as the open day
What man can behold and believe it, that his life shall pass away ?

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So he standeth proud by the high-seat, and the sun through the vast hall pours,
And the Gods on the hangings waver as the wind goes by the doors,
And abroad are the sounds of man-folk, and the eagles cry from the roof,
And the ancient deeds of Sigmund seem fallen far aloof;
And dead are the fierce days fallen, and the world is soft and sweet,
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As the Son of the Volsungs speaketh in noble words and meet :

"O hearken, king of the Niblungs, O ancient of the days !
Time was, when alone I wandered, and went on the wasteland ways,
And sore my soul desired the harvest of the sword :
Then I slew the great Gold-wallower, and won the ancient Hoard,
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And I turned to the dwellings of men ; for I longed for measureless fame,
And to do and undo with the Kings, and the pride of the Kings to tame;
And I longed for the love of the King-folk ; but who desired my soul.
Who stayed my feet in his dwelling, who showed the weary the goal,
Who drew me forth from the wastes, and the bitter kinless dearth,
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Till I came to the house of Giuki and the hallowed Niblung hearth ?
Count up the deeds and forbearings; count up the words of the days
That show forth the love of the Niblungs and the ancient people's praise
Nay, number the waves of the sea, and the grains of the yellow sand.
And the drops of the rain in the April, and the blades of the grassy land !
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And what if one heart of the Niblungs had stored and treasured it all,
And hushed, and moved but softly lest one grain thereof should fall ?
If she feared the barren garden, and the sunless fallow field ?
How then should the spring-tide labour, and the summer toil to yield !
And so may the high Gods help me, as I from this day forth
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Shall toil for her exalting to the height of worldly worth.
If thou stretch thine hands forth, Giuki, and hail me for thy son :
Then there as thou sittst in thy grave-mound when thine earthly day is done,
Thou shalt hear of our children's children, and the crowned kin of kings,
And the peace of the Niblung people in the day of better things ;
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And then mayst thou be merry of the eve when Sigurd came
In the day of the deeds of the Niblungs and the blossom of their fame.
Stretch forth thine hands to thy son : for I bid thy daughter to wife,
And her life shall withhold my death-day, and her death shall stay my life."

Then spoke the ancient Giuki : "Hail Sigurd, son of mine eld !
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And I bless the Gods for the day that mine ancient eyes have beheld :
Now let me depart in peace, since I know for very sooth
That waxen e'en as the God-folk shall the Niblungs blossom in youth.
Come, take thy mother's greeting, and let thy brethren say
How well they love thee, Sigurd, and how fair they deem the day."

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Then lowly bendeth Sigurd 'neath the guileful Grimhild's hand,
And he kisseth the Kings of the Niblungs, and about him there they stand,
The war-fain, darkling kindred ; and all their words are praise,
And the love of the tide triumphant, and the hope of the latter days.

Hark now, on the morrow morning how the blast of the mighty horn
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From the builded Burg of the Niblungs goes over the acres shorn.
And the roads are gay with the riders, and the bull in the stall is left,
And the plough is alone in the'furrow,and the wedge in the bole half-cleft ;
And late shall the ewes be folded, and the kine come home to the pail.
And late shall the fires be litten in the outmost treeless dale :
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For men fare to the gate of Giuki and the ancient cloudy hall.
And therein are the earls assembled and the kings wear purple and pall,
And the flowers are spread beneath them, and the bench-cloths beaten with gold ;
And the walls are strange and wondrous with the noble stories told :
For new-hung is the ancient dwelling with the golden spoils of the south,
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And men seem merry for ever, and the praise is in each man's mouth.
And the name of Sigurd the Volsung, the King and the Serpent's Bane,
Who exalteth the high this morning and blesseth the masters of gain :
For men drink the bridal of Sigurd and the white-armed Niblung maid,
And the best with tlie best shall be mingled, and the gold with the gold o'erlaid.

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So, fair in the hall is the feasting and men's hearts are uplifted on high,
And they deem that the best of their life-days are surely drawing anigh,
As now, one after other, uprise the scalds renowned,
And their well-beloved voices awake the hoped-for sound,
In the midmost of the high-tide, and the joy of feasting lords.
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Then cometh a hush and a waiting, and the light of many swords
Flows into the hall of Giuki by the doorway of the King,
And amid those flames of battle the war-clad warriors bring
The Cup of daring Promise and the hallowed Boar of Son,
And men's hearts grow big with longing and great is the hope-tide grown ;
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For bright the Son of Sigmund ariseth by the board,
And unwinds the knitted peace-strings that hamper Regin's Sword :
Then fierce is the light on the high-seat as men set down the Cup
Anigh the hand of Sigurd, and the edges blue rise up.
And fall on the hallowed Wood-beast : as a trump of the woeful war
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Rings the voice of the mighty Volsung as he speaks the words of yore : -

"By the Earth that groweth and giveth, and by all the Earth's increase
That is spent for Gods and man-folk ; by the sun that shines on these ;
By the Salt-Sea-Flood that beareth the life and death of men ;
By the Heavens and Stars that change not, though earth die out again ;
5640
By the wild things of the mountain, and the houseless waste and lone ;
By the prey of the Goths in the thicket and the holy Beast of Son,
I hallow me to Odin for a leader of his host,
To do the deeds of the Highest, and never count the cost :
And I swear, that whatso great-one shall show the day and the deed,
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I shall ask not why nor wherefore, but the sword's desire shall speed :
And I swear to seek no quarrel, nor to swerve aside for aught,
Though the right and the left be blooming, and the straight way wend to nought :
And I swear to abide and hearken the prayer of any thrall,
Though the war-torch be on the threshold and the foemen's feet in the hall :
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And I swear to sit on my throne in the guise of the kings of the earth,
Though the anguish past amending, and the unheard woe have birth :
And I swear to wend in my sorrow that none shall curse mine eyes
For the scowl that quelleth beseeching, and the hate that scometh the wise.
So help me Earth and Heavens, and the Under-sky and Seas,
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And the Stars in their ordered houses, and the Norns that order these!"

And he drank of the Cup of the Promise, and fair as a star he shone,
And all men rejoiced and wondered, and deemed Earth's glory won.

Then came the girded maidens, and the slim earls' daughters poured.
And uprose the dark-haired Gunnar and bare was the Niblung sword ;
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Blue it gleamed in the hand of the folk-king as he laid it low on the Beast,
And took oath as the Goths of aforetime in the hush of the people's feast :
"I will work for the craving of Kings, and accomplish the will of the great,
Nor ask what God withstandeth, nor hearken the tales of fate ;
When a King my life hath exalted, and wrought for my hope and my gain.
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For every deed he hath done me, thereto shall I fashion twain.
I shall bear forth the fame of the Niblungs through all that hindereth;
In my life shall I win great glory, and be merry in my death."

So sweareth the lovely war-king and drinketh of the Cup,
And the joy of the people waxeth and their glad cry goeth up.
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But again came the girded maidens : earls' daughters pour the wine,
And bare is the blade of Hogni in the feast-hall over the Swine ;

Then he cries o'er the hallowed Wood-beast : "Earth, hearken, how I swear
To beseech no man for his helping, and to vex no God with prayer ;
And to seek out the will of the Noms, and look in the eyes of the curse ;
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And to laugh while the love aboundeth, lest the glad world grow into worse ;
Then if in the murder I laugh not, O Earth, remember my name.
And oft tell it aloud to the people for the Niblungs' fated shame !"

Then he drank of the Cup of the Promise, and all men hearkened and deemed
That his speech was great and valiant, and as one of the wise he seemed.

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Then the linen-folded maidens of the earl-folk lift the gold ;
But the earls look each on the other, and Guttorm's place behold.
And empty it lieth before them ; for the child hath wearied of peace.
And he sits by the oars in the East-seas, and winneth fame's increase.
Nor then, nor ever after o'er the Holy Beast he spake,
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When mighty hearts were exalted for the golden Sigurd's sake.

But now crieth Giuki the Ancient : "O fair sons, well have ye sworn,
And gladdened my latter-ending, and my kingly hours outworn ;
Full fain from the halls of Odin on the world's folk shall I gaze
And behold all hearts rejoicing in the Niblungs' glorious days."

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Glad cries of earls rose upward and beat on the cloudy roof.
And went forth on the drift of the autumn to the mountains far aloof:
Speech stirred in the hearts of the singers, and the harps might not refrain.
And they called on the folk of aforetime of the Niblung joy to be fain.

But Sigurd sitteth by Gudrun, and his heart is soft and kind,
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And the pity swelleth within it for the days when he was blind ;
And with yet another pity, lest his sorrow seen o'erweigh
Her fond desire's fulfillment, and her fair soul's blooming-day :
And many a word he frameth his kingly fear to hide,
And the tangle of his trouble, that her joy may well abide.
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But the joy so filleth Gudrun and the triumph of her bliss,
That oft she sayeth within her: How durst I dream of this?
How durst I hope for the days wherein I now shall dwell,
And that assurfed joyance whereof no tongue may tell ?

So fares the feast in glory till thin the night doth grow,
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And joy hath wearied the people, and to rest and sleep they go :
Then dight is the fateful bride-bed, and the Norns will hinder nought
That the feet of the Niblung Maiden to the chamber of Kings be brought.
And the troth is pledged and wedded, and the Norns cast nought before
The feet of Sigurd the Volsung and the bridal chamber-door.

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All hushed was the house of the Niblungs, and they two were left alone
And kind as a man made happy was the golden Sigurd grown,
As there in the arms of the mighty he clasped the Niblung Maid ;
But her spirit fainted within her, and her very soul was afraid,
And her mouth was empty of words when their lips were sundered a space.
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And in awe and utter wonder she gazed upon his face ;
As one who hath prayed for a God in the dwelling of man to abide,
And he comes, and the face unfashioned his ruth and his mercy must hide.
She trembled and wept before him, till at last amidst her tears
The joy and the hope of women fell on her unawares,
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And she sought the hands that had held her, and the face that her face had blessed.
And the bosom of Sigurd the Mighty, the hope of her earthly rest.

Then he spake as she hearkened and wondered : "With the Kings of men I rode,
And none but the men of the war-fain our coming swords abode :
O, dear was the day of the riding, and the hope of the clashing swords !
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O, dear were the deeds of battle, and the fall of Odin's lords,
When I met the overcomers, and beheld them overcome,
When we rent the spoil from the spoilers, and led the chasers home !
O, sweet was the day of the summer when we won the ancient towns,
And we stood in the golden bowers and took and gave the crowns !
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And sweet were the suppliant faces, and the gifts and the grace we gave,
And the life and the wealth unhoped for, and the hope to heal and save :
And sweet was the praise of the Niblungs, and dear was the song that arose
O'er the deed assured, accomplished, and the death of the people's foes !
O joyful deeds of the mighty ! O wondrous life of a King !
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Unto thee alone will I tell it, and his fond imagining,
That but few of the people wot of, as he sits with face unmoved
In the place where kings have perished, in the seat of kings beloved !

His kind arms clung about her, and her face to his face he drew ;
"The life of the kings have I conquered, but this is strange and new ;
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And from out the heart of the striving a lovelier thing is born.
And the love of my love is sweeter and these hours before the morn."

Again she trembled before him and knew not what she feared,
And her heart alone, unhidden, deemed her love too greatly dared ;
But the very body of Sigurd, the wonder of all men.
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Cast cherishing arms about her, and kissed her mouth again,
And in love her whole heart melted, and all thought passed away,
Save the thought of joy's fulfillment and the hours before the day ;
She murmured words of loving as his kind lips cherished her breast,
And the world waxed nought but lovely and a place of infinite rest.

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But it was long thereafter ere the sun rose o'er their love,
And lit the world of autumn and the pale sky hung above ;
And it stirred the Gods in the heavens, and the Kings of the Goths it stirred.
Till the sound of the world awakening in their latter dreams they heard ;
And over the Burg of the Niblungs the day spread fair and fresh
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O'er the hopes of the ancient people and those twain become one flesh.

 

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