Sigurd the Volsung

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

X. Of the Contention betwixt the Queens

So there are all these abiding in the Burg of the ancient folk
Mid the troth-plight sworn and broken, and the oaths of the earthly yoke.
Then Guttorm comes from his sea-fare, and is waxen fierce and strong,
A man in the wars delighting, blind-eyed through right and wrong :
6455
Still Sigurd rides with the Brethren, as oft in the other days,
And never a whit abateth the sound of the people's praise ;
They drink in the hall together, they doom in the people's strife,
And do every deed of the King-folk, that the world may rejoice in their life.

There now is Brynhild abiding as a Queen in the house of the Kings,
6460
And hither and thither she wendeth through the day of queenly things ;
And no man knoweth her sorrow ; though whiles is the Niblung bed
Too hot and weary a dwelling for the temples of her head.
And she wends, as her wont was aforetime, when the moon is riding high,
And the night on the earfh is deepest ; and she deemeth it good to lie
6465
In the trench of the windy mountains, and the track of the wandering sheep,
While soft in the arms of Sigurd Queen Gudrun lieth asleep :
There she cries on the lovely Sigurd, and she cries on the love and the oath,
And she cries on the change and the vengeance, and the death to deliver them both.
But her crying none shall hearken, and her sorrow nought shall know,
6470
Save the heart of the golden Sigurd, and the man fast bound in woe :
So she wendeth her back in the dawning toward the deeds and the dwellings of men.
And she sits in the Niblung high-seat, and is fair and queenly again,

Close now is her converse with Gudrun, and sore therein she strives
Lest the barren stark contention should mingle in their lives ;
6475
And she humbles her oft before her, as before the Queen of the earth,
The mistress, the overcomer, the winner of all that is worth :
And Gudrun beareth it all, and deemeth it little enow
Though the wife of Sigurd be worshipped: and the scorn in her heart doth grow,
Of every soul save Sigurd : for that tale of the night she bears
6480
Scarce hid 'twixt the lips and the bosom ; and with evil eye she hears
Songs sung of the deeds of Gunnar, and the rider of the fire.
Who mocked at the bane of King-folk to win his heart's desire :
But Sigurd's will constraineth, and with seeming words of peace
She deals with the converse of Brynhild, and the days her load increase.

6485

Men tell how the heart-wise Hogni grew wiser day by day ;
He knows of the craft of Grimhild, and how she looketh to sway
The very council of God-home and the Norns' unchanging mind ;
And he saith that well-learned is his mother, but that e'en her feet are blind
Down the path that she cannot escape from: nay oft is she nothing, he saith,
6490
Save a staff for the foredoomed staying, and a sword for the ordered death;
And that he will be wiser than this, nor thrust his desire aside,
Nor smother the flame of his hatred; but the steed of the Norns will he ride,
Till he see great marvels and wonders, and leave great tales to be told :
And measureless pride is in him, a stern heart, stubborn and cold.

6495

But of Gunnar the Niblung they say it, that the bloom of his youth is o'er.
And many are manhood's troubles, and they burden him oft and sore.
He dwells with Brynhild his wife, with Grimhild his mother he dwells,
And noble things of his greatness, of his joy, the rumour tells ;
Yet oft and oft of an even he thinks of that tale of the night,
6500
And the shame springs fresh in his heart at his brother Sigurd's might ;
And the wonder riseth within him, what deed did Sigurd there.
What gift to the King hath he given : and he looks on Brynhild the fair,
The fair face never smiling, and the eyes that know no change,
And he deems in the bed of the Niblungs she is but cold and strange ;
6505
And the Lie is laid between them, as the sword lay while agone.
He hearkens to Grimhild moreover, and he deems she is driving him on,
He knoweth not whither nor wherefore : but she tells of the measureless Gold,
And the Flame of the uttermost Waters, and the Hoard of the kings of old :
And she tells of kings' supplanters, and the leaders of the war.
6510
Who take the crown of song-craft, and the tale when all is o'er :
She tells of kings' supplanters, and saith : Perchance 'twere well.
Might some tongue of the wise of the earth of those deeds of the night-tide tell :
She tells of kings' supplanters : I am wise, and the wise I know,
And for nought is the sword-edge whetted, save the smiting of the blow:
6515
Old friends are last to sever, and twain are strong indeed,
When one the King's shame knoweth, and the other knoweth his need.

So Gunnar hearkens and hearkens, and he saith. It is idle and worse :
If the oath of my brother be broken, let the earth then see to the curse !
But again he hearkens and hearkens, and when none may hear his thought
6520
He saith in the silent night-tide : Shall my brother bring me to nought ?
Must my stroke be a stroke of the guilty, though on sackless folk it fall ?
Shall a king sit joy-forsaken mid the riches of his hall ?
And measureless pride is in Gunnar, and it blends with doubt and shame,
And the unseen blossom is envy and desire without a name.

6525

But fair-faced, calm as a God who hath none to call his foes,
Betwixt the Kings and the people the golden Sigurd goes ;
No knowledge of man he lacketh, and the lore he gained of old
From the ancient heart of the Serpent and the Wallower on the Gold
Springs fresh in the soul of Sigurd ; the heart of Hogni he sees,
6530
And the heart of his brother Gunnar, and he grieveth sore for these.
But he seeth the heart of Brynhild, and knoweth her lonely cry
When the waste is all about her, and none but the Gods are anigh:
And he knoweth her tale of the night-tide, when desire, that day doth dull,
6535
Is stirred by hope undying, and fills her bosom full
Of the sighs she may not utter, and the prayers that none may heed ;
Though the Gods were once so mighty the smiling world to speed.
And he knows of the day of her burden, and the measure of her toil.
And the peerless pride of her heart, and her scorn of the fall and the foil.
And the shadowy wings of the Lie, that with hand unwitting he led
6540
To the Burg of the ancient people, brood over board and bed ;
And the hand of the hero faileth, and seared is the sight of the wise,
And good is at one with evil till the new-bom death shall arise,

In the hall sitteth Sigurd by Brynhild, in the council of the Kings,
And he hearkeneth her spoken wisdom, and her word of lovely things :
6545
In the field they meet, and the wild-wood, on the acre and the heath ;
And scarce may he tell if the meeting be worse than the coward's death,
Or better than life of the righteous : but his love is a flaming fire,
That hath burnt up all before it of the things that feed desire.

The heart of Gudrun he seeth, her heart of burning love,
6550
That knoweth of nought but Sigurd on the earth, in the heavens above,
Save the foes that encompass his life, and the woman that wasteth away
'Neath the toil of a love like her love, and the unrewarded day :
For hate her eyes hath quickened, and no more is Gudrun blind
And sure, though dim it may be, she seeth the days behind :
6555
And the shadowy wings of the Lie, that the hand unwitting led
To the love and the heart of Gudrun, brood over board and bed ;
And for all the hand of the hero and the foresight of the wise,
From the heart of a loving woman shall the death of men arise.

It was most in these latter days that his fame went far abroad.
6560
The helper, the overcomer, the righteous sundering sword ;
The loveliest King of the King-folk, the man of sweetest speech,
Whose ear is dull to no man that his helping shall beseech;
The eye-bright seer of all things, that wasteth every wrong.
The straightener of the crooked, the hammer of the strong :
6565
Lo, such was the Son of Sigmund in the days whereof I tell,
The dread of the doom and the battle; and all children loved him well.

Now it happed on a summer season mid the blossom of the year.
When the clouds were high and little, and the sun exceeding clear,
That Queen Brynhild arose in the morning, and longed for the eddying pool,
6570
And the Water of the Niblungs her summer sleep to cool :
So she set her face to the river, where the hawthorn and the rose
Hide the face of the sunlit water from the yellow-blossomed close
And the house-built Buig of the Niblungs ; for there by a grassy strand
The shallow water floweth o'er white and stoneless sand
6575
And deepeneth up and outward ; and the bank on the further side
Goes high and shear and rocky the water's face to hide
From the plain and the horse-fed meadow : there the wives of the Niblungs oft
Would play in the wide-spread water when the summer days were soft ;
And thither now goes Brynhild, and the flowery screen doth pass.
6580
When lo, fair linen raiment falls before her on the grass,
And she looks, and there is Gudrun, the white-armed Niblung child.
All bare for the sunny river and the water undefiled.
Round she turned with her face yet dreamy with the love of yesternight,
Till the flush of anger changed it : but Brynhild's face grew white
Though soft she spake and queenly :
6585
"Hail sister of my lord !
Thou art fair in the summer morning 'twixt the river and the sward !"

Then she disarrayed her shoulders and cast her golden girth,
And she said : "Thou art sister of Gunnar, and the kin of the best of the earth ;
So shalt thou go before me to meet the water cold."

6590

Then, smiling nowise kindly, doth Gudrun her behold,
And she saith: "Thou art wrong, Queen Brynhild, to give the place to me,
For she that is wife of the greatest more than sister-kin shall be.
— Nay, if here were the sister of Sigurd ne'er before me should she go,
Though sister were she surely of the best that the earth-folk know :
6595
Yet I linger not, since thou biddest, for the courteous of women thou art;
And the love of the night and the morning is heavy at my heart ;
For the best of the world was beside me, while thou layest with Gunnar the King."

She laughs and leaps, and about her the glittering waters spring :
But Brynhild laugheth in answer, and her face is white and wan
6600
As swift she taketh the water ; and the bed-gear of the swan
Wreathes long folds round about her as she wadeth straight and swift
Where the white-scaled slender fishes make head against the drift :
Then she turned to the white-armed Gudrun, who stood far down the stream
In the lapping of the west-wind and the rippling shallows' gleam,
6605
And her laugh went down the waters, as the war-horn on the wind,
When the kings of war are seeking, and their foes are fain to find.

But Gudrun cried upon her, and said : "Why wadest thou so
In the deeps and the upper waters, and wilt leave me here below ? "

Then e'en as one transfigured loud Brynhild cried, and said :
6610
"So oft shall it be between us at hall and board and bed ;
E'en so in Freyia's garden shall the lilies cover me,
While thou on the barren footways, thy gown-hem folk shall see :
E'en so shall the gold cloths lap me, when we sit in Odin's hall,
While thou shiverest, little hidden, by thy lord, the Helper's thrall,
6615
By the serving-man of Gunnar, who all his bidding doth,
And waits by the door of the bower, while his master plighteth the troth :
But my mate is the King of the King-folk who rode the Wavering Fire,
And mocked at the ruddy death to win his heart's desire.
Lo now, it is meet and righteous that ye of the happy days
6620
Should bow the heads and wonder at the wedding all men praise.
O, is it not goodly and sweet with the best of the earth to dwell,
And the man that all shall worship when the tale grows old to tell !
For the woe and the anguish endure not, but the tale and the fame endure,
And as wavering wind is the joyance, but the Gods' renown shall be sure :
6625
It is well, O ye troth-breakers ! there was found a man to ride
Through the waves of my Flickering Fire to lie by Brynhild's side."

Then no word answered Gudrun till she waded up the stream
And stretched forth her hand to Brynhild, and thereon was a golden gleam,
And she spake, and her voice was but little :
"Thou mayst know by this token and sign
6630
If the best of the kings of man-folk, and the master of masters is thine."

White waxed the face of Brynhild as she looked on the glittering thing :
And she spake : "By all thou lovest, whence haddest thou the ring ?"

Then Gudrun laughed in her glory the face of the Queen to see :
"Thinkst thou that my brother Gunnar gave the Dwarf-wrought ring to me?"

6635

Nought spake the glorious woman, but as one who clutcheth a knife
She turned on the mocking Gudrun, and again spake Sigurd's wife :

"I had the ring, O Brynhild, on the night that followed the morn.
When the semblance of Gunnar left thee in thy golden hall forlorn :
And he, the giver that gave it, was the Helper's war-got thrall,
6640
And the babe King Elf uplifted to the war-dukes in the hall ;
And he rode with the heart-wise Regin, and rode the Glittering Heath,
And gathered the Golden Harvest and smote the Worm to the death :
And he rode with the sons of the Niblungs till the words' of men must fail
To tell of the deeds of Sigurd and the glory of his tale :
6645
Yet e'en as thou sayst, O Biynhild, the bidding of Gunnar he did,
For he cloaked him in Gunnar's semblance and his shape in Gunnar's hid : —
Thou all-wise Queen of the Niblungs, was this so hard a part
For the learned in the lore of Regin, who ate of the Serpent's heart ?
— Thus he wooed the bride for Gunnar, and for Gunnar rode the fire ;
6650
And he held thine hand for Gunnar, and lay by thy dead desire.
We have known thee for long, O Brynhild, and great is thy renown ;
In this shalt thou joy henceforward and nought in thy wedding crown."

Now is Brynhild wan as the dead, and she openeth her mouth to speak,
But no word cometh outward : then the green bank doth she seek,
6655
And casteth her raiment upon her, and flees o'er the meadow fair.
As though flames were burning beneath it, and red gleeds the daisies were :
But fair with face triumphant from the water Gudrun goes.
And with many a thought of Sigurd the heart within her glows.

And yet as she walked the meadow a fear upon her came,
6660
What deeds are the deeds of women in their anguish and their shame ;
And many a heavy warning and many a word of fate
By the lips of Sigurd spoken she remembereth overlate ;
Yet e'en to the heart within her she dissembleth all her dread.
Daylong she sat in her bower in glee and goodlihead,
6665
But when the day was departing and the earl-folk drank in the hall
She went alone in the garden by the nook of the Niblung wall ;
There she thought of that word in the river, and of how it were better unsaid,
And she looked with kind words to hide it, as men bury their battle-dead
With the spice and the sweet-smelling raiment : in the cool of the eve she went
6670
And murmured her speech of forgiveness and the words of her intent.
While her heart was happy with love : then she lifted up her face.
And lo, there was Brynhild the Queen hard by in the leafy place ;
Then the smile from her bright eyes faded and a flush came over her cheek
And she said : "What dost thou Brynhild? what matter dost thou seek ?"

6675

But the word of Sigurd smote her, and she spake ere the answer came :
"Hard speech was between us, Brynhild, and words of evil and shame ;
I repent, and crave thy pardon : wilt thou say so much unto me.
That the Niblung wives maybe merry, as great queens are wont to be?"

But no word answered Brynhild, and the wife of Sigurd spake :
6680
"Lo, I humble myself before thee for many a warrior's sake.
And yet is thine anger heavy — well then, tell all thy tale,
And the grief that sickens thine heart, that a kindly word may avail."

Then spake Brynhild and said : "Thou art great and livest in bliss.
And the noble queens and the happy should ask better tidings than this:
6685
For ugly words must tell it ; thou shouldst scarce know what they mean ;
Thou, the child of the mighty Niblungs, thou, Sigurd's wedded queen.
It is good to be kindly and soft while the heart hath all its will."

Said the Queen : "There is that in thy word that the joy of my heart would kill.
I have humbled myself before thee, and what further shall I say?"

6690

Then spake Brynhild the Queen : "I spake heavy words today ;
And thereof do I repent me ; but one thing I beseech thee and crave :
That thou speak but a word in thy turn my life and my soul to save :
— Yea the lives of many warriors, and the joy of the Niblung home.
And the days of the unborn children, and the health of the days to come—
6695
Say thou it was Gunnar thy brother that gave thee the Dwarf-lord's ring,
And not the glorious Sigurd, the peerless lovely King;
E'en so will I serve thee for ever, and peace on this house shall be,
And rest ere my departing, and a joyous life for thee ;
And long life for the lovely Sigurd, and a glorious tale to tell.
6700
O speak, thou sister of Gunnar, that all may be better than well !"

But hard grew the heart of Gudrun, and she said : "Hast thou heard the tale
That the wives of the Niblungs lie, lest the joy of their life-days fail?
Wilt thou threaten the house of the Niblungs, wilt thou threaten my love and my lord?
-It was Sigurd that lay in thy bed with thee and the edge of the sword ;
6705
And he told me the tale of the night-tide, and the bitterest tidings thereof,
And the shame of my brother Gunnar, how his glory was turned to a scoff;
And he set the ring on my finger with sweet words of the sweetest of men,
And no more from me shall it sunder — lo, wilt thou behold it again ?"

And her hand gleamed white in the even with the ring of Andvari thereon,
6710
The thrice-cursed burden of greed and the grain from the needy won ;
Then uprose the voice of Biynhild, and she cried to the towers aloft :

"O house of the ancient people, I blessed thee sweet and soft ;
In the day of my grief I blessed thee, when my life seemed evil and long ;
Look down, O house of the Niblungs, on the hapless Brynhild's wrong !
6715
Lest the day and the hour be coming when no man in thy courts shall be left
To remember the woe of Brynhild, and the joy from her life-days reft ;
Lest the grey wolf howl in the hall, and the wood-king roll in the porch.
And the moon through thy broken rafters be the Niblungs' feastful torch."

"O God-folk hearken," cried Gudrun, "what a tale there is to tell !
6720
How a Queen hath cursed her people, and the folk that hath cherished her well !"

"O Niblung child," said Brynhild, "what bitterer curse may be
Than the curse of Grimhild thy mother, and the womb that carried thee ?"

"Ah fool !" said the wife of Sigurd, "wilt thou curse thy very friend ?
But the bitter love bewrays thee, and thy pride that nought shall end."

6725

"Do I curse the accursed?" said Brynhild, "but yet the day shall come.
When thy word shall scarce be better on the threshold of thine home ;
When thine heart shall be dulled and chilly wth e'en such a mingling of might.
As in Sigurd's cup she mingled, and thou shalt not remember aright"

Out-brake the child of the Niblungs : "A witless lie is this ;
6730
But thou sickenest sore for Sigurd, and the giver of all bliss :
A ruthless liar thou art : thou wouldst cut off my glory and gain,
Though it further thine own hope nothing, and thy longing be empty and vain.
Ah, thou hungerest after mine husband ! — yet greatly art thou wed,
And high o'er the kings of the Goth-folk doth Gunnar rear the head."

6735

"Which one of the sons of Giuki," said Brynhild, "durst to ride
Though the waves of my Flickering Fire to lie by Brynhild's side ?
Thou shouldst know him, O Sister of Kings; let the glorious name be said.
Lest mine oath in the water be written, and I wake up, vile and betrayed.
In the arms of the faint-heart dastard, and of him that loveth life,
6740
And casteth his deeds to another, and the wooing of his wife."

"Yea, hearken," said she of the Niblungs, "what words the stranger saith !
Hear the words of the fool of love, how she feareth not the death.
Nor to cry the shame on Gunnar, whom the King-folk tremble before :
The wise and the overcomer, the crown of happy war !"

6745

Said Brynhild : "Long were the days ere the Son of Sigmund came ;
Long were the days and lone, but nought I dreamed of the shame.
So may the day come, Grimhild, when thine eyes know not thy son !
Think then on the man I knew not, and the deed thy guile hath done !"

Then coldly laughed Queen Gudrun, and she said: "Wilt thou lay all things
6750
On the woman that hath loved thee and the Mother of the Kings ?
O all-wise Queen of the Niblungs, was this change too hard a part
For the learned in the lore of Regin, who ate of the Serpent's heart ?"

Then was Brynhild silent a little, and forth from the Niblung hall
Came the sound of the laughter of men to the garth by the nook of the wall ;
6755
And a wind arose in the twilight, and sounds came up from the plain
Of kine in the dew-fall wandering, and of oxen loosed from the wain,
And the songs of folk free-hearted, and the river rushing by ;
And the heart of Brynhild hearkened and she cried with a grievous cry :

" O Sigurd, O my Sigurd, we twain were one, time was.
6760
And the wide world lay before us and the deeds to bring to pass !
And now I am nought for helping, and no helping mayst thou give ;
And all is marred and evil, and why hast thou heart to live ?"

She held her peace for anguish, and forth from the hall there came
The shouts of the joyous Niblungs, and the sound of Sigurd's name :
6765
And Brynhild turned from Gudrun, and lifted her voice and said :
"O evil house of the Niblungs, may the day of your woe and your dread
Be meted with the measure of the guile ye dealt to me,
When ye sealed your hearts from pity and forgat my misery !"

And she turned to flee from the garden; but her gown-lap Gudrun caught,
6770
And cried : "Thou evil woman, for thee were the Niblungs wrought,
And their day of the fame past telling, that they should heed thy life ?
Dear house of the Niblung glory, fair bloom of the warriors' strife.
How well shalt thou stand triumphant, when all we lie in the earth
For a little while remembered in the story of thy worth !"

6775

But the lap of her linen raiment did Brynhild tear from her hold
And spake from her mouth brought nigher, and her voice was low and cold :

"Such pride and comfort in Sigurd henceforward mayst thou find,
Such joy of his life's endurance, as thou leavst me joy behind !"

But turmoil of wrath wrapt Gudrun, that she knew not the day from the night.
6780
And she hardened her heart for evil as the warriors when they smite :
And she cried: "Thou filled with murder, my love shall blossom and bloom
When thou liest in the hell forgotten ! smite thence from the deedless gloom,
Smite thence at the lovely Sigurd, from the dark without a day !
Let the hand that death hath loosened the King of Glory slay !"

6785

So died her words of anger, and her latter speech none heard.
Save the wind of the early night-tide and the leaves by its wandering stirred ;
For amidst her wrath and her blindness was the hapless Brynhild gone :
And she fled from the Burg of the Niblungs and cried to the night alone :

"O Sigurd, O my Sigurd, what now shall give me back
6790
One word of thy loving-kindness from the tangle and the wrack?
O Norns, fast bound from helping, O Gods that never weep,
Ye have left stark death to help us, and the semblance of our sleep !
Yet I sleep and remember Sigurd ; and I wake and nought is there,
Save the golden bed of the Niblungs, and the hangings fashioned fair :
6795
If I stretch out mine hand to take it, that sleep that the sword-edge gives,
How then shall I come on Sigurd, when again my sorrow lives
In the dreams of the slumber of death ? O nameless measureless woe,
To abide on the earth without him, and alone from earth to go !"

So wailed the wife of Gunnar, as she fled through the summer night,
6800
And unwitting around she wandered, till again in the dawning light
She stood by the Burg of the Niblungs, and the dwelling of her lord.

Awhile bode the white-armed Gudrun on the edge of the daisied sward,
Till she shrank from the lonely flowers and the chill, speech-burdened wind.
Then she turned to the house of her fathers and her golden chamber kind;
6805
And for long by the side of Sigurd hath she lain in light-breathed sleep.
While yet the winds of night-tide round the wandering Brynhild sweep.

 

 

Back to top