Sigurd the Volsung

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

XII. Of the exceeding great grief and mourning of Brynhild

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Now the sun cometh up in the morning and shines o'er holt and heath,
And the wall of the mighty mountains, and the sheep-fed slopes beneath,
And the horse-fed plain and the river, and the acres of the wheat,
And the herbs of bane and of healing, and the garden hedges sweet ;
It shines on the sea and the shepherd, and the husbandman's desire ;
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On the Niblung Burg it shineth and smiteth the vanes afire ;
And in Gudrun's bower it shineth, and seeth small joy therein.
For hushed the fair-clad maidens the work of women win ;
Then Gudrun looketh about her, and she saith :
"Why sit ye so,
That I hearken but creak of the loom-stock and the battens' homeward blow?
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Why is your joy departed and your sweet speech fallen dumb ?
Are the Niblungs fled from the batlle, is their war-host overcome ?
Have the Norns given forth their shaming? have they fallen in the fight ?
Yet the sun shines notwithstanding, and the world around is bright."

Then answered a noble woman, and the wise of maids was she :
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"Thou knowest, O lovely lady, that nought of this may be ;
Yet with woe that the world shall hearken the glorious house is filled,
On the hearth of all men hallowed the cup of joy is spilled.
— A dread, an untimely hour, an exceeding evil day !"

Then the wife of Sigurd answered : "Arise and go thy way
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To the chamber of Queen Brynhild, and bid her wake at last,
For that long have we slept and slumbered, and the deedless night is passed :
Bid her wake to the deeds of queen-folk, and be glad as the world-queens are
When they look on the people that loves them, and thrust all trouble afar.
Let her foster her greatness and glory, and the fame no ages forget.
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That tomorn may as yesterday blossom, yea more abundantly yet."

Then arose the light-foot maiden : but she stayed and spake by the door:
"O Gudrun, I durst not behold her, for the days of her joyance are o'er,
And the days of her life are numbered, and her might is waxen weak.
And she lieth as one forsaken, and no word her lips will speak.
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Nay not to her lord that loveth : but all we deem, O Queen,
That the wrath of the Gods is upon her for ancient deeds unseen."

Nought answered the white-armed Gudrun, but the fear in her soul arose,
For she thought of the golden Sigurd, and the compassing of foes,
And great grew the dread of her maidens as they gazed upon her face :
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But she rose and looked not backward as she hastened from her place,
And sought the King of the Niblungs by hall and chamber and stair,
And bright was the pure mid-morning and the wind was fresh and fair.

So she came on her brother Gunnar, as he sat apart and alone,
Arrayed in the Niblung war-gear, nor moved he more than the stone
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In the jaws of the barren valley and the man-deserted dale ;
On his knees was the breadth of the sunshine, and thereon lay the edges pale,
The war-flame of the Niblungs, the sword that his right hand knew:

White was the fear on her lips, and hard at her heart it drew,
As she spake :
"I have found thee, O brother ! O Gunnar, go to her and say
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That my heart is grieved with her grief and I mourn for her evil day."

Then Gunnar answered her word, but his words were heavy and slow :
"Thou knowst not the words thou speakest — and wherefore should I go,
Since I am forbidden to share it, the woe or the weal of her heart ?
Look thou on the King of the Niblungs, how he sitteth alone and apart,
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Fast bound in the wiles of women, and the web that a traitor hath spun,
And no deed for his hand he knoweth, or to do or to leave undone."

Wan-faced from before him she fled, and she went with hurrying feet,
And no child of man in her going would she look upon or greet,
Till she came unto Hogni the Wise ; and he sat in his war-array,
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The coal-blue gear of the Niblungs, and the sword o'er his knees there lay :

She sickened, and said : "What dost thou? what then is the day and the deed,
That the sword on thy knees is naked, and thou clad in the warrior's weed?
Go in, go in to Brynhild, and tell her how I mourn
For the grief whereof none wotteth that hath made her days forlorn."

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"It is good, my sister," said Hogni, "to abide in the harness of war
When the days and the days are changing, and the Norns' feet stand by the door.
I will nowise go in unto Brynhild, lest the evil tide grow worse.
For what woman will bear the sorrow and burden her soul with a curse
If she may escape it unbidden ? and there are words that wound
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Far worse than the bitter edges, though wise in the air they sound.
Bide thou and behold things fated ! Hast thou learned how men may teach
The stars in their ordered courses, or lead the Norns with speech ?"

She stood and trembled before him, nor durst she long behold
The silent face of Hogni and the far-seeing eyes and cold.
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So she gat her forth from before him, and Sigurd her husband she sought
And the speech on her lips was ready, till the chill fear made it nought;
For apart and alone was he sitting in all his war-gear clad
And Fafnirs Helm of Aweing, and Regin's Wrath he had,
And over the breast of Sigurd was the Hauberk all of gold
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That hath not the like in the heavens nor has earth of its fellow told.

But he set her down beside him and said : "What fearest thou then ?
What terror strideth in daylight mid the peace of the Niblung men ?"

She cried: "The Helm and the Sword, and the golden guard of thy breast !"

"So oft, O wife," said Sigurd, "is a war-king clad the best
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When the peril quickens before him, and on either hand is doubt ;
Thus men wreathe round the beaker whence the wine shall be soon poured out.
But fear thou not overmuch, for the end is not today ;
And hope thou little indeed, for not long shall the sword delay :
But speak, O daughter of Giuki, for thy lips scarce held the word
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Ere thou sawest the gleam of my hauberk and the edge of the ancient Sword,
The Light that hath lain in the Branstock, the hope of the Volsung tree,
The Sunderer, the Deliverer, the torch of days to Be."

She sighed ; for her heart was heavy for the days but a while agone,
When the death was little dreamed of, and the joy was lightly won ;
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And her soul was bitter with anger for the day that Brynhild had led .
To the heart of the Niblung glory : but fear thrust on, and she said :
"O my lord, O Sigurd the mighty, an evil day is this,
A chill, an untimely hour for the blooming of our bliss !
Go in to my sister Brynhild, and tell her of very sooth
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That my heart for her sorrow sorrows, and is sick for woe and ruth."

"The hour draws nigh," said Sigurd, "for I know of the speech and the word
That is kind in the air to hearken, and is worse than the whetted sword.
Now is Brynhild sore encompassed by a tide of measureless woe,
And amidst and anear, as I see it, she seeth the death-star grow.
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Yet belike it is, O Gudrun, that thy will herein shall be done ;
But now depart, I pray thee, and leave thy lord alone :
Heavy and hard shall it be, for a season shall it endure,
But the grief and the sorrow shall perish, and the fame of the Gods is sure."

Yet she sat by his side and spake not, and a while at his glory she gazed,
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For his face overpassed the brightness that so long the folk had praised,
And she durst not question or touch him, and at last she rose from his side,
And gat her away soft-footed, and wandered far and wide
Through the house and the Burg of the Niblungs; yet durst she never more
Go look on the Niblung Brethren as they sat in their harness of war.

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But the morn to the noon hath fallen, and the afternoon to the eve,
And the beams of the westering sun the Niblung wall-stones leave,
And yet sitteth Sigurd alone ; then the sun sinketh down into night,
And the moon ariseth in heaven, and the earth is pale with her light :
And there sitteth Sigurd the Volsung in the gold and the harness of war
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That was won from the heart-wise Fafnir and the guarded Treasure of yore,
But pale is the Helm of Aweing, and wan are the ruddy rings :
So whiles in a city forsaken ye see the shapes of kings,
And the lips that the carvers wrought, while their words were remembered and known,
And the brows men trembled to look on in the long-enduring stone,
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And their hands once unforgotten, and their breasts, the walls of war ;
But now are they hidden marvels to the wise and the master of lore.
And he nameth them not, nor knoweth, and their fear is faded away.

E'en so sat Sigurd the Volsung till the night waxed moonless and grey,
Till the chill dawn spread o'er the lowland, and the purple fells grew clear
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In the cloudless summer dawn-dusk, and the sun was drawing anear :
Then reddened the Burg of the Niblungs,and the walls of the ancient folk,
And a wind came down from the mountains and the living things awoke
And cried out for need and rejoicing ; till, lo, the rim of the sun
Showed over the eastern ridges, and the new day was begun ;
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And the beams rose higher and higher, and white grew the Niblung wall,
And the spears on the ramparts glistered and the windows blazed withal,
And the sunlight flooded the courts, and throughout the chambers streamed :
Then bright as the flames of the heaven the Helm of Aweing gleamed,
Then clashed the red rings of the Treasure, as Sigurd stood on his feet.
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And went through the echoing chambers, as the winds in the wall-nook beat :
And there in the earliest morning while the lords of the Niblungs lie
'Twixt light sleep and awakening they hear the clash go by,
And their dreams are of happy battle, and the songs that follow fame,
And the hope of the Gods accomplished, and the tales of the ancient name
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Ere Sigurd came to the Niblungs and faced their gathered foes.

But on to the chamber of Brynhild alone in the morning he goes
And the sun lieth broad across it, and the door is open wide
As the last of the women had left it ; then he lifted his voice and cried :

"Awake, arise, O Brynhild ! for the house is smitten through
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With the light of the sun awakened, and the hope of deeds to do."

She spake: "Art thou come to behold me? thou, the mightiest and the worst
Of the pitiless betrayers, that the hope of my life hath nursed."

He said : "It is I that awake thee, and I give thee the life and the days
For fulfilling the deedful measure, and the cup of the people's praise."

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She cried : "O the gifts of Sigurd ! — Ah why didst thou cast me aside,
That we twain should be dwelling, the strangers, in the house of the Niblung pride ?
What life is the death in life ? what deeds — where the shame cometh up
Betwixt the speech of the wise-ones and the draught of the welcoming cup;
And the shame and repentance awaketh when the song in the harp is awake?
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Where we rise in the morning for nothing, and lie down for no love's sake?
Where thou ridest forth to the battle and the dead hope dulleth thy light.
And with shame thy hand is cumbered when the sword is uplifted to smite ?
O Sigurd, what hast thou done, that the gifts are cast aback ?
— O nay, no life of repentance ! — but the bitter sword and the wrack !"

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"O Brynhild, live !" said the Volsung, "for what shall the world be then
When thou from the earth art departed, and the hallowed hearths of men ?"

She said: "Woe worth the while for the word that hath come from thy mouth !
As the bitter weltering ocean to the shipman dying of drouth,
E'en so is the life thou biddest, since thou biddest not thine own,
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Nor thy love, nor the hope of thy life-days, but must dwell as a glory alone !"

"It is truer to tell," said Sigurd, "that mine heart in thy love was enwrapped
Till the evil hour of the darkening, and the eyeless tangle had happed :
And thereof shalt thou know, O Brynhild, on one day better than I,
When the stroke of the sword hath been smitten, and the night hath seen me die :
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Then belike in thy fresh-springing wisdom thou shalt know of the dark and the deed,
And the snare for our feet fore-ordered from whence they shall never be freed.
But for me, in the net I awakened and the toils that unwitting I wove,
And no tongue may tell of the sorrow that I had for thy wedded love :
But I dwelt in the dwelling of kings ; so I thrust its seeming apart
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And I laboured the field of Odin : and e'en this was a joy to my heart,
That we dwelt in one house together, though a stranger's house it were."

"O late, and o'erlate!" cried Brynhild — "may the dead folk hearken and hear?
All was and today it is not — And the Oath unto Gunnar is sworn.
Shall I live the days twice over, and the life thou hast made forlorn ?"

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And she heard the words of Hindfell and the oath of the earlier day,
Till the daylight darkened before her, and all memory passed away.
And she cried : "I may live no longer, for the Gods have forgotten the earth.
And my heart is the forge of sorrow, and my life is a wasting dearth."

Then once again spake Sigurd, once only and no more :
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A pillar of light all golden he stood on the sunlit floor ;
And his eyes were the eyes of Odin, and his face was the hope of the world,
And his voice was the thunder of even when the bolt o'er the mountains is hurled :
The fairest of all things fashioned he stood 'twixt life and death,
And the Wrath of Regin rattled, and the rings of the Glittering Heath,
As he cried :
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"I am Sigurd the Volsung, and belike the tale shall be true
That no hand on the earth may hinder what my hand would fashion and do :
And what God or what man shall gainsay it if our love be greater than these.
The pride and the glory of Sigurd, and the latter days' increase ?
O live, live, Brynhild beloved ! and thee on the earth will I wed,
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And put away Gudrun the Niblung — and all those shall be as the dead."

But so swelled the heart within him as he cast the speech abroad.
That the golden wall of the battle, the fence unrent by the sword.
The red rings of the uttermost ocean on the breast of Sigurd brake :
And he saw the eyes of Brynhild, and turned from the word she spake :

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"I will not wed thee, Sigurd, nor any man alive."

Then Sigurd goes out from before her; and the winds in the wall-nook strive,
And the craving of fowl and the beast-kind with the speech of men is blent.
And the voice of the sons of the Niblungs; and their day's first hour is spent
As he goes through the hall of the War-dukes, and many an earl is astir,
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But none durst question Sigurd lest of evil days he hear :
So he comes to his kingly chamber, and there sitteth Gudrun alone,
And the fear in her soul is minished,but the love and the hatred are grown :
She is wan as the moonlit midnight; but her heart is cold and proud,
And she asketh him nought of Brynhild, and nought he speaketh aloud.

 

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