Sigurd the Volsung

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

XIII. Of the slaying of Sigurd the Volsung

'Ere the noon ariseth Brynhild, and forth abroad she goes,
And sits by the wall of her bower 'twixt the lily and the rose ;
Great dread and sickness is on her, as it shall be once on the morn
When the uttermost sun is arisen 'neath the blast of the world-shaking horn :
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Her maidens come and go, but none dares cast her a word ;
From the wall the warders behold her, and turn round to the spear and the sword;
Yea, few dare speak of Brynhild as morning fadeth in noon
In the Burg of the ancient people mid the stir and the glory of June.

Then cometh forth speech from Brynhild, and she calls to her maidens and saith :
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"Go, tell ye the King of the Niblungs that I am arisen from death,
And come forth from the uttermost sickness, and with him I needs must speak :
That we look into weighty matters and due deeds for king-folk seek."

So they went and returned not again, and it was but a little space
Ere she looked, and behold, it was Gunnar that stood before her face,
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And his war-gear darkened the noon-tide and the grey helm gleamed from his head,
But his eyes were fearful beneath it : then she gazed on the heavens and said:

"Thou art come, O King of the Niblungs ; what mighty deed is to frame
That thou wearest the cloudy harness, and the arms of the Niblung name?"

He spake : "O woman, thou mockest ! what King of the people is here?
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Are not all kings confounded, and all peoples' shame laid bare ?
Shall the Gods grow little to help, or men grow great to amend?
Nay, the hunt is up in the world and the Gods to the forest will wend,
And their hearts are exceeding merry as they ride and drive the prey :
But what if the bear grin on them, and the wood-beast turn to bay ?
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What now if the whelp of their breeding a wolf of the world be grown,
To cry out in the face of their brightness and mar their glad renown?"

She heeded him not, nor hearkened : but he said : "Thou wert wise of old ;
And hither I come at thy bidding : let the thought of thine heart be told."

She said : "What aileth thee, Gunnar ? time was thou wert great and glad,
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And that was yester-morning : how then is the good turned bad ?"

He said : "I was glad in my dreams, and I woke and my glory was dead."

"Hath a God then wrought thee evil, or one of the King-folk ?" she said.

He said : "In the snare am I taken, in the web that a traitor hath spun;
And no deed knoweth my right-hand to do or to leave undone. "

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"I look upon thee," said Brynhild, "I know thy race and thy name,
Yet meseems the deed thou sparest, to amend thine evil and shame."

"Nought, nought," he said, "may amend it, save the hungry eyeless sword,
And the war without hope or honour, and the strife without reward."

"Thou hast spoken the word," said Brynhild, "if the word is enough, it is well.
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Let us eat and drink and be merry, that all men of our words may tell !"

"O all-wise woman," said Gunnar, "what deed lieth under the tongue?
What day for the dearth of the people, when the seed of thy sowing hath sprung?

She said : "Our garment is Shame, and nought the web shall rend.
Save the day without repentance, and the deed that nought may amend."

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"Speak, mighty of women," said Gunnar, "and cry out the name and the deed
That the ends of the Earth may hearken, and the Niblungs' grievous Need."

"To slay," she said, "is the deed, to slay a King ere the morn,
And the name is Sigurd the Volsung, my love and thy brother sworn,"

She turned and departed from him, and he knew not whither she went ;
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But he took his sword from the girdle and the peace-strings round it rent,
And into the house he gat him, and the sunlit fair abode.
But his heart in the mid-mirk waded, as through the halls he strode.
Till he came to a chamber apart ; and Grimhild his mother was there,
And there was his brother Hogni in the cloudy Niblung gear :
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Him-seemed there was silence between them as of them that have spoken, and wait
Till the words of their mouths be accomplished by slow unholpen Fate :
But they turned to the door, and beheld him, and he took his sheathed sword
And cast it adown betwixt them, and it clashed half bare on the board,
And Grimhild spake as it clattered: "For whom are the peace-strings rent?
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For whom is the blood-point whetted and the edge of thine intent ?"

He said : "For the heart of Sigurd ; and thus all is rent away
Betwixt this word and his slaying, save a little hour of day."

Then spake Hogni and answered : "All lands beneath the sun
Shall know and hearken and wonder that such a deed must be done."

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"Speak, brother of Kings," said Gunnar, "dost thou know deeds better or worse
That shall wash us clean from shaming, and redeem our lives from the curse ?"

"I am none of the Norns," said Hogni, "nor the heart of Odin the Goth,
To avenge the foster-brethren, or broken love and truth :
Thy will is the story fated, nor shall I look on the deed
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With uncursed hands unreddened, and edges dulled at need."

Again spake Grimhild the wise-wife : "Where then is Guttorm the brave ?
For he blent not his blood with the Volsung's, nor his oath to Sigurd gave.
Nor called on Earth to witness, nor went beneath the yoke ;
And now is he Sigurd's foeman ; and who may curse his stroke ? "

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Then Hogni laughed and answered : "His feet on the threshold stand :
Forged is thy sword, O Mother, and its hilts are come to hand.
And look that thou whet it duly ; for the Norns are departed now ;
From the blood of our foster-brother no branch of bale shall grow ;
Hoodwinked are the Gods of heaven, their sleep-dazed eyes are blind ;
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They shall peer and grope through the darkness, and nought therein shall find,
Save the red right hand of Guttorm, and his lips that never swore ;
At the young man's deed shall they wonder, and all shall be covered o'er :
Ho, Guttorm, enter, and hearken to the counsel of the wise !"

Then in through the door strode Guttorm fair-clad in hunter's guise,
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With no steel save his wood-knife girded; but his war-fain eyes stared wild,
As he spake : "What words are ye hiding from the youngest Niblung child ?
What work is to win, my brethren, that ye sit in warrior's weed,
And tell me nought of the glory, and cover up the deed ?"

Then uprose Grimhild the wise-wife, and took the cup again ;
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Night-long had she brewed that witch-drink and laboured not in vain.
For therein was the creeping venom, and hearts of things that prey
On the hidden lives of ocean, and never look on day ;
And the heart of the ravening wood-wolf and the hunger-blinded beast
And the spent slaked heart of the wild-fire the guileful cup increased :
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But huge words of ancient evil about its rim were scored,
The curse and the eyeless craving of the first that fashioned sword.

So the cup in her hand was gleaming, as she turned unto Guttorm and spake :
"Be merry, King of the War-fain ! we hold counsel for thy sake :
The work is a God's son's slaying, and thine is the hand that shall smite,
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That thy name may be set in glory and thy deeds live on in light"

Forth flashed the flame from his eyen, and he cried: "Where then is the foe,
This dread of mine house and my brethren, that my hand may lay him alow?"

"Drink son," she said, "and be merry ! and I shall tell his name,
Whose death shall crown thy life-days, and increase thy fame with his fame."

7239

He drinketh and craveth for battle, and his hand for a sword doth seek.
And he looketh about on his brethren, but his lips no word may speak ;
They speak the name, and he hears not, and again he drinks of the cup
And knows not friend nor kindred, and the wrath in his heart wells up.
That no God may bear unmingled, and he cries a wordless cry.
7244
As the last of the day is departing and the dusk time drawing anigh.

Then Grimhild goes from the chamber, and bringeth his harness of war,
And therewith they array his body, and he drinketh the cup once more,
And his heart is set on the murder, and now may he understand
What soul is dight for the slaying, and what quarry is for his hand.
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For again they tell him of Sigurd, and the man he remembereth.
And praiseth his mighty name and his deeds that laughed on death.

Now dusk and dark draw over, and through the glimmering house
They go to the place of the Niblungs, the high hall and glorious ;
For hard by is the chamber of Sigurd : there dight in their harness of war
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In their thrones sit Gunnar and Hogni, but Guttorm stands on the floor
With his blue blade naked before them : the torches flare from the wall
And the woven God-folk waver, but the hush is deep in the hall,
And those Niblung faces change not, though the slow moon slips from her height
And earth is acold ere dawning, and new winds shake the night

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Now it was in the earliest dawn-dusk that Guttorm stirred in his place,
And the mail-rings tinkled upon him, as he turned his helm-hid face.
And went forth from the hall and the high-seat; but the Kings sat still in their pride
And hearkened the clash of his going and heeded how it died.

Slow, all alone goeth Guttorm to Sigurd's chamber door,
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And all is open before him, and the white moon lies on the floor
And the bed where Sigurd lieth with Gudrun on his breast
And light comes her breath from her bosom in the joy of infinite rest.
Then Guttorm stands on the threshold, and his heart of the murder is fain,
And he thinks of the deeds of Sigurd, and praiseth his greatness and gain;
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Bright blue is his blade in the moonlight — but lo, how Sigurd lies.
As the carven dead that die not, with fair wide-open eyes ;
And their glory gleameth on Guttorm, and the hate in his heart is chilled,
And he shrinketh aback from the threshold and knoweth not what he willed.

But his brethren heed and hearken, and they hear the clash draw nigh,
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But they stir no whit in their pride, though the lord of all creatures should die ;
Then they see where cometh Guttorm, but they cast him never a word,
For white 'neath the flickering torches they see his unstained sword ;
But he gazed on those Kings of the kindred, and the beast of war awoke ;
And his heart was exceeding wrathful with the tarrying of the stroke :
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And he strode to the chamber of Sigurd, and again they heeded well
How the clash, in the cloister awakened, by the threshold died and fell.

But Guttorm gazed from the threshold, and the moon was fading away
From the golden bed of Sigurd, and the Niblung woman lay
On the bosom of the Volsung, and her hand lay light on her lord ;
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But dread were his eyes wide-open, and they gleamed against the sword.
And Guttorm shrank from before them, and back to the hall he came :
There the biding brethren behold him flash wild in the torches' flame.
Nor stir their lips to question ; but their swords on their knees are laid;
The torches faint in the dawning, and they see his unstained blade.

7289

Now dieth moon and candle, and though the day be nigh
The roof of the hall fair-builded seems far aloof as the sky.
But a glimmer grows on the pavement and the ernes on the roof-ridge stir :
Then the brethren hist and hearken, for a sound of feet they hear,
And into the hall of the Niblungs a white thing cometh apace :
7294
But the sword of Guttorm upriseth, and he wendeth from his place
And the clash of steel goes with him ; yet loud as it may sound
Still more they hear those footsteps light-falling on the ground,
And the hearts of the Niblungs waver, and their pride is smitten acold.
For they look on that latest comer, and Brynhild they behold :
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But she sits by their side in silence, and heeds them nothing more
Than the grey soft-footed morning heeds yester-even's war.

But Guttorm clashed in the cloisters and through the silence strode
And scarce on the threshold of Sigurd a little while abode :
There the moon from the floor hath departed and heaven without is grey,
7304
And afar in the eastern quarter faint glimmer streaks of day.
Close over the head of Sigurd the Wrath gleams wan and bare,
And the Niblung woman stirreth, and her brow is knit with fear ;
But the King's closed eyes are hidden, loose lie his empty hands,
There is nought 'twixt the sword of the slayer and the Wonder of all Lands.
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Then Guttorm laughed in his war-rage, and his sword leapt up on high.
As he sprang to the bed from the threshold and cried a wordless cry,
And with all the might of the Niblungs through Sigurd's body thrust,
And turned and fled from the chamber, and fell amid the dust,
Within the door and without it, the slayer slain by the slain ;
7314
For the cast of the sword of Sigurd had smitten his body atwain
While yet his cry of onset through the echoing chambers went.

Woe's me ! how the house of the Niblungs by another cry was rent.
The wakening wail of Gudrun, as she shrank in the river of blood
From the breast of the mighty Sigurd : he heard it and understood,
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And rose up on the sword of Guttorm, and turned from the country of death,
And spake words of loving-kindness as he strove for life and breath :
"Wail not, O child of the Niblungs ! I am smitten, but thou shalt live,
In remembrance of our glory, mid the gifts the Gods shall give !"

She stayed her cry to hearken, and her heart well nigh stood still :
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But he spake : "Mourn not, O Gudrun, this stroke is the last of ill ;
Fear leaveth the House of the Niblungs on this breaking of the morn ;
Mayst thou live, O woman beloved, unforsaken, unforlon !"

Then he sank aback on the sword, and down to his lips she bent
If some sound therefrom she might hearken ; for his breath was well-nigh spent :
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"It is Brynhild's deed," he murmured, "and the woman that loves me well ;
Nought now is left to repent of, and the tale abides to tell.
I have done many deeds in my life-days, and all these, and my love, they lie
In the hollow hand of Odin till the day of the world go by.
I have done and I may not undo, I have given and I take not again :
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Art thou other than I, Allfather, wilt thou gather my glory in vain ?"

There was silence then in the chamber, as the dawn spread wide and grey,
And hushed was the hall of the Niblungs at the entering-in of day.
Long Gudrun hung o'er the Volsung and waited the coming word ;
Then she stretched out her hand to Sigurd and touched her love and her lord.
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And the broad day fell on his visage, and she knew she was there alone,
And her heart was wrung with anguish and she uttered a weary moan :
Then Brynhild laughed in the hall, and the first of men's voices was that
Since when on yester-even the kings in the high-seat had sat

But the wrath of Gunnar was kindled and the words of the king out-brake,
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"Woe's me, thou wonder of women ! thou art glad for no man's sake,
Nay not for thine own, meseemeth, for thou bidest here as the dead.
As the pale ones stricken deedless, whose tale of life is sped,"

She hearkened him not nor answered ; and day came on apace,
And they heard the anguish of Gudrun and her voice in the ancient place.
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"Awake, O House of the Niblungs ! for my kin have slain my lord.
Awake, awake, to the murder, and the edges of the sword !
Awake, go forth and be merry ! and yet shall the day betide,
When ye stand in the garth of the foemen, and death is on every side,
And ye look about and around you, and right and left ye look
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For the least of the hours of Sigurd, and his hand that the battle shook :
Then be your hope as mine is, then face ye death and shame
As I face the desolation, and the days without a name !"

And she shrieked as the woe gathered on her, and the sun rose over her head
"Wake, wake, O men of this house, for Sigurd the Volsung is dead! "

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In the house rose rumour and stir, and men stood up in the morn,
And their hearts with doubt were shaken, as if with the Uttermost Horn :
The cry and the calling spread, and shields dashed down from the wall.
And swords in the chamber glittered, and men ran apace to the hall.
Nor knew what man to question, nor who had tidings to give,
7364
Nor what were the days thenceforward wherein the folk should live,
But ever the word is amongst them that Sigurd the Volsung is slain,
And the spears in the hall were tossing as the rye in the windy plain.
But they look aloft to the high-seat and they see the gleam of the gold :
And Gunnar the King of battle, and Hogni wise and cold,
7369
And Brynhild the wonder of women ; and her face is deadly pale,
And the Kings are clad in their war-gear, and bared are the edges of bale.
Then cold fear falleth upon them, but the noise, and the clamour abate
And they look on the war-wise Gunnar and awhile for his word they wait;
But e'en as he riseth above them, doth a shriek through the tumult ring:

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"Awake, O House of the Niblungs, for slain is Sigurd the King !"

Then nothing faltered Gunnar, but he stood o'er the Niblung folk,
And over the hall woe-stricken the words of pride he spoke :

"Mourn now, O Niblung people, for gone is Sigurd our guest,
And Guttorm the King is departed, and this is our day of unrest ;
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But all this of the Norns was fore-ordered, and herein is Odin's hand;
Cast down are the mighty of men-folk, but the Niblung house shall stand :
Mourn then today and tomorrow, but the third day waken and live
For the Gods died not this morning, and great gifts they have to give."

He spake and awhile was silence, and then did the cry outbreak,
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And many there were of the Earl-folk that wept for Sigurd's sake;
And they wept for their little children, and they wept for those unborn,
Who should know the earth without him and the world of his worth forlorn.
But wild is the wailing of women as they fare to the place of the dead.
Where cold is Gudrun sitting mid the waste of Sigurd's bed.
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Then they take the man beloved, and bear him forth to the hall,
And spread the linen above him, and cloth of purple and pall;
And meekly Gudrun followeth, and she sitteth down thereby,
But mute is her mouth henceforward, and she giveth forth no cry,
And no word of lamentation, though far abroad they weep
7394
For the gift of the Gods departed, and the golden Sigurd's sleep.

Meanwhile elsewhere the women and the wives of the Niblungs wail
O'er the body of King Guttorm and array him for the bale.
And Grimhild opens her treasure and bears forth plenteous gold
And goodly things for his journey, and the land of Death acold.

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So rent is the joy of the Niblungs ; and their simple days and fain
From that ancient house are departed, and who shall buy them again?
For he, the redeemer, the helper, the crown of all their worth,
They looked upon him and wondered, they loved, and they thrust him forth.

 

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