THE STORY OF
SIGURD THE VOLSUNG
AND THE FALL OF THE NIBLUNGS.
HEREIN IS TOLD OF THE DAYS OF THE NIBLUNGS AFTER THEY SLEW SIGURD, AND OF THEIR WOEFUL NEED AND FALL IN THE HOUSE OF KING ATLI.
I. King Atli wooeth and weddeth Gudrun
HEAR now of those Niblung war-kings, how in glorious state they dwell;
They cry out kind to the Sea-god and loose the wave-steed's rein :
They climb the unmeasured mountains, and gleam on the world beneath,
And their swords are the blinding lightning, and their shields are the shadow of death :
When men tell of the lords of the Goth-folk, of the Niblungs is their word,
They are lords of the Ransom of Odin, the uncounted sea-born Gold,
The Grief of the wise Andvari, the Death of the Dwarfs of old.
The gleaming Load of Greyfell, the ancient Serpent's Bed,
The store of the days forgotten, by the dead heaped up for the dead.
Lest the world hold greater than they, lest the Gods and their kindred be higher.
Fair, bright is their hall in the even ; still up to the cloudy roof
Men come and go in the even ; men come and go in the morn ;
Good tidings with the daybreak, fair fame with the glooming is born :
— But no tidings of Sigurd and Brynhild, and whoso remembereth their days
Turns back to the toil or the laughter from his words of lamenting or praise,
Doeth deeds from the morn to the even, and beareth no burden of shame.
Well wedded is Gunnar the King, and Hogni hath wedded a wife ;
She looketh down on the people, from on high she looketh down,
And her days have become a wonder, and her redes are wisdom's crown.
She saith : Where then are the Gods ? what things have they shapen and made
More of might than the days I have shapen? of whom shall our hearts be afraid?
Now there was a King of the outlands, and Atli was his name,
By hap was the man unwedded, and wide in the world he sought
And three days they ride the mirk-wood and ten days they sail the sea.
And three days they ride the highways till they come to Gunnar's land ;
And there on an even of summer in Gunnar's hall they stand,
And the spears of Welshland glitter, and the Southland garments gleam.
But the glorious Son of Giuki from amidst the high-seat spoke :
But spake the Earl of Atli yet standing on the floor :
Our gear is stained by the sea-spray and rent by bitter gales,
For we struck no mast to the tempest, and the East was in our sails ;
By the thorns is our raiment rended, for we rode the mirk-wood through.
And our steeds were the God-bred coursers, nor day from night-tide knew :
Lies not beneath our pillow, nor hangs above the board ;
Nay how shall it fail but slay us if three days we hold it hid ?
— I will speak to-night, O Niblung, save thy very mouth forbid :
But lo now, look on the tokens, and the rune-staff of the King."
Then spake the Son of Giuki : "Give forth the word and the thing,
"Then this is the word," said the elder, "that Atli set in my mouth ;
But now it rejoiceth my heart that thou growest the greatest of men,
And anew I crave thy friendship, and I crave a gift at thy hands,
That thou give me the white-armed Gudrun, the queen and the darling of lands,
To be my wife and my helpmate, my glory in hall and afield ;
I send thee gifts moreover, though little things be these,
But such is the fashion of great-ones when they speak across the seas.'"
Then cried out that earl of the strangers, and men brought the gifts and the gold ;
By the hands of craftsmen perished and people come to nought.
But Gunnar laughed and answered : "King Atli speaketh well ;
And maybe by this time tomorrow, or maybe in a longer space,
Shall ye have an answer for Atli, and a word to gladden his face."
So the strangers sit and are merry, and the Wonder of the East
But again on the morrow-morning speaks Gunnar with Grimhild and saith :
Than the might of the Niblung people, if this wedding come to pass?"
Then answered the mighty Grimhild, and glad of heart she was :
And the feet of the mountains deserted that few folk come anear :
There the wolves were about and around her, and no mind she had to live ;
Dull sleep she deemed was better than with turmoiled thought to strive :
But there rode a wife in the wood, a queen of the daughters of men.
Till she was as a child forgotten ; nor that queen might she gainsay ;
Who took the white-armed Gudrun, and bore my daughter away
To her burg o'er the hither mountains ; there she cherished her soft and sweet,
Till she rose, from death delivered, and went upon her feet :
A goodly and simple people, that few lords of war shall find :
Glorious and mighty they deemed her, as an outcast wandering God,
And she loved their loving-kindness, and the fields of the tiller she trod,
And went 'twixt the rose and the lily, and sat in the chamber of wool,
Seven seasons there hath she bided, and this have I wotted for long ;
But I knew that her heart is as mine to remember the grief and the wrong,
So the days of thy sister I told not, in her life would I have no part.
Lest a foe for thy life I should fashion, and sharpen a sword for thine heart :
Lest I put the Gods' hands from me, and make their gifts but vain.
Yea, the woman is of the Niblungs, and often I knew her of old,
How her heart would burn within her when the tale of their glory was told.
With wisdom and craft shall I work, with the gifts that Odin hath given,
"Thy word is good," quoth Gunnar, "a happy word indeed :
For the glory of the Niblungs, and the might that the world shall move?
She shall see my face and Hogni's, she shall yearn to do our will.
And the latter days of her brethren with glory shall fulfill."
Then Grimhild laughed and answered : "Today then shalt thou ride
As she spake came the wise-heart Hogni, and that speech of his mother he heard,
"What then,"said his brother Gunnar, "shall we thrust by Atli's word?
"O wise-heart Hogni," said Grimhild, "wilt thou strive with the hand of fate,
"I know not, I know not," said Hogni, "but an unsure bridge is the sea.
They spake no word before him; but he said : "I see the road;
Therewith he went out from before them, and through chamber and hall he cried
And the well-clad girded maidens have left the work they win,
To sit by the Mother of Kings and make her glory great :
Then to horse get the Kings of the Niblungs, and ride out by the ancient gate ;
And amidst its dusky hollows stir up the sound of swords :
Till they come to the dales deserted, and the woodland waste and drear;
There the wood-wolves shrink before them, fast flee the forest-deer,
And the stony wood-ways clatter as the Niblung host goes by.
Adown by the feet of the mountains that eve in sleep they lie,
And the sunless hollow places, and the slopes that hate the grass.
So they cross the hither ridges and ride a stony bent
Adown to the dale of Thora, and the country of content;
By the homes of a simple people, by cot and close they go,
Amidst of orchard-closes, and round about men win
Fair work in field and garden, and sweet are the sounds therein.
Then down by the door leaps Gunnar, but awhile in the porch he stands
The speech of his sister Gudrun : his inmost heart it stirs
And he entereth glad and smiling ; bright, huge in the lowly hall
He stands in the beam of sunlight where the dust-motes dance and fall.
On the high-seat sitteth Gudrun when she sees the man of war
And is great and goodly to look on mid the women of that place :
But she knoweth the guise of the Niblungs, and she knoweth Gunnar's face,
And at first she turneth to flee, as erewhile she fled away.
When she rose from the wound of Sigurd and loathed the light of day :
And she made one step from the high-seat before Queen Thora's folk;
And Gunnar moved from the threshold, and smiled as he drew anear.
And Hogni went behind him and the Mother of Kings was there;
And her maids and the Earls of the Niblungs stood gleaming there behind :
In the midst stood Gudrun before them, and cried aloud and said :
Dead-pale she stood before them, and no mouth answered again,
All hushed stood the glorious Gunnar, but Hogni came before,
That hath rent thee away from thy kindred and the folk that love thee most :
But to double sorrow with hatred is to cast all after the lost.
And to die and to rest not in death, and to loathe and linger the end :
Now to day do we come to this dwelling thy grief and thy woe to amend.
Doth our life and our glory sicken, though its outward show increase,
Lo, we bear thee rule and dominion, and hope and the glory of life,
For King Atli wooeth thee, Gudrun, for his queen and his wedded wife."
Still she stood as a carven image, as a stone of ancient days
All hushed was Gunnar the Niblung and knew not how to beseech,
But still Hogni faced his sister, nor faltered aught in his speech :
"Thou art young," he said, "O sister ; thou wert called a mighty queen
Then first is it seen of the Niblungs that they cringe and cower from strife:
By the deeds of the Golden Sigurd I charge thee hinder us not,
When the Norns have dight the way-beasts, and our hearts for the journey are hot!
She answered not with speaking, she questioned not with eyes.
Then forth came Grimhild the Mighty, and the cup was in her hand,
Wherein with the sea's dread mingled was the might and the blood of the land;
And the guile of the summer serpent, and the herb of the sunless dale
Were blent for the deadening slumber that forgetteth joy and bale ;
Were the foreshores of that wine-sea and the cliffs that girt its rim ;
Therewith in the hall stood Grimhild, and cried aloud and spake :
"It was I that bore thee, daughter ; I laboured once for thy sake,
And take the gift we would give thee, and be wed to a king of the earth.
And rejoice in kings hereafter when thy sons are come to the birth :
Lo, then as thou lookest upon them, and thinkest of glory to come,
It shall be as if Sigmund were living, and Sigurd sat in thine home."
Nought answered the white-armed Gudrun, no master of masters might see
To Atli the King of the mighty, high lord of the Eastland gold :
Drink now, that my love and my wisdom may thaw thine heart grown cold;
And take those great gifts of our giving, the cities long builded for thee,
The wine-burgs digged for thy pleasure, the fateful wealthy lea,
The hosts of men war-shielded, the groves of fallow swords !"
Nought changed the eyes of Gudrun, but she reached her hand to the cup
But the land's-folk looked on the Niblungs as the daughter of Giuki drank,
And before their wrath they trembled, and before their joy they shrank.
Then yet again spake Gudrun, and they that stood thereby,
With the fruit of your fond desires your hearts shall ye fulfill ;
Bear me back to the Burg of the Niblungs, and the house of my fathers of old
That the men of King Atli may take me with the tokens and treasure of gold."
Then the cry goeth up from the Niblungs, and no while in that house they abide;
And the sun is bright behind them o'er queen Thora's lowly dale,
Where the sound of their speech abideth as an ancient woeful tale.
But the Nibliings ride the forest and the dwellings of the deer,
And the wife of the Golden Sigurd to the ancient Burg they bear;
Nay, not when the Niblung towers rise up above the lea ;
Nay, not when they come to the gateway, and that builded gloom again
Swallows up the steed and its rider, and sword, and gilded wain;
Nay, not when to earth she steppeth, and her feet again pass o'er
Nay, not when alone she lieth in the chamber, on the bed
Where she lay, a little maiden, ere her hope was born and dead :
Yea, how fair is her face on the morrow, how it winneth all people's praise,
As the moon that forebodeth nothing on the night of the last of days.
Nought tarry the lords of King Atli, and the Niblungs stay them nought;
"Go hence, O men of King Atli, and tell of our love and our faith
Nay not our best and our dearest, nay not the crown of our worth,
Our sister, the white-armed Gudrun, the wise and the Queen of the earth."
Then arose the cry of the people, and that Duke of Atli spake :
And the gold in Atli's treasure is stored and gathered for thee."
So spake he amid their shouting, and the Queen from the high-seat stept;
But she mounteth the wain all golden, and the Earls to the saddle leap
And forth they ride in the morning, and adown the builded steep
That hath no name for Gudrun, save the place where Sigurd fell.
The strong abode of treason, the house where murderers dwell.
Three days they ride the lealand till they come to the side of the sea:
Far off in a bight of the mountains by the inner sea it stands
Turned away from the house of Gudrun, and her kindred and their lands.
Then to right and to left looked Gudrun and beheld the outland folk.
With no love nor hate nor wonder, as out from the teeth she spoke
There she saw the walls most mighty as they came to the fenced place:
But lo, by the gate of the city and the entering in of the street
Is an host exceeding glorious, for the King his bride will greet :
So Gudrun stayeth her fellows, and lighteth down from the wain,
And he casteth his arms about her as a great man glad at heart ;
Nought she smiles, nor her brow is knitted as she draweth aback and apart,
No man could say who beheld her if sony or glad she were;
But her steady eyes are beholding the King and the Eastland's Fear
Though it was but a little season that I slept, forgetting the curse !
But the King speaks kingly unto her and they pass forth under the gate.
And she saith : It is surely enough and no further now shall I wend ;
In this house, in the house of a stranger shall be the tale and the end.