Sigurd the Volsung

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

THE STORY OF
SIGURD THE VOLSUNG
AND THE FALL OF THE NIBLUNGS.

BOOK IV.
GUDRUN.

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 do and undo at their pleasure and wear their life-days well;
They deal out doom to the people, and their hosts of war array,
Nor storm nor wind nor winter their eager swords shall stay :
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They ride the lealand highways, they ride the desert plain.
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,
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All folk in the round world's compass of their mighty fame have heard :
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.
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Lo, such are the Kings of the Niblungs, but yet they crave and desire
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
There goeth the glee and the singing while the eagles chatter aloof,
And the Gods on the hangings waver in the doubtful wind of night ;
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Still fair are the linen-clad damsels, still are the war-dukes bright ;
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,
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Turns back to the glorious Gunnar, casts hope on the Niblung name,
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 ;
Fair queens are those wives of the Niblungs, good helpmates in peace and in strife,
Sweet they sit on the golden high-seat, and Grimhild sitteth beside,
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And the years have made her glorious, and the days have swollen her pride ;
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?

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Now there was a King of the outlands, and Atli was his name,
The lord of a mighty people, a man of marvellous fame,
Who craved the utmost increase of all that kings desire ;
Who would reach his hand to the gold as it ran in the ruddy fire,
Or go down to the ocean-pavement to harry the people beneath,
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Or cast up his sword at the Gods, or bid the friendship of death.

By hap was the man unwedded, and wide in the world he sought
For a queen to increase his glory lest his name should come to nought;
And no kin like the kin of the Niblungs he found in all the earth,
No treasure like their treasure, no glory like their worth ;
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So he sendeth an ancient war-duke with a goodly company,
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.
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For those folk are fair apparelled as the people of a dream.

But the glorious Son of Giuki from amidst the high-seat spoke :
"Why stand ye mid men sitting, or fast mid feasting folk ?
No meat nor drink there lacketh, and the hall is long and wide.
Three days in the peace of the Niblungs unquestioned shall ye bide.
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Then timely do your message, and bid us peace or war."

But spake the Earl of Atli yet standing on the floor :
"All hail, O glorious Gunnar, O mighty King of men !
O'er-short is the life of man-folk, the three-score years and ten.
Long, long is the craft for the learning, and sore doth the right hand waste :
8385
Lo, lord, our spurs are bloody, and our brows besweat with haste ;
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 :
8390
Lo, we are the men of Atli, and his will and his spoken word
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."

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Then spake the Son of Giuki : "Give forth the word and the thing,
Since thy faithfulness constraineth : but I know thy tokens true,
And thy rune-staff hath the letters that in days agone I knew."

"Then this is the word," said the elder, "that Atli set in my mouth ;
'I have known thee of old. King Gunnar, when we twain drew sword in the south
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In the days of thy father Giuki, and great was the fame of thee then :
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 ;
8405
That mine ancient house may blossom and fresh fruit of the King-tree yield.
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 ;
White steeds from the Eastland horse-plain, fine webs of price untold,
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Huge pearls of the nether ocean, strange masteries subtly wrought
By the hands of craftsmen perished and people come to nought.

But Gunnar laughed and answered : "King Atli speaketh well ;
Across the sea, peradventure, I too a tale may tell :
Now born is thy burden of speech ; so rejoice at the Niblung board,
8415
For here art thou sweetly welcome for thyself and thy mighty lord :
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
And the glory of the Westland kissed lips in the Niblung feast

8420

But again on the morrow-morning speaks Gunnar with Grimhild and saith :
"Where then in the world is Gudrun, and is she delivered from death ?
For nought hereof hast thou told me : but the wisest of women art thou,
And I deem that all things thou knowest,and thy cunning is timely now;
For King Atli wooeth my sister ; and as wise as thou mayst be,
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What thing mayst thou think of greater 'twixt the ice and the uttermost sea
Than the might of the Niblung people, if this wedding come to pass?"

Then answered the mighty Grimhild, and glad of heart she was :
"It is sooth that Gudrun liveth ; for that daughter of thy folk
Fled forth from the Burg of the Niblungs when the Volsung's might ye broke :
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She fled from all holy dwellings to the houses of the deer,
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.
8435
And she came where Gudrun abided, whose might was minished as then.
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 :
8440
She awoke and beheld those strangers, a trusty folk and a kind,
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,
8445
And smiled at the laughing maidens, and sang over shuttle and spool.
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 :
8450
But now is the day of our deeds, and no longer durst I refrain.
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,
8455
Wherewith my fathers of old, and the ancient mothers have striven."

"Thy word is good," quoth Gunnar, "a happy word indeed :
Lo, how shall I fear a woman, who have played with kings in my need ?
Yea, how may I speak of my sister, save well remembering
How goodly she was aforetime, how fair in everything,
8460
How kind in the days passed over, how all fulfilled of love
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
8465
To the dwelling of Thora the Queen, for there doth thy sister abide."

As she spake came the wise-heart Hogni, and that speech of his mother he heard,
And he said : "How then are ye saying a new and wonderful word.
That ye meddle with Gudrun's sorrow, and her grief of heart awake ?
Will ye draw out a dove from her nest, and a worm to your hall-hearth take?"

8470

"What then,"said his brother Gunnar, "shall we thrust by Atli's word?
Shall we strive, while the world is mocking, with the might of the Eastland sword,
While the wise are mocking to see it, how the great devour the great?"

"O wise-heart Hogni," said Grimhild, "wilt thou strive with the hand of fate,
And thrust back the hand of Odin that the Niblung glory will crown ?
8475
Wert thou born in a cot-carle's chamber, or the bed of a King's renown ?"

"I know not, I know not," said Hogni, "but an unsure bridge is the sea.
And such would I oft were builded betwixt my foeman and me,
I know a sorrow that sleepeth, and a wakened grief I know,
And the torment of the mighty is a strong and fearful foe."

8480

They spake no word before him; but he said : "I see the road;
I see the ways we must journey — I have long cast off the load,
The burden of men's bearing wherein they needs must bind
All-eager hope unseeing with eyeless fear and blind :
So today shall my riding be light ; nor now, nor ever henceforth
8485
Shall men curse the sword of Hogni in the tale of the Niblung worth."

Therewith he went out from before them, and through chamber and hall he cried
On the best of the Niblung earl-folk, for that now the Kings would ride :
Soon are all men assembled, and their shields are fresh and bright,
Nor gold their raiment lacketh ; then the strong-necked steeds they dight,
8490
They dight the wain for Grimhild, and she goeth up therein,
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 :
8495
Forth then from the hallowed houses ride on those war-fain lords,
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,
8500
And arise on the morrow-morning and climb the mountain-pass,
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,
8505
Till they come to Thora's dwelling ; but fair it stands and low
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
To hearken the women's voices and the sound of their labouring hands;
8510
And amidst of their many murmurings a mightier voice he hears.
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
8515
Come gleaming into the chamber; then she standeth up on the floor.
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 :
8520
But her father's heart rose in her, and the sleeping wrong awoke,
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 :
8525
Lo, the kin and the friends of Gudrun, a smiling folk and kind !

In the midst stood Gudrun before them, and cried aloud and said :
"What ! bear ye tidings of Sigurd? is he new come back from the dead?
O then will I hasten to greet him, and cherish my love and my lord.
Though the murderous sons of Giuki have borne the tale abroad."

8530

Dead-pale she stood before them, and no mouth answered again,
And the summer morn grew heavy, and chill were the hearts of men.
And Thora's people trembled : there the simple people first
Saw the horror of the King-folk, and mighty lives accurst.

All hushed stood the glorious Gunnar, but Hogni came before,
8535
And he said ; "It is sooth, my sister, that thy sorrow hath been sore.
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.
8540
And to give thee the gift that we may; for without thy love and thy peace
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
8545
When the sun is bright about it and the wind sweeps low o'er the ways.
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
When the nurses first upraised thee and first thy body was seen :
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If thou bide with these toiling women when a great king bids thee to wife,
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.
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Nought did her deadly anger to her brow unknitted rise.
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 ;
8560
And cold words of ancient wisdom that the very Gods would dim
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,
I groaned to bear thee a queen, I sickened sore for thy fame :
8565
By me and my womb I command thee that thou worship the Niblung name.
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."

8570

Nought answered the white-armed Gudrun, no master of masters might see
The hate in her soul swift-growing or the rage of her misery.
But great waxed the wrath of Grimhild ; there huge in the hall she stood,
And her fathers' might stirred in her, and the well-spring of her blood ;
And she cried out blind with anger : "Though all we die on one day,
8575
Though we live for ever in sorrow, yet shalt thou be given away
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,
8580
The darkling woods of the deer, the courts of mighty lords,
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
And drank before her kindred, and the blood from her heart went up,
And was blent with the guile of the serpent, and many a thing she forgat.
8585
But never the day of her sorrow, and of how o'er Sigurd she sat :
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,
— O how their hearts were heavy as though the sun should die !
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She said : "O Kings of my kindred, I shall nought gainsay your will ;
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;
8595
Forth fare the Cloudy People and the stony slopes they ride,
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;
8600
She speaks not of good nor of evil, and no change in her face men see,
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
8605
The threshold of the Niblungs and the holy house of yore ;
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.

8610

Nought tarry the lords of King Atli, and the Niblungs stay them nought;
The doors of the treasure are opened and the gold and the tokens are brought;
And all men in the hall are assembled, where Gunnar speaketh and saith :

"Go hence, O men of King Atli, and tell of our love and our faith
To thy master, the mighty of men : go take him this treasure of gold,
8615
And show him how we have hearkened, and nought from his heart may withhold,
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 :
"We bless thee, O mighty Gunnar, for the Eastland Atli's sake.
8620
And his kingdom as thy kingdom, and his men as thy men shall be.
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;
And Gudrun stood with the strangers, and there were women who wept,
But she wept no more than she smiled, nor spake, nor turned again
8625
To that place in the ancient dwelling where once lay Sigurd slain.
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.

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Three days they ride the lealand till they come to the side of the sea:
Ten days they sail the sea-flood to the land where they would be:
Three days they ride the mirk-wood to the peopled country-side,
Three days through a land of cities and plenteous tilth they ride ;
On the fourth the Burg of Atli o'er the meadows riseth up.
8635
And the houses of his dwelling fine-wrought as a silver cup.
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
8640
To that unfamiliar people that had seen not Sigurd's face.
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,
8645
And afoot cometh Atli to meet her, and they meet in the midst, they twain.
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
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And she thinks : Have I lived too long ? how swift doth the world grow worse,
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 sees he is rich and mighty, though the Niblung folk be great ;
So strong is his house upbuilded, so many are his lords.
8655
So great the hosts for the murder and the meeting of the swords ;
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.

 

 

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