Sigurd the Volsung

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

[In preparation]

II. Atli biddeth the Niblungs to him

There now is Gudrun abiding, and gone by is the bloom of her youth,
And she dwells with a folk untrusty, and a King that knows not ruth :
Great are his gains in the world, and few men may his might withstand.8660
But he weigheth sore on his people and cumbers the hope of his land ;
He craves as the sea-flood craveth, he gripes as the dying hour.
All folk lie faint before him as he seeketh a soul to devour :
Like breedeth like in his house, and venom, and guile, and the knife
Oft lie *twixt brother and brother, and the son and the father's life : 8665
As dogs doth Gudrun heed them, and looks with steadfast eyes
On the guile and base contention, and the strife of murder and lies.

So pass the days and the moons, and the seasons wend on their ways,
And there as a woman alone she sits mid the glory and praise :
There oft in the hall she sitteth, and as empty images 8670
Are grown the shapes of the strangers, till her fathers' hall she sees :
Void then seems the throne of the King, and no man sits by her side
In the house of the Cloudy People and the place of her brethren's pride ;
But a dead man lieth before her, and there cometh a voice and a hand.
And the cloth is plucked from the dead, and, lo, the beloved of the land. 8675
The righter of wrongs, the deliverer, yea he that gainsayed no grace :
In a stranger's house is Gudrun and no change comes over her face.
But her heart cries: Woe, woe, woe, O woe unto me and to all !
On the fools, on the wise, on the evil let the swift destruction fall !

Cold then is her voice in the high-seat, and she hears not what it saith ; 8680
But Atli heedeth and hearkeneth, for she tells of the Glittering Heath,
And the Load of the mighty Greyfell, and the Ransom of Odin the Goth :
Cold yet is her voice as she telleth of murder and breaking of troth.
Of the stubborn hearts of the Niblungs, and their hands that never yield,
Of their craving that nought fulfilleth, of their hosts arrayed for the field. 8685
— What then are the words of King Atli that the cold voice answereth thus?

"King, so shalt thou do, and be sackless of the vengeance that lieth with us:
What words are these of my brethren, what words are these of my kin?
For kin upon kin hath pity, and good deeds do brethren win
For the babes of their mothers' bosoms, and the children of one womb:
But no man on me had pity, no kings were gathered for doom
When I lifted my hands for the pleading in the house of my father's folk ;
When men turned and wrapped them in treason, and did on wrong as a cloak :
I have neither brethren nor kindred, and I am become thy wife
To help thine heart to its craving, and strengthen thine hand in the strife."

Thus she stirred up the lust of Atli, she, unmoved as a mighty queen,
While the fire that burned within her by no child of man was seen.

There oft in the bed she lieth, and beside her Atli sleeps,
And she seeth him not nor heedeth, for the horror over her creeps,
And her own cry rings through the chamber that along ago she cried.
And a man for his life-breath gasping is struggling by her side,
Yea who but Sigurd the Volsung; and no man of men in death
Ere spake such words of pity as the words that now he saith,
As the words he speaketh ever while he riseth up on the sword,
The sword of the foster-brethren and the Kings that swore the word,
Lo, there she lieth and hearkeneth if yet he speak again,
And long she lieth hearkening and lieth by the slain.

So dreams the waking Gudrun till the morn comes on apace
And the daylight shines on Atli, and no change comes over her face,
And deep hush lies on the chamber ; but loud cries out her heart :
How long, how long, O God-folk, will ye sit alone and apart.
And let the blood of Sigurd cry on you from the earth,
While crowned are the sons of murder with worship and with worth ?
If ye tarry shall I tarry ? From the darkness of the womb
Came I not in the days passed over for accomplishing your doom ?

So she saith till the daylight brightens, and the kingly house is astir,
And she sits by the side of Atli, and a woman's voice doth hear,
One who speaks with the voice of Gudrun, a queenly voice and cold :
"How oft shall I tell thee, Atli, of the wise Andvari's Gold,
The Treasure Regin craved for, the uncounted ruddy rings?
Full surely he that holds it shall rule all earthly kings :
Stretch forth thine hand, O Atli, for the gift is marvellous great,
And I am she that giveth I how long wilt thou linger and wait

Till the traitors come against thee with the war-torch and the steel,
And here in thy land thou perish, befooled of thy kingly weal ?
Have I wedded the King of the Eastlands, the master of numberless swords.
Or a serving-man of the Niblungs, a thrall of the Westland lords?"

So spake the voice of Gudrun ; suchwise she cast the seed
O'er the gold-lust of King Atli for the day of the Niblungs' Need.

Who is this in the hall of King Gunnar, this golden-gleaming man?
Who is this, the bright and the silent as the frosty eve and wan.
Round whom the speech of wise-ones lies hid in bonds of fear?
Who this in the Niblung feast-hall as the moon-rise draweth anear ?

Hark ! his voice mid the glittering benches and the wine-cups of the Earls,
As cold as the wind that bloweth where the winter river whirls.
And the winter sun forgetteth all the promise of the spring :
"Hear ye, O men of the Westlands, hear thou O Westland King,
I have ridden the scorching highways, I have ridden the mirk-wood blind,
I have sailed the weltering ocean your Westland house to find ;
For I am the man called Knefrud with Atli's word in my mouth,
That saith : O noble Gunnar, come thou and be glad in the south,
And rejoice with Eastland warriors ; for the feast for thee is dight,
And the cloths for thy coming fashioned my glorious hall make bright
Knowst thou not how the sun of the heavens hangs there 'twixt floor and roof,
How the light of the lamp all golden holds dusky night aloof?
How the red wine runs like a river, and the white wine springs as a well.
And the harps are never ceasing of ancient deeds to tell?
Thou shalt come when thy heart desireth, when thou weariest thou shalt go,
And shalt say that no such high-tide the world shall ever know.
Come bare and bald as the desert, and leave mine house again
As rich as the summer wine-burg, and the ancient wheat-sown plain!
Come, bid thy men be building thy store-house greater yet,
And make wide thy stall and thy stable for the gifts thine hand shall get !
Yet when thou art gone from Atli, he shall stand by his treasure of gold,
He shall look through stall and stable, he shall ride by field and fold.
And no ounce from the weight shall be lacking, of his beasts shall lack no head,
If no thief hath stolen from Gunnar, if no beast in his land lie dead.
Yea henceforth let our lives be as one, let our wars, and our wayfarings blend,
That my name with thine may be told of, when the song is sung in the end,
That the ancient war-spent Atli may sit and laugh with delight
O'er thy feet the swift in battle, o'er thine hand uplifted to smite."

So spake the guileful Knefrud mid the silence of the wise.
Nor once his cold voice faltered, nor once he sank his eyes :
Then spake the glorious Gunnar :
"We hear King Atli's voice,
And the heart is glad within us that he biddeth us rejoice:
Yet the thing shall be seen but seldom that a Niblung fares from his land
With eyes by the gold-lust blinded, with the greedy griping hand.
When thou farest aback unto Atli, thou shalt tell him how thou hast been
In the house of the Westland Gunnar, and what things thine eyes have seen :
Thou shalt tell of the seven store-houses with swords filled through and through,
Gold-hilted, deftly smithied, in the Southland wave made blue :
Thou shalt tell of the house of the treasures and the Gold that lay erewhile
On the Glittering Heath of murder 'neath the heart of the Serpent's guile :
Thou shalt note our glittering hauberk, thou shalt strive to bend our bow,
Thou shalt look on the shield of Gunnar that its white face thou mayst know :
Thou shalt back the Niblung war-steed when the west wind blows its most.
And see if it over-run thee ; thou shalt gaze on the Niblung host
And be glad of the friends of Atli; thou shalt fare through stable and stall.
And tell over the tale of the beast-kind, if the night forbear to fall ;
Through the horse-mead shalt thou wander, through the meadows of the sheep
But forbear to count their thousands lest thou weary for thy sleep ;
Thou shalt look if the barns be empty, though the wheat-field whiteneth now
In the midmost of the summer in the fields men cared to plough ;
Thou shalt dwell with men that lack not, and the tillers fair and fain ;
Thou shalt see, and long, and wonder, and tell thy King of his gain;
For in all that here thou beholdest hath he portion even as we ;
Sweet bloometh his love in our midmost, and the fair time yet may be,
When we twain shall meet and be merry; and sure when our lives are done
No more shall men sunder our glory than the Gods have rent the sun.
Sit, mighty man, and be joyous : and then shalt thou cast us a word
And say how fareth our sister mid the glory of her lord."

Then Knefrud looked upon Gunnar, and spake, nor sank his eyes :
"Each morn at the day's beginning when the sun hath hope to arise
She looketh from Atli's tower toward the west part and the grey,
To see the Niblung spear-heads gleam down the lonely way :
Each eve at the day's departing on the topmost tower she stands,
And looketh toward the mirk-wood and the sea of the westem lands :
There long in the wind she standeth, and the even grown acold,
To see the Niblung war-shields come forth from out the wold,"

Then Gunnar turneth to Hogni, and he saith : "O glorious lord.
What saith thine heart to the bidding, and Atli's loving word ?"

"I have done many deeds," said Hogni, "I have worn the smooth and the rough,
While the Gods looked on from heaven, and belike I have done enough,
And no deed for me abideth, but rather the sleep and the rest.
But thou, O Son of King Giuki, art our eldest and our best,
And fair lie the fields before thee wherein thine hand shall work :
By the wayside of the greedy doth many a peril lurk ;
Full wise is the great one meseemeth who bideth his ending at home
When the winds and the waves may be dealing with hate that hath far to come."

"I hearken thy word," said Gunnar, "and I know in very deed
That long-lived and happy are most men that hearken Hogni's rede.
Hear thou, O Eastland War-god, and bear this answer aback.
That nought may the earth of my people King Giuki's children lack.
And that here in the land am I biding till the Norns my life shall change;
Howbeit, if here were Atli, his face were scarce more strange
Than that daughter of my father whom sore I long to see :
Let him come, and sit with the Niblungs, and be called their king with me."

Then spake the guileful Knefrud, and his word was exceeding proud :
"It is little the wont of Atli to sit at meat with a crowd ;
Yet know, O Westland Warrior, that thy message shall be done,
Since the Cloudy Folk make ready new lodging for the sun."

He laughed, and the wise kept silence, and Gunnar heeded him nought:
On the daughter of his people was set the Niblung's thought.
So sore he longed to behold her ; for his life seemed wearing away.
And the wealth and the fame he had gathered seemed nought by the earlier day,
The day of love departed, and of hope forgotten long.
But Hogni laughs with the stranger, and cries out for harp and song.
And the glee rises up as a river when the mountain-tops grow clear.
When seaward drift the rain-clouds, and the end of day is near;
As of birds in the green groves singing is the Niblung manhood's voice,
And the Earls without foreboding in their mighty life rejoice.
Glad then grows the King of the people, and the sweetness filleth his heart,
And he turneth about a little, and speaketh to Knefrud apart :
"What sayest thou, lord of the Eastland, how with Gudrun's heart it fares?
Is she sunk in the day of dominion and the burden that it bears.
Or remembereth she her brethren and her father and her folk?"

Then Knefrud looked upon Gunnar, and forth from the teeth he spoke:
"It is e'en as I said, King Gunnar : all eves she stands by the gate
The coming of her kindred through the dusky tide to wait :
Each day in the dawn she ariseth, and saith the time is at hand
When the feet of the Niblung War-Kings shall tread King Atli's land :
Then she praiseth the wings of the dove, and the wings of the wayfaring crane,
'Gainst whom the wind prevails not, and the tempest driveth in vain;
And she praiseth the waves of the ocean, how they toil and toil and blend,
Till they break on the strand beloved, and the Niblung earth in the end."

He spake, and the song rose upward and the wine of Kings was poured,
And Gunnar heard in the wall-nook how the wind went forth abroad,
And he dreamed, and beheld the ocean, and all kingdoms of the earth.
And the world lay fair before him and his worship and his worth.

Then again spake the Eastland liar : "O King I may not hide
That great things in the land of Atli thy mighty soul abide ;
For the King is spent and war-weak, nor rejoiceth more in strife ;
And his sons, the children of Gudrun, now look their first on life :
For this end meseems is his bidding, that no worser men than ye
May sit in the throne of Atli and the place where he wont to be."

In the tuneful hall of the Niblungs that Eastland liar spake,
And he heard the song of the mighty o'er Gunnar's musing break,
And his cold heart gladdened within him as man cried out to man,
And fair 'twixt horn and beaker the red wine bubbled and ran.

At last spake Gunnar the Niblung as his hand on the cup he laid :
"A great king craveth our coming, and no more shall he be gainsayed :
We will go to look on Atli, though the Gods and the Goths forbid ;
Nought worse than death meseemeth on the Niblungs' path is hid,
And this shall the high Gods see to, but I to the Niblung name,
And the day of deeds to accomplish, and the gathering-in of fame."

Up he stood with the bowl in his right-hand, and mighty and great he was,
And he cried : "Now let the beakers adown the benches pass ;
Let us drink dear draughts and glorious, though the last farewell it be,
And this draught that I drink have sundered my father's house and me."

He drank, and all men drank with him, and the hearts of the Earls arose,
As of them that snatch forth glory from the deadly wall of foes :
With the joy of life were they drunken and no man knew for why,
And the voice of their exultation rose up in an awful cry :
— It is joy in the mouths that utter, it is hope in the hearts that crave.
And think of no gainsaying, and remember nought to save ;
But without the women hearken, and the hearts within them sink ;
And they say : What then betideth that our lords forbear to drink.
And wail and weep in the night-tide and cry the Gods to aid ?
Why then are the Kings tormented, and the warriors' hearts afraid ?

Then the deadened sound sweeps landward, and the hearts of the field-folk fail,
And they say: Is there death in the Burg, that thence goeth the cry and the wail?
Lo, lo, the feast-hall's windows ! blood-red through the dark they shine :
Why is weeping the song of the Niblungs, and blood the warrior's wine ?

But therein are the torches tossing, and the shields of men upborne,
And the death-blades yet unbloodied cast up 'twixt bowl and horn.
And all rest of heart is departed as men speak of the mirk-wood's ways
And the fame of outland countries, and the green sea's troublous days.

But Gunnar arose o'er the people, as a mighty King he spake :
"O ye of the house of Giuki that are joyous for my sake.
What then shall be left to the Niblungs if we return no more ?
Then let the wolves be warders of the Niblungs' gathered store !
On the hearth let the worm creep over where the fire now flares aloft !
And the adder coil in the chambers where the Niblung wives sleep soft !
Let the master of the pine-wood roll huge in the Niblung porch,
And the moon through the broken rafters be the Niblungs' feastful torch !"

Glad they cried on the glorious Gunnar ; for they saw the love in his eyes,
And with joy and wine were they drunken, and his words passed over the wise.
As oft o'er the garden lilies goes the rising thunder-wind,
And they know no other summer, and no spring that was they mind.

But Hogni speaketh to Knefrud : "Lo, Gunnar's word is said :
How fares it, lord, with Gudrun ? remembereth she the dead ?"

Then the liar laughed out and answered : "Ye shall go tomorrow morn;
The man to turn back Gunnar shall never now be born :
Each day-spring the white Gudrun on Sigurd's glory cries,
All eves she wails on Sigurd when the fair sun sinks and dies !"

"Thou sayest sooth," said Hogni, "one day we twain shall wend
To the gate of the Eastland Atli, that our tale may have an end.
Long time have I looked for the journey, and marvelled at the day.
With what eyes I shall look on Sigurd, what words his mouth shall say."

Then he raiseth the cup for Gunnar, and men see his glad face shine
As he crieth hail and glory o'er the bubbles of the wine ;
And they drink to the lives of the brethren, and men of the latter earth
May not think of the height of their hall-glee, or measure out their mirth :
So they feast in the undark even to the midmost of the night,
Till at last, with sleep unwearied, they weary with delight.
And pass forth to the beds blue-covered, and leave the hearth acold :
They sleep ; in the hall grown silent scarce glimmereth now the gold :
For the moon from the world is departed, and grey clouds draw across,
To hide the dawn's first promise and deepen earthly loss.
The lone night draws to its death, and never another shall fall
On those sons of the feastful warriors in the Niblungs' holy hall.

 

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