Sigurd the Volsung

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

[In preparation]

III. How the Niblungs fare to the Land of King Atli

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Now when the house was silent, and all men in slumber lay,

z

 

338 THE STORY OF SIGURD THE VOLSUNG.

And yet two hours were lacking of the dawning-tide of day.

The sons of liis foster-mother doth the heart-wise Hogni find ;

In the dead night, speaking softly, he showeth them his mind.

And they wake and hearken and heed him, and arise from the bolster blue,

Nor aught do their stout hearts falter at the deed he bids them do.

So he and they go softly while all men slumber and sleep.

And they enter the treasure-houses, and come to their midmost heap;

But so rich in the night it glimmers that the brethren hold their breath.

While Hogni laugheth upon it : — long it lay on the Glittering Heath,

Long it lay in the house of Reidmar, long it lay 'neath the waters wan }

But no long while hath it tarried in the houses and dwellings of man.

Nor long these linger before it ; they set their hands to the toil, And uplift the Bed of the Serpent, the Seed of murder and broil; No word they speak in their labour, but bear out load on load To great wains that out in the fore-court for the coming Gold abode : Most huge were the men, far mightier than the mightiest £ishioned now, But the salt sweat dimmed their eyesight and flooded cheek and brow Ere half the work was accomplished; and by then the laden wains Came groaning forth from the gateway, dawn drew on o*er the plains ; And the ramparts of the people, those walls high-built of old. Stood grey as the bones of a batde in a dale few folk behold : But in haste they goad the yoke-beasts, and press on and make no speech, Though the hearts are proud within them and their eyes laugh each at each.

No great way down from the buig-gate, anigh to the hallowed field There lieth a lake in the river as round as Odin's shield, A black pool huge and awful : ten long-ships of the most Therein might wager battle, and the sunken should be lost

 

BOOK IV. GUDRUN* 339

Beyond all hope of diver, yea, beyond the plunging lead ;

On either side its rock-walls rise up to a mighty head,

But by green slopes from the meadows 'tis easy drawing near

To the brow whence the dark-grey rampart to the water goeth sheer :

'Tis as if the Niblung River had cleft the grave-mound through

Of the mightiest of all Giants ere the Gods' work was to do ;

AQd indeed men well might deem it, that fearful sights lie hid

Beneath the unfathomed waters, the place to all forbid ;

No stream the black deep showeth, few winds may search its face.

And the silver-scaled seafarers love nought its barren space.

There now the Niblung War-king and the foster-brethren twain

Lead up their golden harvest and stay it wain by w^in,

Till they hang o'er the rim scarce balanced : no glance they cast below

To the black and awful waters well known from long ago,

But they cut the yoke-beasts' traces, and drive them down the slopes,

Who rush through the widening daylight, and bellow forth their hopes

Of the straw-stall and the barley : but the Niblungs turn once more,

Hard toil the warrior cart-carles for the garnering of their store,

And shoulder on the wain-wheels o'er the edge of the grimly wall,

And stand upright to behold it, how the waggons plunge and fall.

Down then and whirling outward the ruddy Gold fell forth.

As a flame in the dim grey morning, flashed out a kingdom's worth,

Then the waters roared above it, the wan water and the foam

Flew up o'er the face of the rock-wall as the tinkling Gold fell home.

Unheard, unseen for ever, a wonder and a tale,

Till the last of earthly singers from the sons of men shall fail :

Then the face of the further waters a widening ripple rent

 

i4<^ THE STORY OF SIGURD THE VOLSUNG.

And forth from hollow places strange sounds as of talking went, And loud laughed Hogni in answer ; but not so long he stayed As that half the oily ripple in long sleepy coils was laid, Or the lapping fallen silent in the water-beaten caves ; Scarce streamward yet were drifting the foam-heaps o'er the waves, When betwixt the foster-brethren down the slopes King Hogni strode Toward the ancient Burg of his fathers, as a man that casteth a load : No word those fellows had spoken since he whispered low and light O'er the beds of the foster-brethren in the dead hour of the night. But his face was proud and glorious as he strode the war-gate through. And went up to his kingly chamber, and the golden b^d he knew. And lay down and slept by his help-mate as a play*spent child might sleep In some franklin's wealthy homestead, in the room the nurses keep.

Nought the sun on that mom delayeth, but light o'er the world's &ce flies

And awake by the side of King Hogni the wedded woman lies,

And her bosom is weary with sighing, and her eyes with dream-bom tears

And a sound as of all confusion is ever in her ears :

Then she tumeth and crieth to Hogni, as she layeth a hand on his breast :

*^ Wake, wake, thou son of Giuki 1 save thy speech-friend all unrest V*

Then he waketh up as a child that hath slept in the summer grass, And he saith : ''What tidings, O Bera, what tidings come to pass?"

She saith, " Wilt thou wend with Gunnar to Atli over the main ?"

Said Hogni : " Hast thou Hot heard it, how rich we shall come again ?"

" Ye shall never come back,*' said Bera, "ye shall die by the inner sea-"

 

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BOOK IV. GUDRUN. 34i

" Yea, here or there," said Hogni, " my death no doubt shall be."

"O Hogni," she said, "forbear it, that snare of the Eastland wrong I

»

In the health and the wealth of the sunlight at home mayst thou tarry for long : For waking or sleeping I dreamed^ and dreaming, the tokens I saw."

** Oft," he said, "in the hands of the house-wife comes the crock by its fatal flaw : An hundred earls shall slay me, or the fleeing night-thief's shaft. The sickness that wasteth cities, or the unstrained summer draught : Now as mighty shall be King Atli and the gathered Eastland force As the fly in the wine desired, or the weary stumbling horse."

She said : " Wilt thou stay in the land, lest the noble faint and fail,

And the Gods have nought to tell of in the ending of the tale ?

O King, save thou thine hand-maid, lest the bloom of Kings decay !"

He said : " Good yet were the earth, though all we should die in a day : But so feres it with you, ye women : when your husband or brother shall die, Ye deem that the world shall perish, and the race of man go by."

" Sure then is thy death," she answered, " for I saw the Eastland flood

Break over the Burg of the Niblungs, and fill the hall with blood."

«

He said : " Shall we wade the meadows to the feast of Atli tlie King ? Then the blood-red blossoming sorrel about our legs shall cling."

Said Bera : *' I saw thee coming with the face of other days ;

But the flame was in thy raiment, and thy kingly cloak was ablaze."

 

34a THE STORY OF SIGURD THE VOLSUNG.

"How else," said he, **0 woman, wouldst thou have a Niblung stride, ' Save in ruddy gold sun-lighted, through the house of Atli's pride?*

She said : '' I beheld King Atli midst the place of sacrifice

And -the holy grove of the Eastland in a king's most hallowed guise :

Then I looked, as with laughter triumphant he laid his gift in the fire,

And lo, 'twas the heart of Hogni, and the heart of my desire ;

But he turned and looked upon me as I sickened with fear and with love,

And I saw the guile of the greedy, and with speechless sleep I strove,

And had cried out curses against him, but my gaping throat was hushed,

Till the light of a deedless dawning o'er dream and terror rushed ;

And there wert thou lying beside me, though but little joy it seemed,

For thou wert but an image unstable of the days before I dreamed."

Quoth Hogni, ''Shall I arede it? Seems it not meet to thee

That the heart and the love of the Niblungs in Atli's hand should be.

When he stands by the high Gods' altars, and uplifts his heart for the tide

When the kings of the world-great people to the Eastland house shall ride?

Nay, Bera, wilt thou be weeping? but parting-fear is this ;

Doubt not we shall come back happy from the house of Atli's bliss :

At least, when a king's hand offers all honour and great weal,

Wouldst thou have me strive to unclasp it to show the hidden steel ? •

With evil will I meet evil when it draweth exceeding near;

But oft have I heard of evil, whose father was but fear.

And his mother lust of living, and nought will I deal with it,

Lest the past, and those deeds of my doing be as straw when the fire is lit

Lo now, O Daughter of Kings, let us rise in the face of the day,

And be glad in the summer morning when the kindred ride on their way ;

For tears beseem not king-folk, nor a heart made dull with dreams

 

BOOK IV. GUDRUN. 343

Bui to hope, if thou mayst, for ever, and to fear nooght, wdl beseems.*'

There the talk falls down between them, and they rise in the mom, they twain, And bright-faced wend through the dwelling of the Niblungs' glory and gain.

Meanwhile awakeaeth Gunnar, and looks on the wife by his side^

And saith : " Why weepest thou, Glaumvor, what evil now shall betide ?"

She said : '* I was waking and dreamed, or I slept and saw the truth > The Noms are hooded and angry, and the Gods have forgotten their ruth."

[kind ; " Speak, sweet-mouthed woman," said Gunnar, "if the Noms are hard,. I am Though even the King of the Niblungs may loose not where they bind."

She said : "Wilt thou go unto Atli and enter the Burg of the East ? Wilt thou leave the house of the faithful, and tum to the murderer's feast ?"

*' It is e'en as certain," said Gunnar, "as though I knocked at his gate,^ If the winds and waters stay not, or death, or the dealings of Fate."

« Woe worth the while !" said Glaumvor, "then I talk \rith the dead indeed : And why must I tarry behind thee afar from the Niblungs' Need ?"

He said : " Thou wert heavy-hearted last night for the parting-tide ; And alone in the dreamy country thy soul would needs abide, And see not the King that loves thee, nor remember the might of his hand; So thou falledst a prey unholpen to the lies of the dreamy land."

," Ah would they were lies," sai4 Glaumvor, "for not the worst was this :

 

344 THE STORY OF SIGURD. THE VOLSUNG.

There thou wert in the holy high-seat mid the heart of the Niblung bliss, And a sword was borne into our midmost, and its point and its edge were red, And at either end the wood-wolves howled out in the day of dread ; With that sword wert thou smitten, O Grunnar, and the shaip point pierced And the kin were all departed, and no &ce of man I knew : [thee through: Then I strove to flee and might not ; for day grew dark and strange. And no moonrise and no morning the eyeless mirk would change.**

" Such are dreams of the night," said Gunnar, ^' that lovers oft perplex. When the sundering hour is coming with the cares that entangle and vex. Yet if there be more, fair woman, when a king speaks loving words. May I cast back words of anger, and the threat of grinded swords?"

" O yet wouldst thou tarry," said Glaumvor, " in the fair sun-lighted day ! Nor give thy wife to another, nor cast thy kingdom away."

"Of what king of the people," said Gunnar, ''hast thou known itwritten or told, That the word was bom in the even which the morrow should withhold ?"

'' Alas, alas \" said Glaumvor, " then all is over and done !

For I dreamed of the hall of the Niblungs at the setting of the sun.

How dead women came in thither no worse than queens arrayed, [laid.

Who passed by the earls of the Niblungs, and their hands oivthy gown-skiit

And hailed thee fair for their fellow, and bade thee come to their hall.

bethink thee, King of the Niblungs, what tidings shall befall I'*

'' Yea shall they befall ?'* said Gunnar» '' then who am I to strive Against the change of my life-days, while the Gods on high are alive ?

1 shall ride as my heart would have me ; let the Gods bestir them then.

 

BOOK IV. GUDRUN. 345

And raise up another people in the stead of the Niblung men :

But at home shalt thou sit, King's Daughter, in the keeping of the Fates^

And be blithe with the men of thy people and the guest within thy gates,

Till thou know of our glad returning to the holy house and dear,

Or the fall of Giuki's children, and a tale that all shall hear.

Arise and do on gladness, lest the clouds roll on and lower

O'er the heavy hearts of the people in the Niblungs' parting hour.'*

So he spake, and his love rejoiced her, and they rose in the face of the day. And no seeming shadow of evil on those bright-eyed King-folk lay.

Thus stirreth the house of the Niblungs, and awakeneth unto life; And were there any envy, or doubt that breedeth strife, Twixt friends or kin or brethren, 'twas healed that self-same mom, And peace and loving-kindness o'er all the house was borne.

Now arrayed are the earls and the warriors, and into the hall they come

When the morning sun is shining through the heart of their ancient home ;

And lo, how the allwise Grimhild is set in the golden seat

The first of the way-fain warriors, and the first of the wives to greet ;

In the raiment of old she sitteth, aloft in the kingly place^

And all men marvel to see her and the glory of her face.

So all is dight for departing and the helms of the Niblung lords Shine dose as a river of fire o'er the hilts of hidden swords : About and around are the women ; and who e'er hath been heavy of heart. If their hearts are light this morning when their fairest shall depart ? They hear the steeds in the forecourt ; from the rampart of the wall Comes the cry and noise of the warders as man to man doth call ;

 

346 THE STORY OF SIGURD THE VOLSUNG.

For the young give place to the old, and the strong carles labour to* show

The last-learned craft of battle to their fathers ere they go.

Ther^ is mocking and mirth and laughter as men tell to the ancient sires

Of the four-sheared shaft of the gathering, and the horn, and the beaconing fires.

Woe's me I but the women laugh not : do they hope that the sun may be stayed

And the journey of the Niblungs a little while delayed ?

Or is not their hope the rather, that they do but dream in the night,

And that they shall awake in a little with the land's life faring aright ?

Ah, fair and fresh is the morning as ever a season hath been,

And the nourishing sun shines glorious on the toil of carle and quean,

And the wealth of the land desired, and all things are alive and awake;

Let them wait till the even bringeth sweet rest for hearts that ache.

Lo now, a stir by the doorway, and men see how great and grand Come the Kings of Giuki begotten, all-armed, and hand in hand : Where then shall the world behold them, such champions clad in steel, Such hearts so free and bounteous, so wise for the people's weal ? Where then shall the world see such-like, if these must die as the mean. And fall as lowly people, and their days be no more seen ? They go forth fair and softly as they wend to the seat of the Kings, And they smile in their loving-kindness as they talk of bygone things. Are they not as the childre^ of Giuki, that fared afield erewhile In hope without contention, mid the youth that knew no guile ? Their wedded wives are beside them with faces proud and fair. That smile, af the lips smile only, for the Eastland liar is there. .Fain the. women are of those Brethren, and they seem so gay and kind. That again the hope upspringeth of their lords abiding behind.

But Hogni spake to his brother, and they looked onthe liar's. son,...

 

BOOK IV. GUDRUlf. .. 347

And clear ran. King Gunnar's laughter as the summer waters run ; [breath, Then the Queens* hearts fainted within them, and with pain they drew their For they knew that the King was merry and laughed in the face of death.

Fair now on the ancient high-seat, and the heart of .the Niblung pride

Stand those lovely lords of Giuki with their wedded wives beside.

And Gunnar cries : " O maidens, let the cup be in every hand,

For this mom for .a little season we leave our fathers* land.

And love we leave behind us, and love abroad we bear.

And these twaiii shall meet in a little, and their meeting-tide be fair :

Rejoice O Niblung children, be glad o*et the parting cup !

For meseems if the heavens wercfalling, our spears should hold them up.**

Then he leaped adown from the high-seat and amidst his men he stood And th^ very joy of God-folk ran through the Niblung blood, And the glee of them that die not : there they drink in their mighty hall, And! glad on the ancient fathers, and the sons of God they call : The hope of their hearts goes upward in the last most awful voice, And once more the quivering timbers of the Niblung home rejoice.

But exceeding proud sits Grimhild, and so wondrous is her state That men deem they have never seen her so glorious and so great, And she speaks, when again in the feast-hall is there silence save of the mail. And the whispered voice of women, as they tell their latest tale :

*.' Go forth, O Kings, to dominion, and the crown of all your might, And the tale from of old foreordered ere the day was begotten of night For all this is the work of the Noms, though ye leave a woman behind Who hath toiled and toiled in the darkidess, the road of fate to find :

 

348 THE STORY OF SIGURD THE VOLSUNG.

Go glad, O children of Giuki ! though scarce ye wot indeed Of the labour of your mother to win your glory's meed. Farewell, farewell, O children, till ye get you back again To her that bore you in darkness, and brought you forth in pain ! Cast wide the doors for the King-folk, ring out O harpstrings now ! For the best e'er bom of woman go forth with cloudless brow. Be glad O ancient lintel, O threshold of the door, For such another parting shall earth behold no more !"

She ceased, and no voice gave answer save the voice of smitten harps,

As the hands of the music-weayers went o'er their golden warps ;

Then high p'er the warriors towering, as the king-leek o'er the grass,

Out into the world of sunlight through the door those Brethren pass.

And all the host of the warriors, the women's silent woe,

The steel, and the feet soft-falling o'er the ancient threshold go.

While all alone on the high-seat the god-bom Grimhild sits :

There hearkeneth she steeds' neighing, and the champing of the bits.

And the clash of steel-clad champions, as at last they leap aloft,

And cries and women's weeping mid the music breathing soft ;

Then the clattering of the horse-hoofs, and the echo of the gate

With the wakened sword-song singing o'er departure of the great,

Till the many mingled voices are swallowed up and stilled,

And all the air by seeming with an awful sound is filled.

The cry of the Niblung tmmpet, as men reach the unwalled space :

So whiles in a mighty city, and a many-peopled place.

When the rain falls down mid the babble, nor ceaseth rattle of wheels.

And with din of wedding joy-bells the minster steeple reels,

Jx), God sends down his thunder, and all else is hushed as then.

 

BOOK IV. GUDRUN. U§

And it is as Ae world's beginning, and before the birth of men.

Long sitteth the god-bom Grimhild till all is silent there, For afar adown the meadows with the host all people fare ; Then bitter groweth her visage, in the hush she crieth and saith :

« O ye — ^whom then shall I cry on, ye that hunt my sons unto death, And overthrow our glory, and bring our labour to nought — Ye GodSy.ye had fashioned the greatest, and to make them greater I wrought, And to strengthen your hands for the battle, and uplift your hearts for the end : But ye, ye have fashioned confusion, and the great with the little ye blend. Till no more on the earth shall be living the mighty that mock at your death. Till like the leaves men tremble, like the dry leaves quake at a breath. - I have wrought for your lives and your glory, and for this have I

strengthened my guile, That the earth your hands uplifted might endure, nor pass in a while Like the clouds of latter morning that melt in the first of the night."

She rose up great and dreadful, and stood on the floor upright, And cast up her hands to the roof-tree, and cried aloud and said :

"Woe to you that have made me for nothing 1 for the house of the Niblungs is En^pty and dead as the desert, where the sun is idle and vain [dead,

And no hope hath the dew to cherish, and no deed abideth the rain i"

She falleth aback in the high-seat, and the eagles cry from aloof. While Grimhild's eyes wide-open stare up at the Niblung roof: But they see not, nought are they doing to feed her fear or desire ; And her heart, the forge of sorrow, dead, cold, is its baneful fire ;

 

3SO THE STORY OF SIGURD THE VOLSUNG.

And her cunning hand is helpless, for her hopeless soul is gone; Far off belike it drifteth from the waste her labour won.

 

Fair now through midmost ocean King Gunnafs dragons run,

And the green hills round about them gleam glorious with the sun ;

The keels roll down the sea-dale, and welter up the steep,

And o*er the brow hang quivering ere again they take the leap ;

For the west wind pipes behind them, and no land is on their lea

As the mightiest of earth's peoples sails down the summer sea :

And as eager as the west-wind, no duller than the foam

They spread all sails to the breezes, and seek their glory home :

Six days they sail the sea-flood, and the seventh dawn of day

Up-heaveth a new country, a land £Eir-off and grey ;

Then Knefrud biddeth heed it, and he saith : ** Lo, the Eastland shore,

And the land few ships have sailed to, by the mirk-wood covered o'er,"

Then riseth the cry and the shouting as the golden beaks they turn,

For all hearts for the land of cities, and the hall* of Adi yearn :

But a little after the noontide is the Niblung host embayed,

And betwixt the sheltering nesses the ocean-wind is laid :

No whit they brook delaying : but their noblest and their best

Toss up the shaven oar-blades, and toil and mock at rest :

Full swift they skim the swan-mead till the tall masts quake and red,

And the oaken sea-buigs quiver from bulwark unto keel.

It is Gunnar goes the foremost with the tiller in his hand.

And beside him standeth Knefrud and laughs on Atli's land :

And so fair are the dragons driven, that by ending of the day

On the beach by the ebb left naked the sea-beat keels they lay :

Then they look aloft from the foreshore, and lo, King Atli's steeds

 

BOOK IV. GUDRUN. 351

On the brow of the mirk-wood standing, well dight for the warriors' needs, The r^d and the roan together, and the dapple-grey and the black; Nor bits nor silken bridles, nor golden cloths they lack, And the horse-lads of King Atli with that horse-array are blent, And their shout of salutation o'er the oozy sand is sent : Then no more will the Niblungs tarry when they see that ready band But they leap adowh from the long-ships, and waist-deep they wade the sttand, And they in their armour of onset, beshielded, and swcnrd by the side, E'en as men returning homeward to their loves and their friends that abide. The first of all goeth Gunnar, and Hogni the wise cometh after. And wringeth the sea from his kirtle ; and all men hearken his laughter. As his feet on the earth stand firm, and the sun in the west goeth down, And the Niblungs stand on the foreshore 'twixt the sea and the mirk-wood

[brown. For no meat there they linger, and they tarry for no sleep, But aloft to the golden saddles those Giuki's children leap, And forth from the side of the sea-flood they ride the mirk-wood's ways. Loud then is the voice of King Hogni and he sets forth Atli's praise, As they ride through the night of the tree-boughs till the earthly night prevails. And along the desert sea-strand the wind of ocean wails.

There none hath tethered the dragons, or inboard handled the oars, And the tide of the sea cometh creeping along the stranger-shores. Till those golden dragons are floated, and their unmanned oars awash In the sandy waves of the shallows, from stem to tiller clash : Then setteth a wind from the shore, and the night is waxen a-cold, And seaward drift the long-ships with their raiment and vessels of gold. And their Gods with mastery carven : and who knoweth the story to tell, If their wrack came ever to shoreward in some place where fishers dwell.

 

 

Or sank in midmost ocean, and lay on the sea-floor wan

Wheire the pale sea-goddess singeth o'er the bane of many a man ?

 

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