Sigurd the Volsung

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

[In preparation]

VII. The ending of Gudrun

N

Men sleep in the dwelling of Atli through the latter hours of night

Though the comfortless women be wailing as they that love not light j

Men sleep in the dawning-hour, and bowed down is Atli's head

Amidst the gold and the purple, and the pillows of his bed :

But hark, ere the sun's uprising, when folk see colours again.

Is the trample of steeds in the forecourt, and the noise of steel and of men;

And Atli wakeneth and riseth, and is clad in purple and pall.

And he goeth forth from the chamber and meeteth his earls in the hall

A king full great and mighty, if a great king ever hath been ;

And over his head on the high-seat still sitteth Gudrun the Queen.

Then he said : " Whence come ye, children, whence come ye. Lords of the
Shall today be for evil and mourning or a day of joyance and feast ?" [East?

They said : "Today shall be wailing for the foes of the Eastland kin;
But for them that love King Atli shall the day of feasts begin :

 

BOOK IV. GUDRUN. 385

For we come from the land deserted, and the heath without a way,
And now are the earth's folk telling of the Niblungs passed away."

Then King Atli turned unto Gudnin, and the new sun shone through the door,
The long beams fell from the mountains and lighted Atli's floor :
Then he cried : " Lo, the day-light, Gudrun ! and the Cloudy Folk is gone ;
There is glory now in the Eastland, and thy lord is king alone/'

But Gudrun rose from the high-seat, and her eyes on the King she turned ;
And he stood rejoicing before her, and his crown in the sunlight burned,
With the golden gear was he swaddled, and he held the red-gold rod
That the Kings of the East had carried since first they came from God :
Down she came, and men kept silence, and the earls beheld her face,
As her raiment rustled about her in the morning-joyous place :
So she stood amidst of the sun-beams, by^ King Atli's board she stood,
And men looked and wondered at her, would she speak them ill or good :
She wept not, and she sighed not, nor smiled in the stranger land,
But she stood before King Atli, and the cup was in her hand.

Then she spake : " Take, King, and drink it ! . for earth's mightiest men prevail,

And to thee is the praise and the glory, and the ending of the tale :

There are men to the dead land faring, but the dark o'er their heads is deep,

They cry not, they return not, and no more renown they reap ;

But we do our will without them, nor fear their speech or frown ;

And glad shall be our uprising, and light our lying-down."

She said : '^ A maid of maidens my mother reared me erst ;
By the side of the glorious Gunnar my early days were nursed ;
By the side of the heart-wise Hogni I went from field to flower,

c c

 

386 THE STORY OF SIGURD THE VOLSUNG-

Joy rose with the sun's uprising, nor sank in the twilight hour ;
Kings looked and laughed upon us as we played with the golden toy ;
And oft our hands were meeting as we mingled joy with joy."

More she spake : ** O King command me ! for women's knees are weak.
And their feet are little steadfast, and their hands for comfort seek :
On the earth the blossom falleth, when the branch is dried with day,
And the vine to the elm-bough clingeth when men smite the roots away.''

Then drank the Eastland Atli as he looked in Gudrun's face.

And beheld no wrath against him, and no hate of the coming days ;

Then he spake : '' O mighty woman, this day the feast shall be

For the heritance of Atli, and the gain of mine and me :

For this day the Eastland people such great dominion win.

That a world to their will new-fashioned 'neath their glory shall begin.

Yet, since the mighty are fallen, and kings are gone from earth.

Let these at the feast be remembered, and their ancient deeds of worth.

So I bid thee, O King's Daughter, sit by Atli at the feast

To praise thy kin departed and Atli's weal increased ;

And the heirship-feast and the death-feast today shall be as one ;

And then shalt thou wake tomorrow with all thy mourning done,

And all thy will accomplished, and thy glory great and sure,

That for ever and for ever shall the tale thereof endure."

He spake in the sunny morning, and Gudrun answered and said :
" Thou hast bidden me feast, O Atli, and thy will shall be obeyed :
And well I thank thee, great-one, for the gifts thine hand would give ;
For who shall gainsay the mighty, and the happy Kings that live? [thee :
Thou hast swallowed the might of the Niblungs, and their gloiy lieth in
Live long, and cherish thy wealth, that the world may wonder and see !''

 

BOOK IV. GUDRUN. 387

Therewith to the bbwer of queens the Niblung wendeth her way

And in all the glory of women the folk her body array ;

Forth she comes with the crown on her head and the ivory rod in her hand,

With queens for her waiting-women, and the hope of many a land :

There she goes in that wonder of houses when the high-tide of Atli is dight

And her face is as fair as the sea, and her eyen are glittering bright.

By Atli's side she sitteth, o'er the earls they twain are set,

And shields of the ancient wise-ones on the wall are hanging yet,

And the golden sun of the roof-sky, the sun of Atli's pride.

Through the beams where day but glimmers casts red light far and wide :

The beakers clash thereunder, the red wine murmureth speech.

And the eager long-beard warriors cast praises each to each

Of the blossoming tree of the Eastland : — ^and tomorrow shall be as today,

Yea even more abundant, and all foes have passed away.

It was then in the noon-tide moment ; o'er the earth high hung the sun.
When the song o'er the mighty Niblungs in a stranger-house was begun,
And their deeds were told by the foemen, and the names of hope they had
Rang sweet in the hall of the murder to make King Atli glad :
It is little after the noon-tide when thereof they sing no more.
Nor tell of the strife that has been, and the leaping flames of war.
And the vengeance lulled for ever and the wrath that shall never awake :
For where is the kin of Hogni, and who liveth for Gunnar's sake ?


So men in the hall make 'merry, nor note the afternoon.
And the time when men grow weary with the task that ends not soon ;
The sun falls down unnoted, and night and her daughter are nigh,
And a dull grey mist and awful hangeth over the east of the sky,
And spreadeth, though winds are sleeping, and riseth higher and higher ;

 

388 THE STORY OF SIGURD THE VOLSUNG.

But the clouds hang high in the west as a sea of rippling fire.

That the face of the gazer is lighted, if unto the west ye gaze,

And white walls in the lonely meadows grow ruddy under the blaze ;

Vet brighter e'en than the cloud-sea, far-off and clear serene,

Mid puiple clouds unlitten the light lift lieth between ;

And who looks, save the lonely shepherd on the brow of the houseless hilK

Who hath many a day seen no man to tell him of good or of ill ?

Day dies, and the storm-threats perish, and the stars to the heaven are come.

And the white moon climbeth upward and hangs o'er the Eastland home ;

But no man in the hall of King Atli shall heed the heavens without,

For Atli's roof is their heaven, and thereto they cast the shout,

And this, the glory they builded,.is become their God to praise.

The hope of their generations, the giver of goodly days :

No more they hearken the harp-strings, no more they hearken the song ;

All the might of the deedful Niblungs is a tale forgotten long.

And yester-moming's murder is as though it ne'er had been ;

They heed not the white-armed Gudrun, the glorious Stranger-Queen,

They heed not Atli triumphant, for they also, they are Kings,

They are brethren of the God-folk and the fashioners of things ;

Nay, the Gods, — and the Gods have sorrow, and these shall rue no more,

These world-kings, these prevailers, these beaters-down of war :

What golden house shall hold them, what nightless shadowless heaven ?

— So they feast in the hall of Atli, and that eve is the first of the seven.

So they feast, and weary, and know not how weary they are grown,
As they stretch out hands to gather where their hands have never sown ;
They are drunken with wine and with folly, and the hope they would bring
Of the mirth no man may compass, and the joy that never was, [to pass
Till their heads hang heavy with slumber, and their hands from the wine-cup fal

 

BOOK IV. GUDRUN. 389

And blind stray their hands in the harp-strings and their mouths may tell

[no tale.
Now the throne of Atli is empty, low lieth the world-king's head
Mid the woven gold and the purple, and the dreams of Atli's bed,
And Gudrun lieth beside him as the true by the faithful and kind,
And every foe is departed, and no fear is left behind :
Lo, lo, the rest of the night-tide for which all kings would long,
And all warriors of the people that have fought with fear and wrong.

Yet a while ; — it was but an hour and the moon was hung so high.

As it seemed that the silent night-tide would never change and die ;

But lo, how the dawn comes stealing o'er the mountains of the east,

And dim grows Atli's roof-sun o'er yestereven's feast ;

Dim yet in the treasure-houses lie the ancient heaps of gold.

But slowly come the colours to the Dwarf-wrought rings of old :

Yet a while ; and the day-light lingers : yea, yea, is it darker than erst ?

Hath the day into night-tide drifted, the day by the twilight nursed ?

Are the clouds in the house of King Atli ? Or what shines brighter than morn,

In helms and shields of the ancient, and swords by dead kings borne ?

Have the heavens come down to Atli ? Hath his house been lifted on high, •

Lest the pride of the triumphing World-King should fade in the world and die ?

Lo, lo, in the hall of the Murder where the white-armed Gudrun stands,

Aloft by the kingly high-seat, and nought empty are her hands;

For the lilten brand she beareth, and the grinded war-sword bare :

Still she stands for a little season till day groweth white and fair

Without the garth of King Atli ; but within, a wavering cloud

Rolls, hiding the roof and the roof-sun ; then she stirreth and crieth aloud :

"Alone was I yestereven : and alone in the night I lay,

 

390 THE STORY OF SIGURD THE VOLSUNG.

And I thought on the ancient fathers, and longed for the dawning of day :
Then I rose from the bed of the Eastlands; to the Holy Hearth I went :
And lo, how the brands were abiding the hand of mine intent !
Then I caught them up with wisdom, with care I bore them forth,
And I laid them amidst of the treasures and dear things of uttermost worth ;
'Neath the fair-dight benches I laid them and the carven work of the hall ;
I was wise, as the handmaid arising ere the sun hath litten the wall,
When the brands on the hearth she lighteth that her work betimes she may
That her hand may toil unchidden, and her day with praise begin. [win,
— Begin, O day of Atli 1 O ancient sun, arise.

With the light that I loved aforetime, with the light that blessed mine eyes,
When I woke and looked on Sigurd, and he rose on the world and shone !
And we twain in the world together ! and I dwelt with Sigurd alone."

She spake ; and the sun clomb over the Eastland mountains' rim
And shone through the door of Atli and the smoky hall and dim,
But the fire roared up against him, and the smoke-cloud rolled aloof,
And back and down from the timbers, and the carven work of die roof;
There the ancient trees were crackling as the red flames shot aloft
From the heart of the gathering smoke-cloud ; there the far-fetched hangings
The gold and the sea-bom purple, shrank up in a moment of space, [soft
And the walls of Atli trembled, and the ancient golden place.

[stirred.
But the wine-drenched Earls were awaking, and the sleep-dazed warriors
And the light of their dawning was dreadful; wild voice of the day they heard,
And they knew not where they were gotten, and their hearts were smitten

with dread.
And they deemed that their house was fallen to the innermost place of the

dead.
The hall for the traitors builded, the house of the changeless plain ;

 

BOOK IV. GUDRUN. 391

They cried, and their tongues were confounded, and none gave answer again :
They rushed, and came nowhither; each man beheld his foe.
And smote as the hopeless and dying, nor brother brother might know,
The sons of one mother's sorrow in the fire-blast strove and smote.
And the sword of the first-begotten was thrust in the father's throat,
And the father hewed at his stripling ; the thrall at the war-king cried,
And mocked the face of the mighty in that house of Atli's pride.

There Gudrun stood o'er the turmoil ; there stood the Niblung child ;
As the battle-horn is dreadful, as the winter wind is wild.
So dread and shrill was her crying and the cry none heeded or heard,
As she shook the sword in the Eastland, and spake the hidden word :

" The brand for the flesh of the people, and the sword for the King of the

[world!"
Then adown the hall and the smoke-cloud the half-slaked torch she hurled
And strode to the chamber of Atli, white-fluttering mid the smoke ;
But their eyen met in the doorway and he knew the hand and the stroke,
And shrank aback before her ; and no hand might he upraise,
There was nought in his heart but anguish in that end of Atli's days.

But she towered aloft before him, and cried in Atli's home :

" Lo, lo, the day-light, Atli, and the last foe overcome !"

And with all the might of the Niblungs she thrust him through and fled.

And the flame was fleet behind her and hung o'er the face of the dead.

There was none to hinder Gudrun, and the flre-blast scathed her nought,
For the ways of the Noms she wended, and her feet from the wrack they brought
Till free from the bane of the East-folk, the swift pursuing flame.
To the uttermost wall of Atli and the side of the sea she came :

 

392 THE STORY OF SIGURD THE VOLSUNG.

She stood on the edge of the steep, and no child of man was there :
A light wind blew from the sea-flood and its waves were little and fair,
And gave back no sign of the burning, as in twinkling haste they ran,
White-topped in the merry morning, to the walls and the havens of man.

Then Gudrun girded her raiment, on the edge of the steep she stood,

She looked o'er the shoreless water, and cried out o'er the measureless flood :

'' O Sea, I stand before thee ; and I who was Sigurd's wife !

By his brightness unforgotten I bid thee deliver my life [earth.

From the deeds and the longing of days, and the lack I have won of the

And the wrong amended by wrong, and the bitter wrong of my birth !"

[leapt
She hath spread out her arms as she spake it, and away from the earth she
And cut off" her tide of returning ; for the sea-waves over her swept,
And their will is her will henceforward ; and who knoweth the deeps of the
And the wealth of the bed of Gudrun, and the days that yet shall be ? [sea,

Ye have heard of Sigurd aforetime, how the foes of God he slew ;

How forth from the darksome desert the Gold of the Waters he drew ;

How he wakened Love on the Mountain, and wakened Brynhild the Bright,

And dwelt upon Earth for a season, and shone in all men's sight.

Ye have heard of the Cloudy People, and the dimming of the day,

And the latter world's confusion, and Sigurd gone away ;

Now ye know of the Need of the Niblungs and the end of broken troth.

All the death of kings and of kindreds and the Sorrow of Odin the Goth.

THE END.

 

Back to top