The Story of Sigurd the Volsungand the Fall of the Niblungs, Book I, Kelmscott Edition

II. How the Volsungs fared to the Land of the Goths, and of the fall of King Volsung

NOW or ever the sun shone houseward, unto King Volsung's bed
Came Signy stealing barefoot, and she spake the word and said:
"Awake and hearken, my father, for though the wedding be done,
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And I am the wife of the Goth-king, yet the Volsungs are not gone.
So I come as a dream of the night, with a word that the Gods would say,
And think thou thereof in the day-tide, and let Siggeir go on his way
With me and the gifts and the gold, but do ye abide in the land,
Nor trust in the guileful heart and the murder-loving hand,
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Lest the kin of the Volsungs perish, and the world be nothing worth."
SO came the word unto Volsung, and wit in his heart had birth;
And he sat upright in the bed and kissed her on the lips;
But he said: "My word is given, it is gone like the spring-tide ships:
To death or to life must I journey when the months are come to an end.
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Yet my sons my words shall hearken, and shall nowise with me wend."
THEN she answered, speaking swiftly: "Nay, have thy sons with thee;
Gather an host together and a mighty company,
And meet the guile and the death-snare with battle and with wrack."
He said: "Nay, my troth-word plighted e'en so should I draw aback:
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I shall go a guest, as my word was; of whom shall I be afraid?
For an outworn elder's ending shall no mighty moan be made."
THEN answered Signy, weeping: "I shall see thee yet again
When the battle thou arrayest on the Goth-folks’ strand in vain.
Heavy and hard are the Norns: but each man his burden bears;
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And what am I to fashion the fate of the coming years?"
SHE wept and she wended back to the Goth-king's bolster blue,
And Volsung pondered awhile till slumber over him drew;
But when once more he wakened, the kingly house was up,
And the homemen gathered together to drink the parting cup:
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And grand amid the hall-floor was the Goth-king in his gear,
And Signy clad for faring stood by the Branstock dear
With the earls of the Goths about her: so queenly did she seem,
So calm and ruddy coloured, that Volsung well might deem
That her words were a fashion of slumber, a vision of the night.
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But they drank the wine of departing, and brought the horses dight,
And forth abroad the Goth-folk and the Volsung Children rode,
Nor ever once would Signy look back to that abode.
SO down over acre and heath they rode to the side of the sea,
And there by the long-ships' bridges was the ship-host's company.
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Then Signy kissed her brethren with ruddy mouth and warm,
Nor was there one of the Goth-folk but blessed her from all harm;
Then sweet she kissed her father and hung about his neck,
And sure she whispered him somewhat ere she passed forth toward the deck,
Though nought I know to tell it: then Siggeir hailed them fair,
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And called forth many a blessing on the hearts that bode his snare.
Then were the gangways shipped, and blown was the parting horn,
And the striped sails drew with the wind, and away was Signy borne

White on the shielded long-ship, a grief in the heart of the gold;
Nor once would she turn her about the strand of her folk to behold.
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THENCEFORWARD dwelt the Volsungs in exceeding glorious state,
And merry lived King Volsung, abiding the day of his fate;
But when the months aforesaid were well-nigh worn away,
To his sons and his folk of counsel he fell these words to say:
"Ye mind you of Signy's wedding and of my plighted troth
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To go in two months' wearing to the house of Siggeir the Goth:
Nor will I hide how Signy then spake a warning word
And did me to wit that her husband was a grim and guileful lord,
And would draw us to our undoing for envy and despite
Concerning the Sword of Odin, and for dread of the Volsung might.
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Now wise is Signy my daughter and knoweth nought but sooth:
Yet are there seasons and times when for longing and self-ruth
The hearts of women wander, and this maybe is such;
Nor for her word of Siggeir will I trow it overmuch,
Nor altogether doubt it, since the woman is wrought so wise;
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Nor much might my heart love Siggeir for all his kingly guise. 380
Yet, shall a king hear murder when a king's mouth blessing saith?
So maybe he is bidding me honour, and maybe he is bidding me death:
Let him do after his fashion, and I will do no less.
In peace will I go to his bidding let the spae-wrights ban or bless;
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And no man now or hereafter of Volsung's blenching shall tell.
But ye, sons, in the land shall tarry, and heed the realm right well,
Lest the Volsung Children fade, and the wide world worser grow."
BUT with one voice cried all men, that they one and all would go
To gather the Goth-king's honour, or let one fate go over all
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It he bade them to battle and murder, till each by each should fall.
So spake the sons of his body, and the wise in wisdom and war.
Nor yet might it otherwise be, though Volsung bade full sore
That he go in some ship of the merchants with his life alone in his hand;
With such love he loved his kindred, and the people of his land.
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But at last he said: "So be it; for in vain I war with fate,
Who can raise up a king from the dunghill and make the feeble great.
We will go, a band of friends, and be merry whatever shall come,
And the Gods, mine own forefathers, shall take counsel of our home."
SO now, when all things were ready, in the first of the autumn-tide
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Adown unto the swan-bath the Volsung Children ride;
And lightly go a shipboard, a goodly company,
Though the tale thereof be scanty and their ships no more than three:
But kings' sons dealt with the sail-sheets and earls and dukes of war
Were the halers of the hawsers and the tuggers at the oar.
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So they drew the bridges shipward, and left the land behind,
And fair astern of the long-ships sprang up a following wind;
So swift o'er Aegir's acre those mighty sailors ran,
And speedier than all other ploughed down the furrows wan.
And they came to the land of the Goth-folk on the even of a day;
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And lo by the inmost skerry a skiff with a sail of grey,

That as they neared the foreshore ran Volsung's ship aboard,
And there was come white-hand Signy with her latest warning word.
“O STRANGE," she said, "meseemeth, O sweet, your gear to see,
And the well-loved Volsung faces, and the hands that cherished me.
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But short is the time that is left me for the work I have to win,
Though nought it be but the speaking of a word ere the worst begin.
For that which I spake aforetime, the seed of a boding drear,
It hath sprung, it hath blossomed and borne rank harvest of the spear;
Siggeir hath dight the death-snare; he hath spread the shielded net.
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But ye come ere the hour appointed, and he looks not to meet you yet.
Now blest be the wind that wafted your sails here over-soon,
For thus have I won me seaward 'twixt the twilight and the moon,
To pray you for all the world's sake turn back from the murderous shore.
Ah take me hence, my father, to see my land once more!"
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THEN sweetly Volsung kissed her: "Woe am I for thy sake,
But earth the word hath hearkened, that yet unborn I spake;
How I ne'er would turn me backward from the sword or the fire of bale;
I have held that word till to-day, and to-day shall I change the tale?
And look on these thy brethren, how goodly and great are they;
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Wouldst thou have the maidens mock them, when this pain hath passed away
And they sit at the feast hereafter, that they feared the deadly stroke?
Let us do our day's work deftly for the praise and the glory of folk:
And if the Norns will have it that the Volsung kin shall fail,
Yet I know of the deed that dies not, and the name that shall ever avail."
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BUT she wept as one sick-hearted: "Woe's me for the hope of the morn!
Yet send me not back unto Siggeir and the evil days and the scorn:
Let me bide the death as ye bide it, and let a woman feel
That hope of the death of battle and the rest of the foeman's steel."
"NAY, nay," he said, "go backward: this too thy fate will have;
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For thou art the wife of a king, and many a matter may’st save.
Farewell! as the days win over, as sweet as a tale shall it grow,
This day when our hearts were hardened; and our glory thou shall know,
And the love wherewith we loved thee mid the battle and the wrack."
SHE kissed them and departed, and mid the dusk fared back,
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And she sat that eve in the high-seat; and I deem that Siggeir knew
The way that her feet had wended, and the deed she went to do:
For the man was grim and guileful, and he knew that the snare was laid
For the mountain bull unblenching and the lion unafraid.
BUT when the sun on the morrow shone over earth and sea
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Ashore went the Volsung Children a goodly company,
And toward King Siggeir's dwelling o'er heath and holt they went.
But when they came to the topmost of a certain grassy bent,
Lo there lay the land before them as thick with shield and spear
As the rich man's wealthiest acre with the harvest of the year.
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There bade King Volsung tarry and dight the wedge-array:
"For duly," he said, "doeth Siggeir to meet his guests by the way."
So shield by shield they serried, nor ever hath been told
Of any host of battle more glorious with the gold;

And there stood the high King Volsung in the very front of war;
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And lovelier was his visage than ever heretofore,
As he rent apart the peace-strings that his brand of battle bound
And the bright blade gleamed to the heavens, and he cast the sheath to the ground.
THEN up the steep came the Goth-folk, and the spear-wood drew anigh,
And earth's face shook beneath them, yet cried they never a cry;
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And the Volsungs stood all silent, although forsooth at whiles
O'er the faces grown earth-weary would play the flickering smiles,
And swords would clink and rattle: not long had they to bide,
For soon that flood of murder flowed round the hillock-side;
Then at last the edges mingled, and if men forebore the shout,
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Yet the din of steel and iron in the grey clouds rang about;
But how to tell of King Volsung, and the valour of his folk!
Three times the wood of battle before their edges broke;
And the shield-wall, sorely dwindled and reft of the ruddy gold,
Against the drift of the war-blast for the fourth time yet did hold.
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But men's shields were waxen heavy with the weight of shafts they bore,
And the fifth time many a champion cast earthward Odin's door
And gripped the sword two-handed; and in sheaves the spears came on.
And at last the host of the Goth-folk within the shield-wall won,
And wild was the work within it, and oft and o'er again
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Forth brake the sons of Volsung, and drave the foe in vain;
For the driven throng still thickened, till it might not give aback.
But fast abode King Volsung amid the shifting wrack
In the place where once was the forefront: for he said: "My feet are old,
And if I wend on further there is nought more to behold
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Than this that I see about me."  Whiles drew his foes away
And stared across the corpses that before his sword-edge lay.
But nought he followed after: then needs must they in front
Thrust on by the thickening spear-throng come up to bear the brunt,
Till all his limbs were weary and his body rent and torn:
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Then he cried: "Lo now, Allfather, is not the swathe well shorn?
Wouldst thou have me toil for ever, nor win the wages due?"
And mid the hedge of foemen his blunted sword he threw,
And, laid like the oars of a long-ship, the level war-shafts pressed
On 'gainst the unshielded elder, and clashed amidst his breast,
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And dead he fell, thrust backward, and rang on the dead men's gear:
But still for a certain season durst no man draw anear.
For 'twas e'en as a great God's slaying, and they feared the wrath of the sky;
And they deemed their hearts might harden if awhile they should let him lie.
LO, now as the plotting was long, so short is the tale to tell
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How a mighty people's leaders in the field of murder fell.
For but feebly burned the battle when Volsung fell to field,
And all who yet were living were borne down before the shield:
So sinketh the din and the tumult; and the earls of the Goths ring round
That crown of the Kings of battle laid low upon the ground,
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Looking up to the noon-tide heavens from the place where first he stood:
But the songful sing above him and they tell how his end is as good

As the best of the days of his life-tide; and well as he was loved
By his friends ere the time of his changing, so now are his foemen moved
With a love that may never be worsened, since all the strife is o'er,
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And the warders look for his coming by Odin's open door.
BUT his sons, the stay of battle, alive with many a wound,
Borne down to the earth by the shield-rush amid the dead lie bound,
And belike a wearier journey must those lords of battle bide
Ere once more in the Hall of Odin they sit by their father's side.
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Woe's me for the boughs of the Branstock and the hawks that cried on the fight!
Woe's me for the fireless hearthstones and the hangings of delight,
That the women dare not look on lest they see them sweat with blood!
Woe's me for the carven pillars where the spears of the Volsungs stood!
And who next shall shake the locks, or the silver door-rings meet?
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Who shall pace the floor beloved, worn down by the Volsung feet?
Who shall fill the gold with the wine, or cry for the triumphing?
Shall it be kindred or foes, or thief, or thrall, or king?

 

 

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