Sigurd the Volsung

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

III. Of the ending of all Volsung's Sons save Sigmund only, and of how he abideth in the wild-wood

SO there the earls of the Goth-folk laid Volsung ’neath the grass
On the last earth he had trodden; but his children bound must pass,
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When the host is gathered together, amidst of their array
To the high-built dwelling of Siggeir; for sooth it is to say,
That he came not into the battle, nor faced the Volsung sword.
So now as he sat in his high-seat there came his chiefest lord,
And he said: "I bear thee tidings of the death of the best of the brave,
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For thy foes are slain or bondsmen; and have thou Sigmund's glaive,
If a token thou desirest; and that shall be surely enough.
And I do thee to wit, King Siggeir, that the road was exceeding rough,
And that many an earl there stumbled, who shall evermore lie down.
And indeed I deem King Volsung for all earthly kingship's crown."
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THEN never a word spake Siggeir, save: "Where be Volsung's sons?"
And he said: "Without are they fettered, those battle-glorious ones:
And methinks 'twere a deed for a king, and a noble deed for thee,
To break their bonds and heal them, and send them back o'er the sea,
And abide their wrath and the blood-feud for this matter of Volsung's slaying."
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"WITLESS thou waxest," said Siggeir, "nor heedest the wise man's saying:
‘Slay thou the wolf by the house-door, lest he slay thee in the wood.’
Yet since I am the overcomer, and my days henceforth shall be good,
I will quell them with no death-pains; let the young men smite them down,
But let me not behold them when my heart is angrier grown."
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E'EN as he uttered the word was Signy at the door,
And with hurrying feet she gat her apace to the high-seat floor,
As wan as the dawning-hour, though never a tear she had:
And she cried: "I pray thee, Siggeir, now thine heart is merry and glad
With the death and the bonds of my kinsmen, to grant me this one prayer,
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This one time and no other: let them breathe the earthly air
For a day, for a day or twain, ere they wend the way of death,
For 'Sweet to eye while seen,' the elders' saying saith."

QUOTH he: "Thou art mad with sorrow; wilt thou work thy friends this woe?
When swift and untormented e'en I would let them go:
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Yet now shall thou have thine asking, if it verily be thy will:
Nor forsooth do I begrudge them a longer tide of ill."
She said: "I will it, I will it: O sweet to eye while seen!"
THEN to his earl spake Siggeir: "There lies a wood-lawn green
In the first mile of the forest; there fetter these Volsung men
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To the mightiest beam of the wild-wood, till Queen Signy come again
And pray me a boon for her brethren, the end of their latter life."
SO the Goth-folk led to the woodland those gleanings of the strife,
And smote down a great-boled oak-tree, the mightiest they might find,
And thereto with bonds of iron the Volsungs did they bind,
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And left them there on the wood-lawn, mid the yew-trees' compassing,
And went back by the light of the moon to the dwelling of the king.
BUT he sent on the morn of the morrow to see how his foemen fared,
For now as he thought thereover, o'ermuch he deemed it dared
That he saw not the last of the Volsungs laid dead before his feet.
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Back came his men ere the noontide, and he deemed their tidings sweet;
For they said: "We tell thee, King Siggeir, that Geirmund and Gylfi are gone.
And we deem that a beast of the wild-wood this murder grim hath done,
For the bones yet lie in the fetters gnawed fleshless now and white;
But we deemed the eight abiding sore minished of their might."
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SO wore the morn and the noontide, and the even 'gan to fall,
And watchful eyes held Signy at home in bower and hall.
And again came the men in the morning, and spake: "The hopples hold
The bare white bones of Helgi, and the bones of Solar the bold:
And the six that abide seem feebler than they were awhile ago."
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STILL all the day and the night-tide must Signy nurse her woe 
About the house of King Siggeir, nor any might she send:
And again came the tale on the morrow: "Now are two more come to an end,
For Hunthiof dead and Gunthiof, their bones lie side by side,
And the four that are left, us seemeth, no long while will abide."
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O WOE for the well-watched Signy, how often on that day
Must she send her helpless eyen adown the woodland way!
Yet silent in her bosom she held her heart of flame.
And again on the morrow morning the tale was still the same:
"WE tell thee now, King Siggeir, that all will soon be done;
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For the two last men of the Volsungs, they sit there one by one,
And Sigi's head is drooping, but somewhat Sigmund sings;
For the man was a mighty warrior, and a beater down of kings.
But for Rerir and for Agnar, the last of them is said,
Their bones in the bonds are abiding, but their souls and lives are sped."
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THAT day from the eyes of the watchers nought Signy strove to depart,
But ever she sat in the high-seat and nursed the flame in her heart.
In the sight of all people she sat, with unmoved face and wan,
And to no man gave she a word, nor looked on any man.
Then the dusk and the dark drew over, but stirred she never a whit,
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And the word of Siggeir's sending, she gave no heed to it.

And there on the morrow morning must he sit him down by her side,
When unto the council of elders folk came from far and wide.
And there came Siggeir's woodmen, and their voice in the hall arose:
"There is no man left on the tree-beam: some beast hath devoured thy foes;
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There is nought left there but the bones, and the bonds that the Volsungs bound."
NO word spake the earls of the Goth-folk, but the hall rang out with a sound,
With the wail and the cry of Signy, as she stood upright on her feet,
And thrust all people from her, and fled to her bower as fleet
As the hind when she first is smitten; and her maidens fled away,
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Fearing her face and her eyen: no less at the death of the day
She rose up amid the silence, and went her ways alone,
And no man watched her or hindered, for they deemed the story done.
So she went 'twixt the yellow acres, and the green meads of the sheep,
And or ever she reached the wild-wood the night was waxen deep.
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No man she had to lead her, but the path was trodden well
By those messengers of murder, the men with the tale totell;
And the beams of the high white moon gave a glimmering day through night
Till she came where that lawn of the woods lay wide in the flood of light.
Then she looked, and lo, in its midmost a mighty man there stood,
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And laboured the earth of the green-sward with a truncheon torn from the wood;
And behold, it was Sigmund the Volsung: but she cried and had no fear:
"IF thou art living, Sigmund, what day's work dost thou here
In the midnight and the forest? but if thou art nought but a ghost,
Then where are those Volsung brethren, of whom thou wert best and most?"
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Then he turned about unto her, and his raiment was fouled and torn,
And his eyen were great and hollow, as a famished man forlorn.
BUT he cried: "Hail, Sister Signy! I looked for thee before,
Though what should a woman compass, she one alone and no more,
When all we shielded Volsungs did nought in Siggeir's land?
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O yea, I am living indeed, and this labour of mine hand
Is to bury the bones of the Volsungs; and lo, it is well-nigh done.
So draw near, Volsung's daughter, and pile we many a stone
Where lie the grey wolf's gleanings of what was once so good."
SO she set her hand to the labour, and they toiled, they twain in the wood,
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And when the work was over, dead night was beginning to fail:
Then spake the white-hand Signy: "Now shall thou tell the tale
Of the death of the Volsung brethren ere the wood thy wrath shall hide,
Ere I wend me back sick-hearted in the dwelling of kings to abide."
HE said: "We sat on the tree, and well ye may wot indeed
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That we had some hope from thy good-will amidst that bitter need.
Now none had 'scaped the sword-edge in the battle utterly,
And so hurt were Agnar and Helgi, that, unhelped, they were like to die;
Though for that we deemed them happier: but now when the moon shone bright,
And when by a doomed man's deeming 'twas the midmost of the night,
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Lo, forth from yonder thicket were two mighty wood-wolves come,
Far huger wrought to my deeming than the beasts I knew at home:
Forthright on Gylfi and Geirmund those dogs of the forest fell,
And what of men so hoppled should be the tale to tell?

They tore them midst the irons, and slew them then and there,
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And long we heard them snarling o'er that abundant cheer.
Night after night, O my sister, the story was the same,
And still from the dark and the thicket the wild-wood were-wolves came
And slew two men of the Volsungs whom the sword-edge might not end.
And every day in the dawning did the King's own woodmen wend
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To behold those craftsmen's carving and rejoice King Siggeir's heart.
And so was come last midnight, when I must play my part:
Forsooth when those first were murdered my heart was as blood and fire;
And I deemed that my bonds must burst with my uttermost desire
To free my naked hands, that the vengeance might be wrought;
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But now was I wroth with the Gods, that had made the Volsungs for nought;
And I said: In the Day of their Doom a man's help shall they miss;
I will be as a wolf of the forest, if their kings must come to this;
Or if Siggeir indeed be their king, and their envy has brought it about
That dead in the dust lies Volsung, while the last of his seed dies out.
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Therewith from out the thicket the grey wolves drew anigh,
And the he-wolf fell on Sigi, but he gave forth never a cry,
And I saw his lips that they smiled, and his steady eyes for a space;
And therewith was the she-wolf's muzzle thrust into my very face.
The Gods helped not, but I helped; and I too grew wolfish then;
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Yea I, who have borne the sword-hilt high mid the kings of men,
I, lord of the golden harness, the flame of the Glittering Heath,
Must snarl to the she-wolf's snarling, and snap with greedy teeth,
While my hands with the hand-bonds struggled; my teeth took hold the first,
And amid her mighty writhing the bonds that bound me burst,
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As with Fenrir's Wolf it shall be: then the beast with the hopples I smote,
When my left hand stiff with the bonds had got her by the throat.
But I turned when I had slain her, and there lay Sigi dead,
And once more to the night of the forest the fretting wolf had fled.
In the thicket I hid till the dawning, and thence I saw the men,
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E'en Siggeir's heart-rejoicers, come back to the place again
To gather the well-loved tidings: I looked and I knew for sooth
How hate had grown in my bosom and the death of my days of ruth:
Though unslain they departed from me, lest Siggeir come to doubt.
But hereafter, yea hereafter, they that turned the world about,
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And raised Hell's abode o'er God-home, and mocked all men-folk's worth;
Shall my hand turn back or falter, while these abide on earth,
Because I once was a child, and sat on my father's knees?
But long methinks shall Siggeir bide merrily at ease
In the high-built house of the Goths, with his shielded earls around,
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His warders of day and of night-tide, and his world of peopled ground,
While his foe is a swordless outcast, a hunted beast of the wood,
A wolf of the holy places, where men-folk gather for good.
And didst thou think, my sister, when we sat in our summer bliss
Beneath the boughs of the Branstock, that the world was like to this?"

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AS the moon and the twilight mingled, she stood with kindling eyes,
And answered and said: "My brother, thou art strong, and thou shalt be wise:
I am nothing so wroth as thou art with the ways of death and hell,
For thereof had I a deeming when all things were seeming well.
In sooth overlong it may linger; the children of murder shall thrive,
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While thy work is a weight for thine heart, and a toil for thy hand to drive;
But I wot that the king of the Goth-folk for his deeds shall surely pay,
And that I shall live to see it: but thy wrath shall pass away,
And long shalt thou live on the earth an exceeding glorious king,
And thy words shall be told in the market, and all men of thy deeds shall sing:
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Fresh shall thy memory be, and thine eyes like mine shall gaze
On the day unborn in the darkness, the last of all earthly days,
The last of the days of battle, when the host of the Gods is arrayed
And there is an end for ever of all who were once afraid.
There as thou drawest thy sword, thou shall think of the days that were,
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And the foul shall still seem foul, and the fair shall still seem fair;
But thy wit shall then be awakened, and thou shall know indeed
Why the brave man's spear is broken, and his war-shield fails at need;
Why the loving is unbeloved; why the just man falls from his state;
Why the liar gains in a day what the soothfast strives for late.
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Yea, and thy deeds shall thou know, and great shall thy gladness be;
As a picture all of gold thy life-days shalt thou see,
And know that thou too wert a God to abide through the hurry and haste;
A God in the golden hall, a God on the rain-swept waste,
A God in the battle triumphant, a God on the heap of the slain:
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And thine hope shall arise and blossom, and thy love shall be quickened again:
And then shalt thou see before thee the face of all earthly ill;
Thou shalt drink of the cup of awakening that thine hand hath holpen to fill;
By the side of the sons of Odin shalt thou fashion a tale to be told
In the hall of the happy Baldur: nor there shall the tale grow old
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Of the days before the changing, e'en those that over us pass.
So harden thine heart, O brother, and set thy brow as the brass!
Thou shalt do, and thy deeds shall be goodly, and the day's work shall be done,
Though nought but the wild deer see it.  Nor yet shall thou be alone
For evermore in thy waiting; for belike a fearful friend
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The long days for thee may fashion, to help thee ere the end.
But now shall thou bide in the wild-wood, and make thee a lair therein:
Thou art here in the midst of thy foemen, and from them thou well mayst win
Whatso thine heart desireth; yet be thou not too bold,
Lest the tale of the wood-abider too oft to the king be told.
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Ere many days are departed again shall I see thy face,
That I may wot full surely of thine abiding-place
To send thee help and comfort; but when that hour is o'er
It were good, O last of the Volsungs, that I see thy face no more,
If so indeed it may be: but the Norns must fashion all,
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And what the dawn hath fated on the hour of noon shall fall."

THEN she kissed him and departed, for the day was nigh at hand,
And by then she had left the woodways, green lay the horse-fed land
Beneath the new-born daylight, and as she brushed the dew
Betwixt the yellowing acres, all heaven o'erhead was blue.
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And at last on that dwelling of Kings the golden sunlight lay,
And the morn and the noon and the even built up another day.

 

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