Sigurd the Volsung

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

VIII. How King Sigmund the Volsung was laid in mound on the sea-side of the Isle-realm

NOW Hiordis looked from the dead, and her eyes strayed down to the sea,
And a shielded ship she saw, and a war-dight company,
Who beached the ship for the landing: so swift she fled away,
1780
And once more to the depth of the thicket, wherein her handmaid lay:
And she said: "I have left my lord, and my lord is dead and gone,
And he gave me a charge full heavy, and here are we twain alone,
And earls from the sea are landing: give me thy blue attire,
And take my purple and gold and my crown of the sea-flood's fire,
1785
And be thou the wife of King Volsung when men of our names shall ask,
And I will be the handmaid: now I bid thee to this task,
And I pray thee not to fail me, because of thy faith and truth,
And because I have ever loved thee, and thy mother fostered my youth.
Yea, because my womb is wealthy with a gift for the days to be.
1790
Now do this deed for mine asking and the tale shall be told of thee."
So the other nought gainsaith it and they shift their raiment there:
But well-spoken was the maiden, and a woman tall and fair.
NOW the lord of those new-coming men was a king and the son of a king,
King Elf the son of the Helper, and he sailed from war-faring
1795
And drew anigh to the Isle-realm and sailed along the strand;
For the shipmen needed water and fain would go a-land;
And King Elf stood hard by the tiller while the world was yet a-cold:
Then the red sun lit the dawning, and they looked, and lo,behold!
The wrack of a mighty battle, and heaps of the shielded dead,
1800
And a woman alive amidst them, a queen with crownèd head,
And her eyes strayed down to the sea-strand, and she saw that weaponed folk,
And turned and fled to the thicket: then the lord of the shipmen spoke:
"Lo, here shall we lack for water, for the brooks with blood shall run,
Yet wend we ashore to behold it and to wot of the deeds late done."
1805
SO they turned their faces to Sigmund, and waded the swathes of the sword.
"O, look ye long," said the Sea-king, "for here lieth a mighty lord:
And all these are the deeds of his war-flame, yet hardy hearts, be sure,
That they once durst look in his face or the wrath of his eyen endure;
Though his lips be glad and smiling as a God that dreameth of mirth.
1810
Would God I were one of his kindred, for none such are left upon earth.
Now fare we into the thicket, for thereto is the woman fled,
And belike she shall tell us the story of this field of the mighty dead."
SO they wend and find the women, and bespeak them kind and fair:
Then spake the gold-crowned handmaid: "Of the Isle-king's house we were,
1815
And I am the Queen called Hiordis; and the man that lies on the field
Was mine own lord Sigmund the Volsung, the mightiest under shield."
THEN all amazed were the sea-folk when they hearkened to that word,
And great and heavy tidings they deem their ears have heard:
But again spake out the Sea-king: "And this blue-clad one beside,
1820
So pale, and as tall as a Goddess, and white and lovely-eyed?"
"In sooth and in troth," said the woman, "my serving-maid is this;

She hath wept long over the battle, and sore afraid she is."
NOW the king looks hard upon her, but he saith no word thereto,
And down again to the death-field with the women-folk they go.
1825
There they set their hands to the labour, and amidst the deadly mead
They raise a mound for Sigmund, a mighty house indeed;
And therein they set that folk-king, and goodly was his throne,
And dight with gold and scarlet: and the walls of the house were done
With the cloven shields of the foemen, and banners borne to field;
1830
But none might find his war-helm or the splinters of his shield,
And clenched and fast was his right hand, but no sword therein he had:
For Hiordis spake to the shipmen: "Our lord and master bade
That the shards of his glaive of battle should go with our lady the Queen:
And by them that lie a-dying a many things are seen."
1835
SO there lies Sigmund the Volsung, and far away, forlorn,
Are the blossomed boughs of the Branstock, and the house where he was born.
To what end was wrought that roof-ridge, and the rings of the silver door,
And the fair-carved golden high-seat, and the many-pictured floor
Worn down by the feet of the Volsungs? or the hangings of delight,
1840
Or the marvel of its harp-strings, or the Dwarf-wrought beakers bright?
Then the Gods have fashioned a folk who have fashioned a house in vain:
It is nought, and for nought they battled, and nought was their joy and their pain.
LO, the noble oak of the forest, with his feet in the flowers and grass,
How the winds that bear the summer o'er its topmost branches pass,
1845
And the wood-deer dwell beneath it, and the fowl in its fair twigs sing,
And there it stands in the forest, an exceeding glorious thing:
Then come the axes of men, and low it lies on the ground,
And the crane comes out of the southland, and its nest is nowhere found,
And bare and shorn of its blossoms is the house of the deer of the wood.
1850
But the tree is a golden dragon; and fair it floats on the flood,
And beareth the kings and the earl-folk, and is shield-hung all without:
And it seeth the blaze of the beacons, and heareth the war-God's shout.
There are tidings wherever it cometh, and the tale of its time shall be told.
A dear name it hath got like a king, and a fame that groweth not old.
1855
LO, such is the Volsung dwelling; lo, such is the deed he hath wrought
Who laboured all his life-days, and had rest but little or nought;
Who died in the broken battle; who lies with swordless hand
In the realm that the foe hath conquered on the edge of a stranger-land.

 

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