The Culmination of Morris’s Interest in the North: 1871-1876
During the years 1871 to 1876 Morris’s interest in early Scandinavia reached its height, and during this period he devoted practically all of his time and energy to his Scandinavian work. He not only continued to translate Icelandic sagas, turning at least twelve of these works into English, either wholly or in part, but he also prepared renderings of a number of Icelandic, Danish, and Swedish ballads. He made two prolonged trips to Iceland, one in 1871 and the other in 1873, visiting the scenes of his beloved sags and drawing fresh inspiration from the country, its people, and its literature. He wrote a great number of minor poems which were a direct result either of his visits to Iceland or of his growing acquaintance with Old Norse literature. And at the very end of this period he produced his long poem Sigurd the Volsung, which is considered by most critics to be without question the greatest English work – if not the only truly great work in English – inspired by a Norse legend.
In the case of the Scandinavian work Morris produced before 1871, we know, or can ascertain fairly definitely, the exact time at which the various translations or original poems were written out: in the case of the Norse works he prepared during the period 1871 to 1876, however, we are generally not aware of the precise date of composition. Hence I shall not be able to discuss the renderings and poems belonging to this period in their chronological order, as I have done with his earlier productions, but I shall
treat them instead by groups.
I have already called attention to the fact that Morris translated a number of Scandinavian ballads, and I have pointed out that he began turning Northern folk songs into English at least as early as the beginning of 1870, for his rendering of “Hafbur og Signy,” the first of those that are dated, was composed on February 4th of that year.1 In all, Morris translated ten Scandinavian ballads – namely, “Habfur and Signy,” “Hildebrand Hellelil,” “Agnes and the Hill-Man,” “Knight Aagen and Maide Else,” “The Mother under the Mold,” “Axel Thordson and fair Walborg,” “The Lay of Christine,” “The Son’s Sorrow,” “Den Lillas Testamente,” and “Herr Malmstens drőm.” Only four of these renderings are dated or can be fairly definitely dated, - “Hafbur and Signy,” which, as I just pointed out, is marked “February 4, 1870” in the hologram manuscript, “The Lay of Christine” and “The Son’s Sorrow,” which must have been prepared before August 26, 1870 because they are included in an illuminated manuscript finished at that time,2 and “Hildebrand and Hellelil,” which is dated “March 1, 1871.”3 Although the date of the compositions of the other six is not definitely known, it is generally assumed that all these ballad translations were written out in the early 1870’s.4
period 1871 to 1876, when Morris was most absorbed in his Norse work and was most familiar with the Scandinavian languages.
Morris printed none of his ballad renderings until 1891, when he included in Poems by the Way “Hafbur and Signy,” “Hildebrand and Hellelil,” “Agnes and the Hill-Man,” “Knight Aagen and Maiden Else,’ “The Lay of Christine,” and “The Son’s Sorrow.”1 The first four Morris described – and correctly so – as translations from the Danish: the last two, as he indicated, are renderings from the Icelandic. “The Mother under the Mold,” also Danish, was first published by Miss Morris in 1915 in the last volume of the Collected Works.2 Morris’s trnaslations of “Den Lillas Testamente” and “Herr Malmstens drőm,” two Sweedish folk songs, were not put into print until 1936, when Miss Morris included them in her William Morris: Artist Writer Socialist.3 the rendering of the famous Danish ballad “Axel Thordson and Fair Walbrog” has never been published; Miss Morris, in the book just mentioned, merely states that the manuscript is in her possession, describing it as a “long ballad in four-line verse, from the Danish.”4 She does not indicate whether the translation is complete.
In the case of the five Danish ballad renderings by Morris that have been published, I find that for four of them he followed the versions given in Abrahamson, Nyerup, and Rahoek’s Udvalgte Danske Viser fra Middelalderen; for only one did he use the text in Grundtvig’s Danmarks Gamle Folkeviser.5 It is rather surprising that for
four of these folk songs Morris preferred the versions in Udvalgte Danske Viser to those in Danmarks Gamle Folkeviser; - Grundtvig’s texts always reproduce the ballads exactly as they are found in the old manuscripts or in contemporary recordings, without an y alterations or additions, and hence present the songs in their original form, with all their crudities and inconsistencies as well as with all their vigor and color, whereas Abrhamson, Nyerup, and Rahbek in their edition frequently make changes, additions, and deletions in accordance with modern taste and sometimes combine
(Continuation of note 5 on page 148) Svend Grundtvig and Axel Olrik (Copenhagen, 1853-1923), II, 53, No. 380. Dr. Litzenberg’s statement, in his article “William Morris and Scandinavian Literature: A Bibliographical Essay,” p. 96, that the originals of Morris’s “Hafbur and Signy,” “Knight Aagen and Maiden Else,” and “Hildebrand and Hellelil” were the text in Grundtvig’s collection I have found to be inaccurate.
For other versions that had been published by 1875 of the five Danish ballads that Morris translated, see the following works:
For “Hafbur and Signy,” Levniger ag Middel-Alderens Digtekunst, [ed. Rerthel C. Sandvig] (Copenhagen, 1780-1784), I, 33-34; Gamle Danske Folkeviser, ed. [Adam g.] Oehlenschläger (Copenhagen, 1840), pp.51-66; Kjaempeviser. Ed. Christian Winther (Copenhagen, 1840), pp. 192-207; and Danmarks Folkeviser, ed. Grundtvig, I, 276-317;
For “Hildebrand and Hellelil,” Levinger, [ed. Sandvig], II, 137-143; and Danmarks Folkeviser, ed. Grundtvig, II, 393-403, 680-681, and III, 857-858;
For “Knight Aagen and Maiden Else,” Levinger, [ed. Sandvig], I, 63-65; Gamle Folkeviser, ed Oehlenschläger, pp. 86-88; Danske Kaempeviser til Skole-Brug, ed. Nik[olai] F. S. Grundtvig (Copenhagen, 1847), pp. 185-189; and Danmarks Folkeviser, ed. Grundtvig, II, 495-497 and III, 870-871;
For “The Mother under the Mold,” Gamle Folkeviser, ed. Oehlenschläger, pp. 82-85; Kjaempeviser, ed. A. F. Winding (Copenhagen, 1843), pp. 31-34; Dankse Kaempeviser, ed. N.F.S. Grundtvig, pp. 181-185; Danmarks Folkeviser, ed. Grundtvig, II, 478-491, 681-682, and III, 860-868; and Jydske Folkeviser og Toner, ed. Evald T. Kristensen (Copenhagen, 1871-1876), I, 54-55 and 206-211;
And for “Agnes and the Hill-Man,” Danske Viser, edd. Abrahamson, Nyerup, and rahbek, I, 313-315; Gamle Folkeviser, ed. Oehlenschläger, pp. 108-110; Kjaempeviser, ed. Winther, pp. 128-130; Danske Kaempeviser, ed. N.F.S. Gundtvig, pp. 141-143; Danmarks Folkeviser, ed. Grundtvig, II, 51-57, 656-661, III, 813-818, and IV, 807-809; and Jydske Folkeviser, ed Kristensen, I, 251-253.
several ballads to form their own version, in this way giving the songs a literary finish which is really foreign to them. For his Icelandic ballad translations, Morris followed the texts given in Svend Grundtvig and Jón Sigurðsson’s Íslenzk Fornkva͜eðl.1 One of his renderings from the Swesish, “Dan Lillas Testamente,” he based on the version of this ballad in Adolf I Arwidsson’s Scenska Fornsånger;2 for the other, “Herr Malmstens drðm,” he used the text in Geijer and Afzelius’s Svenska Folk-Visor.3
Most of the ten ballads Morris translated had previously been turned into foreign languages. Five of the six Danish ones were very well known in English, German, and French versions, and the sixth had appeared in English once;4 the two Icelandic songs, how-
For English, German, and French translations of the six Danish ballads Morris turned into English, see the following works:
For “Hafbur and Signy,” Fraser’s Magazine, XLV (1852), 656-658**; Old Danish Ballads, by an Amateur (London, 1856), pp. 29-49*; Ancient Danish Ballads, tr. R.C. Alexander Prior (London and Edinburgh, 1860), I, 216-231* and 232-240; Altdänische Heldenlieder, Balladen und Märchen, tr. Wilhelm C. Grimm (Heidelberg, 1811), 93-101*; Auswahl altdänischer Heldenlieder und Balladen, tr. L.C. Sander (Copenhagen,
ever, so far as I know, had never before been rendered into
(Continuation of note 4 on page 150) 1816), pp. 97-120**; Dänische Volkslieder der Vorzeit, tr. Tosa Warrens (Hamburg, 1858), pp. 243-260; and Chants Populaires Du Nord, tr. X[avier] Marmier (Paris, 1842), pp. 148-155**;
For “Hildebrand and Hellelil,” Fraser’s Magazine, LI(1855), 89**; Danish Ballads, by an Amateur, pp. 13-15; Danish Ballads, tr. Prior, II, 411-415*, 415-418**, 418-420, and 420-422; Ballad Stories of the Affections, tr. Robert Buchanan (New York, 1869), pp. 15-19**; Altdänische Heldenlieder, tr Grimm, pp. 119-121; and Chants Populaires, tr. Marmier, pp. 141-143**;
For “Knight Aagen and Maiden Else,” Romantic Ballads, tr. George Borrow (London, 1826), pp. 47-52*; Foreign Quarterly Review, VI (1830), 62-63**; Danish Ballads, by an Amateur, pp. 75-78; Danish Ballads, tr. Prior, III, 76-81 and 81-88**; New Monthly Magazine, CXXXI (1864), 42-43**; Fortnightly Review, I (1865), 693-695**; Ballad Stories, tr. Buchanan, pp. 112-116**; Altdänische Heldenlieder, tr. Grimm, pp. 73-74; Auswahl altdänischer Heldenlieder, tr. Sander, pp. 41-45**; Christian Rauch, “Die skandinavischen Balladen des Mittelalters” in Jahresbericht űber die Friedrichs-Werdersche Gewerbeschule in Berlin (Berlin, 1873), pp. 29-31; and Chants Populaires, tr. Marmier, pp. 134-135**;
For “The Mother under the Mold,” London Magazine, I (1820), 397-398*; “The Ghaist’s Warning,”* tr. Robert Jamieson (in Sir Walter Scott’s Poetical Works (Edinburgh, 1861), VIII, 335-339); Fraser’s Magazine, XLV (1852), 653-654**; Danish Ballads, by an Amateur, pp. 23-26*; Danish Ballads, tr. Prior, I, 368-371**; Henry W. Longfellow, Complete Poetical Works (Boston and New York, 1914), pp. 282-283** (composed and originally published in 1873 [see Ibid., p.678]); Altdänische Heldenlieder, tr. Grimm, pp. 147-149*; Talvj (Therese A. L. von Jakob), Versuch einer geschichtlichen Uebersicht der Lieder aussereuropäischer vőlkerschaften (Leipzig, 1840), pp. 237-239**; Dänische Volkslieder, tr. Warrens, pp. 183-191; and Chants Populaires, tr. Marmier, pp. 108-111**;
For “Agnes and the Hill-Man,” Danish Ballads, tr. Prior, III, 335-337**;
And for “Axel Thordson and Fair Walborg,” Danish Ballads, tr. Prior, II, 247-276; Ballad Stories, tr. Buchanan, pp. 117-159; Altdänische Heldenlieder, tr. Grimm, pp. 357-382; and Chants Populaires, tr. Marmier, pp. 156-173.
For the sake of completeness, I should like to note the following English, German, and French translations of Swedish, Norwegian, or Icelandic versions of these same six ballads:
For “Hafbur and Signy,” Altschwedische Balladen, Mährchen und Schwänke sammt einigen dänischen Volksliedern, tr. Gottlieb Mohnike (Stuttgart and Tubingen, 1836), pp. 1-10; and Volkssagen und Volkslieder, tr. F.H. Ungewitter (Leipzig, 1842);
For “Hildebrand and Hellelil,” Volkslieder der Schweden, tr. Gottlieb Mohnike (Berlin, 1830), I, 34-36; and Schwedische volkslieder der vorzeit, tr. R[oss] Warrens (Leipzig, 1857), pp.86-92;
English or French, and only one of them had ever been turned into German;1 of the two Swedish ballads, one had been printed in English, German, and French, and the other had appeared in German and French but never in English.2
“The Mother under the Mold,” and the Swedish ballad translations call for special comment. As I have already stated, none of these pieces were published by Morris himself, the Danish folk song appearing first in 1915 in the Collected Works and the Swedish
(Continuation of note 4 on page 151)
For “Knight Aagen and Maiden Else,” Schwedische Volksharfe, tr. J.L/ Studach (Stockholm, 1826), pp. 101-104; Volkslieder, tr. Mohnike, pp. 39-40; Talvj, Versuch, pp. 313-314; and Schwedische Volkslieder, tr. Warrens, pp. 245-248;
For “The Mother under the Mold,” William and Mary Howitt, The Literature and Romance of Northern Europe (London, 1852), I, 272-274; Altschwedische Balladen, tr. Mohnike, pp. 124-125; Schwedische Volkslieder, tr. Warrens, pp. 224-227; and Alt-isländische Volks-Balladen und Heldenlieder der Färinger, tr. P.J. Willatzen (Bremen, 1865), pp. 56-58;
For “Agnes and the Hill-Man,” Foreign Quarterly Review, XXV (1840), 35-36; Thoms Keightler, The Fairy Mythology, pp. 103-108; New Monthly Magazine, CXXX )1864), 492-493; and Norwegische, Isländische, Färðische Volkslieder der vorzeit, tr. Rosa Warrens (hamburg, 1866), pp. 16-21;
And for “Axel Thordson and Fair Walborg,” Volkslieder, tr. Mohnike, pp. 11-39.
For “Den Lillas Testamene,” Howitt, Literature of Northern Europe, I, 265-266; Schwedische Volksharfe, tr. Studach, pp. 98-100; Volkslieder, tr. Mohnike, I, 5-6; Schwedische Volkslieder, tr. Warrens, pp. 213-215; and Chants Populaires, tr. Marmier, p. 215**; and
For “Herr Malmstens drőm,” Altschwedische Balladen, tr. Mohnike, pp. 149-150**; Schwedische Volkslieder, tr. Warrens, pp. 164-166**; and Chants Populaires, tr. Marmier, p. 214**.
The English and German translations of “Den Lillas Testamente,” I should like to point out, are based on the version of this ballad presented by Geijer and Afzelius in their Svenska Folk-Visor, III., 13-15 but Morris’s rendering, as I have already stated, follows the text in Arwidsson’s Svenska Fornsånger, II, 90-91.
ones in 1936 in William Morris: Artist Writer Socialist. When Miss Morris printed these works, she did not indicate that they were translations, but presented them as original compositions of her father.1 However, the three poems follow so closely to the Scandinavian ballads designated above – namely, “Den Dødes Igjenksomst” in Abrahamson, Nyerup, and Rahbek’s Udvalgte Danske Viser, “Den Lillas Testamente” in Arwidsson’s Svenska Fornsánger, and “Herr Malmstens drőm” in Geijer and Afzelius’s Svenska Folk-Visor- that there can be practically no doubt that they are direct translations of these Scandinavian pieces. In the case of the first one, the rendering is so exact that there is not room for any uncertainty whatsoever.2 In the other two poems Morris departs occasionally from the Swedish ballads just cited, but although some of these differences are surprising, they are really not great enough to justify any serious doubts that Morris’s compositions are translations. Moreover, these discrepancies are almost certainly not the result of Morris’s having followed some other version of these songs, as it seems at first that they might be, for an examination of all the European folk songs on these two themes that are recorded or mentioned in the ballad collections of F.J. Child, S. Grundtvig, and Geijer and Afzelius shows, as I shall make clear in a moment,
that of all these versions the two Swedish ones referred to above are by far the closest to Morris’s poems; evidently the differences between these Swedish pieces and Morris’s translations were simply the result of his incomplete knowledge of the Swedish language or of the demands of the metre and rhyme.
The ballad theme embodied in “Den Lillas Testamente” is extremely widespread, being found throughout almost the whole of Europe, in the introductory remarks he gives in his English and Scottish Popular Ballads to “Lord Randall,” the English equivalent of this folk song, Professor Child cites 18 versions of this ballad in English, 12 in Italian, 6 in German, 1 in Dutch, 2 in Swedish, 2 in Danish, 2 in Magyar, and 1 in Wendish.1 A comparison of all these texts with Morris’s reveals, as I just stated, that the one called “Den Lillas Testamente” in Arwidsson’s Svenska Fornsánger offers by far the closest resemblance to Morris’s piece and must almost certainly have been Morris’s source. Not only does this Swedish folk song correspond more closely in general form and substance to the poem in question than do any of the other versions, but it also contains certain details found in this work which are not given in any of the other numerous ballads on the same subject. For example, it is only in Arwidsson’s version that the poisonous food of which the central figure in the folk song has partaken and is now dying is described as fried eels and pepper. In regard to the medium of the poisoning Child says,
There is all but universal consent that the poisoning was done by serving up snakes for fish. The Magyar says a toad, English M. a four-footed fish, and German D a well-peppered broth and a glass of red wine. English L adds a drink of hemlook stocks to the speckled trout; F, H have simply poison. The fish are distinctively eels in the Italian versions, and in English A, D, E, G, T, Swedish B,2
Thus, although some of the versions state that the poison was eels and one mentions pepper, it is only in Arwidsson’s ballad that we find the combination fried eels and pepper. Furthermore, it is in Arwidsson’s version alone that the list of bequests made by the victim of the poisoning is given in exactly the same order and form as in Morris’s poem; in fact, I believe this Swedish folk song is the only one in which the dying person refers in his will to barns filled with wheat.1
I stated above that Morris’s poem differs in some respects from Arwidsson’s ballad and that these discrepancies are evidently the result either of deliberate changes or of failure on the part of Morris to understand the Swedish. Thus, in the first stanza of the original the girl who has been poisoned says,
“Jag har vát i bänne
Hos broderen min!”2
but in Morris’s poems she states,
“To my brother’s house I went to play.”3
The reason for Morris’s incorrect rendering of the Swedish here was very likely that he was unacquainted with the word “bänne,” meaning “prison,” which is now obsolete. Again, in the third and fourth stanzas the Swedish says that after the girl had eaten the eels, she gave the bones to the dogs, and they as a result burst into fifteen pieces; but Morris states that it was the broken meat that the girl threw to the dogs, and that when they had eaten of this food, their
Please Note pg. 156 is missing
third with 7, and fourth with 1; that there is 1 in Norwegian, which has been collected in 3 different forms; that there is 1 in Romaic, with 9 versions; that there is 1 in Catalan, with 2 variant forms; that there is 1 in Italian, with 6 versions; that there is 1 in French, with 8 different forms; and that there is 1 in Finnish, 1 in Wendish, 1 in Dutch, and 1 in Faroese.1 An examination of all these forms of this ballad-them shows that here again, although the theme and situation are similar in many of the others, none of them by any means resemble Morris’s poem so closely in subject matter and form as one of the Swedish ones – namely, “Herr Malmstens drőm” in Geijer and Afzelius’s Svenska Folk-Visor. Besides, it is only in this version that the lover is given the name “Malmsten” and that the young man learns of the death of his sweetheart from a woman in blue and a woman in red.
To be sure, in this ballad also, Morris departs from his original in a number of cases. Thus, he completely omits the double refrain,
Så lustelig locker man liljorna
Főr älskogsfullt han sőrjde’na,2
and in several passages he renders the Swedish freely. For example, the exclamation
“Gud nåde er, Herr Malmsten, hvad sorg I får,”3
In addition to the parallels to which I refer above in the text, Child mentions a few other ballads which show a partial resemblance to “Lord Lovel.”
Morris turns into the question,
“My lord Malmston, what aileth you?”1
For the lines
Herr Malmsten så hastigt af gångaren sprang;
Han lyfte så lätt under bare-stång,2
He let his horse loose hastily,
And by the dead corpse quick stood he.3
The Swedish says that the young man, on meeting the pier of his beloved, took off his six gold rings, and
Det gav han åt den, som skulle grifta och ringa,4
but Morris simply states that the youth pulled off the rings
And gave them to the clerks to hold.5
In none of these cases, however, is Morris following other versions of the ballad. Most likely it was simply his lack of complete familiarity with the Swedish that led him in these passages to reproduce the original incorrectly or with undue liberty. Perhaps, also, the exigencies of metre and rhyme were sometimes responsible.
All the ballad translations that Morris produced he apparently prepared by himself.6 The only external evidence bearing upon the
Question of authorship that we have is the remark “translated from the Danish (by poor little me)”1 in the holograph manuscript of one of the copies of “Hafbur and Signy” and the statement at the end of the illuminated manuscript A Book of Verse to the effect that ‘I made the verses; but the 2 poems, the ‘Ballad of Christine’ and the ‘Son’s Sorrow,’ I translated out of the Icelandic.”2 That Morris should have been able in the early 1870’s to render Icelandic ballads into English unaided is of course not surprising, for his study of the sagas with Magnússon had undoubtedly made him by this time well acquainted with the Icelandic language, but that he should also have been capable of translating Danish folk songs by himself is rather unexpected. However, strange as it seems, we must, I believe, for various reasons that I shall present below, interpret these two statements literally, and also assume that Morris rendered not only these three ballads by himself but all ten that have come down to us. Evidently it was his intimate knowledge of Icelandic and the slight familiarity with German that he is known to have possessed3 that enabled him, with the aid of dictionaries, to read the Danish and Swedish although he had never made a formal study of these languages.
Morris sometimes surprises us by the literalness of his ballad translations, even occasionally rendering correctly a difficult word or phrase which other translators of the ballad in question misunderstood; but, as I just stated, he apparently prepared his
renderings by himself, for there is no reason to suspect that he received aid from anyone acquainted with the Scandinavian languages. In the first place, if the translations had been the result of collaboration, Morris would almost certainly have stated this fact when he published them; with only one exception,1 he acknowledged the assistance of Magnússon in every saga-rendering he printed. Secondly, if he had sought help in this work, it would most likely have been from Magnússon, who was acquainted with all the Scandinavian languages,2 but Dr. Einarsson in his recent biography of Magnússon3 says nothing of any collaboration by Morris and Magnússon on ballad translations, although he quotes and refers to a great many letter relating to their work together on the sagas. Thirdly, if he had received help from Magnússon, his renderings would have undoubtedly have been far more accurate than they are; very rare indeed are the errors in the saga-translations they produced together. It is thus almost certain that in turning these eight folk songs into English, he was not aided by Magnússon or by anyone else who was proficient in reading Danish and Swedish.
There is one other probability that must be considered: in rendering these Danish and Swedish ballads into English, Morris may
have been aided by previous English, or even German and French, translations. However, it seems extremely unlikely that Morris went to the trouble of locating English, German, or French renderings of the folk songs he wished to turn into English and that he then followed these in reading the Danish and Swedish; such a procedure would be entirely inconsistent with what we know about Morris’s usual methods of work. Moreover, when we compare the previous English, German, and French translations with Morris’s versions, we find, as I shall show, not only that there is never the slightest verbal similarity between Morris’s work and that of his predecessors, but also that sometimes Morris correctly interprets a passage which was misunderstood by the others and that he occasionally mistranslates a phrase or word which is correctly rendered in all the other translations.
Thus, in “Agnes and the Hill-Man” Morris correctly renders the Danish “tøyse”1 as “twice,”2 but Prior, the only other translator of this particular version, interprets it as “thrice.”3 Later in the same ballad Morris renders the lines
“Og naar du kommer paa Kirkegulv,
saa maa du ej gaa med din kjaer Moder I Stol”4
much more closely that Prior does, for Morris translates them as
“So that when thou standest the church within
To thy mother on bench thou never win,”5
but Prior says,
“And when thou kneelest at church to prayer
Apart from thy mother place the chair.”1
Similarly, in “Hafbur and Signy” Morris’s version is in several cases more exact than the six previous translations that were based either on the text in Danske Viser or on the very similar text in Tragica.2 For example, in the account of Hafbur and Signy’s arrival in Signy’s chamber and their preparation for sleep, Morris renders correctly the lines which Danske Viser read,
Saa ta͜endte de op de voxlys,
Saa herligt vare de snoed’,3
and in Tragica appear as,
Saa tendte de op de voxxe Lius,
Saa herlig vare de snaa,4
For he says,
Then kindled folk the waxlights
That were so closely twined;5
but most of the other translators seem to have been troubled by the word “snoed” or “snaa” in the second of these lines. Thus the rendering of this ballad in Fraser’s Magazine departs entirely from the original at this point:
Hafbur and Signy took the light,
And their room they lovingly sought.6
Grimm, also, completely misunderstood the line:
Sie zeundeten de Wachslichter an, so freudig waren die zwel.1
In his Old Danish Ballads in 1856, Prior,2 following Grimm’s translation, says,
The tapers all they lit so bright,
Grew friendly more and more;3
and in 1860, in his Ancient Danish Ballads also, Prior seems to have relied on Grimm for this line, although he says that his rendering is based on the text of this ballad in Tragica, for here he translated the two lines thus:
The cheerful tapers there they lit,
And were se well inclined.2
Narmier’s French version is likewise incorrect at this point: “Le flambeau de cire est allumé. Tous deux étaient bien joyeux.”5 The only other translator besides Morris to understand the word was Sander, who says,
Das kunstgedrehte Licht von wachs,
Das leuchtet ringsumher.6
A few stanzas later in the ballad we are told that when Hafbur and Signy were in bed together, Signy discovered the identity of Hafbur, who had come to her disguised as a maiden, and that she chid him for having thus deceived her and put her to shame. She asks,
In Danske Viser,
“Hvi rider ej til min Faders saard
Med Hund, og Høg paa Ha͜ende?”1
and in Tragica,
“Hvi rider I icke til min Faders Gaard
Med Høg of Hund I hende?”2
There is nothing difficult about these two lines, and Morris translates them correctly as
“Why ridest thou not to my father’s garth
With hound, and with hawk upon glove?”3
Moreover, Grimm and Sander render them correctly in their German versions of this ballad, and Marmier, though not so exact, keeps the main idea of the original.4 Prior, however, departs from the Danish in the second line both in his Old Danish Ballads in 1856 and in his Ancient Danish Ballads in 1860:
“Why ride not in with hawk and hound
In court my hand to claim.”5
The third English translation follows the original more closely than Prior does, but is still not so exact as Morris:
“With hawk and hound to my father’s hall,
Ah, if you only came!”6
In Morris’s rendering of the ballad “The Mother under the Mold” occurs another very striking example of his independence of previous translators.1 In this song we are told that one night a dead mother begged the Lord for permission to arise from her grave in order to visit her children, who were being maltreated by their stepmother; the Lord yielded to her entreaties, whereupon,
Hun skjød op sine modige Ben,
Der revnede Mur og Marmorsten.2
The Danish word “Ben” can of course mean either “bone” or “leg”; in this passage it almost certainly is used in the sense of “legs.” However, Morris is the only English translator to give it this interpretation:
Then forth her weary feet put she.3
The rendering in the London Magazine reads,
Then up she raised her weary bones;4
Robert Jamieson gives the translation
With her banes sae stark a bowt she gae;5
Fraser’s Magazine has
She lifted up her weary bones;6
Prior in his Ancient Danish Ballads renders the line as
Out from the chest she stretch’d her bones;1
and Longfellow, presenting this ballad as the Musician’s third story in his Tales of a Wayside Inn, gives the translation
She girded up her sorrowful bones.2
In his Old Danish Ballads Prior translates the passage very loosely, omitting the word entirely:
In coffin then no longer pent
Her corpse its marble tombstone rent.3
Three of the German renderings use the collective noun “Gebein,” which of course cannot refer to “legs.”4 besides Morris, Grimm and Marmier are the only translators who definitely give the word the meaning “legs”: “Da hob sie auf ihre můden Bein,” and “Elle se lève sur ses jambs fatigues.”5
Finally, I should like to point out that in his rendering of “Hafbur and Signy” Morris includes the refrain, as do Grimm and Sander, but that all the three other English translators, as well as Marmier, omit it.6
That Morris was not dependent upon the work of his predecessors is indicated not only by passages, like those just cited, in which his renderings are more exact than the previous translations, but also by cases in which Morris mistranslates the original and all
the other renderings are correct. I should now like to give a few examples of such mistakes by Morris.
Thus, in “Agnes and the Hill-Man,” when Agnes has escaped from the mountain and the Hill-man tries to induce her to return by telling her that her children are crying for her, Morris completely misunderstands Agnes’s exclamation
“Lad dem gra͜ed’, lad dem gra͜ed’, lad dem gra͜ed’, med de vil:
jeg n ej mere hører dem til,”1
“Let them greet, let them greet, as they have will to do;
For never again will I hearken thereto!”2
Prior, the only other translator of this Danish ballad, is much more exact though not absolutely literal:
“The children may wail, as they will, and cry,
with them nothing more to do have I,”3
In his “Knight Aagen and Maiden Else” Morris likewise makes two mistakes which are not found in the other renderings of this folk song; these errors, however, seem to be the result of carelessness, rather than of a failure to understand the Danish. Thus he incorrectly translates stanza three,
Det var Jomfru elselille,
Hun var saa sorrifuld;
Det hørte Ridder Herr Aage
Hen under sorten Muld,4
It was the maiden Else,
She was fulfilled of woe
When she heard how the fair knight Aagen
In the black mould lay alow.1
All the seven earlier renderings, however, state correctly that it was Aage who heard Else crying, not that Else wept because she learned that Aage was in his grave.2 Later in the same ballad we are told that Aage arose from his grave one night in order to go and comfort Else, and that after she had welcomed him into her chamber, she took her comb and smoothed his hair:
Saa tog hun den guldkam
Saa kja͜emte hun hans Haar.3
Morris, however, says,
O, she’s taken up her comb of gold
And combed adown her hair.4
Here again all the other translations are correct.5
Similarly, in his “Hafbur and Signy” Morris makes a very serious mistake, failing to understand the old Danish word “axle,” meaning “to put on”; thus he misinterprets the lines
Midt udi den Borgegaard
Der axler han sit Skind.1
Now out amid the castle-garth
he cast his cloak aside.2
All the other translators render it in the right way.3
Finally, I should like to point out that one of the mistakes I discussed above in Morris’s rendering of the Swedish ballad “Den Lillas Testamente” – namely, his translation
The flesh fell from them that they died
Remna I femton stycken, -
is not found in Marmier’s rendering, the only other version based on the same text, for Marmier says, “Leur corps s’est brisé en morceaux”;4 similarly, the errors I noted above in Morris’s translation of the other Swedish ballad are not in the other renderings of this song.5
It is not necessary to cite further examples of this type. The ones I have already pointed out, like the specimens of previously quoted cases in which Morris gives correct renderings but the earlier translators misunderstand the original, show clearly that
Han lyfte så lätt under båre-stång
as “et va se placer près du cereueil.” For the passages in Morris and in the translations see the following works: Morris: Artists Writer Socialist, I, 518, 1.4, 11.11-12, and 11.13-14; Altschwedische Balladen, tr. Mohnke, p. 149. 1.15 and p. 150, 11.3-4 and 11.5-6; Schwedische Volkelieder ….
there is not the slightest reason for believing that Morris was guided in any way by the work of his predecessors. Moreover, it should be noted that the mistranslations which were made by Morris but not by the others indicate not only that Morris was not following other renderings but also that he could not have collaborated with Magnússon or with anyone else who was thoroughly familiar with Danish and Swedish.
In order to make this last point clearer – namely, that the lack of accuracy in Morris’s translations tends to prove that he could not have prepared them with the aid of some friend who was well versed in the Scandinavian languages -. I should like to show that Morris’s mistakes are by no means rare by briefly calling attention to a few more cases in which he failed to understand his original. So far I have mentioned only those passages which Morris renders incorrectly but others translate in the right way, but there are of course words and expressions which not only Morris but others failed to comprehend.
Thus in “Hildebrand and Hellelil,” he misunderstands the line
“Min Fader lod mig saa haederlig somme,”1
rendering it rather absurdly as
“He taught me sewing royally.”2
Moreover he seems to have been unfamiliar with the word “svige,”
meaning “to deceive,” for in “Hafbur and Signy” he mistranslates the line
Kong Sivards Datter at svige1
King Siward’s daughter to woo.2
He fails to understand the line
Der Dug drew over de Spange,3
and renders it incorrectly as
O’er the meads the dew drave down.4
He confuses the word “stodte” with “stod,” ad thinks that the lines
De stødte paa Døren
Med Glavind og med Spyd5
So there anigh the high-bower door
They stood with spear and glaive.6
Like all but three of the other ten translators of “The Mother under the Mold,” he misinterprets “udi Sky” as “under the sky”; the phrase means, of course, “in terror.”7 For the Danish
De Hunde de tuded saa højt udi Sky,1
Under the sky the hounds they bayed.2
Thus, as I have already stated, there is absolutely no reason to believe either that Morris relied on previous translations in preparing his ballad renderings or that he had the aid of anyone acquainted with the Scandinavian languages.
Finally, before closing my discussion of Morris’s ballad translations, I should like to point out that in spite of occasional errors, the renderings are on the whole very pleasing and highly successful. Morris always took pains to imitate the form of the originals as closely as possible; and as far as his knowledge of Icelandic, Danish, and Swedish permitted him to do so, he reproduced faithfully the substance of his texts. For example, he always retained the metre and rhyme scheme found in the originals, and often, though of course by no means always, imitated their metrical irregularities. Moreover, unlike many of the previous translators, he as a rule kept the refrain, which is such an integral part of the Scandinavian folk songs; in only one ballad rendering – that of “Herr Malmstems drőm” – did he omit the refrain. It should also be noted that he frequently introduced feminine rhymes, in this way reproducing the melodious quality of the original ballad poetry; in “Agnes and the Hill-Man,” for example, Morris’s first and fifth stanzas run thus:
Agnes went through the meadows a-weeping,
Fowl are a-singing.
There stood the hill-man heed thereof keeping.
Agnes, fair Agnes!
There she sat, and lullaby sang in her singing,
Fowl are a-singing.
And she heard how the bells of England were ringing.
Agnes, fair Agnes!
Equally striking is his insistence on reproducing, as far as his knowledge of Icelandic, Danish, and Swedish and the demands of metre and rhyme allowed him to do so, exactly what is given in his originals, and nothing more. Never was Morris guilty of trying to improve his texts. In only one or two cases did he add a single image or descriptive detail of his own, although many of his predecessors enlarged upon the originals when the expressions in the ballads were bald or crude. One or two examples of Morris’s close adherence to his sources will suffice. Thus the opening stanza in “Hildebrand and Hellelil,”
Hellelil sidder I Bure –
Min Sorrig veed ingen uden gud.
Hun syer sin Søm saa prude.
Og den lever aldrig, jeg vil for klage min Sorrig,2
Morris renders faithfully as
Hellelil sitteth in bower there,
None knows my grief but God alone,
And seweth at the seam so fair,
I never wail my sorrow to any other one;3
but Robert Buchanan in his Ballad Stories of the Affections translates this stanza very freely:
Helga sits at her chamber door –
God only my heart from sorrow can sever!
She seweth the same seam o’er and o’er.
Let me tell of the sorrow that lives for ever!4
And a rendering of this ballad in Fraser’s Magazine for January, 1865, departs even further from the original:
She sat in her bower, with eyes of flame,
(My sorrow is known to God alone.)
Bending over the broidery frame,
(And oh there liveth none to whom my sorrow may be told)1
Later in the same ballad Morris translates the lines
“Aldrig var det saa dyb en Dam,
Min Broders Hest jo over svam.”2
“No deepest dam we came unto
But my brother’s horse he swam it through”;3
but Robert Buchanan and the translator in Fraser’s Magazine take great liberties with the text, for one says,
“Through deep fords the horse can swim;
He drags me choking after him,”4
and the other relates that
“The deep ice-rivers were red with gore,
As over them we and the wild horse tore.”5
Finally, at the opening of “Knight Aagen and Maiden Else,” in a stanza already commented upon in another connection, the original says,
Det var Jomfru Elselille,
Hun var saa sorrigfuld,6
and Morris translates
It was the Maiden Else
She was fulfilled of woe;7
but George Borrow in his Romantic Ballads states,
In her bower sat Eliza;
Rent the air with shriek and groan.8
Morris’s ballad renderings make it clear that he keenly appreciated the quiet beauty, simplicity, pathos, and reticence of the Scandinavian folk songs. This understanding of the art of the ballads together with his inherent ability as a poet enabled him to produce translations which are remarkably close in spirit and tone to the originals and which at the same time possess real poetic value of their own.
For entire text of this dissertation, see Translations/Old Icelandic/Introduction and Critical Material.
Pages 61-100. According to Islandica, V (1912), 13, there were five texts available to Morris in 1871: Nordiska Kampa Dater, ed. Bjőrner, No. 6; Fornaldar Sőgur Nordrlanda, II, 61-100; Ibid., II, 488-503; F. E. C. Dietrich, Altnordisches Lesebuch (Leipzig, 1843), pp. 116-130; and Hermann Lűning, Altnordische Texte (Zűrich, 1859), pp. 6-21. The text given in Fornaldar Sőgur, II, 488-503 is that of the shorter older form of the saga; the other four versions are of the longer recension. The texts in Fornaldar Sőgur, I, 61-106, in Dietrich’s Altnordisches Lesebuch, and in Lűning’s Altnordische Texte are practically identical, and any of them could have been the… (Note cut off from bottom of page).