The Earthly Paradise: Unpublished Tales

Supplementary Materials:
Critical Responses to These Tales
For Litzenberg, see below.
"The Wooing of Swanhild." From from Karl Anderson, "The Beginning of Morris's Interest in the History and Literature of Early Scandinavia: 1834-1870," Chap. 1, "Scandinavian Elements in the Works of William Morris." Diss. Harvard, 1940, 127-43. [also includes discussion of "In Arthur's House"]

[127] Among the tales which, according to Mackail, Morris wrote for The Earthly Paradise but decided not to include in that collection, there is one of Scandinavian origin which is called “The Wooing of Swanhild”;2 this poem is based on the story told in Chapters Thirty-Nine and Forty of the Vőlsunga saga concerning the marriage of Hermanaric and Swanhild, the daughter of Sigurd Fafnir’s-bane and Gudrun. It is clear from the argument at the head of the poem that

  1. Collected Works, VI, 295.
  2. William Morris, I, 207-208.
  3. See Fornaldar Sőgur Nordrlanda, I, 224-228.

[128] Morris had originally intended to retell the whole story of the visit of Rnadver and Bikki to Swanhild, Bikki’s inciting of Randiver to make Swanhild his own, Hermanaric’s discovery of his son Randver’s love for the maiden, and the slaying of Randver and Swanhild; however, Morris did not complete his poem carrying the tale only up to the point where Randver and Bikki are granted their request that Swanhild be given in marriage to Hermanaric, and Randver finally meets Swanhild. As it is, the poem extends to 159 stanzas in rhyme royal. It was not published during Morris’s life, but it was included by Miss Morris in the last volume of the Collected Works.1

The exact date of the composition of “the Wooing of Swanhild” is not known, but, like “The Fostering of Aslaug,” it seems to have been written at the very end of 1869 or at the very beginning of 1870. Morris must, however, have been acquainted with the story of Swanhild long before this time, for there is an abstract of it in Thorpe’s Northern Mythology2 and brief reference to the tale are found in the Poetic Edda.3 There is not much in the poem which he

  1. XXIV, 281-315.
  2. I, 106-107.
  3. The story of Swanhild is related in an extremely abbreviated form in the prose lines introducing the “Guðrunarhvot,” this poem and the one following it in the Poetic Edda, the “Hamðisamál,” dealing with later episodes connected with the tale; the account in these lines, however, is so hort that it does not even mention that Randver and Bikki were sent to woo Swanhild. Very brief references to the tale are also made in stanzas 53 and 61 of the “Sigurðarkvlða in skamma.” With this material Morris may very well have become acquainted before 1869 through Thorpe’s translation of the Poetic Edda (see II, 82-83 and 137 and above, pp. 43-44). There is a fuller account of Swanhild in Chapter XLII of the “Skáldskaparmál” in the Prose Edda, but this part of the Prose Edda had not been translated into English by 1869 and thre is no evidence that Morris had read it in the original at this time. That “The Wooing of Swanhild” had almost certainly not been written or even planned before 1869 is indicated, it should be noted, by the fact that Morris did not mention it in 1867 and 1868 in his announcements of the tales intended at that time for The Earthly Paradise (see Collected Works, III, xi-xii).

[129] he could not have gotten from Thorpe’s synopsis…
… two details in the story indicate that he was drawing directly on the account in the Vőlsunga saga. Most important of these, perhaps, is the reply that Randver gives his father when he is ordered to go and woo Swanhild, for his statement,

“Meet it is that I, O father, on thine errands still should wend,”1

is almost exactly the same as Randver’s answer in the saga, which, in Morris’s translation, reads, “Meet and right, fair lord, that I should go on thine errands.”2 Another indication that Morris was not following Thorpe in his poem is the spelling of three personal names; in his postical version of the tale he uses the forms “Swanhild,” “Randver”, and “Bikki,” as he does in his translation, but Thorpe spells these names as “Svanhild,” “Randve,” and “Biki.”3 Morris seems, then, to have read the Vőlsunga saga when

  1. Collected Works, XXIV, 288.
  2. Ibid., VII, 392.
  3. In the case of the names of the other two main characters the situation is different. Thus, in his poem Morris calls the stepfather of Swanhild “Jonak” or “Jonakur,” the form depending on the demands of the metre, but in his rendering of the saga he always uses the spelling “Jonakr”; Thorpe adopted the form “Jonakur.” Perhaps Morris varied the spelling in his poem because he wished to make clear to his readers whether the word was to be pronounced as a dissyllable or a trisyllable. In the case of the name “Hermanaric,” Morris departed from the forms used in the Old Norse account, in his own translation, and in Thorpe’s abstract, and adopted the usual spelling of the name of the historical king of the East Goths with whom the Old Norse Jőrmunrekr is to be indentified.

I should also like to point out here that in his article “William Morris and Scandinavian Literature: A Bibliographical Essay,” Karl Litzenburg states (on page 103) that Morris acquired the story for “The Wooing of Swanhild” from the summary in English of the Volsung legends published by Thorpe in Northern Mythology, Volume I,” and later (on page 105) he cites this poem as an example of those works of Morris “which are based on English versions of Scandinavian stories” as distinct from those “which are taken directly from their Old Norse originals….” He also dates the poem “circa 1865-1868.” These statements conflict with my conclusion that the poem was written at the end of 1869 or the beginning of 1870, after Morris had read the Vőlsunga saga. The evidence I have presented in the text above and at the end of note 3 on page 128 is of course not conclusive, but Dr. Litzenberg does not seem to have taken these considerations into account in forming his opinion; he does not state the reason for his…

[130] he composed his poem. Very likely, just as the case seems to have been with “The Fostering of Aslaug,” it was his reading of the whole story of the Volsunga and the Niblunga late in 1869 that inspired him to produce a poetical version of the legend of Swanhild, although he had been familiar with the tale for many years before that time.

I state above that Morris seems to have written the poem at the very end of 1869 or at the very beginning of 1870. That he composed it later seems improbable, because it is very unlikely that he could have treated his theme in such a romantic manner if he had produced his story after he had read The Eddic lays in the original in the winter of 1869 to 1870. As Miss Morris says in a passage I have already quoted in part,

“The Fostering of Aslaug” in “The Earthly Paradise,” and still more, perhaps, the unpublished romantic tale of Swanhild…seem to have been my father’s first reachings-out towards the realization of the Matter of the North before he became fully alive to the splendour of the Sigurd legend…. It is possible that his more intimate knowledge of the originals changed the current of his thoughts and made it difficult for him to complete this tale in the spirit in which it was begun. It was certainly written before his Northern studies had replaced the earlier background of medieval romance by the simpler and more heroic setting of the Edda fragments. Such lines as
In tilt and pageant and high feast went by
The next few days…
could not have been written by my father coming fresh from the “Lay of Hamdir.”1

Morris’s poem represents a tremendous expansion of his original. In his translation of the Vőlsunga saga, the story up to the point where King Jonakr grants Randver his request for Swanhild occupies twenty-six lines; the poem, dealing with the same incidents, is 1106 lines long. In the course of this expansion Morris changed

  1. Collected Works, VII, xxx11-xxx111.

[131] completely the nature of the original tale. Miss Morris has described well the striking difference in spirit and tone between the Old Norse account and her father’s version; she says,

…the wild splendour of the legend- itself but a fragment- is dimmed by the poet’s translation into a comparatively modern atmosphere full of introspection, of hesitancies and dreams within dreams: it is indeed a far cry from the grimly-worded broken record of Sigurd’s daughter preserved in the Edda Songs to this detailed narrative in a suave rhyme-royal. But it is all “part of the story”- part of the growth and development of The Earthly Paradise tales, and a link too between the frame of mind of the time and that of the later handling of the Volsung epic.1

In order to show in some detail how freely Morris dealt with his source, I shall discuss briefly his expansions and additions.

          In the saga we are told briefly and bluntly at the opening of this episode that Jormunrek, “a mighty king of those days,”2 summoned his son Randver, and ordered him and Bikki, his counsellor, to go to King Jonakr for the purpose of demanding that Swanhild, the daughter of Sigurd Fafnir’s-bane and Gudrun, be given in marriage to Jormunrek. In Morris’s poetical version, however, we have a much more detailed introduction. He begins his tale by briefly describing Hermanaric, the aged King of the Goths, Bikki, his counsellor, who under the pretense of unflinching devotion to his Kind had secured complete control over the whole realm, and finally Randver, the King’s son, who had never had an opportunity to show his courage and strength in battle and hence was despised by both his father and his people. Morris next relates how at a feast Bikki suggested that the King remarry in order to secure more heirs, and that he should endeavor to

secure as his wife Swanhild, the daughter of Sigurd and Gudrun, who was now living in the land of King Jonakr, Gudrun’s third

  1. Collected Works, XXIV, xxxi.
  2. Ibid. , VII, 392.

[131] husband. The King immediately acquiesced, and all the people shouted for joy, except Randver, who sat quiet and moody. In answer to the King’s inquiries regarding Swanhild, Bikki explained that when Sigurd was burned on his pyre, his young son perished with him, but that at this time Gudrun was pregnant and later gave birth to a girl, who was Swanhild. The King then recalled the story of Gudrun’s marriage to Atli, the slaughter of the Niblunga by Atli, Gudrun’s murder of Atli and his two children and her burning of the hall in revenge, and finally Gudrun’s journey to King Jonakr. The day after the feast King Hermaanaric summoned Randver to him, and bade the young man go together with Bikki to King Jonakr to woo Swanhild for him.

For the references Morris added in this passage to death of Sigurd’s son on the funeral pyre of Sigurd and Brynhild and for his account of Gudrun’s marriage to Atli, the poet was of course indebted to the earlier part of the Vőlsunga saga.1 His description of Hermanaric as the King of the Goths was most likely based on information supplied to him by Magnússon, for there is no such statement in the original.

In the saga Randver agreed at once to perform the mission commanded by his father, but in the poem he was with difficulty persuaded to do so. In reply to the King’s command, he stated that although he considered it proper that his father should send him to woo Swanhild, he had decided to sail at once with an armed band in order to win glory. The King granted him permission to do as he wished, and Randver departed in joy. Bikki, however, learned


  1. See Collected Works, VII, 375 and 379-392 and Thorpe, Northern Mythology, I, 103-106.

[132] of Randver’s intentions, and although he commended the King for Randver’s determination to gain fame, he went directly to Randver on the quay in an attempt to dissuade him from this expedition. It is obvious that Bikki earnestly desired Randver’s presence on the journey to King Jonakr, and we begin to suspect that he had some sinister motive for doing so. Bikki succeeded in convincing Randver that he must join in the wooing of Swanhild by saying that he, Bikki, had had a vision of Swanhild in a dream and had at once fallen in love with her, so that he could not now trust himself to bring Swanhild home alone. Randver suspected that Bikki was lying, but he finally resolved to accompany him to King Jonakr. That night at the farewell feast, Randver announced his decision to his father.

The second part of the story, the account of the proceedings at King Jonakr’s court, Morris has not altered so radically. The saga says that Randver and Bikki arrived in the land of King Jonakr and met Swanhild, whom they found marvelously fair. One day Randver explained to Jonakr the object of their visit, saying that Jormunrek wished to become his brother-in-law by marrying Swanhild. Jonakr looked with favor on the request at once, but Gudrun said, “A wavering trust, the trust in luck that it change not.”1 The demand, however, was granted, and Randver, Bikki, and Swanhild departed. In Morris’s poem the journey of Randver and Bikki to Jonakr is described in detail. We are told that when they arrived, Bikki tried to awaken thoughts of love in the young man; and Randver, to whom the idea of love was becoming very welcome, reddened. The next morning


  1. Collected Works, VII, 393.

[133] The two visitors were brought before Jonakr and Gudrun; and Randver delivered his message, saying that in return for the granting of Swanhild to Hermanaric, the Goths would aid Jonakr in case of any need. Jonakr was pleased with the request, but Gudrun frowned and seemed unhappy. Later that day Gudrun bade Randver meet her alone in the garden. There she fervently begged him to depart at once with one of her men, Ulf the Red, who was just ready to leave on a plundering expedition, the reason for her request being that she knew that Randver would fall in love with Swanhild when he met her that night, and that then nothing but woe and disaster would ensue for all concerned. In a passage that recalls Chapter forty-two of the Vőlsunga saga and the second half of the “Guórunarnvot,” she bewailed the hardness and cruelty of her life, and lamented that Sigurd, the one man she had loved, had never returned her affection. In spite of her pleas, Randver found himself unable to leave the country, for he was drawn on by a strange desire to meet Swanhild. That night at the feast Swanhild was ushered into the hall by a host of fair maidens. Straightway she and Randver fell deeply in love with each other, and the rest of the world ceased to exist for them both. During the next few days they saw each other frequently, but were never alone so that they could kiss and embrace. At this point the poem ends.

This summary shows clearly that Morris’s poem preserves only the bare kernel of the original saga story. In his poetical version Morris has freely added new scenes and new incidents, changed the nature of his main characters, and introduced and involved motives; and as a result his work is entirely different in spirit from

[134] the Old Norse tale. Even the central idea is altered in Morris’s poem. In the saga Jormunrek decides by himself to woo Swanhild, and the evil counsellor Bikki does not seem to conceive of his plan to tempt Randver and Swanhild to betray Jormunrek until on the way home from Jonakr. In Morris’s story, however, Hermanaric’s marriage is only a scheme by which Bikki aims to do away with Randver and establish his own power more firmly. It is Bikki who makes the suggestion that Hermanaeric should marry Swanhild; he carefully arranges that Randver should accompany him to King Jonaky, even being willing to cast aspersions on his own character in order to persuade the young man to give up his intended military expedition; and before they meet Swanhild, Bikki strives to turn Randver’s thoughts to love. Morris’s tale is thus superior in the development of the plot and in the motivation of the action, but on the other of the plot and in the motivation of the action, but on the other hand it lacks entirely the vigor, directness, and color of the Old Norse story. Much of the poetry is dull and uninspired; the tale as a whole seems to suffer from diffuseness, and it looks completely the deep emotion, feeling, and tenderness with which Morris treated his other Scandinavian stories. We need not regret too deeply that he failed to complete it.

Among the other unfinished poems which Morris seems to have composed at this time is one called “In Arthur’s House.”1 As the title shows, it is not a Scandinavian story, but it contains a number of Norse allusions which are especially interesting. The poem tells how once, when Arthur and retinue of knights and


  1. Morris left this fragment unpublished, but Miss Morris included it in the Collected Works, XXIV, 315-328.

[135] ladies were riding through the forest, they met a very old man who said that he had been a king many years before, and that his castle had stood on the very spot where they now were. The sword that this man carried is described in great detail:

Right great it was: the scabbard thin
Was fashioned of a serpent’s skin,
In every scale a stone of worth:
Of tooth of a sea-lion of the north
The cross was, and the blood-boot stone
That heals the hurt the blade hath done
Rung down therefrom in silken purse:
The ruddy kin of Niblung’s curse
O’er tresses of a sea-wife’s hair
Was wrapped about the handle fair;
And last a marvelous sapphire stone
Amidst of the great pommel shone,
A blue flame in the forest green.

The old king recalled the night when the castle was burned, and related that his grandmother then

Betwixt the foemen’s spears the last
Of all the women, wrapping round
This sword the gift of Odin’s ground.”2
He showed the sword to Arthur, Guenevere, and Lancelot, and exclaimed,
“E’en as the sun arising wan
In the black sky when Heimdall’s horn
Screams out and the last day is born,
This blade to eyes of men shall be
On that dread day I shall not see-“3
Then he took Guenevere’s hand and laid it upon the hilt, saying
“Hold this, O Queen,
Thine hand is where God’s hands have been,
For this is Tyrfing: who knows when
His blade was forged? Belike ere men
Had dwelling on the middle earth.
At least a man’s life it is worth
So draw it out once: so behold

  1. Collected Works, XXIV, 326.
  2. Ibid., XXIV, 323.
  3. Loc. Cit.

[136] These peace-strings wrought of pearl and gold
The scabbard to the cross that bind
Lest a rash hand and heart made blind
Should draw it forth unwittingly.”1
A little later in the poem the grandson of the old king began to relate a story told to him by his grandmother of the days of old; at that time, he said,
… there were folk who had to tell
Of lyngworms lying on the fell,
And fearful things by lake and fen,
And manlike shapes that were not men.
Then fay-folk roamed the woods at noon,
And on the grave-mound in the moon
Faint gleamed the flickering treasure-flame.”2

Just as the young man’s tale is becoming interesting, the poem breaks off, uncompleted.

It is impossible ascertain definitely the source of the information regarding Tyrfing that Morris reveals in the first four of these quotations. The fullest account of the long history of this famous sword is of course found in the Hervarar saga ok Heidreks konungs. However, this saga had not been translated into English by 1870- in fact, has not yet been turned into English. Moreover, there is no record that Morris read it in the original, though he may possibly have done so at this time. It was included in the volume of the Fornaldar Sőgur Nordrlanda which he seems to have used for his rendering of the Vőlsunga saga,3 and he had other editions of the work in his library at his death.4 However, for the knowledge he shows of Tyrfing, it is not necessary to assume that he had read the Hervarar saga, for there were other sources of infor-

  1. Collected Works, XXIV, 323.
  2. Ibid. , XXIV, 325
  3. Fornladar Sőgur, I, 409-512.
  4. See below, p. 1001.

[137] mation, in English, available at the time. Thus, as Frank E. Farley points out in his discussion of the poem “The Waking of Angantyr” in his Scandinavian Influences in the English Romantic Movement,1 Scott gave a brief abstract of the saga-story concerning the forging of Tyrfing and the curse of the dwarfs in his essay “On the Fairies of Popular Superstition” in his Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, 2 first published in 1802.

Moreover, in 1842 William Herbert in his notes to “The Combat of Hialmar and Oddur with Angantyr and his Elven Brothers” in his Horae Scandicae translated Chapters II and III of the Hervarar saga – the chapters which describe the origin of the sword.3 Finally, William Taylor retold the whole story of the making of Tyrfing and the battle on Samsey, with many additions and alterations, in his Tales of Yore in 1810.4 The first of these accounts Morris had almost certainly read,5 and there is reason to believe that he knew Herbert’s work also;6 with the last book it is somewhat less likely that he was acquainted.7 I should also like

  1. Studies and Notes in Philology and Literature, IK (1903), 44-45.
  2. See Poetical Works (Edinburgh, 1833-1834), II, 255-257.
  3. See the Works of William Herbert (London, 1842), I, 267-270.
  4. I, 151-231.
  5. As I have already pointed out, Morris even as a boy admired and read Scott avidly (see above, pp. 1-2).
  6. It is fairly safe to assume that Morris was familiar with the works of Herbert, for an edition of Herbert’s Helga was found in his library at his death (see below, p. 1007).
  7. I should like to point out here that in his study Farley also calls attention to the fact that the poem “The Waking of Angantyr,” which was included in the Hervarar saga, had at an early date attracted the attention of English antiquaries, and that during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries eight translations or adaptations of this poem appeared in England (see Farley, op. cit., pp. 44-58). Some of these Morris may very likely have known, especially the version included in Percy’s Five Pieces of Runic Poetry, this rendering later appearing also in Percy’s translation of Mallet’s L’introduction a l’hisstoire de Dannemarc or Northern Antiquities (Edinburgh, 1809), II, 289-303. However, these renderings and adaptations could not have been Morris’s sole source of information about Tyrfing, for although many of them are provided with short introductions relating briefly the early history

[138] to point out that the story of Tyrfing is told briefly in Thomas Keightley’s Fairy Mythology, 1 a work which Morris may very well have known.

However, although Morris must have been drawing upon the saga itself or upon one of these other works for his knowledge of Tyrfing – if he was indebted to a written source -, he did not in certain respects follow these accounts in his description of the sword. Thus, in the first passage quoted above, Morris says that the scabbard was made “of a serpent’s skin” and that the hilt was formed of the “tooth of sea-lion”; but the saga, Scott, and Hervert describe the sheath and hilt as being of gold,2 and Taylor omits any reference to these details. Morris further says that the blade was provided with a “blood-boot stone,” that a sapphire was set in the pommel, and that “peace-strings” bound the hilt to the scabbard; none of these facts are mentioned in any of these four accounts. Of course, Morris may very likely have read the story several years before he wrote the poem, and so he may have forgotten the details in the description of the sword. However, he departs from the accounts given in these fur works even in the matter of the origin of Tyrfing, and the interesting tale of Svafrlami and the two dwarfs Dýrinn and Dvalinn it does not seem likely that Morris could have not forgotten if he had ever read it. Thus, he represents the old man as saying, in the fourth passage quoted above, that no one knows when the sword was forged but that it most likely was made before the time of man. Of course, it is possible that Morris himself knew that the two dwarfs

(continuation of note 7 on page 138) of the sword, none of them mention the fact that the weapon was cursed so that it could not be drawn without killing a man, and to this detail Morris refers in the fourth passage quoted. This quality of the sword, however, is described in Scott’s, Herbert’s, and Taylor’s works.

  1. (London, 1850), pp. 72-74.
  2. For the description of Tyrfing in the Hervarar saga, see Fornaldar Sőgur, I, 414-415.

[139] produced the weapon at the command of Svafrlami, and that he deliberately attributed ignorance of this matter to one of his characters in the interest of the story he was about to tell, of which we know very little since only the opening scene was written out. On the whole, however, Morris’s information regarding Tyrfing seems to have been rather slight. Perhaps he was not drawing on any written account, but was merely basing his remarks on something Magnússon had told him concerning the sword.

In addition to the references to Tyrfing,1 there are a number of other Norse allusions in the poem. Thus, in the third passage quoted above, Morris mentions Heimdall; with this Norse god and the part he is to play at the time of Ragnarók, we have already seem that Morris was familiar.2 Again, as I have just pointed out, in his account of Tyrfing he represents the sword as having a “healing –stone” and as being fastened to its sheath by “peace-strings,” although these details were not mentioned in the references to Tyrfing in the originals he seems to have used. Magic swords which could heal the wounds they had made were of course fairly common in the folk lore of the past.3 In most cases, however, they exercised this power when the flat of the blade was applied to the wound; only in Norse legends, it seems, were magic swords provided with a stone in the hilt for this purpose. With such “lyfensteinar,” as they were called, Morris may have become acquainted through references in [140] Thorpe’s Northern Mythology1 and from the account of “Skőfnung” in the Laxda͜ela saga.2 Similarly, “peace-strings” or “friðbnd” seem to have been used only on Scandinavian swords. Morris’s source of information regarding them was probably the Gísla saga, which he is said to have known through Dasent’s translation.3 Again, his allusions to “lyngworms” and to “treasure-flames” were both very likely the result of his early Scandinavian studies.4 With the term “lyngormr,” of which the word “lyngworm” is obviously a rendering, Morris had met in his translation of the Vőlsunga saga5 and also, perhaps, in the opening chapter of the Ragnars saga loðbrókar.6 The belief that lights were to be seen at night over buried treasure was very common among the early Northmen, and it was evidently the references to this tradition that he had met in his Scandinavian reading7 that led Morris to mention “treasure-flames” here. Similarly, his use of the term “middle earth” in the fourth passage quoted was very likely due to his studies in Old Norse,8 although the work was of course common in Old English also and he may have known it from non-Scandinavian sources.

Finally, it should be noted that Morris introduced in this poem three metaphors of the type common in early Germanic poetry


  1. I, 219.
  2. Pages 350 and 252
  3. See above, pp. 43-44 and the Gísla saga, tr. Dasent, p. 89.
  4. See the fifth passage quoted above.
  5. Fornaldar Sőgur Nordrlanda, I, 151 and 159.
  6. Ibid. , I, 237.
  7. See Thorpe’s Northern Mythology, II, 263-265. Morris may also have known the reference to this belief in Percy’s introductory remarks to his translation “The Waking of Angantyr” (in Mallet’s Northern Antiquities) ( Edinburgh, 1809), II, 296.
  8. See, for example, Thorpe’s Northern Mythology, I, 5 and 11 and Mallet’s Northern Antiquities (London, 1847), p. 405.

[141] and usually called “kennings.” Thus, in the first of the five passages quoted above Morris says, in describing Tyrfing, that

The ruddy kin of Niblung’s curse
O’er tresses of a sea-wife’s hair
Was wrapped about the handle fair;

and in the second passage he relates that he old king’s grandmother bore Tyrfing from the burning hall,

“wrapping round
This sword the gift of Odin’s ground.”

The figures “the ruddy king of Niblung’s curse,” “tresses of a sea-wife’s hair,” and “the gift of Odin’s ground” were obviously formed in direct imitation of the Old Norse kennings. None of these metaphors, so far as I know, actually occur in Old Norse poetry.1 That the first one stands for “gold” is of course obvious, but the meaning of the other two is not clear. Karl Litzenberg, commenting on the first of these two passages in his article “Allusions to the Elder Edda in the ‘Non-Norse’ Poems of William Morris,” suggest that be the term “sea-wife” Morris may have meant to refer to Ran, the wife of the Norse sea-god Aegir, and that Morris may have used the figure “tresses of a sea-wife’s hair” to indicate “gold.”2 This interpretation of the kenning does not seem to me satisfactory, for it would make the passage as a whole mean that gold placed on gold was wrapped around the handle. Perhaps Morris used the expression simply to indicate “seaweed,” thinking fancifully of the “peace-strings,” which he later describes as being made of gold and pearl, as consist-

  1. They are not listed in Sveinbjðrn Egilsson’s Lexicon Poeticum (2 Udgave ved Finnur Jónsson [Copenhagen: S. L. Møllers Bogtrykkerl, 1931]) no in the section “Skáldskaparmál” in the Prose Edda. Kennings similar to the first one are of course fairly common. The nearest one to Morris’s that I have found is “róg, Niflunga” (see Egilsson, op. cit., p. 471, col.1, s. v. “róg”).
  2. Page 23.

[142] ing of seaweed covered with gold. The meaning of the kenning “the gift of Odin’s ground” is equally uncertain. The context seems to indicate that the king’s grandmother hid the sword with something, such as cloth, as she carried it past the foemen; there seems to be no reason, however, for calling cloth “the gift of Odin’s ground.”

The date of the composition of the fragment “In Arthur’s House” is not known. Miss Morris says in one of her Introductions that the tale, “though the subject suggests the earlier conceived Arthurian poems, is of a rather later period, and may be one of the projected stories for The Earthly Paradise.”1 It seems to me that Morris’s use of the three kennings just discussed almost definitely places the poem well after the fall of 1868, for although Morris was of course familiar with kennings before this time from the Scandinavian works he had read in translation, it was when he began turning sagas into English that he first came into direct contact with these elaborate figures. As I shall make clear later in Chapter IV, 2 Morris always showed a fondness in his own writings for using metaphorical expressions in place of the common name of an –object- even before he began studying Icelandic; but the three figures just considered are the first ones he used of this type which seem definitely to have been formed in imitation of Old Norse kennings, and two of these three – “the ruddy kin of Niblung’s curse” and “the gift of Odin’s ground” – are the first, so far as I know, which involves Norse characters. It is most


  1. Collected Works, XXIC, xxxi.
  2. See below, pp. 590-593.

[143] natural to assume that it was the experience, often undoubtedly unpleasant, that he had in analyzing Old Norse kennings and in turning them into English in the course of his saga-rendering that led him to imitate the Icelandic kennings in his own figures. Moreover, although the Arthurian setting of the poem seems at first to indicate that the tale was an early composition, the background does not prevent us from dating the fragment after 1868, for according to Mackail, Morris developed a fresh, but transitory, interest in the Arthurian story in 1870. Mackail says of Morris that during the summer of 1870, when The Earthly Paradise was practically completed, the “Arthurian legend once more attracted him, not now filling his mind, but making in it something of a counterpoise to the Northern sagas…”;1 he further states that Morris thought of writing a long poem on the story of Tristram and another on the tale of Balin and Balan, but that nothing was ever produced. Possible the fragment we have just been considering was a result of this renewed interest in the Arthur story.2

The year 1870 brings to a close what may be considered the first period of Morris’s interest in the history, literature, and general culture of the early Scandinavians. During the years 1834 to 1870, as we have seen, Morris’s acquaintance with the North grew from the general information he derived from Thorpe’s Northern Mythology while a student at Oxford to a first-hand acquaintance with

  1. William Morris, I, 209.
  2. In his articles “Tyrfing into Excalibur? A Note on William Morris’s Unfinished Poem, ‘In Arthur’s House’” (in Scandinavian Studies and Notes, XV (1938-1939), 81-83) and “Allusions to the Elder Edda in the ‘Non-Norse’ Poems of William Morris,” p. 20, Dr. Litzenberg assumes that the poem “In Arthur’s Hose” was written early – about 1865. As I have said above, there is no conclusive evidence as to the date of the fragment, but what evidence we do have seems to me to point to a time after 1868; Dr. Litzenberg does not state his reasongs for believing the poem as early as 1865.

[144] some of the greatest of the Icelandic sagas and with the main part of The Poetic Edda; and his early interest in Old Norse literature, which seems merely to have been a part of his passion for everything medieval, was supplanted by a genuine understanding and appreciation of the great art of the sagas and the Eddic verse. The real impetus to his interest in the North was of course his meeting with Magnússon in 1868. The knowledge of the Icelandic language that he gained from his studies with Magnússon and the first-hand acquaintance that this knowledge gave him with the literature he had hitherto known only through English translations or through general accounts of early Scandinavia awakened in him a deep love for the North, so that in the two years immediately followings his introduction to Magnússon he seems to have turned into English at least six sagas, three of which he published, and he composed three poems based on Norse stories. During these last two years he became more and more absorbed in his Scandinavian studies, but up to the end of 1870 it cannot be said that his Icelandic work was his prime interest. In the period 1874 through 1876, however, which I shall consider in Chapter II, he gave himself up almost exclusively to his interest in medieval Scandinavia.


  1. In addition to the references to Tyrfing in the quotations given above, there is a mere mention of the sword in Collected Works, XXIV, 324, 1.14.
  2. See above, pp. 93-94.
  3. See, for example, The Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, ed. F. N. Robinson (Cambridge: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1933), p. 156, p. 323. See also above, on pp. 76-77, the references to such a sword in Thorpe’s tale “The Land East of the Sun and West of the Moon.”

"The Wooing of Swanhild." From Karl Litzenberg. "Contributions of the Old Norse Language and Literature to the Style and Substance of the Writings of William Morris, 1856-76." Dissertation, University of Michigan, 1933. Chapter 3.3 The Wooing of Swanhild 210-228 [pdf]