THE STORY OF THE VOLSUNGS (VOLSUNGA SAGA)
APPENDIX: EXCERPTS FROM THE POETIC EDDA
THE LAY CALLED
THE SHORT LAY OF SIGURD
Online Medieval and Classical Library Release #29
Sigurd of yore, Sought the dwelling of Giuki, As he fared, the young Volsung, After fight won; Troth he took From the two brethren; Oath swore they betwixt them, Those bold ones of deed.
A may they gave to him And wealth manifold, Gudrun the young, Giuki's daughter: They drank and gave doom Many days together, Sigurd the young, And the sons of Giuki.
Until they wended For Brynhild's wooing, Sigurd a-riding Amidst their rout; The wise young Volsung Who knew of all ways -- Ah! He had wed her, Had fate so willed it.
Southlander Sigurd A naked sword, Bright, well grinded, Laid betwixt them; No kiss he won From the fair woman, Nor in arms of his Did the Hun King hold her, Since he gat the young maid For the son of Giuki.
No lack in her life She wotted of now, And at her death-day No dreadful thing For a shame indeed Or a shame in seeming; But about and betwixt Went baleful fate.
Alone, abroad, She sat of an evening, Of full many things She fall a-talking: "O for my Sigurd! I shall have death, Or my fair, my lovely, Laid in mine arms.
"For the word once spoken, I sorrow sorely -- His queen is Gudrun, I am wed to Gunnar; The dread Norns wrought for us A long while of woe."
Oft with heart deep In dreadful thoughts, O'er ice-fields and ice-hills She fared a-night time, When he and Gudrun Were gone to their fair bed, And Sigurd wrapped The bed-gear round her.
"Ah! Now the Hun King His queen in arms holdeth, While love I go lacking, And all things longed for With no delight But in dreadful thought."
These dreadful things Thrust her toward murder: -- "Listen, Gunnar, For thou shalt lose My wide lands, Yea, me myself! Never love I my life, With thee for my lord --
"I will fare back thither From whence I came, To my nighest kin And those that know me There shall I sit Sleeping my life away, Unless thou slayest Sigurd the Hun King, Making thy might more E'en than his might was!
"Yea, let the son fare After the father, And no young wolf A long while nourish! For on earth man lieth Vengeance lighter, And peace shall be surer If the son live not."
Adrad was Gunnar, Heavy-hearted was he, And in doubtful mood Day-long he sat. For naught he wotted, Nor might see clearly What was the seemliest Of deeds to set hand to; What of all deeds Was best to be done: For he minded the vows Sworn to the Volsung, And the sore wrong To be wrought against Sigurd.
Wavered his mind A weary while, No wont it was Of those days worn by, That queens should flee From the realms of their kings.
"Brynhild to me Is better than all, The child of Budli Is the best of women. Yea, and my life Will I lay down, Ere I am twinned From that woman's treasure."
He bade call Hogni To the place where he bided; With all the trust that might be, Trowed he in him.
"Wilt thou bewray Sigurd For his wealth's sake? Good it is to rule O'er the Rhine's metal; And well content Great wealth to wield, Biding in peace And blissful days."
One thing alone Hogni Had for an answer: "Such doings for us Are naught seemly to do; To rend with sword Oaths once sworn, Oaths once sworn, And troth once plighted.
"Nor know we on mould, Men of happier days, The while we four Rule over the folk; While the bold in battle, The Hun King, bides living.
"And no nobler kin Shall be known afield, If our five sons We long may foster; Yea, a goodly stem Shall surely wax. -- But I clearly see In what wise it standeth, Brynhild's sore urging O'ermuch on thee beareth.
"Guttorm shall we Get for the slaying, Our younger brother Bare of wisdom; For he was out of All the oaths sworn, All the oaths sworn, And the plighted troth."
Easy to rouse him Who of naught recketh! -- Deep stood the sword In the heart of Sigurd.
There, in the hall, Gat the high-hearted vengeance; For he can his sword At the reckless slayer: Out at Guttorm Flew Gram the mighty, The gleaming steel From Sigurd's hand.
Down fell the slayer Smitten asunder; The heavy head And the hands fell one way, But the feet and such like Aback where they stood.
Gudrun was sleeping Soft in the bed, Empty of sorrow By the side of Sigurd: When she awoke With all pleasure gone, Swimming in blood Of Frey's beloved.
So sore her hands She smote together, That the great-hearted Gat raised in bed; -- "O Gudrun, weep not So woefully, Sweet lovely bride, For thy brethren live for thee!
"A young child have I For heritor; Too young to win forth From the house of his foes. -- Black deeds and ill Have they been a-doing, Evil rede Have they wrought at last.
"Late, late, rideth with them Unto the Thing, Such sister's son, Though seven thou bear, -- -- But well I wot Which way all goeth; Alone wrought Brynhild This bale against us.
"That maiden loved me Far before all men, Yet wrong to Gunnar I never wrought; Brotherhood I heeded And all bounden oaths, That none should deem me His queen's darling."
Weary sighed Gudrun, As the king gat ending, And so sore her hands She smote together, That the cups arow Rang out therewith, And the geese cried on high That were in the homefield.
Then laughed Brynhild Budli's daughter, Once, once only, From out her heart; When to her bed Was borne the sound Of the sore greeting Of Giuki's daughter.
Then, quoth Gunnar, The king, the hawk-bearer, "Whereas, thou laughest, O hateful woman, Glad on thy bed, No good it betokeneth: Why lackest thou else Thy lovely hue? Feeder of foul deeds, Fey do I deem thee,
"Well worthy art thou Before all women, That thine eyes should see Atli slain of us; That thy brother's wounds Thou shouldest see a-bleeding, That his bloody hurts Thine hands should bind."
"No man blameth thee, Gunnar, Thou hast fulfilled death's measure But naught Atli feareth All thine ill will; Life shall he lay down Later than ye, And still bear more might Aloft than thy might.
"I shall tell thee, Gunnar, Though well the tale thou knowest, In what early days Ye dealt abroad your wrong: Young was I then, Worn with no woe, Good wealth I had In the house of my brother!
"No mind had I That a man should have me, Or ever ye Giukings, Rode into our garth; There ye sat on your steeds Three kings of the people -- -- Ah! That that faring Had never befallen!
"Then spake Atli To me apart, And said that no wealth He would give unto me, Neither gold nor lands If I would not be wedded; Nay, and no part Of the wealth apportioned, Which in my first days He gave me duly; Which in my first days He counted down.
"Wavered the mind Within me then, If to fight I should fall And the felling of folk, Bold in Byrny Because of my brother; A deed of fame Had that been to all folk, But to many a man Sorrow of mind.
"So I let all sink Into peace at the last: More grew I minded For the mighty treasure, The red-shining rings Of Sigmund's son; For no man's wealth else Would I take unto me.
"For myself had I given To that great king Who sat amid gold On the back of Grani; Nought were his eyes Like to your eyen, Nor in any wise Went his visage with yours; Though ye might deem you Due kings of men.
"One I loved, One, and none other, The gold-decked may Had no doubtful mind; Thereof shall Atli Wot full surely, When he getteth to know I am gone to the dead.
"Far be it from me, Feeble and wavering, Ever to love Another's love -- -- Yes shall my woe Be well avenged."
Up rose Gunnar, The great men's leader, And cast his arms About the queen's neck; And all went nigh One after other, With their whole hearts Her heart to turn.
But then all these From her neck she thrust, Of her long journey No man should let her.
Then called he Hogni To have talk with him; "Let all folk go Forth into the hall, Thine with mine -- -- O need sore and mighty! -- To wot if we yet My wife's parting may stay. Till with time's wearing Some hindrance wax."
One answer Hogni Had for all; "Nay, let hard need Have rule thereover, And no man let her Of her long journey! Never born again, May she come back thence!
"Luckless she came To the lap of her mother, Born into the world For utter woe, TO many a man For heart-whole mourning."
Upraised he turned From the talk and the trouble, To where the gem-field Dealt out goodly treasure; As she looked and beheld All the wealth that she had, And the hungry bondmaids, And maids of the hall.
With no good in her heart She donned her gold byrny, Ere she thrust the sword point Through the midst of her body: On the boister's far side Sank she adown, And, smitten with sword, Still bethought her of redes.
"Let all come forth Who are fain the red gold, Or things less worthy To win from my hands; To each one I give A necklace gilt over, Wrought hangings and bed=gear, And bright woven weed."
All they kept silence, And thought what to speak, Then all at once Answer gave: "Full enow are death-doomed, Fain are we to live yet, Maids of the hall All meet work winning."
"From her wise heart at last The linen-clad damsel, The one of few years Gave forth the word: "I will that none driven By hand or by word, For our sake should lose Well-loved life.
"Thou on the bones of you Surely shall burn, Less dear treasure At your departing Nor with Menia's Meal (1) Shall ye come to see me."
"Sit thee down, Gunnar, A word must I say to thee Of the life's ruin Of thy lightsome bride -- -- Nor shall thy ship Swim soft and sweetly For all that I Lay life adown.
"Sooner than ye might deem Shall ye make peace with Gudrun, For the wise woman Shall full in the young wife The hard memory Of her dead husband.
"There is a may born Reared by her mother, Whiter and brighter Than is the bright day; She shall be Swanhild, She shall be Sunbeam.
"Thou shalt give Gudrun Unto a great one, Noble, well-praised Of the world's folk; Not with her goodwill, Or love shalt thou give her; Yet will Atli Come to win her, My very brother, Born of Budli.
-- "Ah! Many a memory Of how ye dealt with me, How sorely, how evilly Ye ever beguiled me, How all pleasure left me The while my life lasted! --
"Fain wilt thou be Oddrun to win, But thy good liking Shall Atli let; But in secret wise Shall ye win together, And she shall love thee As I had loved thee, If in such wise Fare had willed it.
"But with all ill Shall Atli sting thee, Into the strait worm-close Shall he cast thee.
"But no long space Shall slip away Ere Atli too All life shall lose, Yea, all his weal With the life of his sons, For a dreadful bed Dights Gudrun for him, From a heart sore laden, With the sword's sharp edge.
"More seemly for Gudrun, Your very sister, In death to wend after Her love first wed; Had but good rede To her been given, Or if her heart Had been like to my heart.
-- "Faint my speech groweth -- But for our sake Ne'er shall she lose Her life beloved; The sea shall have her, High billows bear her Forth unto Jonakr's Fair land of his fathers.
"There shall she bear sons, Stays of a heritage, Stays of a heritage, Jonakr's sons; And Swanhild shall she Send from the land, That may born of her, The may born of Sigurd.
"Her shall bite The rede of Bikki, Whereas for no good Wins Jormunrek life; And so is clean perished All the kin of Sigurd, Yea, and more greeting, And more for Gudrun.
"And now one prayer Yet pray I of thee -- That last word of mine Here in the world -- So broad on the field Be the burg of the dead That fair space may be left For us all to lie down, All those that died At Sigurd's death!
"Hang round that burg Fair hangings and shields, Web by Gauls woven, And folk of the Gauls: There burn the Hun King Lying beside me.
"But on the other side Burn by the Hun King Those who served me Strewn with treasure; Two at the head, And two at the feet, Two hounds therewith, And two hawks moreover: Then is all dealt With even dealing.
"Lay there amidst us The right-dight metal, The sharp-edged steel, That so lay erst; When we both together Into one bed went, And were called by the name Of man and wife.
"Never, then, belike Shall clash behind him Valhall's bright door With rings bedight: And if my fellowship Followeth after, In no wretched wise Then shall we wend.
"For him shall follow My five bondmaids, My eight bondsmen, No borel folk: Yea, and my fosterer, And my father's dower That Budli of old days Gave to his dear child.
"Much have I spoken, More would I speak, If the sword would give me Space for speech; But my words are waning, My wounds are swelling -- Naught but truth have I told -- -- And now make I ending."
(1) "Menia's Maid" -- periphrasis for gold.