These poems are based on the Poetic Edda, a collection of poems divided between mythic and heroic poems. The heroic poems make up the larger part of the work, and all deal with the exploits of the Volsung family, making one long, loosely connected story. The poems below deal with the story, and as nearly as possible are in the eddaic manner. They are all in fornyrdislag meter. The one exception is four stanzas in "The Song of the Nuthatches," which are in ljodahattr meter, but that poem is a translation, and follows the original in that variation. Most of the Edda is in one or the other of these meters.
The Edda, for whatever reason, has no poems dealing with the early history of the Volsung family. This we get from the Volsunga Saga, which fills in many of the gaps left by the poems. This poem opens at the point at which Sigmund and his nephew and son by his sister, Sinfjotli, have piled wood around King Siggier's hall and set it afire. He is seeking revenge for the betrayal and murder of his father, Volsung, and his nine brothers at the hands of Siggier. His sister, Signy, is married to Siggier, but has helped Sigmund achieve his vengeance. The saga tells us that, when the hall is ablaze, Sigmund calls his sister to come out, but she chooses instead to die with the husband whose death she has contributed to, just as she has already shared responsiblity for the death of her four sons by the king. The saga does not say why, and so this poem is an exploration of her likely motives. The poem is mostly in dialogue, which is typical of eddaic poems. In fact, dialogue is so pervasive an element in Norse poetry that the action between speeches is often handled with a short prose summary. The prose passage at the beginning and end is also typical.
THE LAY OF SIGNY VOLSUNGSDOTTIR
After they had escaped from the pit in which King Siggeir had entombed them, Sigmund and Sinfjotli came by night to the hall of the king. They piled wood around the walls, setting it alight, then stood on either side of the door with drawn swords that none might go out except by their will.
Come to the door daughter of Volsung.
Bright are the flames, roof beams glow;
Fire bees swarm stinging the night;
Hungry on thatch thurses are feeding.
Who do I hear the hall without?
Is it my brother back from the mound"
Sigmund I am, and Sinfjotli, your son.
Come to the door, daughter of kings.
Long were the days, longer the nights,
Long have I waited alone with my thoughts.
Loud are the cries, louder my laugh.
Bane of branches breaks down the walls.
Once to the woods I went by night;
Never again will I go that far.
A weary walk it would be now
To bear a horn the hall around.
Carven doorposts cunningly wrought
Mark the bound that both must keep.
I stand at the door; stay here I must.
Reach not your hand, or hence I will go.
Sons of Surt circle the pyre;
Over the feast fearsome they roar.
Life is outside, the last of your kin;
None that you love linger within.
Now have I brought bane to my foe;
Now we are free to fare as we will,
To live for ourselves instead of the dead--
why are you cold to closest of kin?
Go your way, the world is yours;
Wives will you take, and treasure gain;
Sons will you have, a hall and ships.
The grass-grown howe my home must be.
Foolish your words-- worthy is life;
Naught are the dead, but dust underfoot.
Take a man, if marry you would,
Or half of hall my hand will win.
What name does a woman wear in the world
That husband slays and sons as well?
Even the bondmaids bent to the quern
Will sing foul songs to spread my name.
Four pretty sons to Siggeir I bore,
And gave to death this day to win.
For vengeance alone, and love of the dead
So long have I lived; my life is done.
A fifth you bore, his blood the same,
But like in mold his mother's kin,
Like Rerir's son, remains to you,
A shield against the shame of words.
As much as mine his might is yours;
A cunning witch lay with the king.
I took her form, fared to the woods,
And made a child ere moon could set.
Ill the deed we did that night;
Had I known, never I would.
If kin condemn, what can I hope
When other tongues my tale relate?
I do not wish the deed undone.
Ungrafted fruit is fair sometimes,
Nor did the Disir desert his birth.
Let this one tale untold remain.
Hide no truth, but tell it all;
Though scorn I'd not escape in life,
My death will earn undying fame.
Farewell you both, my brother and son.
Rafters break, brands are falling,
Searing our bodies, blistering flesh.
Here is your brother, here is your son;
Wait no longer; leave with us.
All I have done that daughter can do.
No duty as wife remains but to die.
Go with my love to glorious lives.
In Hella's hall my home must be.
With these words Signy went back into the hall and the roof fell in, so that she was consumed by the fire with King Siggeir and all his people. But Sigmund and Sinfjotli went out into the world and won great renown.
The death of Sigmund's son, Sinfjotli is told briefly in the Volsunga Saga, and in the Edda, not as a poem, but as a short transitional piece of prose between the Helgi poems and the first poem dealing with Sigurd. Whether there was once a poem, now lost, that covered this story, there is no way of knowing. If there was, it may have been rather like this one. One the other hand, it may have been a much longer poem dealing with other related matters as well. Some of the Eddaic poems contain such a variety of material that one may suspect that at times fragments of several poems have been patched together. The name, Farmaguth (cargo-god), is one of the many names for Odin, so that the reader should be able to guess the boatman's identity, even though Sigmund does not.
THE LAY OF FARMAGUTH
Sinfjotli, the son of Sigmund, wooed the same woman as the brother of Borghild, Sigmund's wife, and killed him in battle. Sigmund paid compensation to his wife for that death, but she remained unsatisfied, and poisoned Sinfjotli at a feast. Sigmund carried his dead son from the hall and down to the seashore, whee he came upon an old man sitting beside a boat.
Hawks scream high among crags;
Below, waves wash against rocks;
Briers and grass grow on the path.
No hall lies near, nor hut of thrall.
Shortly in sea spray Sunna will wet
Her horses' fetlocks, the hubs of her cart.
When night falls, need there is
Of food and fire, a friend and beer.
Where do you wend?-- wolf-like you seem,
Though finely clothed, kingly your garb.
Surely you flee an ill-fated war,
Bearing some kinsman killed by the foe.
I bear my son slain in the hall
By woman's wile, not weapon's stroke.
Long is my journey, my load not light;
Ferry me, stranger, the firth across.
Surely you do shame to the dead,
Bearing his body from bright-lit hall
Through nighted woods and wolf-fells dark
Down to the surf, the seal-loud shore.
Kinsmen call to come to a feast;
Pile with gold a glittering pyre;
Praise the deeds done by his arm;
Lament his loss with mournful words.
Few kin live to come to a feast.
My people's line now lies in dust,
Forgotten of gods, forgotten of men--
Long have lived; of life grown weary.
My father betrayed by a faithless king,
A sister burned, my brothers killed,
And Borghild my wife, wicked of mind,
My sister's son, has slain, and mine.
What mighty wrong could rouse such wrath
That serpent-like your son she stung,
A deed whose cost her death could be,
But nothing less than lasting shame?
Her brother wooed a woman that
Sinfjotli too had sought to wed.
Sword and sheild settled their feud;
The brother fell as fate decreed.
Such my might for many slain,
Wergild no man of me has had,
Yet freely I gave red gold to her,
Peace to buy for a brother's death.
Thrice in hall the horn she bore;
Thrice my son with scorn refused,
Knowing the woman willed his death,
And twice myself, I took the drink.
Twice unharmed the horn I drained.
Sinfjotli's might, to mine far less,
No poison blade, or point could harm,
Though poison drunk his death would be.
A third time thus; by then grown drunk,
With fool's words his woe I wrought,
Bade him lift to lip the horn,
And moustache use, the mead to strain.
And so he drank, And dead he fell.
Seldom to man is mead a friend,
As fools in sorrow find next day,
Waking to woes drunk words have wrought.
Little remains for me to do,
But build a pyre and burn my son,
And raise a mound that men will see.
Then live or die, I little care.
My dearest son this day I've lost,
And Borghild too, my bedmate once.
Little of worth is left to me.
And I am old, too old to wed.
Hot your haste to hurry the end.
One battle yet you have to fight,
Another wife to wed remains,
Another son to swell her womb.
A tree of battle barbed with thorn,
Golden of leaf, graceful in form
Yet must spring from Sigmund's line--
The soil not turned, the seed not sown.
Well-meaning words their worth but small.
Much I've seen, and suffered much
For many half-years, too many by one.
Ferry me, stranger, the firth across.
Well know I that woman's art
Freya taught the father of gods.
Far I see, and farther still--
Much is yet for you to do.
Farmaguth my name, well known to men;
widely through all the worlds I've gone.
Though strange to you I seem to be,
Twice we've met, and once more will.
But now the sun sets in the west.
Ravens to Har return with word
Of weal and woe in worlds nine.
Too long in talk we've lingered here.
My craft is small to carry three,
And you are not a youth half-grown.
Within the bow the body lay,
But you must take the trail around.
Sigmund did as the other bade. But when the boat had been pushed off from the shore it vanished, so that Sigmund know that it was Odin who had taken his son.
"Sigrun and Helgi" is taken from the last episode of "The Second Lay of Helgi Hundingsbana." This poem deals with the love between Helgi, a son of Sigmund, and a Valkyrie, Sigrun. Both are said to be reincarnations of another Helgi and another Valkyrie. Sigrun is betrothed, apparently unwillingly to another man. Helgi wins her hand in battle, but in the process kills her father, and eight of his sons, sparing the one surviving brother, Dag, for his sister's sake. Later Dag murders Helgi, and is cursed by Sigrun, who is inconsolable over the loss of her love, and curses her brother in memorably violent terms. The story ends with this gothic little scene.
The original poem must originally have been an effective and fairly unified work, but the loss of some stanzas, unclear transitions, and material imported from other poems have blurred its outlines, and caused it to be one of the less read poems of the collection. I have done nothing innovative with the material except draw this compact little story out of its context so that it can appear to better advantage. As nearly as possible I have followed the original text, including the prose, my only addition being a longer prose introduction to the beginning of the story. The original is in fornyrdislag meter, which I have followed.
SIGRUN AND HELGI
Helgi was the son of Sigmund, and a great warrior. To win Sigrun he defeated in battle and killed her father, King Hogni and eight of his sons, sparing only Dag for his sister's sake. Later Dag killed Helgi and was cursed by Sigrun, who wept continuously over the death of her husband. One evening Sigrun's maid was passing Helgi's burial mound and saw Helgi with a large following ride into it. The maid said:
What sight is this that seems a dream,
Dead men riding, or Ragnarok?
Spurring your horses, hastening by,
Or to their hearths do heroes return?
No dream to make you doubt your eyes,
Nor world's end, though us you see,
Spurring our horses, hastening by.
Nor to their hearths may heroes return.
The maiden returned home and told Sigrun:
Come out, Sigrun of Sevafioll
If you'd meet the master of folk;
The hill is open; Helgi has come,
With weeping wounds waits you there
That you may staunch the streaming blood.
Sigrun entered the mound and said to Helgi:
As glad I am to greet you here
As Odin's hawks, by hunger stirred
At slaughter's stench, and still-warm flesh,
Or when, dew drenched, the dawn they see.
Let me kiss the dead king first
Ere bloody mail-coat you cast aside.
Helgi, your hair is heavy with frost;
With dew of the slain, soaked you are,
Cold are the hands of Hogni's son;
How is there, lord, healing for that?
By you, Sigrun of Sevafioll
Is Helgi soaked in sorrow-dew.
Gold-wearer, your weeping is cruel;
Before you sleep, bright southern maid,
Blood-tears wet the breast of your lord
With ice and fire, a festering grief.
Of this rare drink a draught we'll share.
Though life and land are lost to me,
Let no man sing sad songs for that,
Though on my breast are bleeding wounds,
For now our brides to the barrow come,
Women admired with we, the dead.
Sigrun prepared a bed in the mound:
Here I've made you, Helgi, a bed,
Free from care, kin of Ylfings,
There sleeping to lie, lord, in your arms,
As once I lay with the living king.
Nothing, I say, will now seem strange
Soon or late at Sevafioll,
When you are clasped in corpse's arms,
So white in the howe, Hogni's child,
The quick with the dead, daughter of kings.
Now I must ride the reddening way
On a pale horse through paths of sky,
Westward bound to Windhelm bridge
Ere Salgofnir wakes the warrior band.
Then Helgi and his men rode away, and the women returned home. The next evening Sigrun had the maid keep watch at the mound. When Sigrun came at sunset she said:
Were he coming, he would by now,
Sigmund's heir, from Odin's hall.
Small hope remains that he will come,
Now eagles roost on ash's limbs,
And all are gone to the gathering of dreams.
Mad you'd be to make your way
King's daughter, to a corpse's house.
The dead become more dangerous far
When darkness falls than in full day.
Sigrun died soon after of sorrow and grief. It was thought in olden times that people were reborn, but now we consider it "an old wive's tale" that people are born again. It is said that Helgi and Sigrun were born again, he as Helgi Haddingsjaskati, and she as Kara, daughter of Halfdan, as is told in "The Lay of Kara," and she was a Valkyrie.
A few notes on the text: When Helgi is called "Hogni's son," it means son-in-law. The plural in references to the wives in the mounds makes no sense, since the story speaks only of Sigrun spending the night there. "The Lay of Kara" is lost, though the basic story is known from another source. According to the story, both Sigrun and Helgi have been reincarnated, and will be again.
"The Song of the Nuthatches" is the last part of "The Lay of Fafnir" which tells of the slaying of the dragon, Fafnir by Sigurd, and of Sigurd roasting the dragon's heart at the request of Regin the smith. This poem is a translation, and differs in only one respect from the poem as it appears in the Edda, though the difference is an important one. In the Edda seven nuthatches speak, each speaking one stanza. It was suggested as early as the 19th century that there might only be three nuthatches, a suggestion that Sophus Bugge at least partially confirmed by pointing out the woodcarving of the scene on the portals of the Hyllestad Church in Norway, in which there are only three birds. Not only is three more typical of stories in general, it is far more dramatic here, and seems to be further confirmed by the verse form. The first nuthatch points out Regin's murderous intentions in tones that are almost absurdly measured and qualified. The second adds to the sentiment in the same calm, overly restrained manner. The third speaks in violent and passionate terms, and in a different verse form, the quicker, ljodahattr meter. Then the first two speak again in the same tone as before, and the third agains speaks in the same quick, bloody-minded terms, and again in a different meter than the other nuthatches use, or the rest of the poem for that matter. A pattern seems to be developing, but it is broken at this point by the third nuthatch adding a second stanza to his speech. Then Sigurd responds in the same violent tone as the third, and confirms his shift to a more bloody-minded attitude by also using ljodahattr meter. Other than these four stanzas, three by the third nuthatch, and one by Sigurd, the rest of the poem is all in fornyrdislag meter. The difference in dramatic effect more than the evidence of the panels convinces me that the Medieval editor of the Edda was mistaken in dividing the speeches among seven nuthatches.
THE SONG OF THE NUTHATCHES
Sigurd took Fafnir's heart and roasted it on a spit. When he thought it was done and the juices were dripping, he poked it with a finger to test it. He burned his finger and stuck it into his mouth. But when Fafnir's heart's-blood touched his tongue, he understood the speech of the birds. He overheard some nuthatches twittering in the bushes. One nuthatch said:
"Blood soaked, there Sigurd sits;
Fafnir's heart with fire he roasts.
Wiser the ring-breaker were I think,
The shining life-sinew himself to eat."
A second spoke:
"There Regin lies, and lays a plan
To trick the youth that trusts in him.
Wrathful words he wraps in guile,
This smith of vileness to avenge his kin."
A third spoke:
"Cut off the head of the hoary wretch,
And hie him off to Hel.
Then all the gold get for himself,
The hoard that Fafnir had."
The first spoke:
"Wise were he if heed he took
To sound advice we sisters give:
Do right by self, make ravens glad.
See the ears, suspect the wolf."
The second spoke:
"Less wise to me the warrior seems
Than battle-leader ought to be,
If brother share not brother's fate,
When he has been the bane of one."
The third spoke:
"A fool is he if he should spare
The foreman of the folk.
There Regin lies, and wrong intends,
And he, unguarded from guile.
"The frost-cold jotun free of his head,
And wrest from him the rings.
The fortune then that Fafnir had,
One hand alone will hold."
"Regin's fate so fair is not,
That he will be my bane.
These brothers I mean both to slay,
And send them hence to Hel.
Sigurd cut off Regin's head, then ate Fafnir's heart and drank his blood and Fafnir's. Then Sigurd heard the words of the nuthatch:
"Gather, Sigurd, the golden rings;
Unkingly it is to cower in fear.
A maid I know, and none more fair,
Decked in gold, though get her you may.
Green is the track to Giuki's hall,
And fate the way to the wanderer shows.
That king, indeed, one daughter has,
Whose hand, Sigurd, your gold may buy."
"There stands a hall on Hindarfiall
That all around is ringed with fire
That wise men made once long ago
From golden light, the glow of streams.
A valkyrie sleeps on the summit there;
about her bright, the bane of trees.
A sleep thorn, Ygg has struck in her,
Because she felled his favored one.
There will you find the maiden helmed,
Who came from war on Vingskornir.
Sigdrifa may from dream be roused,
Skiolding, never if Norns deny."
Sigurd followed Fafnir's track to his lair and found it open. The door and doorposts were iron, and all the posts inside the house which was partly underground. There Sigurd found much gold. He filled two chests and took the helm of terror, a gold mail shirt, the sword Hrotti, and many other priceless things. He loaded them on Grani, but the horse would not move until he had climbed on his back as well.
Some notes on the text: Ygg is another name for Odin, as is Har in The Lay of Farmaguth. "Bane of trees" like "bane of branches" and "suns of Surt" earlier, is a kenning for fire. What the "helm of terror" is is unknown. Fafnir, though a dragon, is the brother of the smith, Regin. Either his violent, greedy, and hoarding nature has manifested itself physically, or he has taken this form to guard the gold. He and his brother are not humans, and here Fafnir is called a jotun (etin, or giant), though elsewhere Regin is called a dwarf.
Rune Poems I
Rune Poems II
"Hogni and the Water Sprites" is a small story that does not appear in either the Edda or The Volsunga Saga. It is from the German Nibelungenlied, though I have given the characters their Icelandic names to keep this poem consistant with my other poems in the eddaic style. I have also used the Icelandic fornyrdislag meter, which works somewhat like the meter of the original poem, though the lines are shorter. As for the incidents of the poem and the manner in which they are presented, I have followed the original poem fairly closely, though not so closely that this could be called a translation. It is, rather, a retelling.
HOGNI AND THE WATER SPRITES
Gunnar and Hogni with a large following journied to Atli's hall in the land of the Huns. When they came to the Rhine it was in full flood. Gunnar wanted to ford the stream, but Hogni feared they would lose too many men, and so went looking for a ferry.
Hogni roamed the river's side,
The current too swift to swim against,
Seeking a boat to bear him across,
But found no house, nor ferry near.
Though loud the torrent, tumbling down,
A second sound he seemed to hear.
Then turning aside, he saw a pool
Fed by a spring from falls above.
And there in the water women swam,
A pair of nixies, naked and white
As ivory wands or willow peeled,
As swan, or snow, or silver coin.
Seeing a man, they swam far out,
And taunted him with teasing words,
Laughing with voices light and sweet.
Little they feared the force of his arm.
Hogni not long their laughter endured,
But finding their clothes, he caught them up,
And held them till one, Hadeburg named,
Promised with tears to tell him his fate.
"Companion of kings, our clothing give back,
If you would know the Norns' decree,
What good or ill in Atli's hall.
All will I tell you truly I swear."
Like water fowl the women swam,
And Hogni knew their nature from that--
Women famous for wisdom and truth--
So eagerly listened to all that she said.
"None wills you harm in Hunnish lands,
And warm will be your welcome there,
For Atli waits with eager heart.
Long will be told tales of this quest."
All this and more the maiden said,
Whatever Hogni hoped to hear,
And gladly he gave their garments back,
Laid them on rocks at river's edge.
But once they had donned their dresses again,
Magic garments that gave them power,
The second spoke, Sigelinde named--
Less welcome the song she sang to him.
"My sister lied, led you on,
Hoping her words would win our clothes.
Beyond the water waits your death.
Over Mirkwood are massing your foes."
"Turn again while time remains,
Or die at the hands of Hunnish men."
But Hogni said, "What whorish lie
Is this you tell, what trick intend?"
"Who in this land have we to fear?
What danger could face a force so strong?"
"Danger enough from Atli's hand.
A fawning wolf the wise beware."
With hasty words Hogni replied,
"Never will I take such tidings back
To Gunnar the king, the Giukings' lord.
Say where I can find a ferry now."
Then Hadeburg said, "My sister speaks truth.
Stop at the Rhine; return to your homes,
Or long your wives will wait for you,
Standing at windows, watching the road."
"Your bane you'll have of Budli's son.
To gain the gold that Grani bore,
Sigurd's gold that Gudrun's should be,
King Atli means to murder you."
With angry words the warrior replied,
"For better or worse, my wyrd is mine;
None knows the day his death will come.
Where is the ferry, or ford at least?"
Swiftly then Sigelinde spoke,
"Since I see you're set on death,
The ferryman lives not far downstream.
He has a house high on the bank."
"Gunnar I know the gold will hide
Deep in the Rhine to darkly gleam
For eyes of frogs and fish alone,
And none remain to know the place.
Gunnar and Hogni hid the gold just as the wise woman had said, and went on to Atli's court where both met their fate, and so the gold hoard cursed by Andvari the dwarf, the gold that had been the bane of all who held it, was lost forever to the eyes of men.
1. The Lay of Signy Volsungsdottir 8. The Lay of Regin
2. Farmaguth 9. Helgi's Birth
3. Sigrun and Helgi 10. Sigrun's Curse
4. The Song of the Nuthatches
5. Hogni and the Water Sprites
6. Brynhild's Final Request
7. Brynhild's Hel Ride
This poem is translated from "The Short Lay of Sigurd," which is actually quite a long poem. This passage, which ends the poem, is the dying Brynhild's request that she be cremated at the side of Sigurd, though she was largely responsible for his murder at the hands of her husband Gunnar, and his brother Hogni.
BRYNHILD'S FINAL REQUEST
A last request allow me now,
And nothing else I'll ask of you.
In the field prepare a pyre for me,
Broad enough for all of us,
All to be slain for Sigurd's sake.
Hide its form with hangings and shields,
Colored fabrics, a crowd of slaves,
And at my side let Sigurd lie.
On the other side, with Sigurd burn,
Splendid in gold, my serving maids,
Two at our heads, a hawk with each,
A brace of hounds beneath our feet,
So everything will even seem.
Lay between us, as before it did,
The sword, ring-hilted, sharp-edged iron,
As when we shared a single bed,
And men supposed us man and wife.
Do not let shut the shining hall door,
Ring-gripped, against his heel;
If I am coming close behind,
Our train should make no modest show.
Five bondmaids will follow him,
Thralls eight, all well-born,
My playmate too, my patrimony--
The dower that Budli his daughter gave.
Much have I said, and more would I
If death had spared more space for it.
My voice grows weak, my wounds swell;
I've spoken but truth-- my time is done.
BRYNHILD'S HEL RIDE
After Brynhild's death two pyres were raised, one for Sigurd, who was burnt first, and Brynhild after. She was in a wagon decked with rich fabric, so it was said that Brynhild rode the wagon to Hel, and passed the place where a giantess lived. The giantess spoke:
1. Here you may not make your path,
Through my garth, girt with stone.
Better it were to work the loom,
Than chasing after another's man.
2. Why this visit from Valland come,
Here to my house, whorish woman?
Gold-goddess, to give the truth,
Hands you've bathed in blood of men.
3. Blame not me, bride of stone,
Though once I led a warrior's life.
Better than yours my birth will seem
To men, if they our measure take.
The Giantess spoke:
4. You, Brynhild, Budli's daughter,
Woman born to worst of fates,
Grief you've brought to Giuki's sons,
Laying waste their lofty house.
5. I in my wagon, wiser than you,
Will tell you, fool, if truth you'll hear,
How Giuki's heirs through guile left me
Love barren, breaker of oaths.
6. The worthy king our feather-cloaks took
From sister's eight under an oak.
Twelve I was, if you wish to know,
When oaths I yielded the youthful king.
7. 'Hild under helm' in Hlymdale was
the name that I was known by then.
8. Then after that the aged Goth,
Hjalm-Gunnar to Hel I sent,
And Auda's brother the battle gave.
Odin for that was angry with me.
9. Hemmed my with shields in Hero's Grove,
Red ones and white, rims o'erlapped,
And bade that none should break my sleep,
But he that nothing knew of fear.
10. Then circled my hall, southward facing,
With branches' bane blazing high,
Decreeing that none should cross but he,
Who fetched the gold from Fafnir's bed.
11. The gold-give on Grani came
To my foster father's folk-hall then.
And he of all the host around,
The Viking-Dane, most valiant seemed.
12. Happy, we slept in a single bed,
As though he'd been my brother born,
Eight full nights, and never once
Either a hand on the other lay.
13. Yet Gudrun charged, Giuki's daughter,
That I had slept in Sigurd's arms.
Secrets I learned, I'd sooner forget,
That I'd been tricked to take a mate.
14. To sorrows that last too long to bear,
Women and men in the world are born.
But we two now shall never part,
Sigurd and I. Giantess, Sink!
The Lay of Regin
"The Lay of Regin" is quite possibly the most frustrating of all the eddaic poems to read. Many of the poems have explanatory matter in prose at the beginning and end of the poem, and sometimes at points within the poem, but these are so long and so numerous in this poem that they make up half the total text, and destroy any sense of continuity between the various small groups of verses. The longest single run is only seven verses, and those, unfortunately, are the least central or necessary section in the whole poem. Further, the verse form is also inconsistant; sixteen stanzas are in ljodahattr meter, and ten are in fornyrdislag meter. Traditionally the latter form is used more for dramatic material, and the former more for gnomic, wisdom, or aphoristic material, such as the seven stanzas dealing with advice for warriors. Even here, however, for no obvious reason one of the stanzas is fornyrdislag. Possibly the lay as we have it is made up of parts of two different poems.
On the positive side, this poem contains some of the most central and dynamic subject matter of the whole Volsung story. In any case, here it is. This is a straight translation, as true to the verse form and the content as I could make it.
Sigurd went to Hjalprek's stud and chose for himself a horse that was afterward named Grani. At that time Regin, the son of Hreidmar, had come to Hjalprek and was most skillful of men, and a dwarf in stature. He was wise, fierce, and skilled in magic. Regin fostered and taught Sigurd and showed him great affection. He told Sigurd of his parents, and of how it happened that Odin, Hoenir, and Loki came to Andvari's Falls. And in the falls were many fish. A dwarf named Andvari had lived for a long time there in the form of a pike, and in this manner he got food. "Our brother was named Otter," Regin said. "and often went to the falls in otter form. He had caught a salmon, and was sitting on the bank eating it with his eyes closed when Loki killed him with a stone. The Aesir thought they were lucky in that, and skinned the otter. That evening they asked to stay for the night at Hreidmar's house, and showed him what they had caught. Then we captured them, and demanded this ransom for their lives, that they fill the otter's skin with gold and cover it completely with red gold. Loki they sent to get the gold. He went to Ran and got her net, and then to Andvari's Falls, and cast the net before a pike, and it leaped into the net." Loki spoke:
1. "What fish is this which in flood runs,
But cannot save itself from harm?
If your head from Hel you hope to keep,
Find the water's fire for me."
2. "Andvari am I; Oinn is my father;
Many a rapids I've run.
A Norn of bad luck once long ago
Condemned me in water to dwell."
3. "Tell me, Andvari, if you value still
The life you live on earth,
What doom is set for the sons of men
Who wage a war with words?"
4. "Great suffering bear the sons of men
Who wade Vadgelmir's water;
For all the lies on others told,
Long will they linger there.
Loki saw all the gold that Andvari owned, but when he had brought out the gold, he had kept back a single ring, which Loki also took. The dwarf went into a rock and said:
5. "Now the gold that Gust possessed
Shall be the bane of brothers two,
And to eight princes evil bring.
No good shall any gain from my wealth."
The Aesir gave the gold to Hreidmar, filled the otter skin, then set it on its feet. Then they had to heap the gold over it. But when that was done, Hreidmar approached and spotted a single whisker, and demanded they cover it. Then Odin took out the ring, Andvari's Jewel, and covered the whisker. Loki said:
6. "The gold to you is given now,
A heavy payment for my head.
No good your son will gain by it;
It shall instead be bane to both.
7. "Gifts you gave, not gladly, though,
Nor with the whole of your heart.
Your lives you would have lost ere now,
Had I this evil known."
8. "It's worse than that, for this I think--
Kinsmen will come to strife.
Those princes may be unborn as yet,
On whom that fate will fall."
9. "Red gold I've gotten now
As long as I'm alive.
Your threats are nothing now to me,
So hie you to your homes."
Fafnir an Regin asked Hreidmar for their share of the weregild that was paid for the killing of their brother Otter. He refused, and Fafnir stabbed him with a sword while he slept. Hreidmar called to his daughters:
10. "Lyngheid and Lofnheid! My life is lost.
Now I need your aid."
"Sisters few, though a father be killed,
Will go against a brother."
11. "A daughter is well, wolf-hearted girl;
If by the king you bear no son,
Your daughter married may at last
Supply a son to serve your need."
Hreidmar then died, and Fafnir took all the gold. Regin asked for his part of the patrimony, but was refused by Fafnir. Regin then asked his sister, Lyngheid, how he could get his patrimony. Lyngheid spoke:
12. "Fafnir ask in friendly wise
Your half, and his good will.
Unseemly it were to seek with the sword
The fortune that Fafnir holds."
Regin told Sigurd all this. One day when he came to Regin's house he was well received. Regin spoke:
13. "Hither the son of Sigmund comes;
The ready hero, our hall draws near.
His courage is greater than grown man's.
From a hungry wolf hope for a fight."
14. "I will foster the fearless prince,
Now that Yngvi's kin is come to us.
Bravest of princes beneath the sun,
His orlog threads through every land."
Sigurd remained thereafter with Regin, who told him how Fafnir lay on Gnitaheath in the likeness of a serpent. He had a helm-of-terror of which all living things were terrified. Regin forged a sword for Sigurd that was named Gram, and was so sharp that thrusting it into the Rhine, he let a piece of wool drift against it, and it cut through the wool like water. With that sword Sigurd also cut in two Regin's anvil. After that,Regin urged Sigurd to kill Fafnir. Sigurd spoke:
15. "Heartily would laugh King Hunding's sons,
They who the life of Elylimi took,
If now the prince appeared more eager
Red rings to find than his father avenge."
Sigurd got ships and a crew from King Hjalprek to avenge his father. A fierce storm came up, and as they were rounding a rocky headland, they saw a man standing on a cliff. The man spoke:
16. "Who rides there on Raevil's steeds,
Through towering waves and troubled seas,
Their sail-horses sweat-spattered?
The wave steeds won't withstand the wind."
17. "Sigurd and I on sea-trees here,
By blustering winds are bourne to death.
The waves break above the prow;
The roller horses plunge-- who wants to know?"
The man spoke:
18. "'Hnikar' I was when Hugin was gladdened,
Volsung youth, by victims of strife.
Man-of-the-cliff you may call me now,
Feng or Fjolnir. I'll fare with you."
They put in to land, and the old man went on board the ship. The storm died down.
19. "Tell me, Hnikar, of two that you know,
Good omens for gods and men,
Which are fairest for fighting men
When the swords are swinging?"
20. "Many are good if a man just know
When swords are swinging.
Well it is if a warrior meets
A dusky raven on his road."
21. "A second is this: when setting out,
And ready to take the road,
You meet a pair of praise-eager men
Waiting in your way."
22. "A third I have; if you hear a wolf
Howl under and ash's bough
Your luck will be good against helmed men,
If you should find them first."
23. "No man should fight facing toward
moon's sister, the setting sun;
In order to win, first one must see,
And in wedge form his forces array."
24. "Ill fortune follows if foot should stumble
When you fare out to fight.
Stealthy Disir stand at your side,
And hope to see you harmed."
25. "Combed and washed a warrior should be,
And take a good morning meal.
One never knows what night will bring;
Don't lose what luck you have."
Sigurd fought against Lyngvi, son of Hunding, and his brothers. Lyngvi and his three brothers were killed. Regin spoke:
26. "The blood-eagle now with biting blade
Is sliced on the back of Sigmund's bane.
None more worthy of warriors ever
Reddened earth or ravens gladdened."
Sigurd went home to Hjalprek. Then Regin again urged Sigurd to kill Fafnir.
from " Helgakvitha Hundingsbana Fyrri"
In ancient days when eagles screamed,
And holy waters from Himinfell gushed,
Then was Helgi, great of heart,
To Borghild in Braland born.
Then came by night Norns to the house,
Came to order the atheling's fate.
They said great fame his future held,
That he'd be called of kings the best,
Mightily wove the weave of fate,
Throughout the burgs of Braland all.
Then gathering up the golden thread,
Bound it to the middle of Mani's hall.
East and west the ends they stretched,
The prince's land lying between.
Neri's sister northward then
Hung one end to hold forever.
The Ylfing's son one sorrow knew,
As did the bride who bore the child.
Raven perching, on prey intent,
To raven said, "Something I know."
"There Sigmund's heir in armor stands,
One day old-- our dawn has come.
As a warrior's ought, his eyes are sharp--
The wolf's friend is welcome to us."
A true prince he to the people seemed,
Harbinger of harvests rich.
From battle came the king, himself,
To give his son a goodly leek,
Called him Helgi, Hringstad gave him,
Sofjoll, Snaefjoll, and Sigarsvoll,
Hringstod, Hatun, and Himinvangi,
And a blood snake for Sinfjotli's brother.
There are two poems about Helgi Hundingsbane. This passage is the opening of the one that appears first in the Codex Regius, not the same poem as the one from which "Sigrun and Helgi" was taken.
Line 12: Mani is the moon, and so his hall would be the sky.
Line 15: Neri's sister--unknown.
Line 17: The Ylfing's son is Helgi's father, Sigmund. The nature of the
sorrow is unknown.
Line 24: Helgi is the wolf's friend because he will leave a lot of corpses to devour.
Line 28: Leeks were viewed as medicinal, magical, and royal, as well as being a food
Line 32: Blood-snake--kenning for sword.
from the Second Lay of Helgi Hundingsbane
To win the Valkyrie, Sigrun, Helgi killed her father, Hogni, in battle with all
his sons but one, named Dag. Dag swore oaths not to harm Helgi, but was driven by desire for vengeance to sacrifice to Odin, who lent him his spear. Dag met Helgi at a place called Fjoturnlund and ran him through with the spear. Dag then rode to Sefafell to tell his sister, Sigrun. Dag spoke:
"Sister, I'm sorry to say what I must,
Sorry to make my sister weep.
This morning fell at Fjotunlund
That king who was the world's best,
He that stepped on heroes' necks."
"Now may all your oaths bite,
Words to Helgi once you swore
By light-embracing Leiptr's water,
By Unn's icy altar stone,
No ship you fare on forward go,
Though keen the wind you want then blows,
The horse you ride not run for you,
Although your foes come fast behind,
The blade you draw not bite for you,
Or only sing around your head,
Vengeance I'll have for Helgi's death.
Were you a wolf in the wood alone,
Lacking in all, in every joy,
You'd gnaw the dead or do without."
"Sister, you rave, your senses lost,
To will a brother such baneful fate.
This ill was worked by Odin alone;
He wrought for kin the runes of war.
Receive of your brother red-gold rings,
Vandilsvi all, and Vigdali too.
Take half your lands, your loss to pay,
Ring-adorned woman, as well your sons."
"Unhappy I'll sit at Sefafell,
Not morn or eve joy ever in life
Till gleams the light on my lord's host,
Till Vigblaer come, to the gold bit tamed,
Bearing him hence, and Helgi I greet.
Helgi filled with fear as great,
His foemen all, and all their kin,
As fleeing goats before the wolf,
Frightened, running from the fells.
So among heroes Helgi stood,
Majestic ash among the thorns,
Or youthful deer, dew-besprinkled,
Standing above all other beasts,
With horns that gleam against the sky."
A burial mound was raised for Helgi. And when he came to Valhalla, Odin
gave him equal rule with himself over everything.
This is not from the same poem as "Helgi's Birth," which is from the first Helgi Hundingsbane poem. This is from the second, and immediately preceeds the events in "Sigrun and Helgi." These poems and scenes from poems have been placed here as they were translated, rather than in logical order.