Sigurd rode up on the Hindfell, then turned south toward the land of the Franks. On the mountain he saw a great light as if fire were burning that blazed up to the heavens. And when he drew near he saw a shield-girt tower, and above it a banner. Sigurd went into the tower and found a man sleeping, fully armed. He took the helm from his head, then saw that it was a woman. The mail coat was as if it had grown into the flesh. Then with his sword he cut from the neck down, and both the sleeves. She awoke, sat up, and spoke:
What bites at my byrnie? Who breaks off my sleep?
Who frees me from grip of ghostly fetters?
Sigmund's son with Sigurd's sword,
Late come from the Raven's carrion field.
Long have I slept. Long did I sleep.
Long are the miseries of men.
By Odin's will, unable to wake,
Held fast in fetters of sleep.
Hail Day! Hail the sons of Day!
Hail Night and the daughter of Night!
Gaze on us with Gracious eyes;
Award us victory, we who wait.
Hail the Aesir! Hail Asynjur!
Hail the all-giving earth! And grant
Wisdom and fair speech for us, far-famed,
And hands of leechcraft while we live.
Sigurd sat down at her side and asked her name. She took a horn of mead and give him a memory drink.
She was named Sigdrifa, a Valkyrie. She said that two kings met in battle; one was Helm Gunnar, old, but mighty, and Odin had promised him victory.
The other was Agnar, Auda's brother,
And none would help him in his need.
Sigdrifa killed Helm Gunnar in the battle, and Odin, angry, pricked her with a sleep-thorn, and said that never after would she win victory in battle, but would be given in marriage. "But I answered him that I had sworn an oath to have no man that knew fear." Then Sigurd asked her to teach him wisdom, for she had news of all the worlds. Sigdrifa answered:
Here Sigurd speaks.
Beer I bring you, Tree-of-Battle,
With might and glory mingled together,
Enchanting songs and wholesome charms,
With galdr good, and gladness-runes.
Victory runes for victory cut;
Shape them on the hilt of your sword,
Some on the grip, and some on the guard,
Then twice call out the name of Tyr.
Ale runes know if you'd not be betrayed
Through your trusting words to another's wife.
Cut them on horn, cut them on hand,
And Nauthiz carve on your fingernail.
Sigurd discovers the Valkyrie.
Hallow the cup to ward against harm,
A leek into the liquor cast,
Although I have no fear your fate
Will come of mead with malice mingled.
Mead with malice mingled.
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Helping runes you must have,
A babe from woman's belly to loose,
Cut them on palms, and clasp on the joints,
And call the Disir to come to your aid.
Sea runes know to save from wreck
The horses that sail on the sea.
Cut them on prow and rudder blade,
And burn them onto the oars with fire.
Though breakers surge, dark blue beneath,
However high, you will come home.
Limb runes a healer must learn
To know the tending of wounds.
Carve them on the bark of trees,
Whose branches are bent to the East.
Speech-runes know that none will requite
Your harmful deed with hate.
Wind them together, weave all about,
And arrange them in a row,
So when the folk have fared to the Thing,
The judges see justice done.
Thought-runes learn if you'd be thought
The sharpest-minded of men.
These Odin made clear, these Odin cut,
And these he mastered through mind
From fluid spilled from Heiddraupnir's skull,
And from Hoddrofnir's horn.
On a mountain, bearing Brimir's sword,
He stands, and on his head a helm.
Then first was heard from Mimir's head
True words and wise.
He said to cut them on the shield
That stands before the shining god,
At Arvak's ears and Alsvinn's hooves,
On the cartwheels of Hrungis' killer,
On Sleipnir's teeth, and sledge's strap.
On Sleipnir's teeth
On bear's paw, on Bragi's tongue,
On wolf's toes and eagle's talon,
On bloody wings, and bridge's end,
On hands that free and steps that heal.
On glass, on gold, on good-luck charms,
In wine, in beer, in the welcome seat,
On Gungnir's point, and Grani's breast,
On Norns' nails and night owl's beak.
All scored were after scraped,
Mingled with holy mead and sent,
Some to the Aesir, some to the Alfar,
Some to the wise Vanes, and some to men.
There are beech runes, there are birth runes,
And all the runes of ale,
And priceless runes of power.
Keep them unspoiled and keep unspilled,
And they will bring you luck.
Use them if you can until the high gods perish.
Choose now; the choice is yours,
Warrior of well-honed blade,
Speech or silence--which do you say;
There's evil either way.
I shall not flee, in spite of fate;
I was not born a coward.
Your loving words I want to have
As long as I'm alive.
My council is first, in dealing with kin
Remain above reproach.
Nor seek revenge, though great the wrong.
So doing will please the dead.
Second, I council to swear no oath
You can not truly keep.
Baleful is fate to breakers of vows;
woeful the oath-wolf.
I council you third, when come to the Thing,
Bandy no folly with fools.
The stupid man unthinking speaks
Words far worse than he knows.
All is for naught, if nothing you say,
For many will call you coward,
Or think the truth was told.
Fickle is all but the greatest fame,
So on the following day make death
The payment for perjury.
I council you fourth, that should you find
A cunning witch on your way,
It's better to go than to be her guest,
Though night is falling fast.
Far seeing eyes need the sons of men
When fierce they are in fight.
Often wicked women wait in the way
To blunt the edge of blade and man.
I council you fifth, however fair
The maids on the benches sitting,
Let kinship-silver not rob you of sleep,
And be not beguiled by kisses.
I council you sixth, while sitting with men,
When ale to anger turns,
With a drunken warrior bandy no words,
For wine robs men of wits.
For songs and beer will always be
The bane of many a man,
For some their death, for some their sorrow;
Many are the miseries of men.
I council you seventh, should you quarrel
With any man of might,
To battle is better than burnt within,
However fine your hall.
I council you eighth to guard against evil,
And beware of lying words.
Tempt no maiden or man's wife,
Or lead her into lust.
I council you ninth to bury a corpse
In any field you find one,
Whether by sea or sickness dead,
Or wounded by weapons' stroke.
Prepare a bath and bathe the corpse,
And wash the head and hands.
Comb, wipe dry, and place in the coffin,
And pray his sleep be pleasant.
I council you tenth never to trust
The frith of a foeman's kin,
If you his brother or father have felled,
Though gladly he takes your gold.
Quarrels and hatred and harmful deeds
Are seldom or never asleep.
Wisdom and weapons a warrior requires
Who fain would be first among men.
Eleventh, I council, that you take care
For falsehood even from friends.
No leader can hope for length of life;
There's strife on every side.
Sigurd spoke, "None among the sons of men can be found wiser than you, and thereby I swear that you will I have as my own, for near to my heart you lie.
She answers, "You would I fainest choose, though I had all men's sons to choose from."
And thereto they plighted troth both of them.
The prose ending is paraphrased from Wm. Morris' translation of the Volsunga Saga, and clearly shows that the saga's ancient author had little or no more of the poem to go on than we do. The Lay of Sigdrifa is probably the most corrupted of all the texts in the Poetic Edda. Many of the eddaic poems have prose passages, and may have from the first. That may be the case with the opening of this poem, but two lines are clearly missing from stanza five and other stanzas before and after it may have been somehow lost as well, to be partially replaced with prose. On the other hand, some of the material on wisdom and magic may have been added later. The end of the poem is also missing.
The title character is also a problem. Sigdrifa is not a name we see elsewhere, even elsewhere in the Edda. What is her relationship to Brynhild, who is the Valkyrie Sigurd awakens in Snorri and in the Volsunga Saga. For a discussion of this question see my Volsung page.
Opening: The Valkyrie's sleeping arrangements are left vague. The idea of a castle comes more
from Sigurds second visit and from the Nibelungenlied than from here. The shields,
however, must be hanging on something. Wagner leaves her sleeping in the open,
which might be impractical, but is visually dramatic.
Stanza 1: Byrnie--coat of mail. This stanza is often divided, causing a difference among
translations in the numbering of the stanzas. "Ghostly fetters"--this is not quite literal,
but I needed a sense both of paleness and restraint. Larrington uses "pallid coercion."
I would suppose the carrion field is the place Sigurd left the bodies of Fafnir and Regin.
Stanza 5: This incomplete stanza is often incorporated into the prose passage, again effecting the
numbering of the stanzas.
Stanza 6: Tree-of-battle -- a term for a warrior. Galdr--a kind of Northern magic.
Stanza 7: Tyr-- the one handed Northern god of justice, fair dealing, and war.
Stanza 8: "on horn"--on a drinking horn. Nauthiz--the runic letter for "N". It means "need" or
Stanza 9: The last two lines may simple mean, "do this and you need not fear . . ." or "I need not
fear." I would rather think, though, that the Valkyrie who is a magical being with
knowledge of the nine worlds would have enough fore-sight to know something of the
nature of Sigurd's death. The reader, of course, is expected to think of Sigurd's half-
brother, Sinfjotli, who did die in this manner.
Stanza 10: The Disir--departed female ancestors. Larrington observes that helping with childbirth
is given elsewhere as the function of the Norns, but that misses the point. The Disir are women, and most (a few might be maiden aunts) have had children themselves. Of course you would want and expect them to help at such a time.
Stanza 13: I'm really not quite sure about the last line of this stanza.
Stanza 14: Odin is actually called by his alternate name, Hropt, in this stanza. I used "Odin" for
the sake of clarity. Heiddraupnir and Hoddrofnir are a mystery.
Stanza 15: Brimir--one of the giants. It is not clear why Odin has his sword. Mimir--the original
Stanza 16: The shield is Svalin which stands in front of the sun to prevent the world from being
butned up. Arvak and Alsvinn are the horses that draw the sun across the sky.
Hrungis' killer is Thor. Sleipnir is Odin's horse.
Stanza 17: Bragi--god of poetry. "Steps that heal"--I have no idea what healing footsteps are all
Stanza 18: Gungnir is Odin's spear. Grani is Sigurd's horse.
Stanza 19: Odin shaves the runs off and sends the shavings around. The Alfar are the elves, which
include the dwarves. The Vanes or Vanir are the "other" Norse gods.
Stanza 20: Beech can also mean "book." Beech tablets were used to write on.
Stanza 21: This stanza is maybe a little too bouncy for a Valkyrie, but at least it's not pseudo-
Medieval, which does not sound like anyone does now, ever did, or ever will.
Stanza 23: "will please the dead"--or maybe one should read the line as meaning "you will get
your reward in the afterlife," but I prefer to think it means "acting to please one's
Stanza 24: "Woeful the oath-wolf." If this line had been a little better I would have tried to
improve it, but it's so aggressively shameless that it seems almost good.
Stanza 26: A difficult and confusing stanza. This is probably more or less what it means.
Stanza 29: Kinship-silver means the price paid for a bride, but exactly how that fits into the
context here, I'm not sure. I'm also not sure who, in the next line, does the beguiling.
Stanza 31: Songs--some translations provide a different word, but personally, I've seen a few
times when songs and beer caused trouble.
Stanza 32: "Burnt within"--being burnt by an enemy in one's house is a common theme of the
sagas, and probably common enough outside of them as well.
Stanza 36: "Though gladly he takes your gold."--This, I presume, refers to the paying of
weregild, or compensation, to a relative of someone you killed. Doing so was