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Asatru Ring Frankfurt & Midgard
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The Poetic Edda Online
In the translation of Bellows 

Lays of the Heroes
Helgakvitha Hundingsbana I

The First Lay of Helgi Hundingsbane


The general subject of the Helgi lays is considered in the introduction to Helgakvitha Hjorvarthssonar, and it is needless here to repeat the statements there made. The first lay of Helgi Hundingsbane is unquestionably one of the latest of the Eddic poems, and was composed probably not earlier than the second quarter of the eleventh century. It presents several unusual characteristics. For one thing, it is among the few essentially narrative poems in the whole collection, telling a consecutive story in verse, and, except for the abusive dialogue between Sinfjotli and Gothmund, which clearly was based on another and older poem, it does so with relatively little use of dialogue. It is, in fact, a ballad, and in the main an exceedingly vigorous one. The annotator, who added his prose narrative notes so freely in the other Helgi poems, here found nothing to do. The available evidence indicates that narrative verse was a relatively late development in Old Norse poetry, and it is significant that most of the poems which consist chiefly, not of dialogue, but of narrative stanzas, such as the first Helgi Hundingsbane lay and the two Atli lays, can safely be dated, on the basis of other evidence, after the year 1000.

The first Helgi Hundingsbane lay is again differentiated from most of the Eddic poems by the character of its language. It is full of those verbal intricacies which were the delight of the Norse skalds, and which made Snorri's dictionary of poetic phrases an absolute necessity. Many of these I have paraphrased in the translation; some I have simplified or wholly avoided. A single line will serve to indicate the character of this form of complex diction (stanza 56, line 4): "And the horse of the giantess raven's-food had." This means simply that wolves (giantesses habitually rode on wolves) ate the bodies of the dead.

Except for its intricacies of diction, and the possible loss of a stanza here and there, the poem is comparatively simple. The story belongs in all its essentials to the Helgi tradition, with the Volsung cycle brought in only to the extent of making Helgi the son of Sigmund, and in the introduction of Sinfjotli, son of Sigmund and his sister Signy, in a passage which has ittle or nothing to do with the course of the narrative, and which looks like an expansion of a passage from some older poem, perhaps from the "old Volsung lay" to which the annotator of the second Helgi Hundingsbane lay refers (prose after stanza 12). There are many proper names, some of which betray the confusion caused by the blending of the two sets of traditions; for example, Helgi appears indiscriminately as an Ylfing (which presumably he was before the Volsung story became involved) and as a Volsung. Granmar and his sons are called Hniflungs (Nibelungen) in stanza 50, though they seem to have had no connection with this race. The place names have aroused much debate as to the localization of the action, but while some of them probably reflect actual places, there is so much geographical confusion, and such a profusion of names which are almost certainly mythical, that it is hard to believe that the poet had any definite locations in mind.

1. In olden days,   when eagles screamed,
And holy streams   from heaven's crags fell,
Was Helgi then,   the hero-hearted,
Borghild's son,   in Bralund born.

2. 'Twas night in the dwelling,   and Norns there came,
Who shaped the life   of the lofty one;
They bade him most famed   of fighters all
And best of princes   ever to be.

3. Mightily wove they   the web of fate,
While Bralund's towns   were trembling all;
And there the golden   threads they wove,
And in the moon's hall   fast they made them.

4. East and west   the ends they hid,
In the middle the hero   should have his land;
And Neri's kinswoman   northward cast
A chain, and bade it   firm ever to be.

5. Once sorrow had   the Ylfings' son,
And grief the bride   who the loved one had borne.
Quoth raven to raven,   on treetop resting,
Seeking for food,   "There is something I know.

6. "In mail-coat stands   the son of Sigmund,
A half-day old;   now day is here;
His eyes flash sharp   as the heroes' are,
He is friend of the wolves;   full glad are we."

7. The warrior throng   a ruler thought him,
Good times, they said,   mankind should see;
The king himself   from battle-press came,
To give the prince   a leek full proud.

8. Helgi he named him,   and Hringstathir gave him,
Solfjoll, Snæfjoll,   and Sigarsvoll,
Hringstoth, Hotun,   and Himinvangar,
And a blood-snake bedecked   to Sinfjotli's brother.

9. Mighty he grew   in the midst of his friends,
The fair-born elm,   in fortune's glow;
To his comrades gold   he gladly gave,
The hero spared not   the blood-flecked hoard.

10. Short time for war   the chieftain waited,
When fifteen winters   old he was;
Hunding he slew,   the hardy wight
Who long had ruled   o'er lands and men.

11. Of Sigmund's son   then next they sought
Hoard and rings,   the sons of Hunding;
They bade the prince   requital pay
For booty stolen   and father slain.

12. The prince let not   their prayers avail,
Nor gold for their dead   did the kinsmen get;
Waiting, he said,   was a mighty storm
Of lances gray   and Othin's grimness.

13. The warriors forth   to the battle went,
The field they chose   at Logafjoll;
Frothi's peace   midst foes they broke,
Through the isle went hungrily   Vithrir's hounds.

14. The king then sat,   when he had slain
Eyjolf and Alf,   'neath the eagle-stone;
Hjorvarth and Hovarth,   Hunding's sons,
The kin of the spear-wielder,   all had he killed.

15. Then glittered light   from Logafjoll,
And from the light   the flashes leaped;
.    .    .    .    .        .    .    .    .    .

16. .    .    .    .    .        .    .    .    .    .
High under helms   on heaven's field;
Their byrnies all   with blood were red,
And from their spears   the sparks flew forth.

17. Early then   in wolf-wood asked
The mighty king   of the southern maid,
If with the hero   home would she
Come that night;   the weapons clashed.

18. Down from her horse   sprang Hogni's daughter,--
The shields were still,--   and spake to the hero:
"Other tasks   are ours, methinks,
Than drinking beer   with the breaker of rings.

19. "My father has pledged   his daughter fair
As bride to Granmar's   son so grim;
But, Helgi, I   once Hothbrodd called
As fine a king   as the son of a cat.

20. "Yet the hero will come   a few nights hence,
.    .    .    .    .        .    .    .    .    .
Unless thou dost bid him   the battle-ground seek,
Or takest the maid   from the warrior mighty."

Helgi spake:
21. "Fear him not,   though Isung he felled,
First must our courage   keen be tried,
Before unwilling   thou fare with the knave;
Weapons will clash,   if to death I come not."

22. Messengers sent   the mighty one then,
By land and by sea,   a host to seek,
Store of wealth   of the water's gleam,
And men to summon,   and sons of men.

23. "Bid them straightway   seek the ships,
And off Brandey   ready to be!"
There the chief waited   till thither were come
Men by hundreds   from Hethinsey.

24. Soon off Stafnsnes   stood the ships,
Fair they glided   and gay with gold;
Then Helgi spake   to Hjorleif asking:
"Hast thou counted   the gallant host?"

25. The young king answered   the other then:
"Long were it to tell   from Tronueyr
The long-stemmed ships   with warriors laden
That come from without   into Orvasund.

26. .    .    .    .    .        .    .    .    .    .
"There are hundreds twelve   of trusty men,
But in Hotun lies   the host of the king,
Greater by half;   I have hope of battle."

27. The ship's-tents soon   the chieftain struck,
And waked the throng   of warriors all;
(The heroes the red   of dawn beheld;)
And on the masts   the gallant men
Made fast the sails   in Varinsfjord.

28. There was beat of oars   and clash of iron,
Shield smote shield   as the ships'-folk rowed;
Swiftly went   the warrior-laden
Fleet of the ruler   forth from the land.

29. So did it sound,   when together the sisters
Of Kolga struck   with the keels full long,
As if cliffs were broken   with beating surf,
.    .    .    .    .        .    .    .    .    .

30. Helgi bade higher   hoist the sails,
Nor did the ships'-folk   shun the waves,
Though dreadfully   did Ægir's daughters
Seek the steeds   of the sea to sink.

31. But from above   did Sigrun brave
Aid the men and   all their faring;
Mightily came   from the claws of Ron
The leader's sea-beast   off Gnipalund.

32. At evening there   in Unavagar
Floated the fleet   bedecked full fair;
But they who saw   from Svarin's hill,
Bitter at heart   the host beheld.

33. Then Gothmund asked,   goodly of birth,
.    .    .    .    .        .    .    .    .    .
"Who is the monarch   who guides the host,
And to the land   the warriors leads?"

34. Sinfjotli answered,   and up on an oar
Raised a shield all red   with golden rim;
A sea-sentry was he,   skilled to speak,
And in words with princes   well to strive.

35. "Say tonight   when you feed the swine,
And send your bitches   to seek their swill,
That out of the East   have the Ylfings come,
Greedy for battle,   to Gnipalund.

36. "There will Hothbrodd   Helgi find,
In the midst of the fleet,   and flight he scorns;
Often has he   the eagles gorged,
Whilst thou at the quern   wert slave-girls kissing."

Gothmund spake:
37. "Hero, the ancient   sayings heed,
And bring not lies   to the nobly born.
.    .    .    .    .        .    .    .    .    .
.    .    .    .    .        .    .    .    .    .

38. "Thou hast eaten   the entrails of wolves,
And of thy brothers   the slayer been;
Oft wounds to suck   thy cold mouth sought,
And loathed in rocky   dens didst lurk."

Sinfjotli spake:
39. "A witch in Varin's   isle thou wast,
A woman false,   and lies didst fashion;
Of the mail-clad heroes   thou wouldst have
No other, thou saidst,   save Sinfjotli only.

40. "A Valkyrie wast thou,   loathly Witch,
Evil and base,   in Allfather's home;
The warriors all   must ever fight,
Woman subtle,   for sake of thee.

41. ".    .    .    .    .        .    .    .    .    .
.    .    .    .    .        .    .    .    .    .
Nine did we   in Sogunes
Of wolf-cubs have;   I their father was."

Gothmund spake:
42. "Thou didst not father   Fenrir's-wolves,
Though older thou art   than all I know;
For they gelded thee   in Gnipalund,
The giant-women   at Thorsnes once.

43. "Under houses the stepson   of Siggeir lay,
Fain of the wolf's cry   out in the woods;
Evil came then all   to thy hands,
When thy brothers'   breasts thou didst redden,
Fame didst thou win   for foulest deeds.

44. "In Bravoll wast thou   Grani's bride,
Golden-bitted   and ready to gallop;
I rode thee many   a mile, and down
Didst sink, thou giantess,   under the saddle."

Sinfjotli spake:
45. "A brainless fellow   didst seem to be,
When once for Gollnir   goats didst milk,
And another time   when as Imth's daughter
In rags thou wentest;   wilt longer wrangle?"

Gothmund spake:
46. "Sooner would I   at Frekastein
Feed the ravens   with flesh of thine
Than send your bitches   to seek their swill,
Or feed the swine;   may the fiends take you!"

Helgi spake:
47. "Better, Sinfjotli,   thee 'twould beseem
Battle to give   and eagles to gladden,
Than vain and empty   words to utter,
Though ring-breakers oft   in speech do wrangle.

48. "Good I find not   the sons of Granmar,
But for heroes 'tis seemly   the truth to speak;
At Moinsheimar   proved the men
That hearts for the wielding   of swords they had."

49. Mightily then   they made to run
Sviputh and Sveggjuth   to Solheimar;
(By dewy dales   and chasms dark,
Mist's horse shook   where the men went by;)
The king they found   at his courtyard gate,
And told him the foeman   fierce was come.

50. Forth stood Hothbrodd,   helmed for battle,
Watched the riding   of his warriors;
.    .    .    .    .        .    .    .    .    .
"Why are the Hniflungs   white with fear?"

Gothmund spake:
51. "Swift keels lie   hard by the land,
(Mast-ring harts   and mighty yards,
Wealth of shields   and well-planed oars;)
The king's fair host,   the Ylfings haughty;
Fifteen bands   to land have fared,
But out in Sogn   are seven thousand.

52. "At anchor lying   off Gnipalund
Are fire-beasts black,   all fitted with gold;
There wait most   of the foeman's men,
Nor will Helgi long   the battle delay."

Hothbrodd spake:
53. "Bid the horses run   to the Reginthing,
Melnir and Mylnir   to Myrkwood now,
(And Sporvitnir   to Sparinsheith;)
Let no man seek   henceforth to sit
Who the flame of wounds   knows well to wield.

54. "Summon Hogni,   the sons of Hring,
Atli and Yngvi   and Alf the Old;
Glad they are   of battle ever;
Against the Volsungs   let us go."

55. Swift as a storm   there smote together
The flashing blades   at Frekastein;
Ever was Helgi,   Hunding's slayer,
First in the throng   where warriors fought;
(Fierce in battle,   slow to fly,
Hard the heart   of the hero was.)

56. From heaven there came   the maidens helmed,--
The weapon-clang grew,--   who watched o'er the king;
Spake Sigrun fair,--   the wound-givers flew,
And the horse of the giantess   raven's-food had:--

57. "Hail to thee, hero!   full happy with men,
Offspring of Yngvi,   shalt ever live,
For thou the fearless   foe hast slain
Who to many the dread   of death had brought.

58. "Warrior, well   for thyself hast won
Red rings bright   and the noble bride;
Both now, warrior,   thine shall be,
Hogni's daughter   and Hringstathir,
Wealth and triumph;   the battle wanes."

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