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The Poetic Edda Online
In the translation of Bellows 

Lays of the Heroes
Guthrunarkvitha I

The First Lay of Guthrun

The First Lay of Guthrun, entitled in the Codex Regius simply Guthrunarkvitha, immediately follows the remaining fragment of the "long" Sigurth lay in that manuscript. Unlike the poems dealing with the earlier part of the Sigurth cycle, the so-called Reginsmol, Fafnismol, and Sigrdrifumol, it is a clear and distinct unit, apparently complete and with few and minor interpolations. It is also one of the finest poems in the entire collection, with an extraordinary emotional intensity and dramatic force. None of its stanzas are quoted elsewhere, and it is altogether probable that the compilers of the Volsungasaga were unfamiliar with it, for they do not mention the sister and daughter of Gjuki who appear in this poem, or Herborg, "queen of the Huns" (stanza 6).

The lament of Guthrun (Kriemhild) is almost certainly among the oldest parts of the story. The lament was one of the earliest forms of poetry to develop among the Germanic peoples, and I suspect, though the matter is not susceptible of proof, that the lament of Sigurth's wife had assumed lyric form as early as the seventh century, and reached the North in that shape rather than in prose tradition (cf. Guthrunarkvitha II, introductory note). We find traces of it in the seventeenth Aventiure of the Nibelungenlied, and in the poems of the Edda it dominates every appearance of Guthrun. The two first Guthrun lays (I and II) are both laments, one for Sigurth's death and the other including both that and the lament over the slaying of her brothers; the lament theme is apparent in the third Guthrun lay and in the Guthrunarhvot.

In their present forms the second Guthrun lay is undoubtedly older than he first; in the prose following the Brot the annotator refers to the "old" Guthrun lay in terms which can apply only to the second one in the collection. The shorter and "first" lay, therefore, can scarcely have been composed much before the year 1000, and may be somewhat later. The poet appears to have known and made use of the older lament; stanza 17, for example, is a close parallel to stanza 2 of the earlier poem; but whatever material he used he fitted into a definite poetic scheme of his own. And while this particular poem is, as critics have generally agreed, one of the latest of the collection, it probably represents one of the earliest parts of the entire Sigurth cycle to take on verse form.

Guthrunarkvitha I, so far as the narrative underlying it is concerned, shows very little northern addition to the basic German tradition. Brynhild appears only as Guthrun's enemy and the cause of Sigurth's death; the three women who attempt to comfort Guthrun, though unknown to the southern stories, seem to have been rather distinct creations of the poet's than traditional additions to the legend. Regarding the relations of the various elements in the Sigurth cycle, cf. introductory note to Gripisspo.

Guthrunarkvitha I, The First Lay of Guthrun

Guthrun sat by the dead Sigurth; she did not weep as other women, but her heart was near to bursting with grief. The men and women came to her to console her, but that was not easy to do. It is told of men that Guthrun had eaten of Fafnir's heart, and that she under stood the speech of birds. This is a poem about Guthrun.

1. Then did Guthrun   think to die,
When she by Sigurth   sorrowing sat;
Tears she had not,   nor wrung her hands,
Nor ever wailed,   as other women.

2. To her the warriors   wise there came,
Longing her heavy   woe to lighten;
Grieving could not   Guthrun weep,
So sad her heart,   it seemed, would break.

3. Then the wives   of the warriors came,
Gold-adorned,   and Guthrun sought;
Each one then   of her own grief spoke,
The bitterest pain   she had ever borne.

4. Then spake Gjaflaug,   Gjuki's sister:
"Most joyless of all   on earth am I;
Husbands five   were from me taken,
(Two daughters then,   and sisters three,)
Brothers eight,   yet I have lived."

5. Grieving could not   Guthrun weep,
Such grief she had   for her husband dead,
And so grim her heart   by the hero's body.

6. Then Herborg spake,   the queen of the Huns:
"I have a greater   grief to tell;
My seven sons   in the southern land,
And my husband, fell   in fight all eight.
(Father and mother   and brothers four
Amid the waves   the wind once smote,
And the seas crashed through   the sides of the ship.)

7. "The bodies all   with my own hands then
I decked for the grave,   and the dead I buried;
A half-year brought me   this to bear;
And no one came   to comfort me.

8. "Then bound I was,   and taken in war,
A sorrow yet   in the same half-year;
They bade me deck   and bind the shoes
Of the wife of the monarch   every morn.

9. "In jealous rage   her wrath she spake,
And beat me oft   with heavy blows;
Never a better   lord I knew,
And never a woman   worse I found."

10. Grieving could not   Guthrun weep,
Such grief she had   for her husband dead,
And so grim her heart   by the hero's body.

11. Then spake Gollrond,   Gjuki's daughter:
"Thy wisdom finds not,   my foster-mother,
The way to comfort   the wife so young."
She bade them uncover   the warrior's corpse.

12. The shroud she lifted   from Sigurth, laying
His well-loved head   on the knees of his wife:
"Look on thy loved one,   and lay thy lips
To his as if yet   the hero lived."

13. Once alone did   Guthrun look;
His hair all clotted   with blood beheld,
The blinded eyes   that once shone bright,
The hero's breast   that the blade had pierced.

14. Then Guthrun bent,   on her pillow bowed,
Her hair was loosened,   her cheek was hot,
And the tears like raindrops   downward ran.

15. Then Guthrun, daughter   of Gjuki, wept,
And through her tresses   flowed the tears;
And from the court   came the cry of geese,
The birds so fair   of the hero's bride.

16. Then Gollrond spake,   the daughter of Gjuki:
"Never a greater   love I knew
Than yours among   all men on earth;
Nowhere wast happy,   at home or abroad,
Sister mine,   with Sigurth away."

Guthrun spake:
17. "So was my Sigurth   o'er Gjuki's sons
As the spear-leek grown   above the grass,
Or the jewel bright   borne on the band,
The precious stone   that princes wear.

18. "To the leader of men   I loftier seemed
And higher than all   of Herjan's maids;
s little now   as the leaf I am
On the willow hanging;   my hero is dead.

19. "In his seat, in his bed,   I see no more
My heart's true friend;   the fault is theirs,
The sons of Gjuki,   for all my grief,
That so their sister   sorely weeps.

20. "So shall your land   its people lose
As ye have kept   your oaths of yore;
Gunnar, no joy   the gold shall give thee,
(The rings shall soon   thy slayers be,)
Who swarest oaths   with Sigurth once.

21. "In the court was greater   gladness then
The day my Sigurth   Grani saddled,
And went forth Brynhild's   hand to win,
That woman ill,   in an evil hour."

22. Then Brynhild spake,   the daughter of Buthli:
"May the witch now husband   and children want
Who, Guthrun, loosed   thy tears at last,
And with magic today   hath made thee speak."

23. Then Gollrond, daughter   of Gjuki, spake:
"Speak not such words,   thou hated woman;
Bane of the noble   thou e'er hast been,
(Borne thou art   on an evil wave,
Sorrow hast brought   to seven kings,)
And many a woman   hast loveless made."

24. Then Brynhild, daughter   of Buthli, spake:
"Atli is guilty   of all the sorrow,
(Son of Buthli   and brother of mine,)
When we saw in the hall   of the Hunnish race
The flame of the snake's bed   flash round the hero;
(For the journey since   full sore have I paid,
And ever I seek   the sight to forget.)"

25. By the pillars she stood,   and gathered her strength,
From the eyes of Brynhild,   Buthli's daughter,
Fire there burned,   and venom she breathed,
When the wounds she saw   on Sigurth then.

Guthrun went thence away to a forest in the waste, and journeyed all the way to Denmark, and was there seven half-years with Thora, daughter of Hokon. Brynhild would not live after Sigurth. She had eight of her thralls slain and five serving-women. Then she killed her self with a sword, as is told in the Short Lay of Sigurth.

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