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The Poetic Edda Online
In the translation of Bellows 

Lays of the Gods
Sigurtharkvitha en Skammma

The Short Lay of Sigurth


 Guthrunarkvitha I is immediately followed in the Codex Regius by a long poem which in the manuscript bears the heading "Sigurtharkvitha," but which is clearly referred to in the prose link between it and Guthrunarkvitha I as the "short" Lay of Sigurth. The discrepancy between this reference and the obvious length of the poem has led to many conjectures, but the explanation seems to be that the "long" Sigurth lay, of which the Brot is presumably a part, was materially longer even than this poem. The efforts to reduce the "short" Sigurth lay to dimensions which would justify the appellation in comparison with other poems in the collection, either by separating it into two poems or by the rejection of many stanzas as interpolations, have been utterly inconclusive.

Although there are probably several interpolated passages, and indications of omissions are not lacking, the poem as we now have it seems to be a distinct and coherent unit. From the narrative point of view it leaves a good deal to be desired, for the reason that the poet's object was by no means to tell a story, with which his hearers were quite familiar, but to use the narrative simply as the background for vivid and powerful characterization. The lyric element, as Mogk points out, overshadows the epic throughout, and the fact that there are frequent confusions of narrative tradition does not trouble the poet at all.

The material on which the poem was based seems to have existed in both prose and verse form; the poet was almost certainly familiar with some of the other poems in the Eddic collection, with poems which have since been lost, and with the narrative prose traditions which never fully assumed verse form. The fact that he seems to have known and used the Oddrunargratr, which can hardly have been composed before 1050, and that in any case he introduces the figure of Oddrun, a relatively late addition to the story, dates the poem as late as the end of the eleventh century, or even the first half of the twelfth. There has been much discussion as to where it was composed, the debate centering chiefly on the reference to glaciers (stanza 8). There is something to be said in favor of Greenland as the original home of the poem (cf. introductory note to Atlakvitha), but the arguments for Iceland are even stronger; Norway in this case is practically out of the question.

The narrative features of the poem are based on the German rather than the Norse elements of the story (cf. introductory note to Gripisspo), but the poet has taken whatever material he wanted without much discrimination as to its source. By the year 1100 the story of Sigurth, with its allied legends, existed through out the North in many and varied forms, and the poem shows traces of variants of the main story which do not appear elsewhere.

Sigurtharkvitha en Skamma
 The Short Lay of Sigurth

1. Of old did Sigurth   Gjuki seek,
The Volsung young,   in battles victor;
Well he trusted   the brothers twain,
With mighty oaths   among them sworn.

2. A maid they gave him,   and jewels many,
Guthrun the young,   the daughter of Gjuki;
They drank and spake   full many a day,
Sigurth the young   and Gjuki's sons.

3. Thereafter went they   Brynhild to woo,
And so with them   did Sigurth ride,
The Volsung young,   in battle valiant,--
Himself would have had her   if all he had seen.

4. The southern hero   his naked sword,
Fair-flashing, let   between them lie;
(Nor would he come   the maid to kiss;)
The Hunnish king   in his arms ne'er held
The maiden he gave   to Gjuki's sons.

5. Ill she had known not   in all her life,
And nought of the sorrows   of men she knew;
Blame she had not,   nor dreamed she should bear it,
But cruel the fates   that among them came.

6. By herself at the end   of day she sat,
And in open words   her heart she uttered:
"I shall Sigurth have,   the hero young,
E'en though within   my arms he die.

7. "The word I have spoken;   soon shall I rue it,
His wife is Guthrun,   and Gunnar's am I;
Ill Norns set for me   long desire."

8. Oft did she go   with grieving heart
On the glacier's ice   at even-tide,
When Guthrun then   to her bed was gone,
And the bedclothes Sigurth   about her laid.

9. " (Now Gjuki's child   to her lover goes,)
And the Hunnish king   with his wife is happy;
Joyless I am   and mateless ever,
Till cries from my heavy   heart burst forth."

10. In her wrath to battle   she roused herself:
"Gunnar, now   thou needs must lose
Lands of mine   and me myself,
No joy shall I have   with the hero ever.

11. "Back shall I fare   where first I dwelt,
Among the kin   that come of my race,
To wait there, sleeping   my life away,
If Sigurth's death   thou shalt not dare,
(And best of heroes   thou shalt not be.)

12. "The son shall fare   with his father hence,
And let not long   the wolf-cub live;
Lighter to pay   is the vengeance-price
After the deed   if the son is dead."

13. Sad was Gunnar,   and bowed with grief,
Deep in thought   the whole day through;
Yet from his heart   it was ever hid
What deed most fitting   he should find,
(Or what thing best   for him should be,
Or if he should seek   the Volsung to slay,
For with mighty longing   Sigurth he loved.)

14. Much he pondered   for many an hour;
Never before   was the wonder known
That a queen should thus   her kingdom leave;
In counsel then   did he Hogni call,
(For him in truest   trust he held.)

15. "More than all   to me is Brynhild,
Buthli's child,   the best of women;
My very life   would I sooner lose
Than yield the love   of yonder maid.

16. "Wilt thou the hero   for wealth betray?
'Twere good to have   the gold of the Rhine,
And all the hoard   in peace to hold,
And waiting fortune   thus to win."

17. Few the words   of Hogni were:
"Us it beseems not   so to do,
To cleave with swords   the oaths we swore,
The oaths we swore   and all our vows.

18. "We know no mightier   men on earth
The while we four   o'er the folk hold sway,
And while the Hunnish   hero lives,
Nor higher kinship   the world doth hold.

19. "If sons we five   shall soon beget,
Great, methinks,   our race shall grow;
Well I see   whence lead the ways;
Too bitter far   is Brynhild's hate."

Gunnar spake:
20. "Gotthorm to wrath   we needs must rouse,
Our younger brother,   in rashness blind;
He entered not   in the oaths we swore,
The oaths we swore   and all our vows."

21. It was easy to rouse   the reckless one.
.    .    .    .    .        .    .    .    .    .
The sword in the heart   of Sigurth stood.

22. In vengeance the hero   rose in the hall,
And hurled his sword   at the slayer bold;
At Gotthorm flew   the glittering steel
Of Gram full hard   from the hand of the king.

23. The foeman cleft   asunder fell,
Forward hands   and head did sink,
And legs and feet   did backward fall.

24. Guthrun soft   in her bed had slept,
Safe from care   at Sigurth's side;
She woke to find   her joy had fled,
In the blood of the friend   of Freyr she lay.

25. So hard she smote   her hands together
That the hero rose up,   iron-hearted:
"Weep not, Guthrun,   grievous tears,
Bride so young,   for thy brothers live.

26. "Too young, methinks,   is my son as yet,
He cannot flee   from the home of his foes;
Fearful and deadly   the plan they found,
The counsel new   that now they have heeded.

27. "No son will ride,   though seven thou hast,
To the Thing as the son   of their sister rides;
Well I see   who the ill has worked,
On Brynhild alone   lies the blame for all.

28. "Above all men   the maiden loved me,
Yet false to Gunnar   I ne'er was found;
I kept the oaths   and the kinship I swore;
Of his queen the lover   none may call me.

29. In a swoon she sank   when Sigurth died;
So hard she smote   her hands together
That all the cups   in the cupboard rang,
And loud in the courtyard   cried the geese.

30. Then Brynhild, daughter   of Buthli, laughed,
Only once,   with all her heart,
When as she lay   full loud she heard
The grievous wail   of Gjuki's daughter.

31. Then Gunnar, monarch   of men, spake forth:
"Thou dost not laugh,   thou lover of hate,
In gladness there,   or for aught of good;
Why has thy face   so white a hue,
Mother of ill?   Foredoomed thou art.

32. "A worthier woman   wouldst thou have been
If before thine eyes   we had Atli slain;
If thy brother's bleeding   body hadst seen
And the bloody wounds   that thou shouldst End."

Brynhild spake:
33. "None mock thee, Gunnar!   thou hast mightily fought,
But thy hatred little   doth Atli heed;
Longer than thou,   methinks, shall he live,
And greater in might   shall he ever remain.

34. "To thee I say,   and thyself thou knowest,
That all these ills   thou didst early shape;
No bonds I knew,   nor sorrow bore,
And wealth I had   in my brother's home.

35. "Never a husband   sought I to have,
Before the Gjukungs   fared to our land;
Three were the kings   on steeds that came,--
Need of their journey   never there was.

36. "To the hero great   my troth I gave
Who gold-decked sat   on Grani's back;
Not like to thine   was the light of his eyes,
(Nor like in form   and face are ye,)
Though kingly both   ye seemed to be.

37. "And so to me   did Atli say
That share in our wealth   I should not have,
Of gold or lands,   if my hand I gave not;
(More evil yet,   the wealth I should yield,)
The gold that he   in my childhood gave me,
(The wealth from him   in my youth I had.)

38. "Oft in my mind   I pondered much
If still I should fight,   and warriors fell,
Brave in my byrnie,   my brother defying;
That would wide   in the world be known,
And sorrow for many   a man would make.

39. "But the bond at last   I let be made,
For more the hoard   I longed to have,
The rings that the son   of Sigmund won;
No other's treasure   e'er I sought.

40. "One-alone   of all I loved,
Nor changing heart   I ever had;
All in the end   shall Atli know,
When he hears I have gone   on the death-road hence."

41. "Never a wife   of fickle will
Yet to another   man should yield.
.    .    .    .    .        .    .    .    .    .
So vengence for all   my ills shall come."

42, Up rose Gunnar,   the people's ruler,
And flung his arms   round her neck so fair;
And all who came,   of every kind,
Sought to hold her   with all their hearts.

43. But back she cast   all those who came,
Nor from the long road   let them hold her;
In counsel then   did he Hogni call:
"Of wisdom now   full great is our need.

44. "Let the warriors here   in the hall come forth,
Thine and mine,   for the need is mighty,
If haply the queen   from death they may hold,
Till her fearful thoughts   with time shall fade."

45. (Few the words   of Hogni were:)
"From the long road now   shall ye hold her not,
That born again   she may never be!
Foul she came   from her mother forth,
And born she was   for wicked deeds,
(Sorrow to many   a man to bring.)"

46. From the speaker gloomily   Gunnar turned,
For the jewel-bearer   her gems was dividing;
On all her wealth   her eyes were gazing,
On the bond-women slain   and the slaughtered slaves.

47. Her byrnie of gold   she donned, and grim
Was her heart ere the point   of her sword had pierced it;
On the pillow at last   her head she laid,
And, wounded, her plan   she pondered o'er.

48. "Hither I will   that my women come
Who gold are fain   from me to get;
Necklaces fashioned   fair to each
Shall I give, and cloth,   and garments bright."

49. Silent were all   as so she spake,
And all together   answer made:
"Slain are enough;   we seek to live,
Not thus thy women   shall honor win."

50. Long the woman,   linen-decked, pondered,--
--Young she was,--   and weighed her words:
"For my sake now   shall none unwilling
Or loath to die   her life lay down.

51. "But little of gems   to gleam on your limbs
Ye then shall find   when forth ye fare
To follow me,   or of Menja's wealth.
.    .    .    .    .        .    .    .    .    .

52. "Sit now, Gunnar!   for I shall speak
Of thy bride so fair   and so fain to die;
Thy ship in harbor   home thou hast not,
Although my life   I now have lost.

53. "Thou shalt Guthrun requite   more quick than thou thinkest,
.    .    .    .    .        .    .    .    .    .
Though sadly mourns   the maiden wise
Who dwells with the king,   o'er her husband dead.

54. "A maid shall then   the mother bear;
Brighter far   than the fairest day
Svanhild shall be,   or the beams of the sun.

55. "Guthrun a noble   husband thou givest,
Yet to many a warrior   woe will she bring,
Not happily wedded   she holds herself;
Her shall Atli   hither seek,
(Buthli's son,   and brother of mine.)

56. "Well I remember   how me ye treated
When ye betrayed me   with treacherous wiles;
.    .    .    .    .        .    .    .    .    .
Lost was my joy   as long as I lived.

57. "Oddrun as wife   thou fain wouldst win,
But Atli this   from thee withholds;
Yet in secret tryst   ye twain shall love;
She shall hold thee dear,   as I had done
If kindly fate   to us had fallen.

58. "Ill to thee   shall Atli bring,
When he casts thee down   in the den of snakes.

59. "But soon thereafter   Atli too
His life, methinks,   as thou shalt lose,
(His fortune lose   and the lives of his sons;)
Him shall Guthrun,   grim of heart,
With the biting blade   in his bed destroy.

60. "It would better beseem   thy sister fair

To follow her husband   first in death,
If counsel good   to her were given,
Or a heart akin   to mine she had.

61. "Slowly I speak,--   but for my sake
Her life, methinks,   she shall not lose;
She shall wander over   the tossing waves,
To where Jonak rules   his father's realm.

62. "Sons to him   she soon shall bear,
Heirs therewith   of Jonak's wealth;
But Svanhild far   away is sent,
The child she bore   to Sigurth brave.

63. "Bikki's word   her death shall be,
For dreadful the wrath   of Jormunrek;
So slain is all   of Sigurth's race,
And greater the woe   of Guthrun grows.

64. "Yet one boon   I beg of thee,
The last of boons   in my life it is:
Let the pyre be built   so broad in the field
That room for us all   will ample be,
(For us who slain   with Sigurth are.)

65. "With shields and carpets   cover the pyre,
.    .    .    .    .        .    .    .    .    .
Shrouds full fair,   and fallen slaves,
And besides the Hunnish   hero burn me.

66. "Besides the Hunnish   hero there
Slaves shall burn,   full bravely decked,
Two at his head   and two at his feet,
A brace of hounds   and a pair of hawks,
For so shall all   be seemly done.

67. "Let between us   lie once more
The steel so keen,   as so it lay
When both within   one bed we were,
And wedded mates   by men were called.

68. "The door of the hall   shall strike not the heel
Of the hero fair   with flashing rings,
If hence my following   goes with him;
Not mean our faring   forth shall be.

69. "Bond-women five   shall follow him,
And eight of my thralls,   well-born are they,
Children with me,   and mine they were
As gifts that Buthli   his daughter gave.

70. "Much have I told thee,   and more would say
If fate more space   for speech had given;
My voice grows weak,   my wounds are swelling;
Truth I have said,   and so I die."

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