Fiction > Harvard Classics > The Story of the Volsungs and Niblungs
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  The Story of the Volsungs and Niblungs.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
Certain Songs from the Elder Edda which Deal with the Story of the Volsungs
 
The Lay of Hamdir
 
 
GREAT deeds of bale
In the garth began,
At the sad dawning
The tide of Elves’ sorrow
When day is a-waxing        5
And man’s grief awaketh,
And the sorrow of each one
The early day quickeneth.
 
Not now, not now,
Nor yesterday,        10
But long ago
Has that day worn by,
That ancientest time,
The first time to tell of,
Then, whenas Gudrun,        15
Born of Giuki,
Whetted her sons
To Swanhild’s avenging.
 
“Your sister’s name
Was naught but Swanhild,        20
Whom Jormunrek
With horses has trodden!—
White horses and black
On the war-beaten way,
Grey horses that go        25
On the roads of the Goths.
 
“All alone am I now
As in holt is the aspen;
As the fir-tree of boughs,
So of kin am I bare;        30
As bare of things longed for
As the willow of leaves
When the bough-breaking wind
The warm day endeth.
 
“Few, sad, are ye left,        35
O kings of my folk!
Yet alone living
Last shreds of my kin!
 
“Ah, naught are ye grown
As that Gunnar of old days;        40
Naught are your hearts
As the heart of Hogni!
Well would ye seek
Vengeance to win
If your hearts were in aught        45
As the hearts of my brethren!”
 
Then spake Hamdir
The high-hearted:
“Naught hadst thou to praise
The doings of Hogni,        50
When they woke up Sigurd
From out of slumber,
And in bed thou sat’st up
‘Mid the banes-men’s laughter.
 
“Then when thy bed-gear,        55
Blue-white, well woven
By art of craftsmen
Ail swam with thy king’s blood;
Then Sigurd died,
O’er his dead corpse thou sattest,        60
Not heeding aught gladsome,
Since Gunnar so willed it.
 
“Great grief for Atli
Gatst thou by Erp’s murder,
And the end of thine Eitil,        65
But worse grief for thyself.
Good to use sword
For the slaying of others
In such wise that its edge
Shall not turn on ourselves!”        70
 
Then well spake Sorli
From a heart full of wisdom:
“No words will I
Make with my mother,
Though both ye twain        75
Need words belike—
What askest thou, Gudrun,
To let thee go greeting?
 
“Weep for thy brethren,
Weep for thy sweet sons,        80
And thy nighest kinsfolk
Laid by the fight-side!
Yea, and thou Gudrun,
May’st greet for us twain
Sitting fey on our steeds        85
Doomed in far lands to die.”
 
From the garth forth they went
With hearts full of fury,
Sorli and Hamdir,
The sons of Gudrun,        90
And they met on the way
The wise in all wiles:
“And thou little Erp,
What helping from thee?”
 
He of alien womb        95
Spake out in such wise:
“Good help for my kin,
Such as foot gives to foot,
Or flesh-covered hand
Gives unto hand!”        100
 
“What helping for foot
That help that foot giveth,
Or for flesh-covered hand
The helping of hand?”
 
Then spake Erp        105
Yet once again
Mock spake the prince
As he sat on his steed:
“Fool’s deed to show
The way to a dastard!”        110
“Bold beyond measure,”
Quoth they, “is the base-born!”
 
Out from the sheath
Drew they the sheath-steel,
And the glaives’ edges played        115
For the pleasure of hell;
By the third part they minished
The might that they had,
Their young kin they let lie
A-cold on the earth.        120
 
Then their fur-cloaks they shook
And bound fast their swords,
In webs goodly woven
Those great ones were clad;
Young they went o’er the fells        125
Where the dew was new-fallen
Swift, on steeds of the Huns,
Heavy vengeance to wreak.
 
Forth stretched the ways,
And an ill way they found,        130
Yea, their sister’s son  1
Hanging slain upon tree—
Wolf-trees by the wind made cold
At the town’s westward
Loud with crane’s clatter—        135
Ill abiding there long!
 
Din in the king’s hall
Of men merry with drink,
And none might hearken
The horses’ tramping        140
Or ever the warders
Their great horn winded.
 
Then men went forth
To Jormunrek
To tell of the heeding        145
Of men under helm:
“Give ye good counsel!
Great ones are come hither,
For the wrong of men mighty
Was the may to death trodden.”        150
 
Loud Jormunrek laughed,
And laid hand to his beard,
Nor bade bring his byrny,
But with the wine fighting,
Shook his red locks,        155
On his white shield sat staring,
And in his hand
Swung the gold cup on high.
 
“Sweet sight for me
Those twain to set eyes on,        160
Sorli and Hamdir,
Here in my hall!
Then with bowstrings
Would I bind them,
And hang the good Giukings        165
Aloft on the gallows!”
 
Then spake Hrothglod
From off the high steps,
Spake the slim-fingered
Unto her son,—        170
—For a threat was cast forth
Of what ne’er should fall—
“Shall two men alone
Two hundred Gothfolk
Bind or bear down        175
In the midst of their burg?”
 
Strife and din in the hall,
Cups smitten asunder
Men lay low in blood
From the breasts of Goths flowing.        180
 
Then spake Hamdir,
The high-hearted:
“Thou cravedst, O king,
For the coming of us,
The sons of one mother,        185
Amidmost thine hall—
Look on these hands of thine,
Look on these feet of thine,
Cast by us, Jormunrek,
On to the flame!”        190
 
Then cried aloud
The high Gods’ kinsman, 2
Bold under byrny,—
Roared he as bears roar;
“Stones to the stout ones        195
That the spears bite not,
Nor the edges of steel,
These sons of Jonakr!”
 
QUOTH SORLI

“Bale, brother, wroughtst thou
By that bag’s  3 opening,        200
Oft from that bag
Rede of bale cometh!
Heart hast thou, Hamdir,
If thou hadst heart’s wisdom
Great lack in a man        205
Who lacks wisdom and lore!”
 
HAMDIR SAID

“Yea, off were the head
If Erp were alive yet,
Our brother the bold
Whom we slew by the way;        210
The far-famed through the world.—
Ah, the fates drave me on,
And the man war made holy,
There must I slay!”
 
SORLI SAID

“Unmeet we should do
        215
As the doings of wolves are,
Raising wrong each ’gainst other
As the dogs of the Norns,
The greedy ones nourished
In waste steads of the world.        220
 
“In strong wise have we fought,
On Goths’ corpses we stand,
Beat down by our edges,
E’en as ernes on the bough.
Great fame our might winneth,        225
Die we now, or to-morrow,—
No man lives till eve
Whom the fates doom at morning.”
At the hall’s gable-end
Fell Sorli to earth,        230
But Hamdir lay low
At the back of the houses.

Now this is called the Ancient Lay of Hamdir.
 
Note 1. Randver, the son of their sister’s husband. [back]
Note 2. Odin namely. [back]
Note 3. “Bag,” his mouth. [back]
 

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