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William Morris (1834-1896)

The Story of Sigurd the Volsung

(excerpt)


              1But therewith the sun rose upward and lightened all the earth,
              2And the light flashed up to the heavens from the rims of the glorious girth;
              3But they twain arose together, and with both her palms outspread,
              4And bathed in the light returning, she cried aloud and said:
              5"All hail, O Day and thy Sons, and thy kin of the coloured things!
              6Hail, following Night, and thy Daughter that leadeth thy wavering wings!
              7Look down With unangry eyes on us today alive,
              8And give us the hearts victorious, and the gain for which we strive!
              9All hail, ye Lords of God-home, and ye Queens of the House of Gold!
            10Hail, thou dear Earth that bearest, and thou Wealth of field and fold!
            11Give us, your noble children, the glory of wisdom and speech,
            12And the hearts and the hands of healing, and the mouths and hands that teach!"

            13Then they turned and were knit together; and oft and o'er again
            14They craved, and kissed rejoicing, and their hearts were full and fain.
            15Then Sigurd looketh upon her, and the words from his heart arise:
            16"Thou art the fairest of earth, and the wisest of the wise;
            17O who art thou that lovest? I am Sigurd, e'en as I told;
            18I have slain the Foe of the Gods, and gotten the Ancient Gold;
            19And great were the gain of thy love, and the gift of mine earthly days,
            20If we twain should never sunder as we wend on the changing ways.
            21O who art thou that lovest, thou fairest of all things born?
            22And what meanest thy sleep and thy slumber in the wilderness forlorn?"

            23She said: "I am one that loveth: I was born of the earthly folk,
            24But of old Allfather took me from the Kings and their wedding yoke:
            25And he called me the Victory-Wafter, and I went and came as he would,
            26And I chose the slain for his war-host, and the days were glorious and good,
            27Till the thoughts of my heart overcame me, and the pride of my wisdom and speech,
            28And I scorned the earth-folk's Framer and the Lord of the world I must teach:
            29For the death-doomed I caught from the sword, and the fated life I slew,
            30And I deemed that my deeds were goodly, and that long I should do and undo.
            31But Allfather came against me and the God in his wrath arose;
            32And he cried: `Thou hast thought in thy folly that the Gods have friends and foes,
            33That they wake, and the world wends onward, that they sleep, and the world slips back,
            34That they laugh, and the world's weal waxeth, that they frown and fashion the the wrack:
            35Thou hast cast up the curse against me; it shall fall aback on thine head;
            36Go back to the sons of repentance, with the children of sorrow wed!
            37For the Gods are great unholpen, and their grief is seldom seen,
            38And the wrong that they will and must be is soon as it had not been.'

            39"Yet I thought: `Shall I wed in the world, shall I gather grief on the earth?
            40Then the fearless heart shall I wed, and bring the best to birth,
            41And fashion such tales for the telling, that Earth shall be holpen at least,
            42If the Gods think scorn of its fairness, as they sit at the changeless feast.'
            43"Then somewhat smiled Allfather; and he spake: 'So let it be!
            44The doom thereof abideth; the doom of me and thee.
            45Yet long shall the time pass over ere thy waking day be born:
            46Fare forth, and forget and be weary 'neath the Sting of the Sleepful Thorn!'

            47'So I came to the head of Hindfell and the ruddy shields and white,
            48And the wall of the wildfire wavering around the isle of night;
            49And there the Sleep-thorn pierced me, and the slumber on me fell,
            50And the night of nameless sorrows that hath no tale to tell.
            51Now I am she that loveth; and the day is nigh at hand
            52When I, who have ridden the sea-realm and the regions of the land,
            53And dwelt in the measureless mountains and the forge of stormy days,
            54Shall dwell in the house of my fathers and the land of the people's praise;
            55And there shall hand meet hand, and heart by heart shall beat,
            56And the lying-down shall be joyous, and the morn's uprising sweet.
            57Lo now, I look on thine heart and behold of thine inmost will,
            58That thou of the days wouldst hearken that our portion shall fulfil;
            59But O, be wise of man-folk, and the hope of thine heart refrain!
            60As oft in the battle's beginning ye vex the steed with the rein,
            61Lest at last in the latter ending, when the sword hath hushed the horn,
            62His limbs should be weary and fail, and his might be over-worn.
            63O be wise, lest thy love constrain me, and my vision wax o'er-clear,
            64And thou ask of the thing that thou shouldst not, and the thing that thou wouldst not hear.

            65Know thou, most mighty of men, that the Norns shall order all,
            66And yet without thine helping shall no whit of their will befall;
            67Be wise! 'tis a marvel of words, and a mock for the fool and the blind;
            68But I saw it writ in the heavens, and its fashioning there did I find:
            69And the night of the Norns and their slumber, and the tide when the world runs back,
            70And the way of the sun is tangled, it is wrought of the dastard's lack.
            71But the day when the fair earth blossoms, and the sun is bright above,
            72Of the daring deeds is it fashioned and the eager hearts of love.

            73"Be wise, and cherish thine hope in the freshness of the days,
            74And scatter its seed from thine hand in the field of the people's praise;
            75Then fair shall it fall in the furrow, and some the earth shall speed,
            76And the sons of men shall marvel at the blossom of the deed:
            77But some the earth shall speed not: nay rather, the wind of the heaven
            78Shall waft it away from thy longing--and a gift to the Gods hast thou given,
            79And a tree for the roof and the wall in the house of the hope that shall be,
            80Though it seemeth our very sorrow, and the grief of thee and me.

            81"Strive not with the fools of man-folk: for belike thou shalt overcome;
            82And what then is the gain of thine hunting when thou bearest the quarry home?
            83Or else shall the fool overcome thee, and what deed thereof shall grow?
            84Nay, strive with the wise man rather, and increase thy woe and his woe;
            85Yet thereof a gain hast thou gotten; and the half of thine heart hast thou won
            86If thou mayst prevail against him, and his deeds are the deeds thou hast done;
            87Yea, and if thou fall before him, in him shalt thou live again,
            88And thy deeds in his hand shall blossom, and his heart of thine heart shall be fain.

            89"When thou hearest the fool rejoicing, and he saith, 'It is over and past,
            90And the wrong was better than right, and hate turns into love at the last,
            91And we strove for nothing at all, and the Gods are fallen asleep;
            92For so good is the world a-growing that the evil good shall reap:'
            93Then loosen thy sword in the scabbard and settle the helm on thine head,
            94For men betrayed are mighty, and great are the wrongfully dead.

            95"Wilt thou do the deed and repent it? thou hadst better never been born:
            96Wilt thou do the deed and exalt it? then thy fame shall be outworn:
            97Thou shalt do the deed and abide it, and sit on thy throne on high,
            98And look on today and tomorrow as those that never die.

            99"Love thou the Gods--and withstand them, lest thy fame should fail in the end,
          100And thou be but their thrall and their bondsman, who wert born for their very friend:
          101For few things from the Gods are hidden, and the hearts of men they know,
          102And how that none rejoiceth to quail and crouch alow.

          103"I have spoken the words, belov{`e}d, to thy matchless glory and worth;
          104But thy heart to my heart hath been speaking, though my tongue hath set it forth:
          105For I am she that loveth, and I know what thou wouldst teach
          106From the heart of thine unlearned wisdom, and I needs must speak thy speech."

          107Then words were weary and silent, but oft and o'er again
          108They craved and kissed rejoicing, and their hearts were full and fain.

          109Then spake the Son of Sigmund: "Fairest, and most of worth,
          110Hast thou seen the ways of man-folk and the regions of the earth?
          111Then speak yet more of wisdom; for most meet meseems it is
          112That my soul to thy soul be shapen, and that I should know thy bliss."

          113So she took his right hand meekly, nor any word would say,
          114Not e'en of love or praising, his longing to delay;
          115And they sat on the side of Hindfell, and their fain eyes looked and loved,
          116As she told of the hidden matters whereby the world is moved:
          117And she told of the framing of all things, and the houses of the heaven;
          118And she told of the star-worlds' courses, and how the winds be driven;
          119And she told of the Norns and their names, and the fate that abideth the earth;
          120And she told of the ways of the King-folk in their anger and their mirth;
          121And she spoke of the love of women, and told of the flame that burns,
          122And the fall of mighty houses, and the friend that falters and turns,
          123And the lurking blinded vengeance, and the wrong that amendeth wrong,
          124And the hand that repenteth its stroke, and the grief that endureth for long:
          125And how man shall bear and forbear, and be master of all that is;
          126And how man shall measure it all, the wrath, and the grief, and the bliss.
          127"I saw the body of Wisdom, and of shifting guise was she wrought,
          128And I stretched out my hands to hold her, and a mote of the dust they caught;
          129And I prayed her to come for my teaching, and she came in the midnight dream--
          130And I woke and might not remember, nor betwixt her tangle deem:
          131She spake, and how might I hearken; I heard, and how might I know;
          132I knew, and how might I fashion, or her hidden glory show?
          133All things I have told thee of Wisdom are but fleeting images
          134Of her hosts that abide in the heavens, and her light that Allfather sees:
          135Yet wise is the sower that sows, and wise is the reaper that reaps,
          136And wise is the smith in his smiting, and wise is the warder that keeps:
          137And wise shalt thou be to deliver, and I shall be wise to desire;
          138--And lo, the tale that is told, and the sword and the wakening fire!
          139Lo now, I am she that loveth, and hark how Greyfell neighs,
          140And Fafnir's Bed is gleaming, and green go the downward ways,
          141The road to the children of men and the deeds that thou shalt do
          142In the joy of thy life-days' morning, when thine hope is fashioned anew.
          143Come now, O Bane of the Serpent, for now is the high-noon come,
          144And the sun hangeth over Hindfell and looks on the earth-folk's home;
          145But the soul is so great within thee, and so glorious are thine eyes,
          146And me so love constraineth, and mine heart that was called the wise,
          147That we twain may see men's dwellings and the house where we shall dwell,
          148And the place of our life's beginning, where the tale shall be to tell."

          149So they climb the burg of Hindfell, and hand in hand they fare,
          150Till all about and above them is nought but the sunlit air,
          151And there close they cling together rejoicing in their mirth;
          152For far away beneath them lie the kingdoms of the earth,
          153And the garths of men-folk's dwellings and the streams that water them,
          154And the rich and plenteous acres, and the silver ocean's hem,
          155And the woodland wastes and the mountains, and all that holdeth all;
          156The house and the ship and the island, the loom and the mine and the stall,
          157The beds of bane and healing, the crafts that slay and save,
          158The temple of God and the Doom-ring, the cradle and the grave.

          159Then spake the Victory-Wafter: "O King of the Earthly Age,
          160As a God thou beholdest the treasure and the joy of thine heritage,
          161And where on the wings of his hope is the spirit of Sigurd borne?
          162Yet I bid thee hover awhile as a lark alow on the corn;
          163Yet I bid thee look on the land 'twixt the wood and the silver sea
          164In the bight of the swirling river, and the house that cherished me!
          165There dwelleth mine earthly sister and the king that she hath wed;
          166There morn by morn aforetime I woke on the golden bed;
          167There eve by eve I tarried mid the speech and the lays of kings;
          168There noon by noon I wandered and plucked the blossoming things;
          169The little land of Lymdale by the swirling river's side,
          170Where Brynhild once was I called in the days ere my father died;
          171The little land of Lymdale 'twixt the woodland and the sea,
          172Where on thee mine eyes shall brighten and thine eyes shall beam on me."
          173"I shall seek thee there," said Sigurd, "when the day-spring is begun,
          174Ere we wend the world together in the season of the sun."

          175"I shall bide thee there," said Brynhild, "till the fulness of the days,
          176And the time for the glory appointed, and the springing-tide of praise."
          177From his hand then draweth Sigurd Andvari's ancient Gold;
          178There is nought but the sky above them as the ring together they hold,
          179The shapen ancient token, that hath no change nor end,
          180No change, and no beginning, no flaw for God to mend:
          181Then Sigurd cries: "O Brynhild, now hearken while I swear,
          182That the sun shall die in the heavens and the day no more be fair,
          183If I seek not love in Lymdale and the house that fostered thee,
          184And the land where thou awakedst 'twixt the woodland and the sea!"

          185And she cried: "O Sigurd, Sigurd, now hearken while I swear
          186That the day shall die for ever and the sun to blackness wear,
          187Ere I forget thee, Sigurd, as I lie 'twixt wood and sea
          188In the little land of Lymdale and the house that fostered me!"

          189Then he set the ring on her finger and once, if ne'er again,
          190They kissed and clung together, and their hearts were full and fain.

          191So the day grew old about them and the joy of their desire,
          192And eve and the sunset came, and faint grew the sunset fire,
          193And the shadowless death of the day was sweet in the golden tide;
          194But the stars shone forth on the world, and the twilight changed and died;
          195And sure if the first of man-folk had been born to that starry night,
          196And had heard no tale of the sunrise, he had never longed for the light:
          197But Earth longed amidst her slumber, as 'neath the night she lay,
          198And fresh and all abundant abode the deeds of Day.

Notes

1] At this point in the story taken from Scandinavian mythology, the hero Sigurd has slain Fafnir the Serpent on the Glittering Heath and thus obtained the Treasure of Andvari. Now, riding his horse Greyfell, he has found Brynhild asleep on the mountain Hindfell. Afterwards, under the influence of a potion Sigurd is unfaithful to Brynhild. She has him killed and herself dies on his funeral pyre.

158] ring of stones delimiting the Norse court of judgement.


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: William Morris, The Story of Sigurd the Volsung and the fall of the Niblungs (London: Ellis and White, 1877). PR 5077 A1 1877 ROBA.
First publication date: 1876
RPO poem editor: P. F. Morgan
RP edition: 3RP 3.359.
Recent editing: 2:2002/4/10

Form: couplets


Other poems by William Morris