Poetic Edda

Guthrunarkvitha II, En Forna

About this Edition

  • Translated By
    Publishing Date
    • Henry Adams Bellows

The Second, or Old, Lay of Guthrun

Introductory Note

It has already been pointed out (introductory note to Guthrunarkvitha I) that the tradition of Guthrun’s lament was known wherever the Sigurth story existed, and that this lament was probably one of the earliest parts of the legend to assume verse form. Whether it reached the North as verse cannot, of course, be determined, but it is at least possible that this was the case, and in any event it is clear that by the tenth and eleventh centuries there were a number of Norse poems with Guthrun’s lament as the central theme. Two of these are included in the Eddic collection, the second one being unquestionably much the older. It is evidently the poem referred to by the annotator in the prose note following the Brot as “the old Guthrun lay,” and its character and state of preservation have combined to lead most commentators to date it as early as the first half of the tenth century, whereas Guthrunarkvitha I belongs a hundred years later.

The poem has evidently been preserved in rather bad shape, with a number of serious omissions and some interpolations, but in just this form it lay before the compilers of the Volsungasaga, who paraphrased it faithfully, and quoted five of its stanzas. The interpolations are on the whole unimportant; the omissions, while they obscure the sense of certain passages, do not destroy the essential continuity of the poem, in which Guthrun reviews her sorrows from the death of Sigurth through the slaying of her brothers to Atli’s dreams foretelling the death of their sons. It is, indeed, the only Norse poem of the Sigurth cycle antedating the year 1000 which has come down to us in anything approaching complete form; the Reginsmol, Fafnismol, and Sigrdrifumol are all collections of fragments, only a short bit of the “long” Sigurth lay remains, and the others—Gripisspo, Guthrunarkvitha I and III, Sigurtharkvitha en skamma, Helreith Brynhildar, Oddrunargratr, Guthrunarhvot, Hamthesmol, and the two Atli lays—are all generally dated from the eleventh and even the twelfth centuries.

An added reason for believing that Guthrunarkvitha II traces its origin back to a lament which reached the North from Germany in verse form is the absence of most characteristic Norse additions to the narrative, except in minor details. Sigurth is slain in the forest, as “German men say” (cf. Brot, concluding prose); the urging of Guthrun by her mother 2nd brothers to become Atli’s wife, the slaying of the Gjukungs (here only intimated, for at that point something seems to have been lost), and Guthrun’s prospective revenge on Atli, all belong directly to the German tradition (cf. introductory note to Gripisspo).

In the Codex Regius the poem is entitled simply Guthrunarkvitha; the numeral has been added in nearly all editions to distinguish this poem from the other two Guthrun lays, and the phrase “the old“ is borrowed from the annotator’s comment in the prose note at the end of the Brot.

King Thjothrek was with Atli, and had lost most of his men. Thjothrek and Guthrun lamented their griefs together. She spoke to him, saying:[1]

A maid of maids my mother bore me,
Bright in my bower, my brothers I loved,
Till Gjuki dowered me with gold,
Dowered with gold, and to Sigurth gave me.

So Sigurth rose o’er Gjuki’s sons
As the leek grows green above the grass,
Or the stag o’er all the beasts doth stand,
Or as glow-red gold above silver gray.

Till my brothers let me no longer have
The best of heroes my husband to be;
Sleep they could not, or quarrels settle,
Till Sigurth they at last had slain.

From the Thing ran Grani with thundering feet,
But thence did Sigurth himself come never;
Covered with sweat was the saddle-bearer,
Wont the warrior’s weight to bear.

Weeping I sought with Grani to speak,
With tear-wet cheeks for the tale I asked;
The head of Grani was bowed to the grass,
The steed knew well his master was slain.

Long I waited and pondered well
Ere ever the king for tidings I asked.
. . . . . . . .

His head bowed Gunnar, but Hogni told
The news full sore of Sigurth slain:
“Hewed to death at our hands he lies,
Gotthorm’s slayer, given to wolves.

“On the southern road thou shalt Sigurth see,
Where hear thou canst the ravens cry;
The eagles cry as food they crave,
And about thy husband wolves are howling.”

“Why dost thou, Hogni, such a horror
Let me hear, all joyless left?
Ravens yet thy heart shall rend
In a land that never thou hast known.”

Few the words of Hogni were,
Bitter his heart from heavy sorrow:
“Greater, Guthrun, thy grief shall be
If the ravens so my heart shall rend.”

From him who spake I turned me soon,
In the woods to find what the wolves had left;
Tears I had not, nor wrung my bands,
Nor wailing went, as other women,
(When by Sigurth slain I sat).

Never so black had seemed the night
As when in sorrow by Sigurth I sat;
The wolves . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . .

. . . . . . . .
Best of all methought ’twould be
If I my life could only lose,
Or like to birch-wood burned might be.

From the mountain forth five days I fared,
Till Hoalf’s hall so high I saw;
Seven half-years with Thora I stayed,
Hokon’s daughter, in Denmark then.

With gold she broidered, to bring me joy,
Southern halls and Danish swans;
On the tapestry wove we warrior’s deeds,
And the hero’s thanes on our handiwork;
(Flashing shields and fighters armed,
Sword-throng, helm-throng, the host of the king).

Sigmund’s ship by the land was sailing,
Golden the figure-head, gay the beaks;
On board we wove the warriors faring,
Sigar and Siggeir, south to Fjon.

Then Grimhild asked, the Gothic queen,
Whether willingly would I . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Her needlework cast she aside, and called
Her sons to ask, with stern resolve,
Who amends to their sister would make for her son,
Or the wife requite for her husband killed.

Ready was Gunnar gold to give,
Amends for my hurt, and Hogni too;
Then would she know who now would go,
The horse to saddle, the wagon to harness,
(The horse to ride, the hawk to fly,
And shafts from bows of yew to shoot).

(Valdar, king of the Danes, was come,
With Jarizleif, Eymoth, and Jarizskar).
In like princes came they all,
The long-beard men, with mantles red,
Short their mail-coats, mighty their helms,
Swords at their belts, and brown their hair.

Each to give me gifts was fain,
Gifts to give, and goodly speech,
Comfort so for my sorrows great
To bring they tried, but I trusted them not.

A draught did Grimhild give me to drink,
Bitter and cold; I forgot my cares;
For mingled therein was magic earth,
Ice-cold sea, and the blood of swine.

In the cup were runes of every kind,
Written and reddened, I could not read them;
A heather-fish from the Haddings’ land,
An ear uncut, and the entrails of beasts.

Much evil was brewed within the beer,
Blossoms of trees, and acorns burned,
Dew of the hearth, and holy entrails,
The liver of swine,— all grief to allay.

Then I forgot, when the draught they gave me,
There in the hall, my husband’s slaying;
On their knees the kings all three did kneel,
Ere she herself to speak began:

“Guthrun, gold to thee I give,
The wealth that once thy father’s was,
Rings to have, and Hlothver’s halls,
And the hangings all that the monarch had.

“Hunnish women, skilled in weaving,
Who gold make fair to give thee joy,
And the wealth of Buthli thine shall be,
Gold-decked one, as Atli’s wife.”

Guthrun spake:
“A husband now I will not have,
Nor wife of Brynhild’s brother be;
It beseems me not with Buthli’s son
Happy to be, and heirs to bear.”

Grimhild spake:
“Seek not on men to avenge thy sorrows,
Though the blame at first with us hath been;
Happy shalt be as if both still lived,
Sigurth and Sigmund, if sons thou bearest.”

Guthrun spake:
“Grimhild, I may not gladness find,
Nor hold forth hopes to heroes now,
Since once the raven and ravening wolf
Sigurth’s heart’s-blood hungrily lapped.”

Grimhild spake:
“Noblest of birth is the ruler now
I have found for thee, and foremost of all;
Him shalt thou have while life thou hast,
Or husbandless be if him thou wilt choose not.”

Guthrun spake:
“Seek not so eagerly me to send
To be a bride of yon baneful race;
On Gunnar first his wrath shall fall,
And the heart will he tear from Hogni’s breast.”

Weeping Grimhild heard the words
That fate full sore for her sons foretold,
(And mighty woe for them should work;)
“Lands I give thee, with all that live there,
(Vinbjorg is thine, and Valbjorg too,)
Have them forever, but hear me, daughter.”

So must I do as the kings besought,
And against my will for my kinsmen wed,
Ne’er with my husband joy I had,
And my sons by my brothers’ fate were saved not.

. . . . . . . .
I could not rest till of life I had robbed
The warrior bold, the maker of battles.

Soon on horseback each hero was,
And the foreign women in wagons faring;
A week through lands so cold we went,
And a second week the waves we smote,
(And a third through lands that water lacked).

The warders now on the lofty walls
Opened the gates, and in we rode.

* * * * * *

Atli woke me, for ever I seemed
Of bitterness full for my brothers’ death.

Atli spake:
“Now from sleep the Norris have waked me
With visions of terror,— to thee will I tell them;
Methought thou, Guthrun, Gjuki’s daughter,
With poisoned blade didst pierce my body.”

Guthrun spake:
“Fire a dream of steel shall follow
And willful pride one of woman’s wrath;
A baneful sore I shall burn from thee,
And tend and heal thee, though hated thou art.”

Atli spake:
“Of plants I dreamed, in the garden drooping,
That fain would I have full high to grow;
Plucked by the roots, and red with blood,
They brought them hither, and bade me eat.

“I dreamed my hawks from my hand had flown,
Eager for food, to an evil house;
I dreamed their hearts with honey I ate,
Soaked in blood, and heavy my sorrow.

“Hounds I dreamed from my hand I loosed,
Loud in hunger and pain they howled;
Their flesh methought was eagles’ food,
And their bodies now I needs must eat.”

“Men shall soon of sacrifice speak,
And off the heads of beasts shall hew
Die they shall ere day has dawned,
A few nights hence, and the folk shall have them.”

Atli spake:
“On my bed I sank, nor slumber sought,
Weary with woe,— full well I remember.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .