Poetic Edda


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  • Translated By
    Publishing Date
    • Henry Adams Bellows

The Lament of Oddrun

Introductory Note

The Oddrunargratr follows Guthrunarkvitha III in the Codex Regius; it is not quoted or mentioned elsewhere, except that the composer of the “short” Sigurth lay seems to have been familiar with it. The Volsungasaga says nothing of the story on which it is based, and mentions Oddrun only once, in the course of its paraphrase of Brynhild’s prophecy from the “short” Sigurth lay. That the poem comes from the eleventh century is generally agreed; prior to the year 1000 there is no trace of the figure of Oddrun, Atli’s sister, and yet the Oddrunargratr is almost certainly older than the “short” Sigurth lay, so that the last half of the eleventh century seems to be a fairly safe guess.

Where or how the figure of Oddrun entered the Sigurth-Atli cycle is uncertain. She does not appear in any of the extant German versions, and it is generally assumed that she was a creation of the North, though the poet refers to “old tales” concerning her. She does not directly affect the course of the story at all, though the poet has used effectively the episode of Gunnar’s death, with the implication that Atli’s vengeance on Gunnar and Hogni was due, at least in part, to his discovery of Gunnar’s love affair with Oddrun. The material which forms the background of Oddrun’s story belongs wholly to the German part of the legend (cf. introductory note to Gripisspo), and is paralleled with considerable closeness in the Nibelungenlied; only Oddrun herself and the subsidiary figures of Borgny and Vilmund are Northern additions. The geography, on the other hand, is so utterly chaotic as to indicate that the original localization of the Atli story had lost all trace of significance by the time this poem was composed.

In the manuscript the poem, or rather the brief introductory prose note, bears the heading “Of Borgny and Oddrun,” but nearly all editions, following late paper manuscripts, have given the poem the title it bears here. Outside of a few apparently defective stanzas, and some confusing transpositions, the Poem has clearly been preserved in good condition, and the beginning and end are definitely marked.

Heithrek was the name of a king, whose daughter was called Borgny. Vilmund was the name of the man who was her lover. She could not give birth to a child until Oddrun, Atli’s sister, had come to her; Oddrun had been beloved of Gunnar, son of Gjuki. About this story is the following poem.[1]

I have heard it told in olden tales
How a maiden came to Morningland;
No one of all on earth above
To Heithrek’s daughter help could give.

This Oddrun learned, the sister of Atli,
That sore the maiden’s sickness was;
The bit-bearer forth from his stall she brought,
And the saddle laid on the steed so black.

She let the horse go o’er the level ground,
Till she reached the hall that loftily rose,
(And in she went from the end of the hall;)
From the weary steed the saddle she took;
Hear now the speech that first she spake:

“What news on earth, . . . . . . . .
Or what has happened in Hunland now?”

A serving-maid spake:
“Here Borgny lies in bitter pain,
Thy friend, and, Oddrun, thy help would find.”

Oddrun spake:
“Who worked this woe for the woman thus,
Or why so sudden is Borgny sick?”

The serving-maid spake:
“Vilmund is he, the heroes’ friend,
Who wrapped the woman in bedclothes warm,
(For winters five, yet her father knew not).”

Then no more they spake, methinks;
She went at the knees of the woman to sit;
With magic Oddrun and mightily Oddrun
Chanted for Borgny potent charms.

At last were born a boy and girl,
Son and daughter of Hogni’s slayer;
Then speech the woman so weak began,
Nor said she aught ere this she spake:

“So may the holy ones thee help,
Frigg and Freyja and favoring gods,
As thou hast saved me from sorrow now.”

Oddrun spake:
“I came not hither to help thee thus
Because thou ever my aid didst earn;
I fulfilled the oath that of old I swore,
That aid to all I should ever bring,
(When they shared the wealth the warriors had).”

Borgny spake:
“Wild art thou, Oddrun, and witless now,
That so in hatred to me thou speakest;
I followed thee where thou didst fare,
As we had been born of brothers twain.”

Oddrun spake:
“I remember the evil one eve thou spakest,
When a draught I gave to Gunnar then;
Thou didst say that never such a deed
By maid was done save by me alone.”

Then the sorrowing woman sat her down
To tell the grief of her troubles great.

“Happy I grew in the hero’s hall
As the warriors wished, and they loved me well;
Glad I was of my father’s gifts,
For winters five, while my father lived.

“These were the words the weary king,
Ere he died, spake last of all:
He bade me with red gold dowered to be,
And to Grimhild’s son in the South be wedded.

“But Brynhild the helm he bade to wear,
A wish-maid bright he said she should be;
For a nobler maid would never be born
On earth, he said, if death should spare her.

“At her weaving Brynhild sat in her bower,
Lands and folk alike she had;
The earth and heaven high resounded
When Fafnir’s slayer the city saw.

“Then battle was fought with the foreign swords,
And the city was broken that Brynhild had;
Not long thereafter, but all too soon,
Their evil wiles full well she knew.

“Woeful for this her vengeance was,
As so we learned to our sorrow all;
In every land shall all men hear
How herself at Sigurth’s side she slew.

“Love to Gunnar then I gave,
To the breaker of rings, as Brynhild might;
To Atli rings so red they offered,
And mighty gifts to my brother would give.

“Fifteen dwellings fain would he give
For me, and the burden that Grani bore;
But Atli said he would never receive
Marriage gold from Gjuki’s son.

“Yet could we not our love o’ercome,
And my head I laid on the hero’s shoulder;
Many there were of kinsmen mine
Who said that together us they had seen.

“Atli said that never I
Would evil plan, or ill deed do;
But none may this of another think,
Or surely speak, when love is shared.

“Soon his men did Atli send,
In the murky wood on me to spy;
Thither they came where they should not come,
Where beneath one cover close we lay.

“To the warriors ruddy rings we offered,
That nought to Atli e’er they should say;
But swiftly home they hastened thence,
And eager all to Atli told.

“But close from Guthrun kept they hid
What first of all she ought to have known.
. . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . .

“Great was the clatter of gilded hoofs
When Gjuki’s sons through the gateway rode;
The heart they hewed from Hogni then,
And the other they cast in the serpents’ cave.

“The hero wise on his harp then smote,
. . . . . . . .
For help from me in his heart yet hoped
The high-born king, might come to him.

“Alone was I gone to Geirmund then,
The draught to mix and ready to make;
Sudden I heard from Hlesey clear
How in sorrow the strings of the harp resounded.

“I bade the serving-maids ready to be,
For I longed the hero’s life to save;
Across the sound the boats we sailed,
Till we saw the whole of Atli’s home.

“Then crawling the evil woman came,
Atli’s mother— may she ever rot!
And hard she bit to Gunnar’s heart,
So I could not help the hero brave.

“Oft have I wondered how after this,
Serpents’-bed goddess! I still might live,
For well I loved the warrior brave,
The giver of swords, as my very self.

“Thou didst see and listen, the while I said
The mighty grief that was mine and theirs;
Each man lives as his longing wills,—
Oddrun’s lament is ended now.”