Asatru Ring Frankfurt & Midgard
Living with the Gods. Living for the Gods. Living
through the Gods.
Poetic Edda Online
In the translation of
Lays of the
Heldakvitha Hundingsbana II
The Second Lay of Helgi
As the general nature of
the Helgi tradition has been considered in the introductory note to
Helgakvitha Hjorvarthssonar, it is necessary here to discuss only
the characteristics of this particular poem. The second Helgi
Hundingsbane lay is in most respects the exact opposite of the first
one: it is in no sense consecutive; it is not a narrative poem, and all
or most of it gives evidence of relatively early composition, its origin
probably going well back into the tenth century.
It is frankly nothing
but a piece of, in the main, very clumsy patchwork, made up of eight
distinct fragments, pieced together awkwardly by the annotator with
copious prose notes. One of these fragments (stanzas 13-16) is
specifically identified as coming from "the old Volsung lay." What was
that poem, and how much more of the extant Helgi-lay compilation was
taken from it, and did the annotator know more of it than he included in
his patchwork? Conclusive answers to these questions have baffled
scholarship, and probably always will do so. My own guess is that the
annotator knew little or nothing more than he wrote down; having got the
first Helgi Hundingsbane lay, which was obviously in fairly good shape,
out of the way, he proceeded to assemble all the odds and ends of verse
about Helgi which he could get hold of, putting them together on the
basis of the narrative told in the first Helgi lay and of such stories
as his knowledge of prose sagas may have yielded.
Section I (stanzas 1-4)
deals with an early adventure of Helgi's, -in which he narrowly escapes
capture when he ventures into Hunding's home in disguise. Section II
(stanzas 5-12) is a dialogue between Helgi and Sigrun at their first
meeting. Section III (stanzas 13-16, the "old Volsung lay" group) is
another dialogue between Helgi and Sigrun when she invokes his aid to
save her from Hothbrodd. Section IV (stanzas 17-20, which may well be
from the same poem as Section III, is made up of speeches by Helgi and
Sigrun after the battle in which Hothbrodd is killed; stanza 21,
however, is certainly an interpolation from another poem, as it is in a
different meter. Section V (stanzas 22-27) is the dispute between
Sinfjotli and Gothmund, evidentlyin an older form than the one included
in the first Helgi Hundingsbane lay. Section VI (stanzas 28-37) gives
Dag's speech to his sister, Sigrun, telling of Helgi's death, her curse
on her brother and her lament for her slain husband. Section VII (stanza
38) is the remnant of a dispute between Helgi and Hunding, here inserted
absurdly out of place. Section VIII (stanzas 39-50) deals with the
return of the dead Helgi and Sigrun's visit to him in the burial hill.
Sijmons maintains that
sections I and II are fragments of the Kara lay mentioned by the
annotator in his concluding prose note, and that sections IV, VI, and
VIII are from a lost Helgi-Sigrun poem, while Section III comes, of
course, from the "old Volsung lay." This seems as good a guess as any
other, conclusive proof being quite out of the question.
Were it not for
sections, VI and VIII the poem would be little more than a battle-ground
for scholars, but those two sections are in many ways as fine as
anything in Old Norse poetry. Sigrun's curse of her brother for the
slaying of Helgi and her lament for her dead husband, and the
extraordinary vividness of the final scene in the burial hill, have a
quality which fully offsets the baffling confusion of the rest of the
King Sigmund, the son of
Volsung, had as wife Borghild, from Bralund. They named their son Helgi,
after Helgi Hjorvarthsson; Hagal was Helgi's foster-father. Hunding was
the name of a powerful king, and Hundland is named from him. He was a
mighty warrior, and had many sons with him on his campaigns. There was
enmity and strife between these two, King Hunding andKing Sigmund, and
each slew the other's kinsmen. King Sigmund and his family were called
Volsungs and Ylfings. Helgi went as a spy to the home of King Hunding in
disguise. Hæming, a son of King Hunding's, was at home. When Helgi went
forth, then he met a young herdsman, and said:
1. "Say to Hæming | that
Whom the heroes | in armor hid;
A gray wolf had they | within their hall,
Whom King Hunding | Hamal thought."
Hamal was the name of
Hagal's son. King Hunding sent men to Hagal to seek Helgi, and Helgi
could not save himself in any other way, so he put on the clothes of a
bond-woman and set to work at the mill. They sought Helgi but found him
2. Then Blind spake out,
| the evil-minded:
" Of Hagal's bond-woman | bright are the eyes;
Yon comes not of churls | who stands at the quern;
The millstones break, | the boards are shattered.
3. "The hero has | a
doom full hard,
That barley now | he needs must grind;
Better befits | his hand to feel
The hilt of the sword | than the millstone's handle."
Hagal answered and said:
4. "Small is the wonder
| if boards are splintered
By a monarch's daughter | the mill is turned;
Once through clouds | she was wont to ride,
And battles fought | like fighting men,
(Till Helgi a captive | held her fast;
Sister she is | of Sigar and Hogni,
Thus bright are the eyes | of the Ylfings' maid.)"
Helgi escaped and went
to a fighting ship. He slew King Hunding, and thenceforth was called
He lay with his host in
Brunavagar, and they had there a strand-slaughtering, and ate the flesh
raw. Hogni was the name of a king. His daughter was Sigrun; she was a
Valkyrie and rode air and water; she was Svava reborn. Sigrun rode to
Helgi's ship and said:
5. "Who rules the ship |
by the shore so steep?
Where is the home | ye warriors have?
Why do ye bide | in Brunavagar,
Or what the way | that ye wish to try?"
6 "Hamal's the ship | by the shore so steep,
Our home in Hlesey | do we have;
For fair wind bide we | in Brunavagar,
Eastward the way | that we wish to try."
7. "Where hast thou, warrior, | battle wakened,
Or gorged the birds | of the sisters of Guth?
Why is thy byrnie | spattered with blood,
Why helmed dost feast | on food uncooked?"
8. "Latest of all, | the Ylfings' son
On the western sea, | if know thou wilt,
Captured bears | in Bragalund,
And fed the eagles | with edge of sword.
Now is it shown | why our shirts are bloody,
And little our food | with fire is cooked."
9. "Of battle thou tellest, | and there was bent
Hunding the king | before Helgi down;
There was carnage when thou | didst avenge thy kin,
And blood flowed fast | on the blade of the sword."
10. "How didst thou know | that now our kin,
Maiden wise, | we have well avenged?
Many there are | of the sons of the mighty
Who share alike | our lofty race."
11. "Not far was I | from the lord of the folk,
Yester morn, | when the monarch was slain;
Though crafty the son | of Sigmund, methinks,
When he speaks of the fight | in slaughter-runes.
12. "On the long-ship
once | I saw thee well,
When in the blood-stained | bow thou wast,
Granmar was the name of
a mighty king, who dwelt at Svarin's hill. He had many sons; one was
named Hothbrodd, another Gothmund, a third Starkath. Hothbrodd was in a
kings' meeting, and he won the promise of having Sigrun, Hogni's
daughter, for his wife. But when she heard this, she rode with the
Valkyries over air and sea to seek Helgi. Helgi was then at Logafjoll,
and had fought with Hunding's sons; there he killed Alf and Eyolf,
Hjorvarth and Hervarth. He was all weary with battle, and sat under the
eagle-stone. There Sigrun found him, and ran to throw her arms about his
neck, and kissed him, and told him her tidings, as is set forth in the
old Volsung lay:
13. Sigrun the joyful |
Forthwith Helgi's | hand she took; She greeted the hero | helmed and
The warrior's heart | to the woman turned.
14. From her heart the
daughter | of Hogni spake,
Dear was Helgi, | she said, to her;
"Long with all | my heart I loved
Sigmund's son | ere ever I saw him.
15. "At the meeting to
Hothbrodd | mated I was,
But another hero | I fain would have;
Though, king, the wrath | of my kin I fear,
Since I broke my father's | fairest wish."
16. "Fear not ever | Hogni's anger,
Nor yet thy kinsmen's | cruel wrath;
Maiden, thou | with me shalt live,
Thy kindred, fair one, | I shall not fear."
Helgi then assembled a
great sea-host and went to Frekastein. On the sea he met a perilous
storm; lightning flashed overhead and the bolts struck the ship. They
saw in the air that nine Valkyries were riding, and recognized Sigrun
among them. Then the storm abated, and they came safe and sound to land.
Granmar's sons sat on a certain mountain as the ships sailed toward the
land. Gothmund leaped on a horse and rode for news to a promontory near
the harbor; the Volsungs were even then lowering their sails. Then
Gothmund said, as is written before in the Helgi lay:
"Who is the king | who
captains the fleet,
And to the land | the warriors leads?"
son, answered him, and that too is written. Gothmund rode home with his
tidings of the host; then Granmar's sons summoned an army. Many kings
came there; there were Hogni, Sigrun's father, and his sons Bragi and
Dag. There was a great battle, and all Granmar's sons were slain and all
their allies; only Dag, Hogni's son, was spared, and he swore loyalty to
the Volsungs. Sigrun went among the dead and found Hothbrodd at the
coming of death. She said:
17. "Never shall Sigrun
| from Sevafjoll,
Hothbrodd king, | be held in thine arms;
Granmar's sons | full cold have grown,
And the giant-steeds gray | on corpses gorge."
Then she sought out
Helgi, and was full of joy He said:
18. "Maid, not fair | is
all thy fortune,
The Norris I blame | that this should be;
This morn there fell | at Frekastein
Bragi and Hogni | beneath my hand.
19. "At Hlebjorg fell |
the sons of Hrollaug,
Starkath the king | at Styrkleifar;
Fighters more noble | saw I never,
The body fought | when the head had fallen.
20. "On the ground full
low | the slain are lying,
Most are there | of the men of thy race;
Nought hast thou won, | for thy fate it was
Brave men to bring | to the battle-field."
Then Sigrun wept. |
21. "Grieve not, Sigrun,
| the battle is gained,
The fighter can shun not his fate."
"To life would I call | them who slaughtered lie,
If safe on thy breast I might be."
This Gothmund the son of Granmar spoke:
22. "What hero great |
is guiding the ships?
A golden flag | on the stem he flies;
I find not peace in | the van of your faring,
And round the fighters | is battle-light red."
23. "Here may Hothbrodd | Helgi find,
The hater of flight, | in the midst of the fleet;
The home of all | thy race he has,
And over the realm | of the fishes he rules."
24. "First shall swords | at Frekastein
Prove our worth | in place of words;
Time is it, Hothbrodd, | vengeance to have,
If in battle worsted | once we were."
25. "Better, Gothmund, | to tend the goats,
And climb the rocks | of the mountain cliffs;
A hazel switch | to hold in thy hand
More seemly were | than the hilt of a sword."
26. "Better, Sinfjotli, | thee 'twould beseem
Battles to give, | and eagles to gladden,
Than vain and empty | speech to utter,
Though warriors oft | with words do strive.
27. "Good I find not |
the sons of Granmar,
But for heroes 'tis seemly | the truth to speak;
At Moinsheimar | proved the men
That hearts for the wielding | of swords they had,
(And ever brave | the warriors are.)"
Helgi took Sigrun to
wife, and they had sons. Helgi did not reach old age. Dag, the son of
Hogni, offered sacrifice to Othin to be avenged for his father's death;
Othin gave Dag his spear. Dag found Helgi, his brother-in-law, at a
place which is called Fjoturlund. He thrust the spear through Helgi's
body. Then Helgi fell, and Dag rode to Sevafjoll and told Sigrun the
28. "Sad am I, sister, |
sorrow to tell thee,
Woe to my kin | unwilling I worked;
In the morn there fell | at Fjoturlund
The noblest prince | the world has known,
(And his heel he set | on the heroes' necks.)"
29. "Now may every | oath thee bite
That with Helgi | sworn thou hast,
By the water | bright of Leipt,
And the ice-cold | stone of Uth.
30. "The ship shall sail
not | in which thou sailest,
Though a favoring wind | shall follow after;
The horse shall run not | whereon thou ridest,
Though fain thou art | thy foe to flee.
. . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . .
"The sword shall bite not | which thou bearest,
Till thy head itself | it sings about.
32. "Vengeance were mine
| for Helgi's murder,
Wert thou a wolf | in the woods without,
Possessing nought | and knowing no joy,
Having no food | save corpses to feed on."
33. "Mad art thou, sister, | and wild of mind,
Such a curse | on thy brother to cast;
Othin is ruler | of every ill,
Who sunders kin | with runes of spite.
34. "Thy brother rings |
so red will give thee,
All Vandilsve | and Vigdalir;
Take half my land | to pay the harm,
Ring-decked maid, | and as meed for thy sons."
35. "I shall sit not happy | at Sevafjoll,
Early or late, | my life to love,
If the light cannot show, | in the leader's band,
Vigblær bearing him | back to his home,
(The golden-bitted; | I shall greet him never.)
36. "Such the fear |
that Helgi's foes
Ever felt, | and all their kin,
As makes the goats | with terror mad
Run from the wolf | among the rocks.
37. "Helgi rose | above
Like the lofty ash | above lowly thorns,
Or the noble stag, | with dew besprinkled,
Bearing his head | above all beasts,
(And his horns gleam bright | to heaven itself.)
A hill was made in
Helgi's memory. And when he
came to Valhall, then Othin bade him rule over every thing with himself.
A "Thou shalt, Hunding, | of every hero
Wash the feet, | and kindle the fire,
Tie up dogs, | and tend the horses,
And feed the swine | ere to sleep thou goest."
One of Sigrun's maidens
went one evening to Helgi's hill, and saw that Helgi rode to the hill
with many men, The maiden said:
39. "Is this a dream |
that methinks I see,
Or the doom of the gods, | that dead men ride,
And hither spurring | urge your steeds,
Or is home-coming now | to the heroes granted?"
40. "No dream is this | that thou thinkest to see,
Nor the end of the world, | though us thou beholdest,
And hither spurring | we urge our steeds,
Nor is home-coming now | to the heroes granted."
The maiden went home and
said to Sigrun:
41. "Go forth, Sigrun, |
If fain the lord | of the folk wouldst find;
(The hill is open, | Helgi is come;)
The sword-tracks bleed; | the monarch bade
That thou his wounds | shouldst now make well."
Sigrun went in the hill
to Helgi, and said:
42. "Now am I glad | of
our meeting together,
As Othin's hawks, | so eager for prey,
When slaughter and flesh | all warm they scent,
Or dew-wet see | the red of day.
43. "First will I kiss |
the lifeless king,
Ere off the bloody | byrnie thou cast;
With frost thy hair | is heavy, Helgi,
And damp thou art | with the dew of death;
(Ice-cold hands | has Hogni's kinsman,
What, prince, can I | to bring thee ease?)"
44. "Thou alone, Sigrun | of Sevafjoll,
Art cause that Helgi | with dew is heavy;
Gold-decked maid, | thy tears are grievous,
(Sun-bright south-maid, | ere thou sleepest;)
Each falls like blood | on the hero's breast,
(Burned-out, cold, | and crushed with care.)
45. "Well shall we drink
| a noble draught,
Though love and lands | are lost to me;
No man a song | of sorrow shall sing,
Though bleeding wounds | are on my breast;
Now in the hill | our brides we hold,
The heroes' loves, | by their husbands dead."
Sigrun made ready a bed in the hill.
46. "Here a bed | I have
made for thee, Helgi,
To rest thee from care, | thou kin of the Ylfings;
I will make thee sink | to sleep in my arms,
As once I lay | with the living king."
47. "Now do I say | that in Sevafjoll
Aught may happen, | early or late,
Since thou sleepest clasped | in a corpse's arms,
So fair in the hill, | the daughter of Hogni!
(Living thou comest, | a daughter of kings.)
48. "Now must I ride |
the reddened ways,
And my bay steed set | to tread the sky;
Westward I go | to wind-helm's bridges,
Ere Salgofnir wakes | the warrior throng."
Then Helgi and his
followers rode on their way, and the women went home to the dwelling.
Another evening Sigrun bade the maiden keep watch at the hill. And at
sunset when Sigrun came to the hill she said:
49. "Now were he come, |
if come he might,
Sigmund's son, | from Othin's seat;
Hope grows dim | of the hero's return
When eagles sit | on the ash-tree boughs,
And men are seeking | the meeting of dreams."
The Maiden said:
50. "Mad thou wouldst seem | alone to seek,
Daughter of heroes, | the house of the dead;
For mightier now | at night are all
The ghosts of the dead | than when day is bright."
Sigrun was early dead of
sorrow and grief. It was believed in olden times that people were born
again, but that is now called old wives' folly. Of Helgi and Sigrun it
is said that they were born again; he became Helgi Haddingjaskati, and
she Kara the daughter of Halfdan, as is told in the Lay of Kara, and she
was a Valkyrie.
Poetic Edda - Next
Fra Dautha Sinfjotla
© Michael Schütz –
Asatru Ring Frankfurt & Midgard – www.asatruringfrankfurt.de