Home  »  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895  »  From “Sigurd the Volsung.” I. Of the Passing Away of Brynhild

Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908). A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895. 1895.

William Morris 1834–96

From “Sigurd the Volsung.” I. Of the Passing Away of Brynhild


THEY look’d on each other and spake not; but Gunnar gat him gone,

And came to his brother Hogni, the wise-heart Giuki’s son,

And spake: “Thou art wise, O Hogni; go in to Brynhild the queen,

And stay her swift departing; or the last of her days hath she seen.”

“It is nought, thy word,” said Hogni; “wilt thou bring dead men aback,

Or the souls of kings departed midst the battle and the wrack?

Yet this shall be easier to thee than the turning Brynhild’s heart;

She came to dwell among us, but in us she had no part;

Let her go her ways from the Niblungs with her hand in Sigurd’s hand.

Will the grass grow up henceforward where her feet have trodden the land?”

“O evil day,” said Gunnar, “when my queen must perish and die!”

“Such oft betide,” said Hogni, “as the lives of men flit by;

But the evil day is a day, and on each day groweth a deed,

And a thing that never dieth; and the fateful tale shall speed.

Lo now, let us harden our hearts and set our brows as the brass,

Lest men say it, ‘They loath’d the evil and they brought the evil to pass.’”

So they spake, and their hearts were heavy, and they long’d for the morrow morn,

And the morrow of to-morrow, and the new day yet to be born.

But Brynhild cried to her maidens: “Now open ark and chest,

And draw forth queenly raiment of the loveliest and the best,

Red things that the Dwarf-lords fashion’d, fair cloths that queens have sew’d

To array the bride for the mighty, and the traveller for the road.”

They wept as they wrought her bidding and did on her goodliest gear;

But she laugh’d mid the dainty linen, and the gold-rings fashion’d fair:

She arose from the bed of the Niblungs, and her face no more was wan;

As a star in the dawn-tide heavens, mid the dusky house she shone;

And they that stood about her, their hearts were rais’d aloft

Amid their fear and wonder: then she spake them kind and soft:

“Now give me the sword, O maidens, wherewith I shear’d the wind

When the Kings of Earth were gather’d to know the Chooser’s mind.”

All sheath’d the maidens brought it, and fear’d the hidden blade,

But the naked blue-white edges across her knees she laid,

And spake: “The heap’d-up riches, the gear my fathers left,

All dear-bought woven wonders, all rings from battle reft,

All goods of men desired, now strew them on the floor,

And so share among you, maidens, the gifts of Brynhild’s store.”

They brought them mid their weeping, but none put forth a hand

To take that wealth desired, the spoils of many a land:

There they stand and weep before her, and some are mov’d to speech,

And they cast their arms about her and strive with her, and beseech

That she look on her lov’d-ones’ sorrow and the glory of the day.

It was nought; she scarce might see them, and she put their hands away,

And she said: “Peace, ye that love me! and take the gifts and the gold

In remembrance of my fathers and the faithful deeds of old.”

Then she spake: “Where now is Gunnar, that I may speak with him?

For new things are mine eyes beholding, and the Niblung house grows dim,

And new sounds gather about me, that may hinder me to speak

When the breath is near to flitting, and the voice is waxen weak.”

Then upright by the bed of the Niblungs for a moment doth she stand,

And the blade flasheth bright in the chamber, but no more they hinder her hand

Than if a God were smiting to rend the world in two:

Then dull’d are the glittering edges, and the bitter point cleaves through

The breast of the all-wise Brynhild, and her feet from the pavement fail,

And the sigh of her heart is hearken’d mid the hush of the maidens’ wail.

Chill, deep is the fear upon them, but they bring her aback to the bed,

And her hand is yet on the hilt, and sidelong droopeth her head.

Then there cometh a cry from withoutward, and Gunnar’s hurrying feet

Are swift on the kingly threshold, and Brynhild’s blood they meet.

Low down o’er the bed he hangeth and hearkeneth for her word,

And her heavy lids are open’d to look on the Niblung lord,

And she saith: “I pray thee a prayer, the last word in the world I speak,

That ye bear me forth to Sigurd, and the hand my hand would seek;

The bale for the dead is builded, it is wrought full wide on the plain,

It is rais’d for Earth’s best Helper, and thereon is room for twain:

Ye have hung the shields about it, and the Southland hangings spread,

There lay me adown by Sigurd and my head beside his head:

But ere you leave us sleeping, draw his Wrath from out the sheath,

And lay that Light of the Branstock, and the blade that frighted death

Betwixt my side and Sigurd’s, as it lay that while agone,

When once in one bed together we twain were laid alone:

How then when the flames flare upward may I be left behind?

How then may the road he wendeth be hard for my feet to find?

How then in the gates of Valhall may the door of the gleaming ring

Clash to on the heel of Sigurd, as I follow on my king?”

Then she rais’d herself on her elbow, but again her eyelids sank,

And the wound by the sword-edge whisper’d, as her heart from the iron shrank,

And she moan’d: “O lives of man-folk, for unrest all overlong

By the Father were ye fashion’d; and what hope amendeth wrong?

Now at last, O my beloved, all is gone; none else is near,

Through the ages of all ages, never sunder’d, shall we wear.”

Scarce more than a sigh was the word, as back on the bed she fell,

Nor was there need in the chamber of the passing of Brynhild to tell;

And no more their lamentation might the maidens hold aback,

But the sound of their bitter mourning was as if red-handed wrack

Ran wild in the Burg of the Niblungs, and the fire were master of all.

Then the voice of Gunnar the war-king cried out o’er the weeping hall:

“Wail on, O women forsaken, for the mightiest woman born!

Now the hearth is cold and joyless, and the waste bed lieth forlorn,

Wail on, but amid your weeping lay hand to the glorious dead,

That not alone for an hour may lie Queen Brynhild’s head:

For here have been heavy tidings, and the Mightiest under shield

Is laid on the bale high-builded in the Niblungs’ hallow’d field.

Fare forth! for he abideth, and we do All-father wrong,

If the shining Valhall’s pavement await their feet o’erlong.”

Then they took the body of Brynhild in the raiment that she wore,

And out through the gate of the Niblungs the holy corpse they bore,

And thence forth to the mead of the people, and the high-built shielded bale;

Then afresh in the open meadows breaks forth the women’s wail

When they see the bed of Sigurd, and the glittering of his gear;

And fresh is the wail of the people as Brynhild draweth anear,

And the tidings go before her that for twain the bale is built,

That for twain is the oak-wood shielded and the pleasant odors spilt.

There is peace on the bale of Sigurd, and the Gods look down from on high,

And they see the lids of the Volsung close shut against the sky,

As he lies with his shield beside him in the Hauberk all of gold,

That has not its like in the heavens, nor has earth of its fellow told;

And forth from the Helm of Aweing are the sunbeams flashing wide,

And the sheathed Wrath of Sigurd lies still by his mighty side.

Then cometh an elder of days, a man of the ancient times,

Who is long past sorrow and joy, and the steep of the bale he climbs;

And he kneeleth down by Sigurd, and bareth the Wrath to the sun

That the beams are gather’d about it, and from hilt to blood-point run,

And wide o’er the plain of the Niblungs doth the Light of the Branstock glare,

Till the wondering mountain-shepherds on that star of noontide stare,

And fear for many an evil; but the ancient man stands still

With the war-flame on his shoulder, nor thinks of good or of ill,

Till the feet of Brynhild’s bearers on the topmost bale are laid,

And her bed is dight by Sigurd’s; then he sinks the pale white blade

And lays it ’twixt the sleepers, and leaves them there alone—

He, the last that shall ever behold them,—and his days are well nigh done.

Then is silence over the plain; in the moon shine the torches pale

As the best of the Niblung Earl-folk bear fire to the builded bale:

Then a wind in the west ariseth, and the white flames leap on high,

And with one voice crieth the people a great and mighty cry,

And men cast up hands to the Heavens, and pray without a word,

As they that have seen God’s visage, and the face of the Father have heard.

They are gone—the lovely, the mighty, the hope of the ancient Earth:

It shall labor and bear the burden as before that day of their birth;

It shall groan in its blind abiding for the day that Sigurd hath sped,

And the hour that Brynhild hath hasten’d, and the dawn that waketh the dead:

It shall yearn, and be oft-times holpen, and forget their deeds no more,

Till the new sun beams on Baldur, and the happy sealess shore.