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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

From the Nibelungenlied

By Nibelungenlied (Twelfth Century)

From Fall of the Nibelungers: Translation of William Nanson Lettsom


IN stories of our fathers, high marvels we are told

Of champions well approved in perils manifold.

Of feasts and merry meetings, of weeping and of wail,

And deeds of gallant daring I’ll tell you in my tale.

In Burgundy there flourished a maid so fair to see,

That in all the world together a fairer could not be.

This maiden’s name was Kriemhild; through her in dismal strife

Full many a prowest warrior thereafter lost his life.

Many a fearless champion, as such well became,

Wooed the lovely lady; she from none had blame.

Matchless was her person, matchless was her mind:

This one maiden’s virtue graced all womankind.

Three puissant Kings her guarded with all the care they might:

Gunther and eke Gernot, each a redoubted knight,

And Giselher the youthful, a chosen champion he;

This lady was their sister, well loved of all the three.

They were high of lineage, thereto mild of mood,

But in field and foray champions fierce and rude.

They ruled a mighty kingdom, Burgundy by name;

They wrought in Etzel’s country deeds of deathless fame.

At Worms was their proud dwelling, the fair Rhine flowing by;

There had they suit and service from haughtiest chivalry

For broad lands and lordships, and glorious was their state,

Till wretchedly they perished by two noble ladies’ hate….

A dream was dreamt by Kriemhild, the virtuous and the gay,

How a wild young falcon she trained for many a day,

Till two fierce eagles tore it; to her there could not be

In all the world such sorrow as this perforce to see.

To her mother Uta at once the dream she told,

But she the threatening future could only thus unfold:

“The falcon that thou trainedst is sure a noble mate;

God shield him in his mercy, or thou must lose him straight.”

“A mate for me? what sayest thou, dearest mother mine?

Ne’er to love, assure thee, my heart will I resign.

I’ll live and die a maiden, and end as I began,

Nor (let what else befall me) will suffer woe for man.”

“Nay,” said her anxious mother, “renounce not marriage so;

Would’st thou true heartfelt pleasure taste ever here below,

Man’s love alone can give it. Thou’rt fair as eye can see:

A fitting mate God send thee, and naught will wanting be.”

“No more,” the maiden answered, “no more, dear mother, say:

From many a woman’s fortune this truth is clear as day,

That falsely smiling Pleasure with Pain requites us ever.

I from both will keep me, and thus will sorrow never.”

So in her lofty virtues, fancy-free and gay,

Lived the noble maiden many a happy day,

Nor one more than another found favor in her sight;

Still at the last she wedded a far-renownèd knight.

He was the selfsame falcon she in her dream had seen,

Foretold by her wise mother. What vengeance took the queen

On her nearest kinsmen who him to death had done!

That single death atoning died many a mother’s son.


IN Netherland then flourished a prince of lofty kind

(Whose father was called Siegmund, his mother Siegelind),

In a sumptuous castle down by the Rhine’s fair side;

Men did call it Xanten: ’twas famous far and wide.

I tell you of this warrior, how fair he was to see;

From shame and from dishonor lived he ever free.

Forthwith fierce and famous waxed the mighty man.

Ah! what height of worship in this world he wan!

Siegfried men did call him, that same champion good;

Many a kingdom sought he in his manly mood,

And through strength of body in many a land rode he.

Ah! what men of valor he found in Burgundy!

Before this noble champion grew up to man’s estate,

His hand had mighty wonders achieved in war’s debate,

Whereof the voice of rumor will ever sing and say,

Though much must pass in silence in this our later day.

In his freshest season, in his youthful days,

One might full many a marvel tell in Siegfried’s praise:

What lofty honors graced him, and how fair his fame;

How he charmed to love him many a noble dame.

As did well befit him, he was bred with care,

And his own lofty nature gave him virtues rare;

From him his father’s country grace and honor drew,

To see him proved in all things so noble and so true.

He now, grown up to youthhood, at court his duty paid:

The people saw him gladly; many a wife and many a maid

Wished he would often thither, and bide for ever there;

They viewed him all with favor, whereof he well was ware.

The child by his fond parents was decked with weeds of pride,

And but with guards about him they seldom let him ride.

Uptrained was he by sages, who what was honor knew,

So might he win full lightly broad lands and liegemen too.

Now had he strength and stature that weapons well he bore;

Whatever thereto needed, he had of it full store.

He began fair ladies to his love to woo,

And they inclined to Siegfried with faith and honor true.


(Hagan’s Account of Siegfried)

AS all alone and aidless he was riding once at will,

As I have heard reported, he found beside a hill

With Niblung’s hoarded treasure full many a man of might;

Strange seemed they to the champion, till he came to know them right.

They had brought the treasure, as just then befell,

Forth from a yawning cavern: now hear a wonder tell,

How those fierce Nibelungers the treasure would divide;

The noble Siegfried eyed them, and wondered as he eyed.

He nearer came and nearer, close watching still the clan

Till they got sight of him too, when one of them began,

“Here comes the stalwart Siegfried, the chief of Netherland.”

A strange adventure met he with that Nibelungers’ band.

Him well received the brethren Shilbung and Nibelung.

With one accord they begged him, those noble princes young,

To part the hoard betwixt them; and ever pressing bent

The hero’s wavering purpose till he yielded full consent.

He saw of gems such plenty, drawn from that dark abode,

That not a hundred wagons could bear the costly load.

Still more of gold so ruddy from the Nibelungers’ land:

All this was to be parted by noble Siegfried’s hand.

So Niblung’s sword they gave him to recompense his pain;

But ill was done the service, which they had sought so fain,

And he so hard had granted: Siegfried, the hero good,

Failed the long task to finish; this stirred their angry mood.

The treasure undivided he needs must let remain,

When the two kings indignant set on him with their train;

But Siegfried gripped sharp Balmung (so hight their father’s sword),

And took from them their country and the beaming precious hoard.

For friends had they twelve champions, each, as avers my tale,

A strong and sturdy giant; but what could all avail?

All twelve to death successive smote Siegfried’s mastering hand,

And vanquished chiefs seven hundred of the Nibelungers’ land

With that good weapon Balmung; by sudden fear dismayed

Both of the forceful swordsman and of the sword he swayed,

Unnumbered youthful heroes to Siegfried bent that hour,—

Themselves, their lands, their castles submitting to his power.

Those two fierce kings together he there deprived of life;

Then waged with puissant Albric a stern and dubious strife,—

Who thought to take full vengeance for both his masters slain,

But found his might and manhood with Siegfried’s matched in vain.

The mighty dwarf successless strove with the mightier man;

Like to wild mountain lions to th’ hollow hill they ran;

He ravished there the cloud-cloak from struggling Albric’s hold,

And then became the master of th’ hoarded gems and gold.

Whoever dared resist him, all by his sword lay slain.

Then bade he bring the treasure back to the cave again,

Whence the men of Niblung the same before had stirred;

On Albric last the office of keeper he conferred.

He took an oath to serve him, as his liegeman true,

In all that to a master from his man is due.

Such deeds (said he of Trony) has conquering Siegfried done;

Be sure such mighty puissance, knight has never won.

Yet more I know of Siegfried, that well your ear may hold:

A poison-spitting dragon he slew with courage bold,

And in the blood then bathed him; this turned to horn his skin.

And now no weapons harm him, as often proved has been.

How Siegfried First Saw Kriemhild

NOW went she forth, the loveliest, as forth the morning goes

From misty clouds outbeaming; then all his weary woes

Left him, in heart who bore her, and so long time had done.

He saw there stately standing the fair, the peerless one.

Many a stone full precious flashed from her vesture bright;

Her rosy blushes darted a softer, milder light.

Whate’er might be his wishes, each could not but confess

He ne’er on earth had witnessed such perfect loveliness.

As the moon arising outglitters every star

That through the clouds so purely glimmers from afar,

E’en so love-breathing Kriemhild dimmed every beauty nigh.

Well might at such a vision many a bold heart beat high.

Rich chamberlains before them marched on in order due;

Around th’ high-mettled champions close and closer drew,

Each pressing each, and struggling to see the matchless maid.

Then inly was Sir Siegfried both well and ill apaid.

Within himself thus thought he: “How could I thus misdeem

That I should dare to woo thee? sure ’twas an idle dream!

Yet, rather than forsake thee, far better were I dead.”

Thus thinking, thus impassioned, waxed he ever white and red.

So stood the son of Sieglind in matchless grace arrayed,

As though upon a parchment in glowing hues portrayed

By some good master’s cunning; all owned, and could no less,

Eye had not seen a pattern of such fair manliness.

Those who the dames attended bade all around make way;

Straight did the gentle warriors, as such became, obey.

There many a knight, enraptured, saw many a dame in place

Shine forth in bright perfection of courtliness and grace.

Then the bold Burgundian, Sir Gernot, spoke his thought:—

“Him who in hour of peril his aid so frankly brought,

Requite, dear brother Gunther, as fits both him and you,

Before this fair assembly; th’ advice I give, I ne’er shall rue.

“Bid Siegfried come to Kriemhild; let each the other meet:

’Twill sure be to our profit, if she the warrior greet.

’Twill make him ours for ever, this man of matchless might,

If she but give him greeting, who never greeted knight.”

Then went King Gunther’s kinsmen, a high-born haughty band,

And found and fair saluted the knight of Netherland:—

“The king to court invites you, such favor have you won;

His sister there will greet you: this to honor you is done.”

Glad man was then Sir Siegfried at this unlooked-for gain;

His heart was full of pleasure without alloy of pain,

To see and meet so friendly fair Uta’s fairer child.

Then greeted she the warrior maidenly and mild.

There stood he, the high-minded, beneath her star-bright eye,

His cheek as fire all glowing; then said she modestly,

“Sir Siegfried, you are welcome, noble knight and good!”

Yet loftier at that greeting rose his lofty mood.

He bowed with soft emotion, and thanked the blushing fair;

Love’s strong constraint together impelled th’ enamored pair;

Their longing eyes encountered, their glances every one

Bound knight and maid for ever; yet all by stealth was done.

That in the warmth of passion he pressed her lily hand,

I do not know for certain, but well can understand

’Twere surely past believing they ventured not on this:

Two loving hearts, so meeting, else had done amiss.

No more in pride of summer nor in bloom of May

Knew he such heartfelt pleasure as on this happy day,

When she, than May more blooming, more bright than summer’s pride,

His own, a dream no longer, was standing by his side.

Then thought full many a champion, “Would this had happed to me,

To be with lovely Kriemhild as Siegfried now I see,

Or closer e’en than Siegfried: well were I then, I ween.”

Never yet was champion who so deserved a queen.

Whate’er the king or country of the guests assembled there,

All could look on nothing save on that gentle pair.

Now ’twas allowed that Kriemhild the peerless knight should kiss.

Ne’er in the world had drained he so full a draught of bliss….

She now the minster entered; her followed many a dame;

There so her stately beauty her rich attire became,

That drooped each high aspiring, born but at once to die.

Sure was that maid created to ravish every eye.

Scarce could wait Sir Siegfried till the mass was sung.

Well might he thank his fortune that, all those knights among,

To him inclined the maiden whom still in heart he bore,

While he to her, as fitted, returned as much or more.

When now before the minster after the mass she stood,

Again to come beside her was called the champion good.

Then first by that sweet maiden thanks to the knight were given,

That he before his comrades so warrior-like had striven.

“God you reward. Sir Siegfried!” said the noble child,

“For all your high deservings in honor’s bead-roll filed,

The which I know from all men have won you fame and grace.”

Sir Siegfried, love-bewildered, looked Kriemhild in the face.

“Ever,” said he, “your brethren I’ll serve as best I may,

Nor once, while I have being, will head on pillow lay,

Till I have done to please them whate’er they bid me do;

And this, my lady Kriemhild, is all for love of you.”

How the Two Queens Reviled One Another

ONE day at th’ hour of vespers a loud alarum rose

From certain lusty champions that for their pastime chose

To prove themselves at tilting in the castle court;

Then many a knight and lady ran thither to see the sport.

There were the proud queens sitting together, as befell,

Each on a good knight thinking that either loved full well.

Then thus began fair Kriemhild, “My husband’s of such might,

That surely o’er these kingdoms he ought to rule by right.”

Then answered lady Brunhild, “Nay, how can that be shown?

Were there none other living but thou and he alone,

Then might, no doubt, the kingdoms be ruled by him and thee;

But long as Gunther’s living, that sure can never be.”

Thereto rejoined fair Kriemhild, “See’st thou how proud he stands,

How proud he stalks,—conspicuous among those warrior bands,

As doth the moon far-beaming the glimmering stars outshine?

Sure have I cause to pride me when such a knight is mine.”

Thereto replied Queen Brunhild, “How brave soe’er he be,

How stout soe’er or stately, one greater is than he:

Gunther, thy noble brother, a higher place may claim,

Of knights and kings the foremost in merit and in fame.”

Thereto rejoined fair Kriemhild, “So worthy is my mate,

All praise that I can give him can ne’er be termed too great.

In all he does how matchless! In honor too how clear!

Believ’st thou this, Queen Brunhild? At least he’s Gunther’s peer.”—

“Thou shouldst not so perversely, Kriemhild, my meaning take.

What I said, assure thee, with ample cause I spake.

I heard them both allow it, then when both first I saw,

And the stout king in battle compelled me to his law.

“E’en then, when my affection he so knightly wan,

’Twas fairly owned by Siegfried that he was Gunther’s man.

Myself I heard him own it, and such I hold him still.”

“Forsooth,” replied fair Kriemhild, “they must have used me ill.

“How could my noble brethren their power have so applied,

As to make me, their sister, a lowly vassal’s bride?

For manners’ sake then, Brunhild, this idle talk give o’er,

And by our common friendship, let me hear no more.”

“Give o’er will I never,” the queen replied again:

“Shall I renounce the service of all the knightly train

That hold of him, our vassal, and are our vassals too?”

Into sudden anger at this fair Kriemhild flew:

“Ay! but thou must renounce it, for never will he grace

Thee with his vassal service: he fills a higher place

Than e’en my brother Gunther, noble though be his strain.

Henceforth thou shouldst be wiser, nor hold such talk again.

“I wonder too, since Siegfried thy vassal is by right,

Since both of us thou rulest with so much power and might,

Why to thee his service so long he has denied.

Nay! I can brook no longer thy insolence and pride.”

“Thyself too high thou bearest,” Brunhild answer made:

“Fain would I see this instant whether to thee be paid

Public respect and honor such as waits on me.”

Then both the dames with anger lowering you might see.

“So shall it be,” said Kriemhild: “to meet thee I’m prepared.

Since thou my noble husband a vassal hast declared,

By the men of both our consorts to-day it shall be seen,

That I the church dare enter before King Gunther’s queen.

“To-day by proof thou’lt witness what lofty birth is mine,

And that my noble husband worthier is than thine;

Nor for this with presumption shall I be taxed, I trow:

To-day thou’lt see moreover thy lowly vassal go

“To court before the warriors here in Burgundy.

Assure thee, thou’lt behold me honored more royally

Than the proudest princess that ever here wore crown.”

The dames their spite attested with many a scowl and frown.

“Since thou wilt be no vassal,” Brunhild rejoined again,

“Then thou with thy women must apart remain

From my dames and damsels, as to the church we go.”

Thereto Kriemhild answered, “Trust me it shall be so.

“Array ye now, my maidens,” said Siegfried’s haughty dame:

“You must not let your mistress here be put to shame;

That you have gorgeous raiment make plain to every eye.

What she has just asserted, she soon shall fain deny.”

They needed not much bidding: all sought out their best;

Matrons alike and maidens each donned a glittering vest.

Queen Brunhild with her meiny was now upon her way.

By this was decked fair Kriemhild in royal rich array,

With three-and-forty maidens, whom she to Rhine had brought;

Bright stuffs were their apparel, in far Arabia wrought.

So towards the minster marched the maidens fair;

All the men of Siegfried were waiting for them there.

Strange thought it each beholder, what there by all was seen,

How with their trains far-sundered passed either noble queen,

Not walking both together as was their wont before;

Full many a prowest warrior thereafter rued it sore.

Now before the minster the wife of Gunther stood;

Meanwhile by way of pastime many a warrior good

Held light and pleasant converse with many a smiling dame;

When up the lovely Kriemhild with her radiant meiny came.

All that the noblest maiden had ever donned before

Was as wind to the splendor her dazzling ladies wore.

So rich her own apparel in gold and precious things,

She alone might outglitter the wives of thirty kings.

Howe’er he might be willing, yet none could dare deny

That such resplendent vesture never met mortal eye

As on that fair retinue then sparkled to the sun.

Except to anger Brunhild, Kriemhild had not so done.

Both met before the minster in all the people’s sight;

There at once the hostess let out her deadly spite.

Bitterly and proudly she bade fair Kriemhild stand:

“No vassaless precedeth the lady of the land.”

Out then spake fair Kriemhild (full of wrath was she),

“Couldst thou still be silent, better ’twere for thee.

Thou’st made thy beauteous body a dishonored thing.

How can a vassal’s leman be consort of a king?”

“Whom here call’st thou leman?” said the queen again.

“So call I thee,” said Kriemhild: “thy maidenly disdain

Yielded first to Siegfried, my husband, Siegmund’s son;

Ay! ’twas not my brother that first thy favors won.

“Why, where were then thy senses? sure ’twas a crafty train,

To take a lowly lover, to ease a vassal’s pain!

Complaints from thee,” said Kriemhild, “methinks are much amiss.”

“Verily,” said Brunhild, “Gunther shall hear of this.”

“And why should that disturb me? thy pride hath thee betrayed.

Why didst thou me, thy equal, with vassalship upbraid?

Know this for sure and certain (to speak it gives me pain),

Never can I meet thee in cordial love again.”

Then bitterly wept Brunhild: Kriemhild no longer stayed;

Straight with all her followers before the queen she made

Her way into the minster; then deadly hate ’gan rise;

And starting tears o’erclouded the shine of brightest eyes.

For all the solemn service, for all the chanted song,

Still it seemed to Brunhild they lingered all too long.

Both on her mind and body a load like lead there lay.

Many a high-born hero for her sorrow was to pay.

Brunhild stopped with her ladies without the minster door.

Thought she, “This wordy woman shall tell me something more

Of her charge against me spread so loud and rife.

If he has but so boasted, let him look to his life!”

Now came the noble Kriemhild begirt with many a knight;

Then spake the noble Brunhild, “Stop and do me right.

You’ve voiced me for a wanton: prove it ere you go.

You and your foul speeches have wrought me pain and woe.”

Then spake the lady Kriemhild, “’Twere wiser to forbear:

E’en with the gold I’ll prove it that on my hand I wear;

’Twas this that Siegfried brought me from where by you he lay.”

Never lived Queen Brunhild so sorrowful a day.

Said she, “That ring was stolen from me who held it dear,

And mischievously hidden has since been many a year.

But now I’ve met with something by which the thief to guess.”

Both the dames were frenzied with passion masterless.

“Thief?” made answer Kriemhild, “I will not brook the name.

Thou wouldst have kept silence, hadst thou a sense of shame.

By the girdle here about me prove full well I can

That I am ne’er a liar; Siegfried was indeed thy man.”

’Twas of silk of Nineveh the girdle that she brought,

With precious stones well garnished; a better ne’er was wrought:

When Brunhild but beheld it, her tears she could not hold.

The tale must needs to Gunther and all his men be told.

How Siegfried Parted from Kriemhild

GUNTHER and Hagan, the warriors fierce and bold,

To execute their treason, resolved to scour the wold,

The bear, the boar, the wild bull, by hill or dale or fen,

To hunt with keen-edged javelins: what fitter sport for valiant men?

In lordly pomp rode with them Siegfried the champion strong.

Good store of costly viands they brought with them along.

Anon by a cool runnel he lost his guiltless life.

’Twas so devised by Brunhild, King Gunther’s moody wife.

But first he sought the chamber where he his lady found.

He and his friend already had on the sumpters bound

Their gorgeous hunting raiment; they o’er the Rhine would go.

Never before was Kriemhild sunk so deep in woe.

On her mouth of roses he kissed his lady dear:

“God grant me, dame, returning in health to see thee here;

So may those eyes see me too: meanwhile be blithe and gay

Among the gentle kinsmen; I must hence away.”

Then thought she on the secret (the truth she durst not tell)

How she had told it Hagan; then the poor lady fell

To wailing and lamenting that ever she was born.

Then wept she without measure, sobbing and sorrow-worn.

She thus bespake her husband: “Give up that chase of thine.

I dreamt last night of evil,—how two fierce forest swine

Over the heath pursued thee; the flowers turned bloody red.

I cannot help thus weeping: I’m chilled with mortal dread.

“I fear some secret treason, and cannot lose thee hence,

Lest malice should be borne thee for misconceived offense.

Stay, my beloved Siegfried, take not my words amiss,—

’Tis the true love I bear thee that bids me counsel this.”—

“Back shall I be shortly, my own beloved mate;

Not a soul in Rhineland know I who bears me hate:

I’m well with all thy kinsmen; they’re all my firm allies:

Nor have I from any e’er deservèd otherwise.”—

“Nay! do not, dearest Siegfried! ’tis e’en thy death I dread.

Last night I dreamt two mountains fell thundering on thy head,

And I no more beheld thee: if thou from me wilt go,

My heart will sure be breaking with bitterness of woe.”

Round her peerless body his clasping arms he threw;

Lovingly he kissed her, that faithful wife and true;

Then took his leave, and parted: in a moment all was o’er;—

Living, alas poor lady! she saw him nevermore.

How Siegfried was Slain

THE NOBLE knight Sir Siegfried with thirst was sore opprest;

So earlier rose from table, and could no longer rest,

But straight would to the mountain the running brook to find,—

And so advanced the treason his faithless foes designed.

Meanwhile were slowly lifted on many a groaning wain

The beasts in that wild forest by Siegfried’s manhood slain.

Each witness gave him honor, and loud his praises spoke.

Alas, that with him Hagan his faith so foully broke!

Now when to the broad linden they all would take their way,

Thus spake the fraudful Hagan, “Full oft have I heard say,

That none a match in swiftness for Kriemhild’s lord can be,

Whene’er to race he pleases: would he grant us this to see?”

Then spake the Netherlander, Siegfried, with open heart:—

“Well then! let’s make the trial! Together we will start

From hence to yonder runnel; let us at once begin:

And he shall pass for winner who shall be seen to win.”

“Agreed!” said treacherous Hagan, “let us each other try.”

Thereto rejoined stout Siegfried, “And if you pass me by,

Down at your feet I’ll lay me humbled on the grass.”

When these words heard Gunther, what joy could his surpass?

Then said the fearless champion, “And this I tell you more:

I’ll carry all the equipment that in the chase I wore,—

My spear, my shield, my vesture,—leave will I nothing out.”

His sword then and his quiver he girt him quick about.

King Gunther and Sir Hagan to strip were nothing slow;

Both for the race stood ready in shirts as white as snow.

Long bounds, like two wild panthers, o’er the grass they took,

But seen was noble Siegfried before them at the brook.

Whate’er he did, the warrior high o’er his fellows soared.

Now laid he down his quiver, and quick ungirt his sword;

Against the spreading linden he leaned his mighty spear:

So by the brook stood waiting the chief without a peer.

In every lofty virtue none with Sir Siegfried vied:

Down he laid his buckler by the water’s side;

For all the thirst that parched him, one drop he never drank

Till the king had finished: he had full evil thank.

Cool was the little runnel, and sparkled clear as glass;

O’er the rill King Gunther knelt down upon the grass;

When he his draught had taken he rose and stepped aside.

Full fain alike would Siegfried his thirst have satisfied.

Dear paid he for his courtesy: his bow, his matchless blade,

His weapons all, Sir Hagan far from their lord conveyed,

Then back sprung to the linden to seize his ashen spear,

And to find out the token surveyed his vesture near;

Then, as to drink Sir Siegfried down kneeling there he found,

He pierced him through the croslet, that sudden from the wound

Forth the life-blood spouted e’en o’er his murderer’s weed.

Never more will warrior dare so foul a deed.

Between his shoulders sticking he left the deadly spear.

Never before Sir Hagan so fled for ghastly fear,

As from the matchless champion whom he had butchered there.

Soon as was Sir Siegfried of the mortal wound aware,

Up he from the runnel started as he were wood;

Out from betwixt his shoulders his own huge boar-spear stood!

He thought to find his quiver or his broadsword true;

The traitor for his treason had then received his due:

But ah! the deadly wounded nor sword nor quiver found:

His shield alone beside him lay there upon the ground;

This from the bank he lifted, and straight at Hagan ran:

Him could not then by fleetness escape King Gunther’s man.

E’en to the death though wounded, he hurled it with such power,

That the whirling buckler scattered wide a shower

Of the most precious jewels, then straight in shivers broke:

Full gladly had the warrior ta’en vengeance with that stroke.

E’en as it was, his manhood fierce Hagan leveled low;

Loud all around the meadow rang with the wondrous blow:

Had he in hand good Balmung, the murderer he had slain.

His wound was sore upon him; he writhed in mortal pain.

His lively color faded; a cloud came o’er his sight:

He could stand no longer; melted all his might.

In his paling visage the mark of death he bore.

Soon many a lovely lady sorrowed for him sore.

So the lord of Kriemhild among the flowerets fell;

From the wound fresh gushing his heart’s blood fast did well.

Then thus amidst his tortures, e’en with his failing breath,

The false friends he upbraided who had contrived his death.

Thus spake the deadly wounded:—“Ay! cowards false as hell!

To you I still was faithful; I served you long and well:

But what boots all? for guerdon, treason and death I’ve won;

By your friends, vile traitors! foully have you done.

Whoever shall hereafter from your loins be born

Shall take from such vile fathers a heritage of scorn.

On me you have wreaked malice where gratitude was due;—

With shame shall you be banished by all good knights and true.”

Thither ran all the warriors where in his blood he lay;

To many of that party sure ’twas a joyless day;

Whoe’er were true and faithful, they sorrowed for his fall,—

So much the peerless champion had merited of all.

With them the false king Gunther bewept his timeless end.

Then spake the deadly wounded, “Little it boots your friend

Yourself to plot his murder, and then the deed deplore:

Such is a shameful sorrow; better at once ’twere o’er.”

Then spake the low’ring Hagan, “I know not why you moan.

Our cares all and suspicions are now for ever flown.

Who now are left, against us who’ll dare to make defense?

Well’s me, for all this weeping, that I have rid him hence.”

“Small cause hast thou,” said Siegfried, “to glory in my fate.

Had I weened thy friendship cloaked such murderous hate,

From such as thou full lightly could I have kept my life.

Now grieve I but for Kriemhild, my dear, my widowed wife.

“Now may God take pity, that e’er I had a son,

Who this reproach must suffer from deed so foully done,

That by his murderous kinsmen his father thus was slain.

Had I but time to finish, of this I well might plain.

“Surely so base a murder the world did never see,”

Said he, and turned to Gunther, “as you have done on me.

I saved your life and honor from shame and danger fell,

And thus am I requited by you I served so well.”

Then further spake the dying, and speaking sighed full deep:—

“O king! if thou a promise with any one wilt keep,

Let me in this last moment thy grace and favor find

For my dear love and lady, the wife I leave behind.

“Remember, she’s thy sister: yield her a sister’s right;

Guard her with faith and honor, as thou’rt a king and knight.

My father and my followers for me they long must wait,

Comrade ne’er found from comrade so sorrowful a fate.”

In his mortal anguish he writhed him to and fro,

And then said, deadly groaning, “This foul and murderous blow

Deep will ye rue hereafter; this for sure truth retain,

That in slaying Siegfried you yourselves have slain.”

With blood were all bedabbled the flowerets of the field.

Some time with death he struggled, as though he scorned to yield

E’en to the foe whose weapon strikes down the loftiest head.

At last prone in the meadow lay mighty Siegfried dead.

How the Margrave Rudeger Bewailed his Divided Duty

“WOE’S me the heaven-abandoned, that I have lived to this!

Farewell to all my honors! woe for my first amiss!

My truth—my God-given innocence—must they be both forgot?

Woe’s me, O God in heaven! that death relieves me not!

“Which part soe’er I foster, and whichsoe’er I shun,

In either case forsaken is good, and evil done;

But should I side with neither, all would the waverer blame.

Ah! would He deign to guide me, from whom my being came!”

Still went they on imploring, the king and eke his wife;

Whence many a valiant warrior soon came to lose his life

By the strong hand of Rudeger, and he too lastly fell.

So all his tale of sorrow you now shall hear me tell.

He nothing thence expected but loss and mortal teen;

Fain had he given denial alike to king and queen.

Much feared the gentle margrave, if in the stern debate

He slew but one Burgundian, the world would bear him hate.

With that, unto King Etzel thus spake the warrior bold:—

“Sir King! take back, I pray you, all that of you I hold,

My fiefs, both lands and castles; let none with me remain.

To distant realms, a wanderer, I’ll foot it forth again.

“Thus stripped of all possessions I’ll leave at once your land.

Rather my wife and daughter I’ll take in either hand,

Than faithless and dishonored in hateful strife lie dead.

Ah! to my own destruction I’ve ta’en your gold so red.”

Thereto replied King Etzel, “Who then will succor me?

My land as well as liegemen, all will I give to thee,

If thou’lt revenge me, Rudeger, and smite my foemen down.

High shalt thou rule with Etzel, and share his kingly crown.”

Then spake the blameless margrave, “How shall I begin?

To my house I bade them, as guests I took them in,

Set meat and drink before them, they at my table fed,

And my best gifts I gave them;—how can I strike them dead?

“The folk ween in their folly that out of fear I shrink.

No! no! on former favors, on ancient bonds I think.

I served the noble princes, I served their followers too,

And knit with them the friendship I now so deeply rue.

“I to the youthful Giselher my daughter gave of late:

In all the world the maiden could find no fitter mate,—

True, faithful, brave, well-nurtured, rich, and of high degree;

Young prince yet saw I never so virtue-fraught as he.”

Then thus bespake him Kriemhild: “Right noble Rudeger,

Take pity on our anguish! thou see’st us kneeling here,

The king and me, before thee: both clasp thy honored knees.

Sure never host yet feasted such fatal guests as these.”

With that, the noble margrave thus to the queen ’gan say:—

“Sure must the life of Rudeger for all the kindness pay,

That you to me, my lady, and my lord the king have done,—

For this I’m doomed to perish, and that ere set of sun.

“Full well I know, this morning my castles and my land

Both will to you fall vacant by stroke of foeman’s hand;

And so my wife and daughter I to your grace commend,

And all at Bechelaren, each trusty homeless friend.”

“Now God,” replied King Etzel, “reward thee, Rudeger!”

He and his queen together resumed their lively cheer.

“From us shall all thy people receive whate’er they need;

Thou too, I trust, this morning thyself wilt fairly speed.”

So body and soul to hazard put the blameless man.

Meanwhile the wife of Etzel sorely to weep began.

Said he, “My word I gave you, I’ll keep it well to-day.

Woe for my friends, whom Rudeger in his own despite must slay.”

With that, straight from King Etzel he went with many a sigh.

Soon his band of heroes found he mustered nigh.

Said he, “Up now, my warriors! don all your armor bright;

I ’gainst the bold Burgundians must to my sorrow fight.”…

To those within he shouted, “Look not for succor hence;

Ye valiant Nibelungers! now stand on your defense.

I’d fain have been your comrade: your foe I now must be.

We once were friends together: now from that bond I’m free.”

The hard-beset Burgundians to hear his words were woe;

Was not a man among them but sorrowed, high and low,

That thus a friend and comrade would ’gainst them mingle blows,

When they so much already had suffered from their foes.

“Now God forbid,” said Gunther, “that such a knight as you

To the faith wherein we trusted should ever prove untrue,

And turn upon his comrades in such an hour as this;—

Ne’er can I think that Rudeger can do so much amiss.”

“I can’t go back,” said Rudeger; “the deadly die is cast:

I must with you do battle; to that my word is past.

So each of you defend him as he loves his life.

I must perform my promise,—so wills King Etzel’s wife.”

Said Gunther, “This renouncement comes all too late to-day;

May God, right noble Rudeger, you for the favors pay

Which you so oft have done us, if e’en unto the end

To those who ever loved you you show yourself a friend.

“Ever shall we be your servants for all you’ve deigned to give—

Both I and my good kinsmen—if by your aid we live.

Your precious gifts, fair tokens of love and friendship dear,

Given when you brought us hither,—now think of them, good Rudeger!”

“How fain that would I grant you!” the noble knight replied;

“Would that my gifts for ever might in your hands abide!

I’d fain in all assist you that life concerns or fame,

But that I fear, so doing, to get reproach and shame.”

“Think not of that, good Rudeger,” said Gernot, “in such need.

Sure host ne’er guests entreated so well in word or deed,

As you did us, your comrades, when late with you we stayed.

If hence alive you bring us, ’twill be in full repaid.”

“Now would to God, Sir Gernot,” said Rudeger, ill bestead,

“That you were safe in Rhineland, and I with honor dead!

Now must I fight against you to serve your sister’s ends:

Sure never yet were strangers entreated worse by friends.”

“Sir Rudeger,” answered Gernot, “God’s blessing wait on you

For all your gorgeous presents! Your death I sore should rue,

Should that pure virtue perish, which ill the world can spare.

Your sword, which late you gave me, here by my side I wear.

“It never once has failed me in all this bloody fray;

Lifeless beneath its edges many a good champion lay.

Most perfect is its temper; ’tis sharp and strong as bright:

Knight sure a gift so goodly will give no more to knight.

“Yet, should you not go backward, but turn our foe to-day,

If of the friends around me in hostile mood you slay,

With your own sword, good Rudeger, I needs must take your life,

Though you (Heaven knows!) I pity, and your good and noble wife.”

“Ah, would to heaven, Sir Gernot, that it might e’en be so!

That e’en as you would wish it this matter all might go,

And your good friends ’scape harmless from this abhorrèd strife!

Then sure should trust in Gernot my daughter and my wife.”

With that the bold Burgundian, fair Uta’s youngest, cried,

“Why do you thus, Sir Rudeger? My friends here by my side

All love you, e’en as I do: why kindle strife so wild?

’Tis ill so soon to widow your late-betrothèd child.

“Should you now and your followers wage war upon me here,

How cruel and unfriendly ’twill to the world appear!

For more than on all others on you I still relied,

And took, through such affiance, your daughter for my bride.”

“Fair king! thy troth remember,” the blameless knight ’gan say,

“Should God be pleased in safety to send thee hence away:

Let not the maiden suffer for aught that I do ill;

By your own princely virtue vouchsafe her favor still.”

“That will I do and gladly,” the youthful knight replied:

“But should my high-born kinsmen who here within abide,

Once die by thee, no longer could I thy friend be styled;

My constant love ’twould sever from thee and from thy child.”

“Then God have mercy on us!” the valiant margrave said.

At once their shields they lifted, and forward fiercely sped

In the hall of Kriemhild to force the stranger crowd.

Thereat down from the stair-head Sir Hagan shouted loud:—

“Tarry yet a little, right noble Rudeger!

I and my lords a moment would yet with you confer;

Thereto hard need compels us, and danger gathering nigh:

What boot were it for Etzel though here forlorn we die?

“I’m now,” pursued Sir Hagan, “beset with grievous care:

The shield that lady Gotelind gave me late to bear

Is hewn and all-to broken by many a Hunnish brand.

I brought it fair and friendly hither to Etzel’s land.

“Ah! that to me this favor Heaven would be pleased to yield,

That I might to defend me bear so well-proved a shield,

As that, right noble Rudeger, before thee now displayed!

No more should I in battle need then the hauberk’s aid.”—

“Fain with the same I’d serve thee to th’ height of thy desire,

But that I fear such proffer might waken Kriemhild’s ire.

Still, take it to thee, Hagan, and wield it well in hand.

Ah! might’st thou bring it with thee to thy Burgundian land!”

While thus with words so courteous so fair a gift he sped,

The eyes of many a champion with scalding tears were red.

’Twas the last gift, that buckler, e’er given to comrade dear

By the lord of Bechelaren, the blameless Rudeger:

However stern was Hagan, and of unyielding mood,

Still at the gift he melted, which one so great and good

Gave in his last few moments, e’en on the eve of fight;

And with the stubborn warrior mourned many a noble knight.

“Now God in heaven, good Rudeger, thy recompenser be!

Your like on earth, I’m certain, we never more shall see,

Who gifts so good and gorgeous to homeless wanderers give.

May God protect your virtue, that it may ever live!

“Alas! this bloody business!” Sir Hagan then went on,

“We have had to bear much sorrow, and more shall have anon.

Must friend with friend do battle, nor Heaven the conflict part?”

The noble margrave answered, “That wounds my inmost heart.”

“Now for thy gift I’ll quit thee, right noble Rudeger!

Whate’er may chance between thee and my bold comrades here,

My hand shall touch thee never amidst the heady fight,

Not e’en if thou shouldst slaughter every Burgundian knight.”

For that to him bowed courteous the blameless Rudeger.

Then all around were weeping for grief and doleful drear,

Since none th’ approaching mischief had hope to turn aside.

The father of all virtue in that good margrave died.

How Kriemhild Slew Hagan and was Herself Slain

TO the cell of Hagan eagerly she went;

Thus the knight bespake she, ah! with what fell intent!

“Wilt thou but return me what thou from me hast ta’en,

Back thou mayst go living to Burgundy again.”

Then spake grim-visaged Hagan, “You throw away your prayer.

High-descended lady: I took an oath whilere,

That while my lords were living, or of them only one,

I’d ne’er point out the treasure: thus ’twill be given to none.”

Well knew the subtle Hagan she ne’er would let him ’scape.

Ah! when did ever falsehood assume so foul a shape?

He feared that soon as ever the queen his life had ta’en,

She then would send her brother to Rhineland back again.

“I’ll make an end, and quickly,” Kriemhild fiercely spake.

Her brother’s life straight bade she in his dungeon take.

Off his head was smitten; she bore it by the hair

To the lord of Trony: such sight he well could spare.

Awhile in gloomy sorrow he viewed his master’s head;

Then to remorseless Kriemhild thus the warrior said:—

“E’en to thy wish this business thou to an end hast brought,—

To such an end, moreover, as Hagan ever thought.

“Now the brave king Gunther of Burgundy is dead;

Young Giselher and eke Gernot alike with him are sped:

So now, where lies the treasure, none knows save God and me,

And told shall it be never, be sure, she-fiend! to thee.”

Said she, “Ill hast thou quitted a debt so deadly scored:

At least in my possession I’ll keep my Siegfried’s sword;

My lord and lover bore it, when last I saw him go.

For him woe wrung my bosom, that passed all other woe.”

Forth from the sheath she drew it,—that could not he prevent;

At once to slay the champion was Kriemhild’s stern intent.

High with both hands she heaved it, and off his head did smite.

That was seen of King Etzel; he shuddered at the sight.

“Ah!” cried the prince impassioned, “harrow and welaway!

That the hand of a woman the noblest knight should slay

That e’er struck stroke in battle, or ever buckler bore!

Albeit I was his foeman, needs must I sorrow sore.”

Then said the aged Hildebrand, “Let not her boast of gain,

In that by her contrivance this noble chief was slain;

Though to sore strait he brought me, let ruin on me light,

But I will take full vengeance for Trony’s murdered knight.”

Hildebrand the aged fierce on Kriemhild sprung;

To the death he smote her as his sword he swung.

Sudden and remorseless he his wrath did wreak:

What could then avail her her fearful thrilling shriek?

There now the dreary corpses stretched all around were seen;

There lay, hewn in pieces, the fair and noble queen.

Sir Dietrich and King Etzel, their tears began to start;

For kinsmen and for vassals each sorrowed in his heart.

The mighty and the noble there lay together dead;

For this had all the people dole and drearihead.

The feast of royal Etzel was thus shut up in woe.

Pain in the steps of Pleasure treads ever here below.

’Tis more than I can tell you what afterwards befell,

Save that there was weeping for friends beloved so well;

Knights and squires, dames and damsels, were seen lamenting all.

So here I end my story. This is THE NIBELUNGERS’ FALL.