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


By Icelandic Literature

GONDUL and Skögul

The gods of the Goths sent

To choose ’mong the kings

Of Yngvi’s race which

With Odin should fare

And live in Valhalla.

Bjorn’s brother found they

Faring in mail-coat,

Marching ’neath gonfalon;

Scared were the foe,

The shafts shook,

The battle began.

“On, Halogalanders!

On, ye West-Islanders!”

Cried the earl-slayer,

Rushed to the fray.

Well did his Northmen

Follow their noble lord,

Dread of the Isle Danes,

Helmed in gold.

Flung off his armor

Down on the plain,

The chief of the body guard,

Ere he set on.

Joked with his men-at-arms,

“We’ll keep the land safe;”

Laughed the King gayly,

Helmed in gold.

So sliced his sharp sword

In the chief’s hand

Right through the mail-coats

As they were water.

Crash went the arrows,

Split were the shields;

Rattled the blades

On the foemen’s skulls.

Through targets tough,

Through plates of iron,

Smashed irresistible

The Norse King’s brand.

Th’ isle pealed with battle-din,

Crimsoned the kings

Their glistening shields

In the blood of the throng.

Quivered the flashing swords

In the wounds gory;

Louted the halberds,

Greedy of life;

Soused the red wound-stream

’Gainst the splashed bucklers;

Fell crimson arrow-rain

On Stord’s shore.

All blood-bedabbled

Surged the fierce fray;

Thundered the shield-rims

’Mid storm of war;

Pattered down point-stream

Odin’s red shower.

Many fell fainting

In their life’s blood.

Sat were the princes,

Drawn were their swords,

Battered their bucklers,

Armor all gashed;

Ill at ease felt the

Monarch, for he was

Bound to Valhalla.

Gondul she spoke,

Leaning on spear-shaft:—

“Grows the gods’ company;

They have bid Hacon,

With a great retinue,

Home to their hall!”

Heard the fey chieftain

What said the Valkyr—

Maids from their steeds;

Thoughtful their faces looked

As they sat helmed,

Sheltered with shields.

“Why so the contest

Deal’st thou, Geirskögul?

Worthy of victory

We from the gods!”

“We were the cause

The battle you won

And the foes fled.

Now will we speed,”

Quoth mighty Skögul,

“To heaven’s green glades,

King Odin to tell

A great lord is coming,

Who longs him to see!”

“Hermod and Bragi,”

Quoth aloud Odin,

“Go meet the chieftain;

Hither is faring

A king, and a valiant one,

Lo! to my hall.”

The captain he cried,

Just fresh from the fray,

All dripping with gore:—

“Very hard-hearted

Truly meseemeth

Odin to be.”

“All of my warriors

Welcome thee in!

Drink of our ale-cups,

Bane of the Jarls.”

“Already you’ve here

Eight brothers,” quoth Bragi.

“All our war-gear,”

Quoth the good King,

“Ourselves will we hold;

Our helmet and mail,

We’ll guard them full well;

’Tis pleasant to handle the spear.”

Then straight it appeared

How the good King had

Protected the temples,

For Hacon they bade

Be heartily welcome,

The assembly of gods.

On fortunate day

Was that monarch born,

With such a mind gifted;

His age and day

Must ever be held

In kindly remembrance.

Ere will break his chain

And rush on mankind

Fell Fenris wolf,

Ere a man so good

In his footsteps tread,

One of royal birth—

Riches depart,

And likewise friends,

The land is laid waste:

Since Hacon fared

To the heathen gods,

Sunk have many to slaves.

After the death of Hacon the Good, all the Norwegian court skalds named in the chronicles were Icelanders; so that from about the year 950 to the death of King Eric Magnusson in 1299, Icelandic skalds only were the court poets of Norway. The first Danish king mentioned as having been commemorated by an Icelandic poet (Ottar the Black) was Sweyn Forkbeard, who died in 1014; and the last, it may be added, was Waldemar II., who died in 1241. Nor should we forget that two of our English kings, Athelstan and Ethelred, were commemorated in the tenth or beginning of the eleventh century by two famous Northmen, Egil Skalagrim and Gunnlaug Serpent-tongue. “In England,” says Dr. Metcalfe, basing his remarks on those of Jon Sigurdson, “the age of Northern poetry may be said to have lasted down to the Norman conquest, or about the middle of the eleventh century; in Denmark and Sweden, to the middle of the thirteenth; in Norway, till a little over the end of that century.”
Finally, I may quote one interesting poem of the nature common to all the Northern races. It occurs in the Hervorar Saga, which has been attributed to the thirteenth century; but the poem in question bears so strong an old Norse impress that the German critic Müller places its composition as certainly not later than the tenth or at least the eleventh century. The story is interesting as setting forth the record of one of those Amazonian heroines who occur in every popular literature. This heroine was named Hervor. She was the daughter of a famous knight, Angantyr, who for love’s sake fought a duel with the famous Hjalmar on Samsö, an island off Jutland. Though Angantyr fought with the sword Tyrfing, forged by the trolls Dvalin and Dulin, which never missed its aim, he perhaps forgot the other quality of the sword, that it always brought death to its owner. The result was that he and all his Berserkers were slain on this remote island. His daughter Hervor, when she grew up, really turned viking; “daubing her lily-white hands with pitch and tar,” as the skald wrote. She became a viking in fact, and assumed the name of Herward. So in the course of time she came to the haven of Munarvoe in Samsö, where her father Angantyr lay buried in the green mound. At sunset she goes alone on shore, and there she meets a shepherd. The dialogue between them, and the weird scene of the cairns flaming into life, are graphically told, as also the appearance of Angantyr himself.

WHO art all alone

To this island come?

Haste and seek some cot

For to shelter in.

I will never go

Shelter for to seek,

For I none do know

Of the island beards.

Tell me speedily,

’Fore you go from hence,

Whereabout’s the spot

Known as Herward’s cairn?

Don’t about it speer,

If thou’rt truly wise.

Thou, the viking’s friend,

In great peril art.

Let us speed away,

Haste with might and main:

All abroad are horrors

For the sons of men.

Here a brooch I’ll give you

If you’ll tell me true.

Vain to try to hinder

Thus the viking’s friend.

No! the brightest treasure.

All the rings on earth,

Would not let or hinder

Me from my intent.

Foolish is, methinks,

He who hither fares,

All alone and friendless

In the murky night.

Flames are flickering,

Cairns are opening,

Burning earth and fen;

Let us hurry on.

I am not afeard

At such snorting sounds,

E’en though all the island

Bursts out in a blaze.

Do not let us two

By the champions dead

Thus be made to shiver;

Let us have discourse!

—Then the herdsman fled

To the forest near,

Frightened by the speech

Of this manly maid.

Of undaunted mettle

Fashioned, Hervor’s breast

Swelled within her fiercely

At the shepherd’s fright.

She now sees the cairns all alight and the howe-dwellers standing outside, but is not afraid; passes through the flame as if it were only reek, till she gets to the Berserker’s howe. Then she speaks:—

Wake thee, Angantyr;

Hervor waketh thee.

I’m the only daughter

Of Tofa and of thee:

Give me from the howe

That sword whetted sharp,

Which for Swarfurlam

Was forged by the dwarves.

Hervard and Hjorvard,

Hran and Angantyr!

I wake you, ye buried

Under the forest roots,

With your helm and mail-sark,

With your whetted sword,

With your polished shields,

And your bloody darts.

Ye are turned indeed,

Arngrim’s sons so bold,

Such redoubted champions,

To poor bits of mold,

If of Eyfur’s sons,

Not one dares with me

To come and hold discourse

Here in Munarvoe.

Hervard and Hjorvard,

Hran and Angantyr!

May it be to all

Of you within your hearts

As if you were in ant-hills,

With torments dire bested,

Unless to me the sword

Ye give that Dvalin forged.

It not beseemeth Draugies

Such weapons choice to hide.

Hervor, my daughter, why

Dost thou cry out so loud?

Thou’rt hastening to destruction,

Past all redemption, maid!

’Tis mad you are become,

Bereft of sober sense;

You must be wandering, surely,

To wake up men long dead.

One thing tell me true,

So may Odin shield thee:

In thy ancient cairn,

Tell me, hast thou there

The sword Tyrfing hight?

Oh, you’re very slow

A small boon to grant

To your single heir.

[The cairn opens, and it seems all ablaze.]

Hell gates have sunk down,

Opened is the cairn;

See, the island’s shore

Is all bathed in flame;

All abroad are sights

Fearful to behold.

Haste thee, while there’s time,

Maiden, to thy ships.

Were you burning bright,

Like bale-fire at night,

I’d not fear a jot;

Your fierce burning flame

Quakes not maiden’s heart:

’Tis of sterner stuff,

Gibbering ghosts though she

In the doorway see.

Listen, Hervor mine!

I’ll a tale unfold;

Listen, daughter wise!

I’ll thy fate foretell.

Trow my words or not,

Tyrfing’s fate is this:

’Twill to all thy kin

Naught but mishap bring.

I will sure bewitch

All these champions slain;

Ye shall fated be

Ever and aye to lie

With the Draugies dead,

Rotting in your graves.

Give me, Angantyr,

Out your cairn straightway

Sword to harness dangerous,

Young Hjalmar’s bane.

Maiden, I aver you’re

Not of human mold,

Roaming ’mong the cairns

In the dead of night.

With engravèd spear,

With a sword beside,

With helmet and with hauberk

My hell-door before.

Meseemed I altogether

Was framed in human mold

’Fore I visit paid

To your halls of death.

Hand me from the cairn

Straight the Byrnie’s foe,

Smithied by the dwarves;

To hide it won’t avail.

I have ’neath my shoulder

Young Hjalmar’s bane;

It is all enwrapped

In a sheet of flame.

On the earth I know not

Any maid so bold

That shall dare the sword

By the hand to take.

Gladly I will take it,

Gladly keep it too,

That sharp-edged sword,

If I have it may.

I’ve no fear at all

Of the burning flame;

Straight abates the fire

When thereon I gaze.

Foolish art thou, Hervor,

Though so stout of heart,

If with open eyes

In the fire you dart.

Rather will I hand thee

Out the cairn the sword.

Maiden young, I will not

Thy request refuse.

[The sword is cast out of the cairn.]

Well and bravely done,

Say I, viking’s son!

Thou hast me the sword

Handed out the tomb.

Better far, methinks,

King, this precious boon,

Than the whole of Norway

Were I to possess.

Ah! you do not know,

All too rash of speech,

Maiden void of counsel,

What is good or ill.

This sword Tyrfing will—

If you me can trow—

Will thy race hereafter

Utterly destroy.

Off to my sea-horses,

Off, off, and away!

Now the prince’s daughter

Is all blithe of mood.

Little do I fear,

Sire of lordly strain,

What my race hereafter

Haply shall befall.

Long thou shalt possess it,

And enjoy it long;

Only keep it hidden,

Young Hjalmar’s bane.

Touch not e’en its edges,

They are poisoned both;

Naught exists more baneful

Than this sword to man.

Dwellers in the cairns!

Dwell unscathèd on.

I’m longing to be gone,

Fast I haste away.

I myself, methought,

Hung ’twixt life and death

When the roaring flame

Girt me all around.

I may refer readers who would like to go more thoroughly into the subject of Icelandic literature to study the volumes of Dr. Gudbrand Vigfusson and Mr. York Powell,—in particular the ‘Corpus Poeticum Boreale; or, the Poetry of the Old Northern Tongue from the Earliest Times to the Thirteenth Century,’ edited, classified, and translated, with Introduction, Excursuses, and Notes. The first of these two volumes deals with the Eddic poems and with the early Western and early historic epics, with interesting excursuses on the beliefs and worships of the ancient Northmen, and on the Northern and old Teutonic metres. The second volume is less interesting perhaps to the ordinary reader, but should certainly also be read; and also its interesting excursus on the figures and metres of the old Northern poetry, with some reference to the ancient life, thought, and belief as embodied therein. Again, the student should turn to Vigfusson’s three or four volumes of Icelandic sagas, to E. Mogk’s ‘Chapters on Northern Literature,’ and to Hermann Paul’s ‘Grundriss der Germanischen Philologie.’ Again, there is one invaluable work of its kind,—Dr. Vigfusson’s rendering of the ‘Sturlunga Saga,’ including the ‘Islendiga Saga’ (untranslated) and other works; though it is for the Prolegomena, Appendices, etc., that this recommendation is given to the non-Icelandic student. The general reader should consult Dr. Metcalfe’s ‘The Scandinavian and the Englishman,’ with its delightful chapters on Icelandic history and literature. Among the many important and interesting articles in periodicals, I may specify in particular Mr. York Powell’s account of recent research on Teutonic Mythology in the journal Folk Lore, Mr. J. H. Wisley’s paper on Saga Literature in Poet Lore, Mr. W. A. Craigie’s important article in Folk Lore on the oldest Icelandic folk-lore (with translations of old sagas, etc.), and Mr. York Powell’s interesting account in Folk Lore of ‘Saga Growth.’

EDITORIAL NOTE.—In addition to the references given in the above article, there are later translations of the Poetic Edda by Bray, ‘Lays of the Gods’ (London, 1908), and Snorri’s Prose Edda by Brodeur (New York, 1916). The Cambridge Manuals by Craigie, ‘Icelandic Sagas,’ and Mawer, ‘The Vikings,’ will also be found useful to the general reader, as well as R. B. Anderson’s translation of Winkel Horn’s ‘History of the Literature of the Scandinavian North’ (Chicago, 1884).