THE LAY OF SIGRDRIFA

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THE ELDER EDDAS OF SAEMUND SIGFUSSON.

Translated from the Original Old Norse Text into English BY BENJAMIN THORPE


THE LAY OF SIGRDRIFA.


Sigurd rode up the Hindarfiall, and directed his course southwards towards Frankland. In the fell he saw a great light, as if a fire were burning, which blazed up to the sky. On approaching it, there stood a "skialdborg," and over it a banner. Sigurd went into the skialdborg, and saw a warrior lying within it asleep, completely armed. He first took the helmet off the warrior's head, and saw that it was a woman. Her corslet was as fast as if it had grown to her body. With his sword Gram he ripped the corslet from the upper opening downwards, and then through both sleeves. He then took the corslet off from her, when she awoke, sat up and, on seeing Sigurd, said:


1. What has my corslet cut? why from sleep have I started? who has cast from me the fallow bands?

Sigurd.

Sigmund's son has just now ript the raven's perch, with Sigurd's sword.

She.

2. Long have I slept, long been with sleep oppressed, long are mortals' sufferings! Odin is the cause that I have been unable to cast off torpor.

Sigurd sat down and asked her name. She then took a horn filled with mead, and gave him the minnis-cup.

She.

3. Hail to Day! Hail to the sons of Day! To Night and her daughter hail! With placid eyes behold us here, and here sitting give us victory.

4. Hail to the Æsir! Hail to the Asyniur! Hail to the bounteous earth! Words and wisdom give to us noble twain, and healing hands while we live.

She was named Sigrdrifa, and was a Valkyria. She said that two kings had made war on each other, one of whom was named Hialmgunnar; he was old and a great warrior, and Odin had promised him victory. The other was Agnar, a brother of Hoda, whom no divinity would patronize. Sigrdrifa overcame Hialmgunnar in battle; in revenge for which Odin pricked her with a sleep-thorn, and declared that henceforth she should never have victory in battle, and should be given in marriage. "But I said to him, that I had bound myself by a vow not to espouse any man who could be made to fear." Sigurd answers, and implores her to teach him wisdom, as she had intelligence from all regions:

Sigrdrifa.

5. Beer I bear to thee, column of battle! with might mingled, and with bright glory: 'tis full of song, and salutary saws, of potent incantations, and joyous discourses.

6. Sig-runes thou must know, if victory (sigr) thou wilt have, and on thy sword's hilt grave them; some on the chapes, some on the guard, and twice name the name of Ty.

7. Ol-(beer-) runes thou must know, if thou wilt not that another's wife thy trust betray, if thou in her confide. On the horn must they be graven, and on the hand's back, and Naud[70] on the nail be scored.

8. A cup must be blessed, and against peril guarded, and garlick in the liquor cast: then I know thou wilt never have mead with treachery mingled.

9. Biarg- (help-) runes thou must know, if thou wilt help, and loose the child from women. In the palm they must be graven, and round the joints be clasped, and the Disir prayed for aid.

10. Brim- (sea-) runes thou must know, if thou wilt have secure afloat thy sailing steeds. On the prow they must be graven, and on the helm-blade, and with fire to the oar applied. No surge shall be so towering, nor waves so dark, but from the ocean thou safe shalt come.

11. Lim- (branch-) runes thou must know, if thou a leech wouldst be, and wounds know how to heal. On the bark they must be graven, and on the leaves of trees, of those whose boughs bent eastward.

12. Mal- (speech-) runes thou must know, if thou wilt that no one for injury with hate requite thee. Those thou must wind, those thou must wrap round, those thou must altogether place in the assembly, where people have into full court to go.

13. Hug- (thought-) runes thou must know, if thou a wiser man wilt be than every other. Those interpreted, those graved, those devised Hropt, from the fluid, which had leaked from Heiddraupnir's head, and from Hoddropnir's horn.

14. On a rock he stood, with edged sword, a helm on his head he bore. Then spake Mim's head its first wise word, and true sayings uttered.

15. They are, it said, on the shield graven, which stands before the shining god, on Arvakr's ear, and on Alsvid's hoof, on the wheel which rolls under Rognir's car, on Sleipnir's teeth, and on the sledge's bands.

16. On the bear's paw, and on Bragi's tongue, on the wolf's claws, and the eagle's beak, on bloody wings, and on the bridge's end, on the releasing hand, and on healing's track.

17. On glass and on gold, on amulets of men, in wine and in wort, and in the welcome seat, on Gungnir's point, and on Grani's breast, on the Norn's nail, and the owl's neb.

18. All were erased that were inscribed, and mingled with the sacred mead, and sent on distant ways: they are with the Æsir, they are with the Alfar, some with the wise Vanir, some human beings have.

19. Those are bok-runes, those are biarg-runes, and all ol-(beer-) runes, and precious megin- (power-) runes, for those who can, without confusion or corruption, turn them to his welfare. Use, if thou hast understood them, until the powers perish.

20. Now thou shalt choose, since a choice is offered thee, keen armed warrior! my speech, or silence: think over it in thy mind. All evils have their measure.

Sigurd.

21. I will not flee, though thou shouldst know me doomed. I am not born a craven. Thy friendly counsels all I will receive, as long as life is in me.

Sigrdrifa.

22. This I thee counsel first: that towards thy kin thou bear thee blameless. Take not hasty vengeance, although they raise up strife: that, it is said, benefits the dead.

23. This I thee counsel secondly: that no oath thou swear, if it be not true. Cruel bonds follow broken faith: accursed is the faith-breaker.

24. This I thee counsel thirdly: that in the assembly thou contend not with a fool; for an unwise man oft utters words worse than he knows of.

25. All is vain, if thou holdest silence; then wilt thou seem a craven born, or else truly accused. Doubtful is a servant's testimony, unless a good one thou gettest. On the next day let his life go forth, and so men's lies reward.

26. This I counsel thee fourthly: if a wicked sorceress dwells by the way, to go on is better than there to lodge, though night may overtake thee.

27. Of searching eyes the sons of men have need, when fiercely they have to fight: oft pernicious women by the way-side sit, who swords and valour deaden.

28. This I thee counsel fifthly: although thou see fair women on the benches sitting, let not their kindred's silver over thy sleep have power. To kiss thee entice no woman.

29. This I thee counsel sixthly: although among men pass offensive tipsy talk, never while drunken quarrel with men of war: wine steals the wits of many.

30. Brawls and drink to many men have been a heartfelt sorrow; to some their death, to some calamity: many are the griefs of men!

31. This I thee counsel seventhly: if thou hast disputes with a daring man, better it is for men to fight than to be burnt within their dwelling.

32. This I thee counsel eighthly: that thou guard thee against evil, and eschew deceit. Entice no maiden, nor wife of man, nor to wantonness incite.

33. This I thee counsel ninthly: that thou corpses bury, wherever on the earth thou findest them, whether from sickness they have died, or from the sea, or are from weapons dead.

34. Let a mound be raised for those departed; let their hands and head be washed, combed, and wiped dry, ere in the coffin they are laid: and pray for their happy sleep.

35. This I thee counsel tenthly: that thou never trust a foe's kinsman's promises, whose brother thou hast slain, or sire laid low. there is a wolf in a young son, though he with gold be gladdened.

36. Strifes and fierce enmities think not to be lulled, no more than deadly injury. Wisdom and fame in arms a prince not easily acquires, who shall of men be foremost.

37. This I counsel thee eleventhly: that thou at evil look, what course it may take. A long life, it seems to me the prince may [not] enjoy;—fierce disputes will arise.

Sigurd said: "A wiser mortal exists not, and I swear that I will possess thee, for thou art after my heart." She answered: "Thee I will have before all others, though I have to choose among all men." And this they confirmed with oaths to each other.