The Northern Way

Sigurd the Dragon-Slayer

THE BALLAD OF RAGNAR

THE adventures of this elusive semi-historical personage are related in the Saga of Ragnar Lodbrok (Shaggy-Breeks), which dates from the thirteenth or fourteenth century, and shows traces of influence from French and English chronicles. The blood-vengeance for his death, wreaked by his sons, is an authentic fact, but is placed by the French in 867-68; by the Icelandic in 720-93; and by Are Frode in 838-45 (1) The French sources further darken counsel by mentioning two Ragnars, who died respectively in 836 and 846. Saxo Grammaticus, in the ninth book of his history, tells the legend of Ragnar; but his version of the Dragon-slaying lacks much racy detail due, presumably, to the imagination of the Faroëse ballad-minstrel.

POINTS PECULIAR TO THE BALLAD

a. The episode of the Count.

b. The waking of the Worm by Ragnar, in the true spirit of chivalry.

c. The episode of the Thrall.

d. Tora's dying behest to her husband.

Sigurd Ring (v. 20), a legendary monarch, is told of in Skjøldunga Saga.

1. G. Storm, Ragnar Lodbrok og Lodbrokssonnerne, in 'Historisk Tidsskrift' (Den Norsk Historiske Forening, Christiania, 1877, 2 Series, Vol. I), pp. 371 ff.

136       SIGURD THE DRAGON-SLAYER

In its mixture of flatness and spirit, burlesque and pathos, this Ballad, to my mind, bears every mark of the Decadence. The best things are the Burden, the two ship-launchings, and the final tableau of the maiden's elopement-which, like the launchings, was probably taken from life. Such incidents, which did not die out with the Vikings, occur in many Scandinavian ballads concerning the Frisians and Wends.

BURDEN

HART-IN-THE-FORTRESS, tall
& towered thy dwelling !
Brighter than shining shield-boss is thy beauty,
Well-learned art thou in lore of wild birds' wisdom.

THE BALLAD OF RAGNAR

BURDEN(refrain):
HART-IN-THE-FORTRESS, tall
& towered thy dwelling !
Brighter than shining shield-boss is thy beauty,
Well-learned art thou in lore of wild birds' wisdom.
1.
LITHE ye now and listen,
Whenas the song I sing
All of the beauteous maiden
Was daughter of Uppland's King.
2.
Stately she sat in high-seat,
Mirror of ladies all;
Many were the maidens
Dwelt in the kingly hall.
3.
The hall her father builded
Shone all with the red, red gold;
Thither he led the Princess
" 'Mid pleasures manifold.
4.
All in the morning early
When sun shone far and wide,
To good greenwood went Tora
With all her maids beside.
5.
A shining Worm those maidens found
Under the greenwood tree-
Full oft is born from joyance
Both sorrow and jeopardy!
6.
With mirth and song the glades among
Those merry maidens roam,
And they've ta'en the Serpent all in sport,
And borne it safely home.

138       SIGURD THE DRAGON-SLAYER

7.
All in a kist those maidens (1)
Have laid the Worm away,
But it waxeth while a man may watch,
By night and eke by day.
8.
It was the King took his golden ring
And laid it by the Worm,
Yet still it grew while the moments flew,
And fearsome was its form.
9.
Was sore afraid each merry maid
That saw the portent's power;
The kingly hall was over-small;
Too strait the ladies' bower,
10.
They haled it forth to the grassy garth,
But whenas it felt the sun,
It towered eftsoon their heads aboon,
Nor yet its growth was done.
11.
And every wight that saw that sight
With fear was like to die
For its back o'er-topped the loftiest tower
And its head was in the sky
12.
It was the King of Uppland
That spake at last and said:
" Now whoso slayeth this shining Worm
My daughter fair shall wed.

1. kist=chest

THE BALLAD OF Ragnar       139

13.
" To him I'll give my daughter
With joyance and junketting,
Who saveth the maid from peril,
And slayeth this deadly thing. "
      ·       ·       ·

14.
To the Count afar in the Southland
Were borne these words of doom:
" The Serpent hath ringed the maidens' bower
With a flood of deadly spume! "
15.
All in the morning early
He cried thro' bower and hall
" Now will I slay the Serpent
That wardeth the maidens all! "
16.
Rocking over the rollers,
The good ship leaves the shore;
And long ere half the way was won
They heard the Dragon roar.
17.
They heard the Dragon roaring
While yet their course ran free;
And the Count he deemed it a luckless hour
When put out to sea.
18.
" Now turn ye again, my merry men,
Too few, were ye ten times more,
The power to break of the fierce Fire-drake
That watcheth the maidens o'er!

140       SIGURD THE DRAGON-SLAYER

19.
" Now turn ye again, my merry men,
Nor seek this weird to dree! (1)
Long may the Worm keep watch and ward
Over those maids, for me. "
      ·       ·       ·
20.
Now tidings reached King Ragnar
(Whose sire was Sigurd Ring):
" The Worm hath circled the maidens' bower,
And none doth succour bring. "
21.
He caulked with pitch his garments all
And strewed thereon the sand,
That deadly fume and poisoned spume
No flesh of his might brand.
22.
The garb he bore, behind, before,
With pitch he pies and streaks;
And ever the by-name he had of yore
Was Ragnar Roughen-Breeks.
23.
At early dawn he's wakened
His warriors true and tried:
" With cheerful heart will we depart
To tame this Dragon's pride! "
24.
The ship they drag from shelter,
Those warriors bold and free;
The salt shore shakes, the white foam breaks,
When the vessel takes the sea.

1. dree = endure

Index  |  Previous page  |  Next page