The Northern Way

Song and Legend From the Middle Ages

German Literature

age 7

After the burial of Siegfried, Kriemhild decides to remain at the court of Gunther, in the care of her brothers. Thither is brought the enormous treasures of the Niebelungen, which Siegfried had won, and of which he had been the guardian, and which now fell to Kriemhild. The crafty Hagan gains possession of this horde, and conceals it by sinking it in the Rhine, hoping some day to recover and enjoy it. For thirteen years Kriemhild remains at the court of her brother, brooding over her wrongs and meditating revenge.

The second part of the poem begins by telling how Etzel, king of the Huns, proposed for the hand of the widowed Kriemhild, and how she finally, hoping to use him in her plan of vengeance, consents to a marriage with him and goes away with him into his land. Here for many years she lives the beloved queen of the Huns. But her purpose of vengeance never falters, and at last she persuades Etzel to invite her brothers to his court on a visit. Against many forbodings and warnings they come, Hagen with them. After numerous interesting episodes upon the journey, they arrive at Etzel's court and are handsomely welcomed. But the inevitable quarrel soon breaks out and a desperate fight begins. After a most desperate and bloody struggle, Gunther, Hagen, and a few followers are shut up in a hall. To this Kriemhild sets fire.

THE BURNING OF THE HALL

Stanzas 2186-2194.

With that, the wife of Etzel bad set the hall on fire.

How sore then were they tortur'd in burning anguish dire!

At once, as the wind freshen'd, the house was in a glow.

Never, I ween, were mortals in such extremes of woe.

"We all are lost together," each to his neighbour cried,

"It had been far better we had in battle died.

Now God have mercy on us! woe for this fiery pain!

Ah! what a monstrous vengeance the bloody queen has ta'en!"

Then faintly said another, "needs must we here fall dead;

What boots us now the greeting to us by Etzel sped?

Ah me! I'm so tormented by thirst from burning heat,

That in this horrid anguish my life must quickly fleet."

Thereat outspake Sir Hagan, the noble knight and good,

"Let each, by thirst tormented, take here a draught of blood.

In such a heat, believe me, 't is better far than wine.

Nought's for the time so fitting: such counsel, friends, is mine."

With that straight went a warrior, where a warm corpse he found.

On the dead down knelt he; his helmet he unbound;

Then greedily began he to drink the flowing blood.

However unaccustom'd, it seem'd him passing good.

"Now God requite thee, Hagan," the weary warrior cried,

"For such refreshing beverage by your advice supplied.

It has been my lot but seldom to drink of better wine.

For life am I thy servant for this fair hint of thine."

When th' others heard and witness'd with that delight he quaff'd,

Yet many more among them drank too the bloody draught.

It strung again their sinews, and failing strength renew'd.

This in her lover's person many a fair lady rued.

Into the hall upon them the fire-flakes thickly fell;

These with their shields they warded warily and well.

With smoke and heat together they were tormented sore.

Never, I ween, good warriors such burning anguish bore.

Through smoke and flame cried Hagan, "stand close against the wall;

Let not the burning ashes on your helm-laces fall.

Into the blood yet deeper tread every fiery flake.

In sooth, this feast of Kriemhild's is ghastly merry-make."

One by one the champions fall, until only Hagen and Gunther, exhausted

with fighting, are left to contend with Dietrich, the most valiant of

Etzel's vassals. The conclusion of the poem tells of the fate of Hagen,

Gunther, and Kriemhild.

THE FALL OF THE NIEBELUNGEN

Stanzas 2428-2459.

Well knew the noble Dietrich how fierce and fell a knight

Was standing now against him; so warily the fight

'Gainst those tempestuous swordstrokes wag'd the good lord of Bern.

The strength and skill of Hagan he had not now to learn.

He fear'd, too, mighty Balmung as down it swept amain;

Yet at times Sir Dietrich with craft would strike again,

Till that to sink before him he brought his foeman strong;

A fearful wound he gave him that was both deep and long.

Sir Dietrich then bethought him, "thou'rt faint and ill bestead;

I should win little worship, were I to strike thee dead.

I'll make a different trial, if thou can'st now be won

By main force for a pris'ner." With wary head 't was done.

Down he threw his buckler; woundrous was his might;

He his arms resistless threw round Trony's knight.

So was by his stronger the man of strength subdued.

Thereat the noble Gunther remain'd in mournful mood.

His vanquish'd foe Sir Dietrich bound in a mighty band,

And led him thence to Kriemhild, and gave into her hand

The best and boldest champion that broadsword ever bore.

She after all her anguish felt comfort all the more.

For joy the queen inclin'd her before the welcome guest;

"Sir knight! in mind and body heaven keep thee ever blest!

By thee all my long sorrows are shut up in delight.

Ever, if death prevent not, thy service I'll requite."

"Fair and noble Kriemhild," thus Sir Dietrich spake,

"Spare this captive warrior, who full amends will make

For all his past transgressions; him here in bonds you see;

Revenge not on the fetter'd th' offences of the free."

With that she had Sir Hagan to durance led away,

Where no one could behold him, where under lock he lay.

Meanwhile the fierce king Gunther shouted loud and strong,

"Whither is gone the Berner? he hath done me grievous wrong."

Straight, at the call, to meet him Sir Dietrich swiftly went.

Huge was the strength of Gunther, and deadly his intent.

There he no longer dallied; from th' hall he forward ran;

Sword clash'd with sword together, as man confronted man.

Index  |  Previous page  |  Next page