Song and Legend From the Middle Ages
Howe'er renown'd was Dietrich, and train'd in combat well,
Yet Gunther fought against him so furious and so fell,
And bore him hate so deadly, now friendless left and lone,
It seemed past all conceiving, how Dietrich held his own.
Both were of mighty puissance, and neither yielded ground;
Palace and airy turret rung with their strokes around,
As their swift swords descending their temper'd helmets hew'd.
Well there the proud king Gunther display'd his manly mood.
Yet him subdued the Berner, as Hagan erst befell;
Seen was the blood of the warrior forth through his mail to well
Beneath the fatal weapon that Dietrich bore in fight.
Tir'd as he was, still Gunther had kept him like a knight.
So now at length the champion was bound by Dietrich there,
How ill soe'er it fitteth a king such bonds to bear,
Gunther and his fierce liegeman if he had left unbound,
He ween'd they'd deal destruction on all, whome'er they found.
Then by the hand Sir Dietrich took the champion good.
And in his bonds thence led him to where fair Kriemhild stood.
She cried, "thou'rt welcome, Gunther, hero of Burgundy."
"Now God requite you, Kriemhild, if you speak lovingly."
Said he, "I much should thank you, and justly, sister dear,
If true affection prompted the greeting which I hear;
But, knowing your fierce temper, proud queen, too well I see,
Such greeting is a mocking of Hagan and of me."
Then said the noble Berner, "high-descended dame,
Ne'er have been brought to bondage knights of such peerless fame,
As those, whom you, fair lady, now from your servant take.
Grant these forlorn and friendless fair treatment for my sake."
She said she fain would do so; then from the captive pair
With weeping eyes Sir Dietrich retir'd and left them there.
Straight a bloody vengeance wreak'd Etzel's furious wife
On those redoubted champions, and both bereft of life.
In dark and dismal durance them kept apart the queen,
So that from that hour neither was by the other seen,
Till that at last to Hagan her brother's head she bore.
On both she took with vengeance as tongue ne'er told before.
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 may'st go living to Burgundy again."
Then spake grim-visag'd 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 't will 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 fear'd 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 bad 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.
A while in gloomy sorrow he view'd 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 scor'd;
At least in my possession I'll keep my Siegfried's sword.
My lord and lover bore it, when last I saw him go.
From him woe wrung my bosom, that pass'd 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 heav'd it, and off his head did smite.
That was seen of king Etzel; he shudder'd at the sight.
"Ah!" cried the prince impassion'd, "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 stretch'd 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 sorrow'd in his heart.
The mighty and 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 belov'd so well;
Knights and squires, dames and damsels, were seen lamenting all,
So here I end my story. This is the Nibelungers' Fall.
------Tr. by Littsom.