The Northern Way


(Guthrun’s Inciting) (*)

     Guthrun went forth to the sea after she had slain Atli. She went out into the sea and fain would drown herself, but she could not sink. The waves bore her across the fjord of the land of King Jonak; he too her as wife; their sons were Sorli and Erp and Hamther. There was brought up Svanhild, Sigurth’s daughter; she was married to the mighty Jormunrek. With him was Bikki, who counseled that Randver, the King’s son, should have her. This Bikki told to the king. The king had Randver hanged, and Svanhild trodden to death under horses’ feet. And when Guthrun learned this, she spake with her sons.

1. A word-strife I learned, most woeful of all,
A speech from the fullness of sorrow spoken,
When fierce of heart her sons to the fight
Did Guthrun whet with words full grim. (*)

2. “Why sit ye idle, why sleep out your lives,
Why grieve ye not in gladness to speak?
Since Jormunrek you sister young
Beneath the hoofs of horses hath trodden,
(White and black on the battle-way,
Gray, road-wonted, the steeds of the Goths.) (*)

3. “Not like are ye to Gunnar of yore,
Nor have ye hearts such as Hogni’s was;
Vengeance for her ye soon would have
If brave ye were as my brothers of old,
Or hard your hearts as the Hunnish kings’.” (*)

4. Then Hamther spake, the high of heart:
“Little the deed of Hogni didst love,
When Sigurth they wakened from his sleep;
They bed-covers white were red with blood
Of thy husband, drenched with gore from his heart. (*)

5. “Bloody revenge didst have for thy brothers,
Evil and sore, when thy sons didst slay;
Else yet might we all on Jormunrek
Together our sister’s slaying avenge. (*)

6. “-lacuna-
The gear of Hunnish kings now give us!
Thou hast whetted us so to the battle of swords.” (*)

7. Laughing did Guthrun go to her chamber,
The helms of kings from the cupboards she took,
And mail-coats broad, to her sons she bore them;
On their horses’ backs the heroes leaped.

8. Then Hamther spake, the high of heart:
“Homeward no more his mother to see
Comes the spear-god, fallen mid Gothic folk;
One death-draught thou for us all shalt drink,
For Svanhild then and thy sons as well.” (*)

9. Weeping Guthrun, Gjuki’s daughter,
Went sadly before the gate to sit,
And with tear-stained cheeks to tell the tale
Of her mighty griefs, so many in kind.

10. “Three home-fires knew I, three hearths I knew,
Home was I brought by husbands three;
But Sigurth only of all was dear,
He whom my brothers brought to his death.

11. “A greater sorrow I saw not nor knew,
Yet more it seemed I must suffer yet
When the princes great to Atli gave me. (*)

12. “The brave boys I summoned to secret speech;
For my woes requital I might not win
Till off the heads of the Hniflungs I hewed. (*)

13. “To the sea I went, my heart full sore
For the Norns, whose wrath I would now escape;
But the lofty billows bore me undrowned,
Till to land I came, so I longer must live.

14. “Then to the bed- of old was it better!-
Of a king of the folk a third time I came;
Boys I bore his heirs to be,
Heirs so young, the sons of Jonak.

15. “But round Svanhild handmaidens sat,
She was dearest ever of all my children;
So did Svanhild seem in my hall
As the ray of the sun is fair to see.

16. “Gold I gave her and garments bright,
Ere I let her go to the Gothic folk;
Of my heavy woes the hardest it was
When Svanhild’s tresses fair were trodden
In the mire by hoofs of horses wild. (*)

17. “The sorest it was when Sigurth mine
On his couch, of victory robbed, they killed;
And grimmest of all when to Gunnar’s heart
There crept the bright-hued crawling snakes. (*)

18. “And keenest of all when they cut the heart
From the living breast of the king so brave;
Many woes I remember, -lacuna- (*)

19. “Bridle, Sigurth, thy steed so black,
Hither let run thy swift-faring horse;
Here there sits not son or daughter
Who yet to Guthrun gifts shall give. (*)

20. “Remember, Sigurth, what once we said,
When together both on the bed we sat,
That mightily thou to me wouldst come
From Hel and I from earth to thee.

21. “Pile ye up, jarls, the pyre of oak,
Make it the highest a hero e’er had;
Let the fire burn my grief-filled breast,
My sore-pressed heart, till my sorrows melt.” (*)

22. May nobles all less sorrow know,
And less the woes of women become,
Since the tale of this lament is told.


In the manuscript the prose passage is headed ‘Of Guthrun’, and ‘Guthrunarhvot’ comes before the first stanza. Jonak is a northern addition, it sounds like a Slavic name. The Volsungasaga also makes Erp a son of Guthrun, but in Hamthesmol he is a son of Jonak by another wife. Jormunrek is also called Ermanarich. Bikki corresponds to the Sifka or Sibicho of Gothic lays on Ermanarich, whose counsel was always evil. In Volsungasaga, Jormunrek sends Randver with Bikki to seek Svanhild’s hand, on the voyage home Bikki says to Randver, “It were right for you to have so fair a wife, and not such an old man.” Randver was pleased with the advice, “and he spake to her with gladness, and she to him.” Bikki then told Ermanarich that guilty love lay between his son and his young wife. Thus the revenge. Back

1. The Skald introducing himself into the prose speaks of the lateness of the script. Back

2. The word ‘idle’ is a guess and is missing in the original, line 5 is marked as beginning a new stanza, and 5-6 seem to come from Hamthesmol, 3. Back

3. Hunnish is a generic term for all South Germanic people. Back

4. In some scripts Hamther is spelt ‘Hamthir’. Back

5. The words ‘bloody’ and ‘all’ are missing in the original. Back

6. The lacuna has been assumed, perhaps even two lines are lost. Back

8. ‘Spear-god’ refers to Hamther. At this stanza the ‘hvot’ or ‘inciting’ ends, and at 9 the lament begins. Back

11. A lost line is assumed after line 1, it has been reconstructed by other translators. Back

12. The Niflungs were the descendants of Gjuki, Guthrun’s father. Back

16. This stanza is mixed in many editions. Back

17. The manuscript does not indicate line 1 beginning it, 17-18 are probably later thrown in, although the compilers of Volsungasaga knew them as they are here. This whole stanza depends on word-play, such as harthaster, “hardest”; sarastr “sorest”, grimmastr, “grimmest”; and hvassastr, “keenest”. Back

18. In the manuscript line 3 marks the beginning of a new stanza. Most translators consider this the end of the original and the rest coming from a different lay. Back

19. This promise is spoken of in Volsungasaga. Back

21. It seems that many lines of this later-addition end piece have been thrown in out of order. Back

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