• Email
  • Print

The Lay of Völund

notes by Peter H. Salus, with Paul B. Taylor, translated from the Icelandic by W.H. Auden

Three maidens through Mirkwood flew,
Fair and young, fate to endure:
Winged maidens by the water’s edge
Peacefully retted precious flax.

Olrun was the first: she took Egil for lover.
Swanwhite the second; she took Slagfithur.
Hervor the third; she threw round Völund’s
White neck wanton arms.

So they sat for seven winters,
Then in the eighth for home they longed,
In the ninth their dooms drove them apart:
Three maidens through Mirkwood flew,
Fair and young, fate to endure.

The weather-wise hunters, Egil, Slagfithur,
Returned from the hunt. The hall was silent:
They searched all about but could see no one.

East after Olrun Egil rode,
South after Swanwhite Slagfithur,
But Völund sat in Wolfdale alone.

Red rings he forged, enriched them with jewels,
Rings he threaded upon ropes of bast,
Faithfully waiting for the fair-haired
Hervor to return to his hearth-side.

When the Lord of the Njars, Nidud, heard
That Völund sat in Wolfdale alone,
He sent warriors forth: white their shield-bosses
In the waning moon, and their mail glittered.

They drew rein when they got to the gabled hall,
In they came through the end door,
Rings they saw, on ropes threaded:
Seven hundred, all owned by Völund.

These they unthreaded, but there they left them,
All but one, just one they took.
Then the weather-wise hunter, Völund, came
On light feet back from a long road.

He piled up logs, prepared for roasting
A brown bear: well burned the fire
Of wind-dried wood before Völund’s eyes.

The lord of the elves lay on a bear-skin,
Counting his rings; a red one he missed:
He deemed in his mind that the daughter of Hlovde,
Hervor, had returned to his hearth-side.

Long he sat till asleep he fell;
What he knew when he woke was not joy:
He saw on his hands heavy chains,
His feet in fetters were fast bound.

“Who are the men who my hands have chained?
Who have fettered my feet together?”
Then the lord of the Njars, Nidud, answered:
“What good have you gotten, greatest of elves,
From our treasure, Völund, in Wolfdale?”

Then said Völund:

Was there not gold on Grani’s Road?
Far thought I our realm from the Rhine hills.
Greater treasure we had in olden days,
At home in the hall, happy together,
Hlathgud and Hervor, Hlovde’s children,
And wise-counselling Olrun, Kjar’s daughter.”

Nidud the king gave his daughter, Bodvild, the gold ring he had taken from the bast at Völund’s. And he himself wore the sword which had been Völund’s.

Without stood the wily one, wife of Nidud,
In she came through the end door,
Stood there smiling and softly whispered:
“Woeful shall he be who from the wood comes.”

He gnashes his teeth when he notices the sword,
And on Bodvild’s arm beholds his ring,
His eyes glare, grim as a snake’s:
With a knife they cut his knee-sinews,
Set him on the island of Saeverstod.

There he fashioned all sorts of precious things for the king. And no man except the king dared to voyage thither.

From Nidud’s hip there hangs a sword,
The blade I sharpened with a sure eye,
The blade I tempered with a true hand;
Now the shining steel is stolen from me:
Back to my smithy it shall be born yet.

Bitterest to bear, bitterest to behold,
Bodvild wearing my wife’s ring.”

Fierce, unsleeping, at his forge he hammered,
Making for Nidud marvelous things:
He saw two boys, the sons of Nidud,
At the door of his smithy on Saeverstod.

They beheld a chest, they asked for a key.
Evil was on them as in they looked.
There were gems in plenty, precious stones,
And red gold to gladden their eyes.

“Come to-morrow, but come alone.
Gold and gems I will give you both.
Tell not the maidens, tell not the courtiers,
Let no one know of our next meeting.”

So they returned, the two brothers,
Said to each other: “Let us see the rings.”
They beheld a chest, they asked for a key.
Evil was on them as in they looked.

He struck off the heads of those stalwart boys,
Under soot-blackened bellows their bodies hid,
From both their skulls he scraped the hair
And set them in silver as a sight for Nidud,
Of their eyes he fashioned excellent gems
For his dear neighbor, Nidud’s wife,
And out of the teeth which were in their mouths
He forged a brooch to bring Bodvild joy.

Precious beyond all price to Bodvild
Was the ring she had broken; she brought it to Völund:
“None but you are to know of this.”

“Mend it I can so the marred gold
Shall appear to your father fairer still,
In your mother’s eyes look much much better,
While to you it will seem the same as before.”

Ale he brought her, the artful smith:
Long they sat till asleep she fell.
“Now all but one for my hurts are paid,
All but the most evil of women.

I wish that my knees be well again,
My limbs that were maimed by the men of Nidud.”
Laughing rose Völund, aloft in the air,
Weeping fled Bodvild, away from the isle,
Afraid of her lover and her father’s wrath.

Without stood the wily one, wife of Nidud,
In she came through the end door.
The lord of the Njars lay there resting:
“Nidud, husband, are you awake?”

“Awake am I ever and without joy,
Little I sleep since my sons are gone,
Cold is my head, cold were your whisperings,
Now with Völund I wish to speak.

Learn me, Völund, lord of the elves:
Where are my boys? What has befallen them?”

“Oaths first shall you all swear me,
By ship’s-keel, by shield’s-rim,
By stallion’s-shoulder, by steel’s-edge,
That you will not harm the wife of Völund
Nor cause the death of his dear bride,
All-Wise Hervor, Hlovde’s daughter,
Who shall in the hall bring up our child.

Go to my forge which your folly built,
There find the bellows blood-bespattered.
I struck off the heads of your stalwart boys,
Under soot-blackened bellows their bodies hid,

From both their skulls I scraped the hair
And set them in silver as a sight for Nidud,
Of their eyes I fashioned excellent gems
For my dear neighbor, Nidud’s wife,

And out of the teeth which were in their mouths
I forged a brooch to bring Bodvild joy,
Bodvild who goes now great with child,
Your only daughter, dear to you both.”

“Never have words brought woe more bitter.
For vengeance, Völund, in vain must I long.
No man is so tall to take you from your horse,
No sharp-eyed archer can shoot you down,
There where you hang, high in the clouds.”

Laughing, Völund rose aloft in the air:
Sorrowing, Nidud sat there after.

“Thakrad, best of thralls, go quickly,
Go to Bodvild, the bright-browed maiden,
Bid her come forth; her father awaits her.

Is it true, Bodvild, as I am told it is,
That you and Völund, when you visited him
On the lone island, lay together?”

“It is true, Nidud, as you were told it was.
Völund and I, when I visited him
On the lone island, lay together.
A day of ill-omen, an hour of sin.
Against his wiles I had not wit to struggle,
Against his will I did not want to struggle.”

Notes:

  1. Strophe 1, line 2.—Winged maidens: they were valkyries.

  2. Strophe 3, line 1.—Seven winters: i.e., seven years.

  3. Strophe 15, line 1.—Grani’s Road: the Rhine

  4. Strophe 28, line 3.—Aloft in the air: like Daedalus, Völund had made himself artificial wings.

Table

  • Email
  • Print