The Lay of Hrym” and “Brunhild’s Hel-Ride”

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


The Hurler woke, went wild with rage,
For, suddenly, he missed his sacred Hammer:
He tore his beard, tossed his red locks,
Groped about but could grasp nothing.
Thus, then, did Thor speak:
“Loki, Loki, listen well.
Unmarked by men, unmarked by Gods,
Someone has stolen my sacred Hammer.”

Fast they went to Freya’s quarters.
Then said Loki, Laufey’s Son:
“Freya, will you lend me your feathered cloak
To fly in search of the sacred Hammer?”

“I would give it you gladly, were it gold not feathers,
Part with it now, were it pure silver.”

Then Loki flew—the feathers whistled—
Out of the door of the Hall of Gods
On and on to the Hall of Giants.
There, on a howe, Thrym sat,
Braiding gold collars for his kennel of hounds,
Unteasing the manes of the mares he loved:
“How fare the Gods? How fare the Elves?
What brings you on this journey to Gianthome?

“Ill fare the Gods, Ill fare the Elves.
Have you taken and hidden the Hammer of Thunder?”

“I have taken and hidden the Hammer of Thunder
Eight miles deep, way under the ground:
Henceforth no God shall get it back
Till you fetch me Freya for my future bride.”

Then Loki flew—the feathers whistled—
Out of the door of the Hall of Giants
On and on to the Hall of Gods.
Meeting him there in the middle-court,
Thus then did Thor speak:
“Do you come with a message, not mischief only?
Stand where you are. Let me hear your tidings.
He who sits is seldom truthful,
Who stretches at length a liar always.”

“I come with a message, not mischief only.
Thrym stole your Hammer to hide it away.
Henceforth no God shall get it back
Till we fetch him Freya for his future bride.”

Fast they went to Freya’s quarters.
Then said Loki, Laufey’s Son:
“Busk yourself, Freya, in a bridal veil.
You must journey with me to Gianthome.”

Freya snorted with fierce rage,
The hall shook and shuddered about them,
Broken to bits was the Brising Necklace:
“In the eyes of the Gods a whore I should seem,
If I journeyed with you to Gianthome.”

The Gods hastened to their Hall of Judgment,
Gathered together, Goddesses with them,
Sat in council to consider how
To recover the holy Hammer of Thunder.

Heimdal said, sagest of Gods,
Who could see the future as his fathers did:
“We must busk Thor in a bridal veil,
Hang about him the Brising Necklace,
Bind to his waist a bunch of keys,
Hide his legs in a long dress,
Broad brooches to his breast pin,
With a neat cap cover his locks.”

Thus, then, did Thor speak:
“With coarse laughs you will call me a She
If I busk myself in a bridal veil.”

Loki replied, Laufey’s Son:
“Be silent, Thunderer, say no more.
Without the Hammer Asgard is lost.
The Giants will dwell here, soon drive us out.”

They busked Thor then in a bridal veil,
Hung about him the Brising Necklace,
Bound to his waist a bunch of keys,
Hid his legs in a long dress,
Broad brooches to his breast pinned,
With a neat cap covered his locks.

Then said Loki, Laufey’s Son:
“I also shall come as your handmaid with you,
We will journey together to Gianthome.”

Quickly the goats were gathered from pasture,
Hurried into harness: eagerly they ran.
Fire scorched the earth, the fells cracked,
As Thunderer journeyed to Gianthome.

Thus, then, did Thrym speak:
“Stand up Giants, lay straw on the benches.
They may well bring me my bride now,
Njordur’s Daughter, from Noatun.
In my fields there graze gold-horned cattle,
All-black oxen, for my eye’s delight.
Much is my treasure, many my gems;
Nothing I lack save lovely Freya.”

Evening came: ale and food
Were brought to the benches. The Bride quickly
Ate a whole ox and eight salmon,
The sweet dainties reserved for the women,
And more than three measures of mead drank.
Thus, then, did Thrym speak:
“Was ever bride with appetite so keen,
Ever a bride who took such big mouthfuls,
When was more mead drunk by one maid alone?”

Loki, the handmaid, leaning forward,
Found the words to befuddle the Giant:
“She has not eaten for eight long nights,
So wild her longing for the wedding-day.”

Thrym lifted her veil, leaned to kiss her,
Back he leaped, the full length of the hall:
“How fierce the look in Freya’s eyes!
Dangerous the fire that darts out of them.”

Loki, the handmaid, leaning forward,
Found the words to befuddle the Giant:
“She has had no sleep for eight long nights,
So wild her longing for the wedding-day.”

The luckless sister of the luckless Giant
Dared to beg for bridal gifts:
“Give me your rings of red gold,
The rings from your fingers, my favor to win,
My good-will, my grace and blessing.”

Thus, then, did Thrym speak:
“To bless the Bride now bring the Hammer,
Lay Mjollnir upon the maiden’s lap,
And wish us joy with joined hands.”

Then in his heart Thunderer laughed,
The savage one, when he saw his Hammer.
First Thrym he felled to the ground,
Then all his kin he killed in turn,
Laid low his luckless Sister
Who had dared to beg for bridal gifts:
Instead of gold she got a blow,
Instead of rings a rap on the skull.
Thus Thor came to recover his Hammer.


strophe 1, line 1: Hurler: Thor.

strophe 1, line 2: sacred Hammer: Mjollnir, Thor’s hammer, both a weapon and a sacred object capable of resurrecting the dead. It is the symbol of thunder.

strophe 4, line 4: Thrym: a frost giant. It has been proposed that the theft of Mjollnir by Thrym symbolically represents the scarcity of thunderstorms in winter.

strophe 10, line 3: the Brising Necklace: a miraculous necklace fabricated by the dwarves (brising = ‘Twiner’) and occasionally assigned to Frigg, Baldur’s mother, rather than to Freya.

strophe 12, line 1: Heimdal: the watchman of the Gods.

strophe 18, line 4: Njordur, Noatun: Njordur seems to have been the chief of the Vanes. When this pantheon merged with that of the Aesir, Njodur, having been a water deity, became the sea-god. As Njordur calms the waves, his home is Noatun, “ships’ haven.”


After the death of Brunhild, two pyres were laid: one for Sigurd, which was ignited first; on the other, Brunhild was burnt, atop a hearse covered with a rich cloth. It is told how Brunhild rode the hearse down the Hel-way, and passed the house of a giantess. The giantess said:

Depart! You shall not pass through
My tall gates of towering stone:
It befits a wife to wind yarn,
Not to know another’s husband.

To what end, woman from Gaul,
False of heart, would you enter my realm?
Fair woman, if you want the truth,
You have bathed your hands in the blood of men.”

“Bar me not, bride of stone-elves!
They think me the higher, those who know
Both our births, better than you.”

“You were born, Brunhild, Budli’s daughter,
Of all women the worst fated,
Brought sorrow and death to the Sons of Gjuki,
Down to nothing their noble house.”

“I shall tell you, giantess, joyless news,
News of the worst, if you want the truth:
Gjuki’s Sons by guile made me
A loveless bride, a breaker of oaths.

Hild-under-helm they all called me,
All who knew me in Hlymdale,
Where, under the oak, over eight sisters
Valfather flung feathered cloaks.
Twelve winters I knew, if you want the truth,
When I plighted my troth to the peerless warrior.

Hjalm-Gunnar to Hel I sent,
The old Goth, when I gave victory
To young Agnar, Autha’s Brother:
Angry with me was Odin for that.

He scarfed me in shields on Skatalund,
Red and white ones, their rims interlocked,
With a sleep-spell bound me, and bade Tree-Foe
Burn all about the bed where I lay.

Then the hero, the thane who never
Had felt fear, through the flames rode
To fetch thence Fafnir’s Hoard
And rouse me at last from my long sleep.

On Grani he rode, the gold-sharer,
To the Hall where my foster-father ruled:
In the King’s host, he was counted best,
Viking of the Danes, most valiant of all.

In a single bed we slept and were happy:
As if we had been brother and sister,
Neither laid a lustful hand
Upon the other for eight nights.

Then Gjuki’s Daughter, Gudrun, mocked me,
Said I had slept in Sigurd’s arms:
I found then, what I fain would have not,
That through a trick I had taken a husband.

Men and women on Middle-Earth
Must contend with grief and for too long:
Never shall Sigurd be sundered from me;
None shall unjoin us. Giantess, yield!”


strophe 4, line 1: Budli: father of Brunhild and Attila.

strophe 4, line 3: Sons of Gjuki: Guthrun, Hogni, and Gunnar. Guthrun became Sigurd’s wife; at Hogni’s instigation, Sigurd wooed Brunhild for Gunnar.

strophe 6, line 1: Hild: a Valkyrie name meaning “fighter.”

strophe 6, line 2: Hlymdale: “the valley of tumult,” the place of battle is the home of the Valkyries.

strophe 6, line 4: Valfather: Odin.

strophe 7: Little is known of the Gothic (?) king Hjalm-Gunnar and his battle with Agnar, though it is mentioned in another Eddic poem, Sigrdrifumál.

strophe 8, line 1: Skatalund: “warrior’s grove,” a mythical place name.

strophe 8, line 3: Tree-Foe: kenning for fire.

strophe 9, line 3: Fafnir’s Hoard: the treasure of the Rhine.