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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Háconamál
Icelandic Literature
 
GONDUL and Skögul
The gods of the Goths sent
To choose ’mong the kings
Of Yngvi’s race which
With Odin should fare        5
And live in Valhalla.
 
Bjorn’s brother found they
Faring in mail-coat,
Marching ’neath gonfalon;
Scared were the foe,        10
The shafts shook,
The battle began.
 
“On, Halogalanders!
On, ye West-Islanders!”
Cried the earl-slayer,        15
Rushed to the fray.
Well did his Northmen
Follow their noble lord,
Dread of the Isle Danes,
Helmed in gold.        20
 
Flung off his armor
Down on the plain,
The chief of the body guard,
Ere he set on.
Joked with his men-at-arms,        25
“We’ll keep the land safe;”
Laughed the King gayly,
Helmed in gold.
 
So sliced his sharp sword
In the chief’s hand        30
Right through the mail-coats
As they were water.
Crash went the arrows,
Split were the shields;
Rattled the blades        35
On the foemen’s skulls.
 
Through targets tough,
Through plates of iron,
Smashed irresistible
The Norse King’s brand.        40
Th’ isle pealed with battle-din,
Crimsoned the kings
Their glistening shields
In the blood of the throng.
 
Quivered the flashing swords        45
In the wounds gory;
Louted the halberds,
Greedy of life;
Soused the red wound-stream
’Gainst the splashed bucklers;        50
Fell crimson arrow-rain
On Stord’s shore.
 
All blood-bedabbled
Surged the fierce fray;
Thundered the shield-rims        55
’Mid storm of war;
Pattered down point-stream
Odin’s red shower.
Many fell fainting
In their life’s blood.        60
 
Sat were the princes,
Drawn were their swords,
Battered their bucklers,
Armor all gashed;
Ill at ease felt the        65
Monarch, for he was
Bound to Valhalla.
 
Gondul she spoke,
Leaning on spear-shaft:—
“Grows the gods’ company;        70
They have bid Hacon,
With a great retinue,
Home to their hall!”
 
Heard the fey chieftain
What said the Valkyr—        75
Maids from their steeds;
Thoughtful their faces looked
As they sat helmed,
Sheltered with shields.
 
HACON
“Why so the contest
        80
Deal’st thou, Geirskögul?
Worthy of victory
We from the gods!”
 
SKÖGUL
“We were the cause
The battle you won        85
And the foes fled.
Now will we speed,”
Quoth mighty Skögul,
“To heaven’s green glades,
King Odin to tell        90
A great lord is coming,
Who longs him to see!”
 
“Hermod and Bragi,”
Quoth aloud Odin,
“Go meet the chieftain;        95
Hither is faring
A king, and a valiant one,
Lo! to my hall.”
 
The captain he cried,
Just fresh from the fray,        100
All dripping with gore:—
“Very hard-hearted
Truly meseemeth
Odin to be.”
 
ODIN
“All of my warriors
        105
Welcome thee in!
Drink of our ale-cups,
Bane of the Jarls.”
“Already you’ve here
Eight brothers,” quoth Bragi.        110
 
HACON
“All our war-gear,”
Quoth the good King,
“Ourselves will we hold;
Our helmet and mail,
We’ll guard them full well;        115
’Tis pleasant to handle the spear.”
 
Then straight it appeared
How the good King had
Protected the temples,
For Hacon they bade        120
Be heartily welcome,
The assembly of gods.
On fortunate day
Was that monarch born,
With such a mind gifted;        125
His age and day
Must ever be held
In kindly remembrance.
Ere will break his chain
And rush on mankind        130
Fell Fenris wolf,
Ere a man so good
In his footsteps tread,
One of royal birth—
Riches depart,        135
And likewise friends,
The land is laid waste:
Since Hacon fared
To the heathen gods,
Sunk have many to slaves.

  After the death of Hacon the Good, all the Norwegian court skalds named in the chronicles were Icelanders; so that from about the year 950 to the death of King Eric Magnusson in 1299, Icelandic skalds only were the court poets of Norway. The first Danish king mentioned as having been commemorated by an Icelandic poet (Ottar the Black) was Sweyn Forkbeard, who died in 1014; and the last, it may be added, was Waldemar II., who died in 1241. Nor should we forget that two of our English kings, Athelstan and Ethelred, were commemorated in the tenth or beginning of the eleventh century by two famous Northmen, Egil Skalagrim and Gunnlaug Serpent-tongue. “In England,” says Dr. Metcalfe, basing his remarks on those of Jon Sigurdson, “the age of Northern poetry may be said to have lasted down to the Norman conquest, or about the middle of the eleventh century; in Denmark and Sweden, to the middle of the thirteenth; in Norway, till a little over the end of that century.”
  Finally, I may quote one interesting poem of the nature common to all the Northern races. It occurs in the Hervorar Saga, which has been attributed to the thirteenth century; but the poem in question bears so strong an old Norse impress that the German critic Müller places its composition as certainly not later than the tenth or at least the eleventh century. The story is interesting as setting forth the record of one of those Amazonian heroines who occur in every popular literature. This heroine was named Hervor. She was the daughter of a famous knight, Angantyr, who for love’s sake fought a duel with the famous Hjalmar on Samsö, an island off Jutland. Though Angantyr fought with the sword Tyrfing, forged by the trolls Dvalin and Dulin, which never missed its aim, he perhaps forgot the other quality of the sword, that it always brought death to its owner. The result was that he and all his Berserkers were slain on this remote island. His daughter Hervor, when she grew up, really turned viking; “daubing her lily-white hands with pitch and tar,” as the skald wrote. She became a viking in fact, and assumed the name of Herward. So in the course of time she came to the haven of Munarvoe in Samsö, where her father Angantyr lay buried in the green mound. At sunset she goes alone on shore, and there she meets a shepherd. The dialogue between them, and the weird scene of the cairns flaming into life, are graphically told, as also the appearance of Angantyr himself.
        140
 
SHEPHERD
WHO art all alone
To this island come?
Haste and seek some cot
For to shelter in.
 
HERWARD
I will never go
        145
Shelter for to seek,
For I none do know
Of the island beards.
Tell me speedily,
’Fore you go from hence,        150
Whereabout’s the spot
Known as Herward’s cairn?
 
SHEPHERD
Don’t about it speer,
If thou’rt truly wise.
Thou, the viking’s friend,        155
In great peril art.
Let us speed away,
Haste with might and main:
All abroad are horrors
For the sons of men.        160
 
HERWARD
Here a brooch I’ll give you
If you’ll tell me true.
Vain to try to hinder
Thus the viking’s friend.
No! the brightest treasure.        165
All the rings on earth,
Would not let or hinder
Me from my intent.
 
SHEPHERD
Foolish is, methinks,
He who hither fares,        170
All alone and friendless
In the murky night.
Flames are flickering,
Cairns are opening,
Burning earth and fen;        175
Let us hurry on.
 
HERWARD
I am not afeard
At such snorting sounds,
E’en though all the island
Bursts out in a blaze.        180
Do not let us two
By the champions dead
Thus be made to shiver;
Let us have discourse!
—Then the herdsman fled        185
To the forest near,
Frightened by the speech
Of this manly maid.
Of undaunted mettle
Fashioned, Hervor’s breast        190
Swelled within her fiercely
At the shepherd’s fright.

  She now sees the cairns all alight and the howe-dwellers standing outside, but is not afraid; passes through the flame as if it were only reek, till she gets to the Berserker’s howe. Then she speaks:—
 
HERWARD
Wake thee, Angantyr;
Hervor waketh thee.
I’m the only daughter        195
Of Tofa and of thee:
Give me from the howe
That sword whetted sharp,
Which for Swarfurlam
Was forged by the dwarves.        200
 
Hervard and Hjorvard,
Hran and Angantyr!
I wake you, ye buried
Under the forest roots,
With your helm and mail-sark,        205
With your whetted sword,
With your polished shields,
And your bloody darts.
 
Ye are turned indeed,
Arngrim’s sons so bold,        210
Such redoubted champions,
To poor bits of mold,
If of Eyfur’s sons,
Not one dares with me
To come and hold discourse        215
Here in Munarvoe.
 
Hervard and Hjorvard,
Hran and Angantyr!
May it be to all
Of you within your hearts        220
As if you were in ant-hills,
With torments dire bested,
Unless to me the sword
Ye give that Dvalin forged.
It not beseemeth Draugies        225
Such weapons choice to hide.
 
ANGANTYR
Hervor, my daughter, why
Dost thou cry out so loud?
Thou’rt hastening to destruction,
Past all redemption, maid!        230
’Tis mad you are become,
Bereft of sober sense;
You must be wandering, surely,
To wake up men long dead.
 
HERWARD
One thing tell me true,
        235
So may Odin shield thee:
In thy ancient cairn,
Tell me, hast thou there
The sword Tyrfing hight?
Oh, you’re very slow        240
A small boon to grant
To your single heir.

  [The cairn opens, and it seems all ablaze.]
 
ANGANTYR
Hell gates have sunk down,
Opened is the cairn;
See, the island’s shore        245
Is all bathed in flame;
All abroad are sights
Fearful to behold.
Haste thee, while there’s time,
Maiden, to thy ships.        250
 
HERWARD
Were you burning bright,
Like bale-fire at night,
I’d not fear a jot;
Your fierce burning flame
Quakes not maiden’s heart:        255
’Tis of sterner stuff,
Gibbering ghosts though she
In the doorway see.
 
ANGANTYR
Listen, Hervor mine!
I’ll a tale unfold;        260
Listen, daughter wise!
I’ll thy fate foretell.
Trow my words or not,
Tyrfing’s fate is this:
’Twill to all thy kin        265
Naught but mishap bring.
 
HERWARD
I will sure bewitch
All these champions slain;
Ye shall fated be
Ever and aye to lie        270
With the Draugies dead,
Rotting in your graves.
Give me, Angantyr,
Out your cairn straightway
Sword to harness dangerous,        275
Young Hjalmar’s bane.
 
ANGANTYR
Maiden, I aver you’re
Not of human mold,
Roaming ’mong the cairns
In the dead of night.        280
With engravèd spear,
With a sword beside,
With helmet and with hauberk
My hell-door before.
 
HERWARD
Meseemed I altogether
        285
Was framed in human mold
’Fore I visit paid
To your halls of death.
Hand me from the cairn
Straight the Byrnie’s foe,        290
Smithied by the dwarves;
To hide it won’t avail.
 
ANGANTYR
I have ’neath my shoulder
Young Hjalmar’s bane;
It is all enwrapped        295
In a sheet of flame.
On the earth I know not
Any maid so bold
That shall dare the sword
By the hand to take.        300
 
HERWARD
Gladly I will take it,
Gladly keep it too,
That sharp-edged sword,
If I have it may.
I’ve no fear at all        305
Of the burning flame;
Straight abates the fire
When thereon I gaze.
 
ANGANTYR
Foolish art thou, Hervor,
Though so stout of heart,        310
If with open eyes
In the fire you dart.
Rather will I hand thee
Out the cairn the sword.
Maiden young, I will not        315
Thy request refuse.

  [The sword is cast out of the cairn.]
 
HERWARD
Well and bravely done,
Say I, viking’s son!
Thou hast me the sword
Handed out the tomb.        320
Better far, methinks,
King, this precious boon,
Than the whole of Norway
Were I to possess.
 
ANGANTYR
Ah! you do not know,
        325
All too rash of speech,
Maiden void of counsel,
What is good or ill.
This sword Tyrfing will—
If you me can trow—        330
Will thy race hereafter
Utterly destroy.
 
HERWARD
Off to my sea-horses,
Off, off, and away!
Now the prince’s daughter        335
Is all blithe of mood.
Little do I fear,
Sire of lordly strain,
What my race hereafter
Haply shall befall.        340
 
ANGANTYR
Long thou shalt possess it,
And enjoy it long;
Only keep it hidden,
Young Hjalmar’s bane.
Touch not e’en its edges,        345
They are poisoned both;
Naught exists more baneful
Than this sword to man.
 
HERWARD
Dwellers in the cairns!
Dwell unscathèd on.        350
I’m longing to be gone,
Fast I haste away.
I myself, methought,
Hung ’twixt life and death
When the roaring flame        355
Girt me all around.

  I may refer readers who would like to go more thoroughly into the subject of Icelandic literature to study the volumes of Dr. Gudbrand Vigfusson and Mr. York Powell,—in particular the ‘Corpus Poeticum Boreale; or, the Poetry of the Old Northern Tongue from the Earliest Times to the Thirteenth Century,’ edited, classified, and translated, with Introduction, Excursuses, and Notes. The first of these two volumes deals with the Eddic poems and with the early Western and early historic epics, with interesting excursuses on the beliefs and worships of the ancient Northmen, and on the Northern and old Teutonic metres. The second volume is less interesting perhaps to the ordinary reader, but should certainly also be read; and also its interesting excursus on the figures and metres of the old Northern poetry, with some reference to the ancient life, thought, and belief as embodied therein. Again, the student should turn to Vigfusson’s three or four volumes of Icelandic sagas, to E. Mogk’s ‘Chapters on Northern Literature,’ and to Hermann Paul’s ‘Grundriss der Germanischen Philologie.’ Again, there is one invaluable work of its kind,—Dr. Vigfusson’s rendering of the ‘Sturlunga Saga,’ including the ‘Islendiga Saga’ (untranslated) and other works; though it is for the Prolegomena, Appendices, etc., that this recommendation is given to the non-Icelandic student. The general reader should consult Dr. Metcalfe’s ‘The Scandinavian and the Englishman,’ with its delightful chapters on Icelandic history and literature. Among the many important and interesting articles in periodicals, I may specify in particular Mr. York Powell’s account of recent research on Teutonic Mythology in the journal Folk Lore, Mr. J. H. Wisley’s paper on Saga Literature in Poet Lore, Mr. W. A. Craigie’s important article in Folk Lore on the oldest Icelandic folk-lore (with translations of old sagas, etc.), and Mr. York Powell’s interesting account in Folk Lore of ‘Saga Growth.’

  EDITORIAL NOTE.—In addition to the references given in the above article, there are later translations of the Poetic Edda by Bray, ‘Lays of the Gods’ (London, 1908), and Snorri’s Prose Edda by Brodeur (New York, 1916). The Cambridge Manuals by Craigie, ‘Icelandic Sagas,’ and Mawer, ‘The Vikings,’ will also be found useful to the general reader, as well as R. B. Anderson’s translation of Winkel Horn’s ‘History of the Literature of the Scandinavian North’ (Chicago, 1884).
 
 
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