The Earliest English
Translations of Individual Poems
of the Poetic Edda
[Historic Translations of Individual Eddic Poems]

1840 William Herbert

from WORKS of the Hon. and Very Reverend
William Herbert, Dean of Manchester, etc

excepting those on botany and natural history
with additions and corrections by the author, Vol. I

1842: "Horæ Scandicæ or Works Relating to Old Scandinavian Literature."



From the old Icelandic in Sæmund’s Edda.


Nidudr was the name of a king in Sweden. He had two sons and a daughter called Baudvildr. There were three sons of a Finnish king, Slagfidr, Egill, and Volundr: they skated and hunted wild beasts. They came into Ulfdal (Wolfdale), and made themselves a dwelling. A lake is there, called Ulfsiar (Wolfsea). Early in the morning they found on the water-side three women who were spinning flax. Their swanforms* lay beside them. They were Valkyries; two of them were daughters of king Clodio (Hlaudvess).† Hladgudur surnamed Svanvhita (Swan-white) and Hervor surnamed Alvitur (Allwise). The third was Aubrun daughter of Kiar from Valland (a part of France near the Rhine). The princes took them home; Egill had Aubrun, Slagfidr Svanvhit, and Volundr Alvitur. They dwelt there seven years, then flew away to seek warfare and returned not. Egill skated away to look for Aubrun, Slagfidr sought Svanvhit, but Volundr sat in Wolfdale. He was an artificer, as is known from old sagas. King Nidudr caused him to be seized, as is sung herein.


* The plumage and wings of swans which they wore when they wished to fly. Women, who mixed in warfare and were supposed to hare the power of flying through the air, were called Valkyries, though not actually the Valkyries of Odin.

† HIaudve is unquestionably the same name as Clodio or Blodio, Clilodovicus or Lodovicus, Clovis or Louis, and I entertain no doubt that Clodio king of the Francs is the person here meant, though it has not occurred to the publishers of the Edda.


Maids from the South thro' Mirkwood* flew
To dree§ their fates; (young Alvitur was one)
They sat to rest upon Sævar-strand;
The Southron virgins dear flax spun.


* The Black forest or woody tract of Germany.

§ At dreya, to dree or drey, old English for to endure.

The lake side.



One took Egill to embrace 5

Bright-bosom'd maiden with fair face;

Swanvhita was another's name,

Who array'd in swan-plumes came;

The third was fain her arms to throw

Round Volunder's neck of snow. 10



After that seven years they sat,

The eighth they grew uneasy-hearted;

Each on the ninth from her lord departed.

Thro' the wide dark wood they wish'd to flee

(Young Alvitur was one) their fates to dree. 15



Mirthsome shooters of the game

Turning homeward from the chase

Egill and Slagfider came;

They found their hall an empty space.

To seek the lost Aubruna then 20

Skating eastward Egill went;

On the search for Swanvhite fair

His steps Slagfider southward bent.


5. Alone in Wolfdale sat Volunder;

Gems he chased in gold set under, 25

And together bound each ring
Safely with the linden* string.
There he sat, and so abided
His bright-bosom'd wife's return.


* Made of the bark of the lime tree.


Niduder king of Niari heard 30

How alone Volunder sat;

forth fared his men by night;

Many a nail bedeck'd their mail,

And their shields shone bright

To the gleam of the horned moon. 35


They sprang from their saddles beside the wall,
And entering paced the length of the hall.
They found the rings on the linden-string placed,
Seven hundred, all that man possess'd.


8. They took them off,

and they put them on, 40

But one they carried away;
The mirthsome shooter came from the chase,
Volunder, toiling the longsome way.


9. Straight he came to the blazing flame,

To broil the steak of a bear; 45

The blowing wind had dried the rind

Of the logs Volunder bare.



He sat on a bear-skin, and counted each ring;

One was miss'd by Alfheim's prince.

He thought that Clodio's child Alvitur 50

Return'd had made his treasure lighter.



He sat there till he sank asleep,

But waking he had cause to weep;

Shackles on his hands he found,

And his feet with fetters bound. 55



"Who are the gallants, that have laid

"Chains on the bearer of gold, and bound me?"

Niduder king of Niari said,

" Where gat'st thou, prince of Alfs, Volunder,

"Gold in Wolfsdale which is mine? 60



 "This never in Grana's* path did shine;

 "I thought my lands far from the Rhenish fell;

"I had more gold, I remember well,

"When we were hale friends at home."


* The horse of Sigurd (Attilla), whereon he rode when he conquered Fafner and took his gold from the Glitna moor near the Rhine.


14. ( Volunder speaks.)


"Hladguder and Hervor were Clodion's bairns, 65

"Aubruna was daughter of Kiar,

"Alvitur* stept the length of the hall,

"Mild of speech on the floor she stood.

"Ye will not find me a canny wight,

''If dragg'd from the blithe green-wood.'' 70


*She in the original but it refers to Hervor Alvitur and not to Aubruna.


King Niduder gave the golden ring which he had taken from the string of Volunder to his daughter Baudvilder,* but he himself bore the sword which Volunder had. But the queen sang :



"He shew'd his teeth, as he spied the sword,

"And the ring of Baudvilda knew;

"The eyes are keen of that serpent sheen!

"Cut the strength of his sinews thro',

"And after place him in Sævarstaud." 75


So it was done, that the sinews were cut in his hams, and he was placed in the island which was opposite the coast and called Sævarstaud. There he forged the king all sorts of jewelry. No man dared go near him, but the king.


16. (Volunder sang.)


"The sword shines bright in Niduder's belt,

"Which I sharpen'd with mickle skill,

"And gave it temper rare;

"That sword from me for aye is ta'en,

"It comes not to my forge again. 80



"I see Baudvilda my bride's ring wear,

"That loss I never shall repair."



He sat there ever, and slumber'd never,

But with his hammer smote;

Yet liefer and briefer he 85

Wrought guile to Niari's king.

Two youths drew nigh to Volunder's door,

Sons of Niduder, in Sævarstaud.



They came to the chest, and craved the key,

But evil, as they look in, thought he. 90

Rich things were there and precious to wear,

Which seem'd to the youths all ruddy with gold.



"Come two alone! come another day,

"To share that golden gear ;

"But say not ye to man or *may, 95

"Ye found Volunder here !"


* Maid.



Quickly one address'd the other,

Brother thus bespoke his brother,

"Let us look at the forger's rings."

They came to the chest, and craved the key, 100

But evil, as they look'd in, thought he.



Off their* heads were lopt by Volunder,

He laid their feet the damp floor under;

He stripp'd the scalp from each hairy head.

And to Niduder sent the sculls 105

With silver plate o'erlaid.


*Huns, translated by the editors “of the youths”, but otherwise Huns. The word certainly means Huns. The other sense is questionable.



Bright gems he fashion'd from their eyes,

And gave them to the cunning queen;

And of their teeth made broaches sheen

To deck Baudvilda's breast. 110



Baudvilda prized the ring, and wore it.

Broken to Volunder bore it.

"I do not dare this ring to bear

"To any wight save thee."


25. (Volundr sang.)


"I will so the breach repair,  115

"Thy sire shall reckon thee more fair,
"Thee thy mother better deem,
"Thou preserve thine own esteem."



He brought the damsel beer.

For deeper thoughts had he; 120

She sank upon the seat.
And soundly slumber’d she.

"Now is ample vengeance done

"For all my grievous wrongs, save one.



"Would I could stand on my feet," he cried, 125

"Which the thralls of Niduder marr’d"
Volunder soar'd aloft with a smile,
Wailing Baudvilda fared forth from the isle;
Sorely mourn'd that damsel bright
A father's wrath and a lover's flight. 130


The cunning queen was standing out;
In she stept the length of the hall;
While Volunder sat without
Resting nigh the palace-wall.


29. (The queen says)


"Wakest thou, Niari's king ? 135

"Watchful I and joyless lie,

"While I think of my slaughter'd bairns."


30. (The king says)


"Cold is my brow, and cold

"Thine evil counsel seems!

"To parley now, unless hopes fail, 140

"Volunder will I bring

"Prince of the Alfs, Volunder, say,

"What hast thou done with my gallant boys

"Yestreen so fresh and hale?”


31. (Volunder says)


"Swear thou first by every pledge, 145

"By thy buckler bright and round,

"Thy ship's timber stout and sound,

"Horse's withers, and sword's edge,

"Not to slay Volunder's bride,

"Nor to harm her, tho' she bide 150

In thy hall well-known, and there
To Volunder offspring bear.


“Go, search the workshop thou hast made,
“And see the bellows stain'd with gore;
“Off I lopp'd their heads, and laid 155

“Their cor(p)ses under the fenny floor.


Their sculls from the hairy scalp set free
Plated with silver I sent to thee :
But their eyeballs, jewels sheen,
Gave I to the cunning queen. 160


Their teeth I form'd into broaches rare
To deck the breast of Baudvilda fair.
She of both sole child surviving
Walks heavy to your shame."


35. (Niduder says)


"Feller word! thou couldst not speak ! 165

Fain would I that evil wreak !

But who, his courser tall bestriding,

Can seize thee, thus in mid-air riding?

Who can smite thee from beneath,

While wafted to the clouds?" 170



Volunder smiling soar'd on high,

Niduder sat down with a sigh.



"Arise, Thakrader, my trusty thrall,

Fair-faced Baudvilda call!

"Bid the damsel of raiment rare 175

“To her father's hall repair."



"Tell me, Baudvilda, is that sooth,

"Which evil tongues declare ;

"Didst thou with Volunder sit

"Lonely in the forger's lair?" 180



"True it is, as they declare ;

"Lonely I sat in the forger's lair,

"One dreadful hour, but one alone;

 "Would, that hour I ne'er had known!

"Might I had not to prevail; 185

"Nothing could my strength avail."



This ode is improperly placed first in the volume of the Tragic Edda, for it refers (st. 13.) to the capture of the gold of Fafner on Gnita heath (see Gripis-spa, st. II.) near the Rhine by Attila, (under the mystic name Sigurd) on his horse Grana, which is the subject of Fafnismal. Herein is a blending of some of the fundamental features of the Attilane legend with other circumstances, and a transfer of the scene of action to Sweden. The three Burgundian brothers are represented as Finns, but their Southern origin is manifest from their marrying two daughters of Hlaudve or Clodio, probably the well-known king of the Francs, and one of Kiar a Rhenish prince, and from the reproach cast upon Volunder (who here represents Gunnar the hoarder of the Nibelungian treasure) that the gold he possessed was not that which Attila had won from Fafner on Gnita heath, which, in Atla quida, st. 5, Attila offers to give to Gunnar. Volunder, like Gunnar, is taken treacherously and cast into a damp chamber on account of his gold, and the king who confines him is punished, as Attila is in the direct legend, by the murder of his two sons, and those sons are here called Huna, Huns, though the editor translates it boys, and their sculls overlaid with silver are sent to the father, as their flesh is served to him in the direct legend. Mirkwood, or the black forest, through which the maidens come to Wolfdale, is the name applied to the forest adjoining Burgundy in Atla quida. The falsehood of the location in Sweden is evident. As a further proof of the identity of Volunder and his brothers with the three Burgundian princes, Gunnar boasts to his brother in Atla quida that they have in the Burgundian palace "the whitest of shields from the hall of Kiar," who is the father of one of the brides in this tale. Volunder also, like Gunnar, has to wife for a time the all-wise Valkyrie, who may be identified by her qualities with Brynhilda, and he debauches the daughter of Niduder, as Gunnar does the sister of Attila, Odruna.

There is not a particle in the whole volume of the tragic part of the Edda of genuine Scandinavian story, but the whole is more or less intimately connected with Attila. The three next odes tell of the mighty Helgé and his Valkyrie bride, Svava or Sigruna, or Kara, for they both, she and Helgé, are three times revived or born again (epterborin) and she has a different name and parentage each time. In his last incarnation Helgé is the son of Sigmund, son of Volsunger, and therefore brother of Sigurd who has been shewn (Attila, p. 522.) to be Attila. But Helgé himself is said to be superior to all warriors (Helgé quida, 2. 36.), and in his second incarnation he is, like Sigurd, killed by the brother of his wife, (Tragic Edda, p. 98.) who comes and reports his death to Sigruna. In the first incarnation Helgé employs one Attila to obtain his wife for him, which is a confusion of the legend in which Attila as Sigurd obtains a wife for Gunnar. But when Helgé revived, as Sigmund's son, at the age of one day he stood in his armour. The resuscitations of Attila and Brynhilda under the names of Sigurd, Attila, Jonacre, Brynhilda, Grimilda or Gudruna, and Svanhilda, are exactly analogous to the reanimations of Helgé and his Valkyrie. Next follows Sinfiotl lok. Sinfiotl was eldest son of Sigmund, son of Volsunger. Sigmund had a wife Borghilda who had a brother named Gunnar. Sinfiotl slew Gunnar and Borghilda gives him poison. This is evidently a confused reminiscence of the Attilane tragedy. Sigmund is said to have lived long in Denmark and in the kingdom of Borghilda after he married her. He went into the South into Frankland, (France) to that kingdom which he possessed. Helgé and Sinfiotl are not Scandinavians, but brothers of Attila, and of Sigmund elsewhere stated to be his father; but in truth all the three are persons coined out of the story of Attila himself, with a very confused locality, and probably a blending of ancient northern legends concerning other persons.

In Sigurdar quida, 1, 15, it is said that Brynhilda slept in the mountain in Hlyndale, (where Sigurd first visited her) after the death of Helgé, on which the editor observes, Helgé must have been some unknown warrior killed by her in Hialmgunnar's army; so blind are those, who are prejudiced by the desire of making out a true and consecutive history from these various pieces and fragments of romantic poetry. No person, who looks to the spirit of these poems, can fail to see that Brynhilda in Hlyndale is a fourth incarnation of the Valkyrie concerned in the death of Helgé Sigmundson, and is coupled again with Attila resuscitated as Sigurd Sigmundson.


[Historic Translations of Individual Eddic Poems]