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LIKE THE Vikarsbálk and Hildibrand’s Death Song, this essentially monologic lay belongs to a category which forms a masculine counterpart to the feminine retrospective poems of the Edda, such as Helreith Brynhildar and Guthrúnarhvǫt: at the point of death, or in the beyond, the speaker lets pass in review the events of his life. This conventional situation conditions a lyric-elegiac mood; which finds especially beautiful, if somewhat facile and not very original, expression in our poem. And inasmuch as there is stress laid on the melancholy “nevermore” of lovers beset by a tragic fate, rather than on deeds of valor, we may even speak of a quasi-Romanticism. Indeed, external reasons likewise point to thirteenth-century origin, when medieval influences made themselves felt in the upper levels of Northern society, and French romances and lais were being translated voluminously.

 Two versions exist, both derived from one now lost—the one in a MS of the Hervarar saga; the other, both longer and better, in the Orvar Odds saga, which accordingly has been rendered here. However, the lay does not fit organically into the latter saga.

 Piecing together the accounts in both sagas, the story of Hiálmar is as follows: Angantýr, a ferocious Viking chief, makes a Yuletide vow that he will wed beautiful Ingibiorg, the daughter of King Yngvi at Uppsala in Sweden, or else die. But when he appears there, the princess rejects him in favor of Hiálmar, right-hand man of the king, whom she loves. Thereupon Angantýr challenges Hiálmar to single combat, next summer, on the island of Samsey. There, Hiálmar and his companion at arms, the redoubtable Orvar Odd (or Sóti), encounter Angantýr and his eleven berserker brothers. Hiálmar slays Angantýr, notwithstanding the latter’s invincible sword Tyrfing, but is mortally wounded himself. Orvar Odd (or Sóti), protected by a magic silk shirt, is the sole survivor.

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SÓTI said:
1“What ails thee, Hiálmar? Thy hue is pale.
Great wounds, I ween, do weary thee;
thy helmet is hewn, thy hauberk eke:
at an end is now, atheling, thy life!”
2“Wounds have I sixteen, is slit my byrnie,
dim grows my sight, I see no longer:
to my heart did hew, venom-hardened,
Angantýr’s sword slashing sharply.
3“Shall fair ladies never learn that I,
from blows me shielding, backward turned me;
nor shall ever Ingibiorg taunt me,
in Sigtúna1 sitting, that from sword-blows I fled.
4“Unwilling nowise, from women’s converse,
from their sweet songs I with Soti fared,
hastened to join the host to eastward,
went the last time forth from friends so dear.
5“Led me the white-browed liege’s daughter
to the outmost end of Agnafit.2
Is borne out thus that back I would not
wend from this war: so the wise maid said.
6“From Ingibiorg— came ill-hap swiftly—
I fared forth, then, on fated day:
a lasting sorrow to the lady, this,
since not e’er after each other we’ll see.
7“To have and to hold I had five manors;
on that land to live misliked me, though.
Now, robbed of life, I lie here, spent,
by the sword wounded, on Sáms-isle’s shore.
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8“Take with thee, Soti— my wish it is—
my helm and hauberk to the hall of the king.
Will it wring the heart of the ruler’s daughter
when shattered she sees what shielded my breast.
9“The red-gold ring from my right arm draw,
to Ingibiorg bring it, in her bower sitting.
Will yearn for me the young maiden,
since not e’er after each other we’ll see.
10“I see sitting in Sigtúna hall
the women who warned me of wending thence.
Will not ever after ale nor warriors
Hiálmar gladden here in this life.
11“Quaff with the king the crowd of housecarls
their ale gladly in Uppsala;
doth the mead many men overcome,
but me overmaster here many wounds.
12“Flies from the South the famished raven,
flieth with him the fallow eagle;
on the flesh of the fallen I shall feed them no more:
on my body both will batten now.”



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1 Between Uppsala and the present Stockholm.

2 This is a low flat point south of the present Stockholm.