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p. 29


SOME students have doubted whether this lay, which to them seems episodic, was composed and recited independently of the saga in which it occurs. They seem to forget that its substance is not merely Hervor conjuring up her father from the dead, and with her malisons compelling him to yield to her out of the grave the precious heirloom of the wondrous invincible sword buried with him: this action is only preparatory of the dire prophecy bound up with the ownership of Tyrfing, the sword which demands the life of a man, every time it is drawn, and “must be sheathed in warm blood.” The fact that the prophecy of the total annihilation of her progeny, as stated here, does not square with the account of the saga may mean that the very composite saga, rather than the lay, has swerved from the original conception. It will also be observed that the poem is purely dialogic. Both action and motivation, and the description of the nightly scene of dread and gloom, are skillfully and completely achieved by this technique; so that, as in the best ballads, any prose introduction is supererogatory.

 The lay has been justly admired.1 There is power and subtlety in the portrayal of the amazon maiden. She is self-centered and undaunted, come what may, and ruthless in her fierce insistence ou fulfilling her destiny—“little reck I, ruler of men, whether my sons slay each other”—yet withal a strength girt round with weakness. Once she holds the coveted sword in her hand she flees to her ships, unnerved by the horrors of the night. Still the lay is decidedly in the later manner, in style and composition, and can hardly be older than, say, the twelfth century. The text, in regular fornyrthislag, is complete, though there seems to be some confusion in the order of the stanzas. It is found in the two main MSS of the Hervarar saga.

p. 30

 From the saga we learn that after the battle with Hiálmar and Orvar Odd on Sáms-isle, the latter interred Angantýr and his brothers in a barrow with all their weapons. Before his death Angantýr had begotten a daughter, Hervor. Like him, she was strong, fierce, and intractable. She wore armor like a man and joined a band of vikings whose chief she soon became. She lays her course to Sáms-isle to win Tyrfing, the wondrous sword. Alone she goes on land.

12* * *
The SHEPHERD said:
 “Who by himself hath come hither on isle?
Go thou straightway, get thee shelter!”
HERVOR said:
2“I care not go and get me shelter:
not any one know I of the island’s men.
Ere hence thou hiest, in haste tell me:
where are the howes for Hiorvarth3 named?”
The SHEPHERD said:
3“Ask not of such, if sage thou art,
friend-of-vikings:4 thou ’rt on ferly ways;
let us fare hence so fast as feet will carry!
Without now is it awful for men.”
HERVOR said:
4“This trinket’s thine if thou tell me this:
’t were hard to hold back the heroes’-friend.”4
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The SHEPHERD said:
 “Thou canst not give such golden trinkets,
such fair-shining rings, that I fare with thee.5
5“ ’Tis folly, in faith, to fare thither
for a man alone in this murky dark:
is fire abroad, the barrows open,
burn field and fen: let us flee in haste.”
HERVOR said:
6“I scorn to dread a din like this,
though fires do burn all about the isle!
Let not men who are dead unman us, shepherd,
with fear so swiftly, but say thou on!”
The SHEPHERD said:
7“Is Hel’s gate lifted, the howes do ope,
the edge of the isle is all afire—
awful is it to be without:
to thy ships hie thee in haste, oh maiden!”
HERVOR said:
8“Such nightly blaze ye cannot build
that of their fires afraid I grow:
will Hervor’s heart not be horror-struck,
e’en though a ghost in grave-door stood.7
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9“Awake, Angantýr! Wakes thee Hervor,
thy only bairn, born to Sváva;
the bitter brand from thy belt gird thou,
which swinking dwarfs for Sváfrlami wrought.
10“Hervarth, Hiorvarth, Hrani,8 Angantýr!
I awake you all, ye wights neath mold
with helmets and byrnies and bitter swords,
with gory spears and all gear of war.
11“Have Arngrím’s sons, the evil men’s,
their corpses become to clay and mold,9
seeing that none of the sons of Eyfura10
with me will speak in Munar Bay.
12“May all of you feel within your ribs
as though in ant-hill your ill bones rotted,11
but the sword ye fetch me forged by Dvalin:12
it befits not ghosts to guard prized arms.”
13“Hervor, daughter, why doest call me
with cold curses? They will cost thee dear!
Bereft of reason and raving art thou,
that with wildered thought thou wak’st the dead.
14“Neither father me buried nor fellow kinsmen:
(thy brothers’ banesmen this barrow raised.13)
The twain who lived did Tyrfing win—
now one of the victors wields it at last.”
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HERVOR said:
15“Thou say’st not sooth! May so the gods
leave thee whole in howe as thou hast not
Tyrfing with thee:14 unwilling art
to give thy daughter her dearest wish,”
1615“Hardly human I hold thee, maiden,
about barrows who hoverest at night,
with graven spear16 and Gothic iron,17
with helmet and byrnie, the hall’s18 gate before,
HERVOR said:
17“Howbeit, human was I held to be
ere hither I hied me, your hall to seek:
out of howe hand me the hater-of-byrnies,19
the dwarfs’ handiwork: ’t will not do to hide it!”
18“Under my shoulders hidden lies Hiálmar’s bane,
about its blade blazes fire:
in this wide world know I no woman born
who would dare to wield the dreaded sword.”
HERVOR said:
19“Would I hold in hand— if have it I might—
the bitter brand, and in battle wield it,
Not a whit fear I the fire blazing:
it swiftly sinks as I seek it with eye.”
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20“I tell thee, Hervor— heed my warning!—
what will happen, thou heroes’ daughter!
I say but sooth: will this sword become
the slayer of all thy sib and kin.”
HERVOR said:
21“Thus shall I deal with you dead men’s bones
that in your graves ye get no rest:20
hand me, Angantýr, out of the howe
the sword wherewith thou slewest Hiálmar!”
22“Witless art thou, and of wanton mind,
like a fool to fling thee into fire blazing!
Out of howe, rather, shall I hand the sword,
hardy maiden, nor withhold it from thee.”
HERVOR said:
23“Well then doest thou, warriors’-offspring,
out of the howe to hand Tyrfing
which liefer to me, thou lord-of-battle,
than now to have all Norroway.”
24“Thou little knowest, luckless woman,
what ill thou ’st wrought with reckless speech:
I say but sooth: will this sword become
the slayer of all thy sib and kin.”
HERVOR said:
25“To my ships on shore now shall I hie me:
is the hero’s daughter happy in mind.
p. 35 Little reck I, ruler of men,
whether my sons will slay each other.”
26“Thou ’lt have it through life and long joy in it;
but keep thou hidden Hiálmar’s-slayer,
nor touch its edges: on the twain is poison.
Is that bitter brand baneful to all.
27“Thou ’lt have a son who hereafter
will wield Tyrfing and trust his strength;
Heithrek21 will he be hight of men,
and mightiest grow of men under heaven.
28“Farewell, daughter! I would fain give thee
the thews of twelve men if thou ’ldst but heed me—
their lives and strength, the stored-up wealth
which Arngrím’s sons left after them.”
HERVOR said:
29“Shall I hie me hence. Happily may ye—
I long to be gone— live in your howe.
But lately I lingered ’twixt life and death,22
when all about me blazed the fires.”



p. 29

1 Though one will hardly agree with that otherwise so sane and sagacious observer, W. P. Ker, that “after Voluspó it is the most wonderful of Northern poems.” Epic and Romance, p. 73.

p. 30

2 The Hauksbók MS has pieced out the missing lines with this introductory (narrative) half-stanza:
Met the young maid in Munar Bay
with setting of sun, a swain by his herd.

Munar Bay is a fictitious locality recalling the Una Bay in the First Lay of Helgi, 32.

3 One of Angantýr’s brothers, interred with him in the grave-mound (howe, barrow).

4 Kenning for “warrior.”

p. 31

5 A difficult stanza. I have followed the interpretation of the Prose in the distribution of the rôles; which, to be sure, involves the interpretation of eigi as the first person singular subjunctive of eiga.

6 This and the following stanza-duplicating 5 and 6—have been transposed here from their original position (in MSS after 13) notwithstanding the obvious difficulty of Hervor’s true name and sex being mentioned: they grievously interpose there between Hervor’s accusation and Angantýr’s justification. Stanza 8 may be taken as spoken by Hervor to herself.

7 In Hauksbók, the following weak stanza supplies the context:
To the forest fast fled then the shepherd,
nor more cared he to the maiden to speak;
but hardier Hervor’s her heart then swelled
in derring-do, disdainfully—

“and went through the fires as though ther were but smoke, until she came to the barrow of the berserkers.”

p. 32

8 Three of Angantýr’s brothers.

9 I.e., have undergone the “second death,” complete annihilation; until which time, popular belief held, the dead inhabited their graves in the form of spooks. This is to be remembered also against the stanzas following.

10 Sváfrlami’s daughter whom Arngrím had abducted by force.

11 Cf. the curses of Búsla.

12 One of the two dwarfs who forged Tyrfing for Sváfrlami.

13 The lacuna (not indicated in the MSS) is supplied here after the excellent suggestion of S. Bugge—Hiálmar and Orvar Odd (Sóti) or, rather, the latter alone.

p. 33

14 Hervor wishes him everlasting life in his grave-mound if he had not the sword—as she is sure he has! In the original the stanza is not quite clear.

15 For the following stanzas, I adopt Genzmer-Heusler’s arrangement.

16 I.e., with a spear in whose iron figures, or characters, (of silver) were inlaid.

17 Indefinite kenning for “sword” or “armor.”

18 Here for the burial chamber of the barrow.

19 Kenning for “sword,”

p. 34

20 In the original, “that ye shall lie dead with spooks,” which makes little sense. The stanza is imperfectly transmitted—with an excrescent long-line—and the translation therefore only an approximation.

p. 35

21 Cf. The Lay of Hloth and Angantýr, Prose, and note.

22 I.e., the realms of Life and Death.