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“ A hardy
The gods perish, devoured one by one by the monsters; and the celestial legend, sad and grand now like the life of man, bears witness to the hearts of warriors and heroes.
There is no fear of pain, no care for life; they count it as dross when the idea has seized upon them. The trembling of the nerves, the repugnance of animal instinct which starts back before wounds and death, are all lost in an irresistible determination. See how in their epic1 the sublime springs up amid the horrible, like a bright purple flower amid a pool of blood. Sigurd has plunged his sword into the dragon Fafnir, and at that very moment they looked on one another; and Fafnir asks, as he dies, “Who art thou ? and who is thy father ? and what thy kin, that thou wert so hardy as to bear weapons against me?” heart urged me on thereto, and a strong hand and this sharp sword. ... Seldom hath hardy eld a faint-heart youth.” After this triumphant eagle's cry Sigurd cuts out the worm's heart; but Regin, brother of Fafnir, drinks blood from the wound, and falls asleep. Sigurd, who was roasting the heart, raises his finger thoughtlessly to his lips. Forthwith he understands the language of the birds. The eagles scream above him in the branches. They warn him to mistrust Regin. Sigurd cuts off the latter's head, eats of Fafnir's heart, drinks his blood and his brother's. Amongst all these murders their courage and poetry grow. Sigurd has subdued Brynhild, the untamed maiden, by passing through the flaming fire; they share one couch for three nights, his naked sword betwixt them. “Nor the damsel did he kiss, nor did the Hunnish king to his arm lift her. He the blooming maid to Giuki's son delivered," because, according to his oath, he must send her to her betrothed Gunnar. She, setting her love upon him, “ Alone she sat without, at eve of day, began aloud with herself to speak: “Sigurd must be mine; I must die, or that blooming youth clasp in my arms." But seeing him married, she brings about his death. "Laughed then Brynhild, Budli's daughter, once only, from her whole soul, when in her bed she listened to the loud lament of Giuki's daughter.” She put on her golden corslet, pierced herself with the sword's point, and as a last request said :
1 Fafnismál Edda. This epic is common to the Northern races, as is the Iliad to the Greek populations, and is found almost entire in Germany in the Nibelungen Lied. The translator has also used Magnusson and Morris' poetical version of the Völsunga Saga, and certain songs of the Elder Edda, London, 1870.
“Let in the plain be raised a pile so spacious, that for us all like room may be; let them burn the Hun (Sigurd) on the one side of me, on the other side my household slaves, with collars splendid, two at our heads, and two hawks; let also lie between us both the keen-edged sword, as when we both one couch ascended; also five female thralls, eight male slaves of gentle birth fostered with me. All were burnt together; yet Gudrun the widow continued motionless by the corpse, and could not weep. The wives of the jarls came to console her, and each of them told her own sorrows, all the calamities of great devastations and the old life of barbarism.
“Then spoke Giaflang, Giuki's sister: 'Lo, up on earth I live most loveless, who of five mates must see the ending, of daughters twain and three sisters, of brethren eight, and abide behind lonely.' Then spake Herborg, Queen of Hunland: “Crueller tale have I to tell of my seven sons, down in the Southlands, and the eight man, my mate, felled in the death-mead. Father and mother, and four brothers on the wide sea the winds and death played with; the billows beat on the bulwark boards. Alone must I sing o'er them, alone must I array them, alone must my hands deal with their departing; and all this was in one season's wearing, and none was left for love or solace. Then was I bound a prey of the battle when that same season wore to its ending; as a tiring may must I bind the shoon of the duke's high dame, every day at dawning. From her jealous hate gat I heavy mocking, cruel lashes she laid upon me.
All was in vain ; no word could draw tears from those dry eyes. They were obliged to lay the bloody corpse before her, ere her tears would come. Then tears flowed through the pillow; as “the geese withal that were in the home-field, the fair fowls the may owned, fell a-screaming.” She would have died, like Sigrun, , on the corpse of him whom alone she had loved, if they had not deprived her of memory by a magic potion. Thus affected, she departs in order to marry Atli, king of the Huns; and yet she goes against her will, with gloomy forebodings: for murder begets murder; and her brothers, the murderers of Sigurd, having been drawn to Atli's court, fall in their turn into a snare like that - which they had themselves laid. Then Gunnar was bound, and they tried to make him deliver
the treasure. He answers with a barbarian's laugh:
«• Högni's heart in my hand shall lie, cut bloody from the breast of the
1 Thorpe, The Edda of Sæmund, Third lay of Sigurd Fafnicide, str. 62-64, p. 83.
2 Magnusson and Morris, Story of the Volsungs and Nibelungs, Lamentation of Gudrun, p. 118 et passim.
valiant chief, the king's son, with a dull-edged knife.' They the heart cut out from Hialli's breast; on a dish, bleeding, laid it, and it to Gunnar bare. Then said Gunnar, lord of men: “Here have I the heart of the timid Hialli, unlike the heart of the bold Högni; for much it trembles as in the dish it lies; it trembled more by half while in his breast it lay. Högni laughed when to his heart they cut the living crest-crasher; no lament uttered he. All bleeding on a dish they laid it, and it to Gunnar bare. Calmly said Gunnar, the warrior Niflung: Here have I the heart of the bold Högni, unlike the heart of the timid Hialli; for it little trembles as in the dish it lies : it trembled less while in his breast it lay. So far shalt thou, Atli ! be from the eyes of men as thou wilt from the treasures be. In my power alone is all the hidden Niflung's gold, now that Högni lives not. Ever was I wavering while we both lived; now am I so no longer, as I alone survive.'” I
It was the last insult of the self-confident man, who values neither his own life nor that of another, so that he can satiate his vengeance. They cast him into the serpent's den, and there he died, striking his harp with his foot. But the inextinguishable flame of vengeance. passed from his heart to that of his sister. Corpse after corpse fall on each other; a mighty fury hurls them openeyed to death. She killed the children she had by Atli, and one day on his return from the carnage, gave him their hearts to eat, served in honey, and laughed coldly as she told him on what he had fed. • Uproar was on the benches, portentous the cry
of men, noise beneath the costly hangings. The children of the Huns wept; all wept save Gudrun, who never wept or for her bear-fierce brothers, or for her dear sons, young, simple."2 Judge from this heap of ruin and carnage to what excess the will is strung. There were men amongst them, Berserkirs,' who in battle seized with a sort of madness, showed a sudden and superhuman strength, and ceased to feel their wounds. This is the conception of a hero as engendered by this race in its infancy. Is it not strange to see them place their happiness in battle, their beauty in death? Is there any people, Hindoo, Persian, Greek, or Gallic, which has formed so tragic a conception of life? there any which has peopled its infantine mind with such gloomy dreams? Is there any which has so entirely banished from its dreams the sweetness of enjoyment, and the softness of pleasure? Endeavors, tenacious and mournful endeavors, an ecstasy of en
i Thorpe, The Edda of Sæmund, Lay of Atli, str. 21-27, P. 117. 2 Ibid. str. 38, p. 119. 3 This word signifies men who fought without a breastplate, perhaps in shirts only; Scot tice, “Baresarks.”_TR.
deavors—such was their chosen condition. Carlyle said well, that in the sombre obstinacy of an English laborer still survives the tacit rage of the Scandinavian warrior. Strife for strife's sake -such is their pleasure. With what sadness, madness, destruction, such a disposition breaks its bonds, we shall see in Shakespeare and Byron; with what vigor and purpose it can limit and employ itself when possessed by moral ideas, we shall see in the case of the Puritans.
IV. They have established themselves in England; and however disordered the society which binds them together, it is founded, as in Germany, on generous sentiment. War is at every door, I am aware, but warlike virtues are within every house; courage chiefly, then fidelity. Under the brute there is a free man, and a man of spirit. There is no man amongst them who, at his own risk, will not make alliance, go forth to fight, undertake adventures. There is no group of free men amongst them, who, in their Witenagemote, is not for ever concluding alliances one with another. Every clan, in its own district, forms a league of which all the members, “brothers of the sword,” defend each other, and demand revenge for the spilling of blood, at the price of their own. Every chief in his hall reckons that he has friends, not mercenaries, in the faithful ones who drink his beer, and who, having received as marks of his esteem and confidence, bracelets, swords, and suits of armor, will cast themselves between him and danger on the day of battle. Independence and boldness rage amongst this young
nation with violence and excess; but these are of themselves noble things; and no less noble are the sentiments which serve them for discipline,—to wit, an affectionate devotion, and respect for plighted faith. These appear in their laws, and break forth in their poetry. Amongst them greatness of heart gives matter for imagination. Their characters are not selfish and shifty, like those of Homer. They are brave hearts, simple and strong, faithful to their relatives, to their master in arms, firm and steadfast to enemies and friends, abounding in courage, and ready for sacrifice. “Old as I am,” says one, “I will not budge hence. I mean to die by my lord's side, near this man I have
1 See the Life of Sweyn, of Hereward, etc., even up to the time of the Conquest.
2 Beowulf, passim, Death of Byrhtnoth.