Nibelungenlied


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206.

The Nibelungenlied

1

There grew up in Burgundy a noble maiden, in no land was a fairer. Kriemhild was her name. Well favored was the damsel, and by reason of her died many warriors. Doughty knights in plenty wooed her, for she was exceeding comely, and her virtues were an adornment to all women.

Now it so happened that Kriemhild, the pure maid, dreamed that she trained a wild falcon, and eagles wrested it from her; the which to see grieved her more than any ill that had befallen her heretofore.

This dream she told to Uta, her mother, who interpreted it in this manner: "The falcon that thou sawest is a noble man; yet if God keep him not, he is a lost man to thee."

"What speakest thou to me of men, mother mine? Without their love would I still abide, that I may remain fair till my death, nor suffer harm from any man’s love."

Said her mother then, "Be not so sure; for wouldst thou ever on this earth have heart’s gladness, it cometh from the love of a man. And a fair wife wilt thou be, if God but lead hither to thee a true and trusty knight."

"Say not so, mother mine," answered the maiden, "for to many a woman, and oft hath it been proven, the reward of love is sorrow. From both I will keep me, that evil betide not."

Long in such wise abode the high, pure maiden, nor thought to love any. Nevertheless, at the last, she wedded a brave man; that was the falcon she dreamed of erstwhile, as her mother foretold it. Yea, bitter was her vengeance on her kinsmen that slew him, and by reason of his death died many a mother’s son.

"From wheresoever they have come, they must be princes, or the envoys of princes. Their horses are good, and wondrously rich their vesture. . . . But for this I vouch, that, though I never saw Siegfried, yonder knight who goeth so proud is none but he. New adventures he bringeth hither. By this hero’s hand fell the brave Nibelungs, Schilbung and Nibelung, the high princes. Wonders hath he wrought by his prowess. I have heard tell that, on a day when he rode alone, he came to a mountain and chanced on a company of brave men who guarded the Nibelung’s hoard, whereof he knew naught. The Nibelung men had just brought it forth from a hole in the hill and, oddly enough, they were about to share it. Siegfried saw them and marveled thereat. He drew so close that they were aware of him, and he of them. Whereupon one said, ’Here cometh Siegfried, the hero of the Netherland!’ Schilbung and Nibelung welcomed him, and with one accord the princely youths asked him to divide the treasure between them, and begged this so eagerly that he could not say them nay.

"The tale goeth that he saw there more precious stones than a hundred double wagons had sufficed to carry, and of the red Nibelung gold yet more. This must bold Siegfried divide. In reward therefor they gave him the sword of the Nibelungs, and were ill paid by Siegfried for the service. He strove vainly to end the task, whereat they were wroth. And when he could not bear it through, the kings, with their men, fell upon him. But with their father’s sword, that was called Balmung, he wrested from them both hoard and land. The princes had twelve champions — stark giants, yet little it availed them. Siegfried slew them wrathfully with his hand, and, with Balmung, vanquished seven hundred knights; and many youths there, afraid of the man and his sword, did homage for castles and land. He smote the two kings dead. Then he himself came in peril by Alberich, that would have avenged the death of his masters then and there, till that he felt Siegfried’s exceeding might. When the dwarf could not overcome him, they ran like lions to the mountain, where Siegfried won from Alberich the cloud-cloak that was named Tarnkappe. Then was Siegfried, the terrible man, master of the hoard. They that had dared the combat lay slain; and he bade carry the treasure back whence the Nibelungs had brought it forth; and he made Alberich the keeper thereof, after that he had sworn an oath to serve him as his man and to do all that he commanded him."

"These are his deeds," said Hagen, "bolder knight there never was. Yet more I might tell of him. With his hand he slew a dragon and bathed in its blood, so that his skin is like horn, and no weapon can cut him, as has been proven on him ofttimes."

She greeted him mild and maidenly, and her color was kindled when she saw before her the high-minded man, and she said, "Welcome, Sir Siegfried, noble knight and good." His courage rose at her words, and graceful, as befitted a knight, he bowed himself before her and thanked her. And love that is mighty constrained them, and they yearned with their eyes in secret. I know not whether, from his great love, the youth pressed her white hand, but two love-desirous hearts, I think, had else done amiss.

Nevermore, in summer or in May, bore Siegfried in his heart such high joy, as when he went by the side of her whom he coveted for his dear one. And many a knight thought, would it had been my fortune to walk with her, as I have seen him do! Yet never, truly, hath warrior served better to win a queen. From what land soever the guests came, they were aware only of these two. And she was bidden kiss the hero. He had never had like joy before in this world. . . .

Then they ordered to make way for fair Kriemhild. Valiant knights in stately array escorted her to the church, where she was parted from Siegfried. She went thither, followed by her maidens; and so rich was her apparel that the other women, for all their striving, were as naught beside her, for to gladden the eyes of heroes she was born.

Scarce could Siegfried tarry till they had sung mass, he yearned so to thank her for his gladness, and that she whom he bore in his heart had inclined her desire toward him, even as his was to her, which was meet.

Now when Kriemhild had come forth to the front of the church, they bade the warrior go to her again, and the damsel began to thank him, that before all others he had done valiantly. And she said, "Now, God requite thee, Sir Siegfried, for they tell me thou hast won praise and honor from all knights."

He looked on the maid right sweetly, and he said, "I will not cease to serve them. Never, while I live, will I lay head on pillow, till I have brought their desire to pass. For love of thee, dear lady, I will do this." And every day of twelve, in the sight of all the people, the youth walked by the side of the maiden as she went to the court.

Gunther and Hagen, the fierce warriors, went hunting with false intent in the forest, to chase the boar, the bear, and the wild bull with their sharp spears. What fitter sport for brave men? Siegfried rode with them in kingly pomp. They took with them good store of meats. By a cool stream he lost his life, as Brunhild, King Gunther’s wife, had devised it.

But before he set out . . . he went to Kriemhild, who was most sorrowful of heart. He kissed his lady on the mouth. "God grant I may see thee safe and well again, and thou me. Bide here merry among thy kinsfolk, for I must forth."

Then she thought of the secret she had unwittingly revealed to Hagen, but durst not tell him. The queen wept sore that ever she was born, and made measureless sorrow. She said, "Go not hunting. Last night I dreamed an evil dream: how that two wild boars chased thee over the heath; and the flowers were red with blood. Have pity on my tears, for I fear some treachery. There are perhaps some people offended at us, who pursue us with deadly hate. Go not, dear lord; in good faith I counsel it."

But he answered, "Dear love, I go but for a few days. I know not any that beareth me hate. Thy kinsmen wish me well, nor have I deserved otherwise at their hand." "Nay, Siegfried, I fear some mischance. Last night I dreamed an evil dream: how that two mountains fell on thee, and I saw thee no more. If thou goest, thou wilt grieve me bitterly." But he caught his dear one in his arms and kissed her close; then he took leave of her and rode off. She never saw him alive again.

Foully did Hagen break faith with Siegfried. He said, when they were starting for the broad lime tree, "I hear from all sides that none can keep pace with Kriemhild’s husband when he runneth. Let us see now."

Bold Siegfried answered, "Thou mayst easily prove it, if thou wilt run with me to the brook for a wager. The praise shall be to him that reacheth there first." "Let us see then," said Hagen the knight. And Siegfried answered, "If I lose, I will lay me at thy feet in the grass." A glad man was King Gunther when he heard that!

Said Siegfried further, "Nay, I will undertake more. I will carry on me all that I wear — spear, shield, and hunting gear." Whereupon he girded on his sword and his quiver in haste. Then the others did off their clothes, till they stood in their white shirts, and they ran through the clover like two wild panthers; but bold Siegfried was seen there the first. Before all men he won the prize in everything. He loosed his sword straightway, and laid down his quiver. His good spear he leaned against the lime tree; then the noble guest stood and waited, for his courtesy was great. He laid down his shield by the stream. Albeit he was sore athirst, he drank not till the king had finished, who gave him evil thanks.

The stream was cool, pure, and good. Gunther bent down to the water and rose again when he had drunk. Siegfried had gladly done the like, but he suffered for his courtesy. Hagen carried his bow and his sword out of his reach, and sprang back and gripped the spear. Then he spied for the secret mark on his vesture; and, while Siegfried drank from the stream, Hagen stabbed him where the mark was, so that his heart’s blood spurted out on the traitor’s clothes. Never since hath knight done so wickedly. He left the spear sticking deep in his heart, and fled in grimmer haste than ever he had done from any man on this earth afore.

When Siegfried felt the deep wound, he sprang up maddened from the water, for the long boar spear stuck out from his heart. He thought to find bow or sword; if he had, Hagen had got his due. But the sorely wounded man saw no sword, and had nothing save his shield. He picked it up from the water’s edge and ran at Hagen. King Gunther’s man could not escape him. For all that he was wounded to the death, he smote so mightily that the shield well-nigh brake, and the precious stones flew out. The noble guest had fain taken vengeance.

Hagen fell beneath his stroke. The meadow rang loud with the noise of the blow. If Siegfried had had his sword to hand, Hagen would have been a dead man. But the anguish of his wound constrained him. His color was wan; he could not stand upright; and the strength of his body failed him, for he bare death’s mark on his white cheek. Fair women enough made dole for him.

Then Kriemhild’s husband fell among the flowers. The blood flowed fast from his wound, and in his great anguish he began to upbraid those who had falsely contrived his death. "False cowards!" cried the dying knight. "What availeth all my service to you, since ye have slain me? I was true to you, and pay the price for it. Ye have done ill by your friends. Cursed by this deed are your sons yet unborn. Ye have avenged your spite on my body all too bitterly. For your crime ye shall be shunned by good knights."

All the warriors ran where he lay stabbed. To many among them it was a woeful day. They that were true mourned for him, for the hero that well deserved the praise of all men. The king of Burgundy, also, wept for his death, but the dying man said, "He needeth not to weep for the evil, by whom the evil cometh. Better had he left it undone, for great is his blame."

Then said grim Hagen, "I know not what ye rue. All is ended for us — care and trouble. Few are they now that will withstand us. Glad am I that, through me, his might is fallen." "Lightly mayst thou boast now," said Siegfried; "if I had known thy murderous hate, it had been an easy thing to guard my body from thee. My bitterest dole is for Kriemhild, my wife. God pity me that ever I had a son. For all men will reproach him that he hath murderers for his kinsmen. I would grieve for that, had I the time."

He said to the king, "Never in this world was so foul a murder as thou hast done on me. In thy sore need I saved thy life and thine honor. Dear have I paid for that I did well by thee." With a groan the wounded man said further, "Yet if thou canst show truth to any on this earth, O king, show it to my dear wife, whom I commend to thee. Let it advantage her to be thy sister. By all princely honor stand by her. Long must my father and my knights wait for my coming. Never hath woman won such woe through a dear one." He writhed in his bitter anguish, and spake painfully, "Ye shall rue this foul deed in the days to come. Know this of a truth, that in slaying me ye have slain yourselves."

The flowers were all wet with blood. He strove with death, but not for long, for the weapon of death cut too deep. And the bold knight and good spake no more.

When the warriors saw that the hero was dead, they laid him on a shield of ruddy gold and took counsel how they should conceal that Hagen had done it. Many of them said, "Evil hath befallen us. Ye shall all hide it, and hold to one tale — when Kriemhild’s husband was riding alone in the forest robbers slew him."

But Hagen said, "I will take him back to Burgundy. If she that hath troubled Brunhild know it, I care not. It concerneth me little if she weep."

1 , vv. 13–19, 85–100, 291–305, 916–925, 972–1001.

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Chicago: Nibelungenlied in Readings in Early European History, ed. Webster, Hutton (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1926), 441–447. Original Sources, accessed June 20, 2024, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=37K3MURNVLB69D8.

MLA: . Nibelungenlied, Vol. vv, in Readings in Early European History, edited by Webster, Hutton, Boston, Ginn and Company, 1926, pp. 441–447. Original Sources. 20 Jun. 2024. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=37K3MURNVLB69D8.

Harvard: , Nibelungenlied. cited in 1926, Readings in Early European History, ed. , Ginn and Company, Boston, pp.441–447. Original Sources, retrieved 20 June 2024, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=37K3MURNVLB69D8.