Sunday, 20 June 2010

As Little as a Leaf

I don't think I've ever posted anything in Old Norse here before, which is a great oversight. In fact I don't read Norse as regularly as I'd like to (or as I probably should...), but something reminded me of a particular poem the other day, and today I remembered to look it up! It's from the Poetic Edda, the assortment of poems on mythological and heroic subjects which provides most of our oldest information about Norse legends. This poem, Guðrúnarkviða I, tells how Guðrún is persuaded to mourn her husband Sigurðr, who has been murdered by her brothers. Psychologically it's pretty interesting: she can't weep for him, and her companions are afraid that she will become ill if she is unable to express her grief. They tell sad stories of their own lives to try and get her to weep, but she cannot (other poems show Guðrún to be incredibly strong-minded; she kills her own children to get revenge on another husband). At last her sister pulls the covering away from Sigurðr's body, and Guðrún sees his wounds, his hair streaming with blood, his eyes grown dim - and at last she can weep. She kneels by his body and her tears run into her loosened hair; she cries so loudly that her geese cackle in response from the meadow. Then she speaks a lament for Sigurðr:

"Svá var minn Sigurðr hjá sonum Gjúka
So was my Sigurðr, compared to the sons of Giuki [her brothers],
sem væri geirlaukr ór grasi vaxinn
like a green leek growing up out of the grass;
ða væri bjartr steinn á band dreginn,
like a bright stone threaded on a string,
jarknasteinn yfir öðlingum.
a precious stone among the princes.

Ek þótta ok þjóðans rekkum
And I thought myself, among the prince's warriors
hverri hæri Herjans dísi;
to be higher than any of Odin's ladies;
nú em ek svá lítil sem lauf séi
now I am as little as a leaf
oft í jölstrum at jöfur dauðan.
among the bay-willows, because of the death of the prince.

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