The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún

Discussions about the Professor's poetic verses from Middle-earth
Iolanthe
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The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún

Postby Iolanthe » Sun Jul 12, 2009 11:38 am

Last edited by Iolanthe on Sun Jul 12, 2009 5:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Iolanthe » Sun Jul 12, 2009 11:52 am

I just had to start a thread for this book - I love these poems and the style of them. They have such vigour and drive and the brevity of the style means every word has to be paid attention to.

I had no idea before I read these that Attila the Hun was wound into the Niflung (Nieblung) legends and that, as Atli, he appears in several ancient poetic fragments as Gudrun's husband after Sigurd (Siegfried). Christopher Tolkien's unwinding of the history within the legend in his appendices was a real eyeopener for me.

I'm glad that Christopher Tolkien has taken the trouble to bring these two lays to light. I think they really are worthy of publication. Tolkien never ceases to surprise!
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Postby Merry » Sun Jul 12, 2009 3:05 pm

Thanks for starting this thread so well, Iolanthe. I'm still not sure I'll be reading this book, but maybe your discussion here will convince me. But I think we might have found a format for our Yule contest: we should have to write a poem in this meter! In short doses, it might be possible!
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Postby marbretherese » Sun Jul 12, 2009 3:52 pm

I'd love to have a go at writing a poem in this meter! It's been described as bang - bang - bang - crash - eg the F is the bang and the B is the crash in the line the Forge was Flaring, the Fire Blazing. Which is an easy way to remember it!

Glad you started this thread Iolanthe, I need some encouragement to get started on reading The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun - this could be it!
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Postby Iolanthe » Sun Jul 12, 2009 5:48 pm

You won't be sorry - it's something that really gets you hooked once you're into it.

It would be a lot of fun to write something in this metre! It's not easy though. There are a lot of rules about where the stress is and where you have to place the alliteration, but it's clear from Christopher Tolkien's notes that many of the old Norse poets bent the rules a bit :lol: . It would be great fun to just do a small number of verses on the Tolkien hero of our choice, wouldn't it? The Lay of ...... whoever we like! But we'd have to be equally flexible as the rules would do our heads in :lol: .

When you read a lot of it it's a very satisfying form where the sound and the use of word length and stress is as important as the meaning. It cries to be read aloud. Tolkien was interested in it because there is the same rhythmical structure in Old English verse as is found in fornyrðislag, as Old English words and even modern English naturally falls into those patterns.

Where the stresses fall and where there are 'lifts' and 'dips' is enormously complicated - I'm not even going to attempt describing it here - as it shifts from line to line. The alliteration depends not so much on the first letter of a word (although it usually is that) but on the sound. I can't yet quite get my head around where the alliteration has to fall (The example above has a particular high number of alliterations in it). It all depends on there the strongest 'lifts' are and some you are absolutely NOT allowed to alliterate. Reading an explanation of it made me :dizzy:.

Know you know why Tolkien was a master of this and have some inkling what an achievement these two Lays are!
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Postby Lindariel » Mon Jul 13, 2009 3:08 pm

Iolanthe, I'm SO glad you opened a thread for The Lay of Sigurd and Gudrun. I have almost finished reading it, and I absolutely agree that it is an extraordinary achievement. What amazes me most is the strong contrast in style between these very spare, direct, forceful poems and Tolkien's more popular, familiar works, which are lyrical, atmospheric, descriptive. That he has so completely mastered these very disparate styles is just astounding.

I was snared by the first few lines of Upphaf (Beginning):

Of old was an age
when was emptiness,
there was sand nor sea
nor surging waves;
unwrought was Earth,
unroofed was Heaven --
an abyss yawning,
and no blade of grass.

Wow! Like marbretherese said -- Bang, Bang, Bang, Crash!

Compare that to the the description of how Arda came to Be in the Ainulindale in The Silmarillion (I realize that's prose rather than poetry, but the contrast in STYLE for telling about the making of the world is astonishing). Or compare it to any of the poems in LOTR. The closest in style would probably be the poetry of the Rohirrim:

Where now the horse and the rider?
Where is the horn that was blowing?
Where is the helm and the hauberk,
and the bright hair flowing?
Where is the spring and the harvest
and the tall corn growing?
They have passed like rain on the mountain,
like a wind in the meadow;
The days have gone down in the West
behind the hills into shadow.
Who shall father the smoke
of the dead wood burning?
Or behold the flowing years
from the Sea returning?

This is light-years away in style from the opening passage of Upphaf, and yet both are equally powerful. And we know from reading LOTR that The Professor was a master of many poetic styles -- just think of the Lay of Beren and Luthien, or Galadriel's gorgeous Namarie.

I'm also interested in the vast differences between the original tale and Wagner's "reimagining" in his operatic Ring cycle. No wonder Tolkien regarded it as a new creative work and not a true offspring of either the Elder Edda or the Volsunga saga.

I'm sure I'll have more to say when I've had a chance to finish reading the Lay of Gudrun. We've already had a great deal of discussion about how the Volsunga saga reappears in Tolkien's canon in the form of the tale of Turin Turambar. Did anyone else happen to notice an element in Sigurd's tale that reappears in the story of Beren and Luthien? Namely, the passage in which Sigmund and his brothers are held captive in the forest and left to be devoured one by one by a great wolf? Sounds a lot like the fate of Finrod Felagund and his men, and like Sigmund, only Beren survives.

Interesting!
Last edited by Lindariel on Tue Jul 14, 2009 1:27 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby Iolanthe » Tue Jul 14, 2009 12:14 pm

I noticed that he'd absorbed the tale of Sigmund, his brothers and the great wolf - a really terrifying tale in both the versions!

I've now become so interested in that whole legend. Christopher Tolkien has managed to unravel for me a lot of the knotty problems about why Sigurd claims Brunhild from behind the wall of flames twice (once as Gunnar) and how lots of different stories have got woven together into rather a mess. In the appendices he explains Tolkien's theory (not shared by everyone) that the dragon slayer was originally Sigmund and that his son Sigurd was invented by later story tellers to link that story to one about the the Niflungs and their gold - originally a completely unconnected legend. I can quite see why there would be a tendency for people to try to connect great heroes and legends together somehow. I find it fascinating.

But I think Tolkien gives this story great clarity in his version which has a clear narrative and a strong driving force. It's interesting that he thought Gudrun with her complex motivations was a much more interesting character than Brunhild and how I've read the whole story though I can see why. And Brunhild doesn't come out of the story very well, lying to obtain revenge. Not quite the noble maiden Wagner painted!
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Postby Iolanthe » Tue Jul 14, 2009 4:26 pm

Me again!

Re-reading the Horse and the Rider reminded me of a couple of my favourite verses, both about Grani, the first two where Sigurd finds the dragon's gold:

Lay of the Völsungs V: 47-18

Gold piled on Gold
there glittered palely:
that gold was galmoured
with grim curses.
The Helm of Horror
on his head laid he:
swart fell the shadow
round Sigurd standing.

Great and grievous
was Grani's burden,
yet lightly leaped he
down the long mountain.
Ride now! ride now
road and woodland,
horse and hero,
hope of Odin!

which contains the word 'glamoured' - a word that Tolkien took much trouble over, as we've now lost it's true meaning. And here Sigurd comes to Brynhild's mountain:

Lay of the Völsungs VI: 2

A fire at crown,
fence of lightening,
high to heavenward
hissed and wavered.
Greyfell Grani,
glory seeking,
leaped the lightning
lightning-sinewed.

I hadn't realised Grani was a horse given to Sigurd by Odin in disguise. In Wagner's version he's Brunhilde's horse and goes into the flames with her.
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Postby marbretherese » Wed Jul 15, 2009 1:21 pm

I also noticed the use of the word 'glamoured' in it's true (forgotten) sense. And a reference to the sword that was broken!

I like the way Tolkien re-introduces characters into the tale as the story continues with the same, or similar, lines eg

Lay of the Völsungs I - Andvari's Gold v5:

There wrought Regin
by the red embers
rune-written iron
rare, enchanted;
of gold things gleaming,
of grey silver,
there Fáfnir lay
by the fire dreaming.

and

Lay of the Völsungs V - Regin v9:

There wrought Regin
by the red embers
rough iron hewing
and runes marking:
there Fáfnir lay
by the fire sleeping,
fell-hearted son,
fiercely dreaming.

Or, more mysteriously:

Lay of the Völsungs II - Signy v12:

Wan night cometh;
wind ariseth;
doors are opened,
the din is silenced.
A man there enters,
mantled darkly,
hoary-bearded,
huge and ancient.

and

Lay of the Völsungs V - Regin v22:

In Busiltarn ran
blue the waters,
green grew the grass
for grazing horse.
A man them minded
mantled darkly,
hoary-bearded,
huge and ancient.

I've been reading this on the train and only just finished the Regin section so I don't know yet who this darkly-mantled, hoary-bearded man is. Possibly Odin in disguise? he seems to turn up at key moments . . . !
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"Torment in the dark was the danger that I feared, and it did not hold me back.
But I would not have come, had I known the danger of light and joy."


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Postby Lindariel » Wed Jul 15, 2009 2:07 pm

Yup marbretherese, any appearance of a large powerful unknown man (sometimes one-eyed) signifies Odin's efforts to secure his heroes -- especially Sigurd -- for the inevitable events of Ragnorak (i.e., the End of Endings). Sigurd is the essential hero prophesied by the Sibyl -- one who has divine blood in his veins but yet has known death, the dragon-slayer -- who has the only chance to defeat the Great Serpent during Ragnorak.

In the context of this tale, Odin travels the world, begetting his various children by both human women (Volsung) and other goddesses (the Valkyries), in order to ensure the birth of Sigurd the Dragon-Slayer. He drives the great sword Gram into the ash tree, which only Sigmund can remove, thus giving the father of his chosen hero an invincible weapon. When Sigmund is fated to die, he appears to shatter Sigmund's invincible sword with his own spear/staff (depending upon which version of the tale you read).
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“Therefore I say: Eä! Let these things Be! And I will send forth into the Void the Flame Imperishable, and it shall be at the heart of the World, and the World shall Be.”

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Postby Merry » Wed Jul 15, 2009 2:34 pm

I'm enjoying this, particularly the quotes--thanks for all the typing!
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Postby marbretherese » Wed Jul 15, 2009 4:32 pm

These verses are a joy to type. No substitute for speaking them aloud, of course, but probably more suitable for an open-plan office :D
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"Torment in the dark was the danger that I feared, and it did not hold me back.
But I would not have come, had I known the danger of light and joy."


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Postby Iolanthe » Wed Jul 15, 2009 5:06 pm

Talking about the repeat verses, I love the way the first half of the opening verse of The Lay of Gudrun, where he describes the cold ashes of Sigurd's and Brunhild's funeral pyre, are repeated in the description of Gunner and Hogni's pyre v. 142:

Smoke was fading
sunk was burning;
windblown ashes
were wafted cold.

It brings the tragedy full circle - the same ultimate end for all of them.

For some reason, for me, the sparse words of this kind of verse conjours up stronger visual images than more elaborate poetry. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because the brain fills in the descriptive spaces - but all through reading the lays my mind was full of vivid images, like a series dramatic pictures. I really enjoyed that!
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Postby marbretherese » Thu Jul 16, 2009 6:39 am

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"Torment in the dark was the danger that I feared, and it did not hold me back.
But I would not have come, had I known the danger of light and joy."


http://www.marbretherese.com
http://marbretherese.blogspot.com/

marbretherese
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Postby marbretherese » Thu Jul 16, 2009 12:23 pm

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"Torment in the dark was the danger that I feared, and it did not hold me back.
But I would not have come, had I known the danger of light and joy."


http://www.marbretherese.com
http://marbretherese.blogspot.com/


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