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.
Last edited by Lindariel
on Tue Jul 14, 2009 1:27 pm, edited 2 times in total.
“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.”