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Posted: Thu Jul 16, 2009 3:28 pm
What an unexpected connection, marbretherese! I didn't know that, either. Many American children of my era memorized parts of that poem in school--before memorization was considered cruel and unusual punishment.
So would the originals of these lays have been carried down in oral tradition? I'm not sure which would be harder to memorize: something spare like this or something lyrical?
Posted: Thu Jul 16, 2009 8:19 pm
I think this form would make the poems very easy to memorise. All the repeats are memory 'keys' (something also found in Homer) and the alliteration also acts as a memory jog. They went through changes and elaborations, though, as they were passed from poet to poet. Shippey says somewhere that these great sagas weren't sacrosanct (as poems are today) and the poems were living things, not monuments to their original authors. I think that by the time they were written down they had undergone so many changes (and corruptions) it's impossible to know what the original tales were. And scribes introduced further corruptions by bad copying and bad attempts to explain discrepancies. It's amazing anything survives. No wonder Tolkien was fascinated by them and saw them as a sort of archaeology where words revealed hidden changes and histories.
marbretherese wrote:It's "grab-you-by-the-throat" poetry (how appropriate for the conflct and bloodiness of the subject matter!) rather than lyrical poetry.
That describes it perfectly! I think you're right that the sparsness also means that only the very relevant or dramatic is described. The 'meat' if you like. Another reason why it's so vivid.
I did know that Longfellow was inspired by the Kavela. I think it's mentioned in Shippey's Words and Branches somewhere... or something I've read recently!
Just for fun, does anyone know this?
The Modern Hiawatha
When he killed the Mudjokivis,
Of the skin he made him mittens,
Made them with the fur side inside.
Made them with the skin side outside,
He, to get the warm side inside,
Put the inside skin side outside;
He, to get the cold side outside,
Put the warm side fur side inside.
That's why he put fur side inside,
Why he put the skin side outside,
Why he turned them inside outside.
It's one of my favourite comic verses and it just shows where the ancient rhyming system of the Kavela can lead
Posted: Thu Jul 16, 2009 9:40 pm
Oh, that's a classic!!
I've finished reading CT's commentary on the Lay of the Völsungs
now so I can start to read the second poem tomorrow. Then I think I'll have to take a proper look at Hiawatha
Posted: Fri Jul 17, 2009 4:03 am
Posted: Fri Jul 17, 2009 9:42 am
Wow! Tolkien's Lay of Gudrún
is even more sparse and grab-you-by-the-throat than his Lay of the Völsungs
. By reducing description to the barest minimum he draws you right into the tale - I couldn't put it down. Luckily my train journey was long enough for me to be able to read it in one hit
I found the tale so gripping and vivid that I didn't even blanch at the more bloodthirsty bits - if this had been a piece of prose I probably wouldn't have been able to read it! I lost myself in this poem in a similar fashion to when I read LoTR
. Both Lays
are good, but I definitely prefer the second one. Go Tolkien!!
Posted: Fri Jul 17, 2009 7:11 pm
The Tolkien Estate ought to hire you all: you've convinced me I need to buy this book!
Posted: Sat Jul 18, 2009 4:15 pm
marbretherese wrote:Wow! Tolkien's Lay of Gudrún is even more sparse and grab-you-by-the-throat than his Lay of the Völsungs
I thought so too! And I couldn't put it down either. I was sitting in the garden reading it when my neighbours came out with their grandchildren and various family members just as I was getting to the end. There was loud laughter and joking, and I couldn't stand the lighthearted interruption. I had to take it in with me to finish it
It's also part of the story I'd never come accross before - probably because Wagner never got around to it
'Wake now, wake now!
War is kindled.
Now helm to head,
to hand the sword.
Wake now, warriors,
To wide Valhöll
ways lie open.'
I can hear Theoden crying this, or Eomer...
Posted: Sat Jul 18, 2009 8:00 pm
Actually, Wagner did get around to it, he just dealt with it very differently. What interests me is that the Professor did not choose to deal with the last part of Gudrun's tale -- her marriage to Atli, the revenge taken upon her brothers for killing Sigurd, and then her horrible revenge upon Atli for killing her brothers. He pretty much contents himself with portraying the death of Sigurd, and then Sigurd's place in Valholl and his role in the Ragnarok, which is yet to come.
Gudrun is indeed a great deal more complex than Brynnhild, as portrayed in this version of the tale. Wagner's Gudrun is far less interesting, just a mere pawn in a larger game she cannot understand.
Posted: Mon Jul 20, 2009 11:29 am
You've got me all confused now! What I meant was that Wagner never got around to telling her full story after the death of Siegfried, which (of course) Tolkien did. He despatched her - apparently - along with the others in the ruin at the end of Gotterdammerung. I think, perhaps, you really mean Wagner where you write 'the Professor'?
Posted: Sun Jul 26, 2009 3:58 am
Actually I meant both Wagner and Tolkien -- they never dealt with the rest of Gudrun's story, each "dispatching" her in different ways and preferring to follow out the fate of the "hero" Sigurd/Siegfried. But while Wagner simply used Gudrun as a pawn and then cast her aside, never expressing any interest in her story, Tolkien wrote that he found Gudrun so much more interesting than Brynnhild, but still did not deal with the totality of Gudrun's story as handed down in legend.
To me, Gudrun becomes even MORE interesting after Sigurd/Siegfried dies -- first collaborating with Atli to kill her brothers as vengeance for Sigurd/Siegfried, then serving Atli's children (the ones she bore!) to him for dinner and having Atli and his men killed to avenge the husband-killing brothers! THEN, she kills herself by filling her apron with stones and leaping into the sea, taking the cursed gold ring with her at last into oblivion.
Now THAT'S a determined woman!
Posted: Sun Jul 26, 2009 6:47 pm
I'm now completely flumoxed. Tolkien told that whole story in his second Lay in the book, the The New Lay of Gudrún. It's the one marbretherese and I were discussing above as even more 'grab-you-by-the throat' than The New Lay of the Völsungs. Tolkien clearly relishes that whole second part of the story more than the whole Siegfried thing and brings it vividly to life.
Posted: Mon Jul 27, 2009 4:24 pm
My apologies! When I hit the first Commentary section, I thought I was finished with the entire Lay and that the rest of the book was Commentary. Just got to the END of the first Commentary and found the second poem! My bad! Can't wait to see what Tolkien does with Gudrun's path to vengeance.
Posted: Mon Jul 27, 2009 5:25 pm
You won't be able to put it down . . . !
Posted: Mon Jul 27, 2009 7:34 pm
That explains everything. I had a feeling that you must have missed it somehow. You'll love it!