Delivered for the first time last Saturday, March 14 for Caid’s amazing, incredible, and inspiring every-two-year Pentathlon. The poem is taken from the 13th century Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks (The Saga of Hervör and Heidrek). On a personal note, I cannot BELIEVE that I was able to memorize the thing! It was hard!
“The Waking of Angantyr”
A young maiden met a herdsman
as the sun set on the haunted Isle of Samsey.
The herdsman said:
“Why have you come alone to the island?
You must find shelter soon from the night.”
“I will not seek shelter tonight;
no one I know lives on the island.
I ask that you tell me only this:
where does Hjorvard lie in his grave?”
The herdsman said:
“You are not wise to ask the way;
traveler, you’ve come to a place of terror.
As fast as our feet can take us, let’s leave!
To all who live here loathsome is night.”
“I’ll give you this necklace for what I want to know —
a warrior’s friend is hard to frighten.”
The herdsman said:
“There is no trinket, no treasure,
costly enough to keep me here.
“Only a fool would want to linger,
wander alone through the wilds of night.
The corpse fires are rising, graves gape open,
fens and the high lands flame – let us flee!”
“There is no reason to run
Though roaring fires fill the whole island!
Wait a while! Dead warriors
are not enough to make us afraid.”
Swift to the forest the herdsman fled
to hear no more of that maiden’s words,
but the brave heart in Hervor’s breast
proved its courage braving perils.
Now she saw the fire from the grave mounds and the living dead standing outside. She went toward them and was not frightened, passing through the fire as if it were smoke until she came to the berserkers’ grave.
Then she said:
” Angantyr, wake! I am Hervor,
Tofa’s child, your only daughter. Give me from your grave the great swift sword
that once the dwarfs forged for Svafrlami!
“Hervard, Hjorvard, Hrani, Angantyr!
Wake up, all of you underneath the tree roots,
helmed and with battle gear, keen swift blades,
ring-mail and shields and bright red spears.
“Much have you dwindled, Arngrim’s sons,
a mighty kindred surrendered to dust,
when not one of Eyfura’s sons
will speak to me on the Isle of Samsey!
“May you writhe within your ribs,
your barrow an anthill where you rot,
if you deny me Dvalin’s sword —
ghosts should not wield costly weapons.”
Then Angantyr, father’s ghost answered:
“Hervor, my daughter,
you do wrong to call down evils upon us all.
You must be mad, out of your mind,
your wits are wandering when you wake the dead!
A flame rose high above the open graves. Angantyr said:
“The gate of Hel is down, graves begin to open,
all the island is now aflame;
awesome it is to look outside.
Don’t stay here, maiden! Make haste to your ships!”
“Do not fight the darkness with flame —
not for all your fires will Hervor fear you!
It would take more to make me tremble
than the sight of a dead man standing at his door.”
Then Angantyr said:
“Listen to me, Hervor, let me tell you,
daughter of princes, what will come to pass:
maiden, you will doom all your descendants;
if you trust Tyrfing, all will be destroyed.
“Over you all I’ll lay a spell
so that forever your dead flesh will lie
bound with your ghosts to rot in the grave!
Now from your barrow yield me the blade
forged by dwarfs! It’s futile to hide it.”
“You seem to me no mortal maiden,
daring to come in the dark of night,
helmed. and in war gear, spear in hand,
to bring dead warriors out of their barrow.”
“No one ever thought me immortal
before I came here to seek you in your halls.
Yield me the sword that slices mail,
the shield-breaker, Hjalmar’s bane!”
“Under my back lies Hjalmar’s bane,
sheathed in fire, rimmed with flame;
no woman in all the world would
set her hands to such a sword!”
“Grant me the sword, and I will grasp it,
have in my keeping, that keen blade.
I do not fear the ghostly fire —
I look at flames and they sink low!”
“You are foolish, Hervor; your brave heart
flings you, open-eyed, into fire,
forces me to give you the sword from the grave —
what can a man deny such a maiden!”
“You did well, son of warriors,
when you gave me the sword from the grave;
I would prefer to have this prize,
prince, than to own all of Norway.”
“Maiden, you don’t know what this means,
what you have won, luckless woman!
You will doom all your descendants,
trust your prize, they all will perish.”
“Now I will sail across the sea
with your gift to gladden my heart,
little caring, son of kings,
how my children choose to quarrel later.”
“You have the sword, but keep it sheathed;
may Hjalmar’s bane long make you happy!
“Farewell, daughter! Gladly would I give you
the life of the twelve men here in this mound,
all the strength and the stubborn spirit
death has stripped from Arngrim’s sons.”
“Hail, warriors! I’ll make haste
to go my way, wishing you well.
Now I have walked between the worlds;
I have seen the fires circling.”