Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar – The Lay of Helgi Hjörvardsson


King Helgi was a mighty warrior. He came to King Eylimi and sought the hand of his daughter, Svava. Then Helgi and Svava exchanged vows, and greatly they loved each other. Svava was at home with her father, while Helgi was in the field; Svava was still a Valkyrie as before.

Hethin was at home with his father, King Hjorvarth, in Norway. Hethin was coming home alone from the forest one Yule-eve, and found a troll-woman; she rode on a wolf, and had snakes in place of a bridle. She asked Hethin for his company. “Nay,” said he. She said, “Thou shalt pay for this at the king’s toast.” That evening the great vows were taken; the sacred boar was brought in, the men laid their hands thereon, and took their vows at the king’s toast. Hethin vowed that he would have Svava, Eylimi’s daughter, the beloved of his brother Helgi; then such great grief seized him that he went forth on wild paths southward over the land, and found Helgi, his brother. Helgi said:

31. “Welcome, Hethin! | what hast thou to tell
Of tidings new | that from Norway come?
Wherefore didst leave | thy land, O prince,
And fared alone | to find us here?”

Hethin spake:

32. “A deed more evil | I have done
Than, brother mine, | thou e’er canst mend;
For I have chosen | the child of the king,
Thy bride, for mine | at the monarch’s toast.”

Helgi spake:

33. “Grieve not, Hethin, | for true shall hold
The words we both | by the beer have sworn;
To the isle a warrior | wills that I go,
(There shall I come | the third night hence;)
And doubtful must be | my coming back,
(So may all be well, | if fate so wills.)”

Hethin spake:

34. “Thou saidst once, Helgi, | that Hethin was
A friend full good, | and gifts didst give him;
More seemly it were | thy sword to redden,
Than friendship thus | to thy foe to-give.”

Helgi spoke thus because he foresaw his death, for his following-spirits had met Hethin when he saw the woman riding on the wolf. Alf was the name of a king, the son of Hrothmar, who had marked out a battle-place with Helgi at Sigarsvoll after a stay of three nights. Then Helgi spake:

35. “On a wolf there rode, | when dusk it was,
A woman who fain | would have him follow;
Well she knew | that now would fall
Sigrlin’s son | at Sigarsvoll.”


There was a great battle, and there Helgi got a mortal wound.

36. Sigar riding | did Helgi send
To seek out Eylimi’s | only daughter:
“Bid her swiftly | ready to be,
If her lover | alive she would find.”

37. “Hither now | has Helgi sent me,
With thee, Svava, | thyself to speak;
The hero said | he fain would see thee
Ere life the nobly | born should leave.”

Svava spake:

38. “What chanced with Helgi, | Hjorvarth’s son?
Hard to me | is harm now come;
If the sea smote him, | or sword bit him,
Ill shall I bring | to all his foes.”

Sigar spake:

39. “In the morn he fell | at Frekastein,
The king who was noblest | beneath the sun;
Alf has the joy | of victory all,
Though need therefor | is never his.”

Helgi spake:

40. “Hail to thee, Svava! | thy sorrow rule,
Our meeting last | in life is this;
Hard the wounds | of the hero bleed,
And close to my heart | the sword has come.

Prose. The manuscript does not indicate a new section of the poem. Eylimi: cf. note on prose after stanza 9. Valkyrie: here, as before, the annotator has apparently nothing but his own imagination on which to base his statement. Svava in the ensuing stanzas certainly does not behave like a Valkyrie. Norway: the annotator doubtless based this statement on the reference to Norway in line 2 of stanza 31. Yule-eve: the Yule feast, marking the new year, was a great event in the heathen North. It was a time of feasting and merrymaking, vows (“New Year’s resolutions”), ghosts and witches; the spirits had their greatest power on Yule-eve. The king’s toast: vows made at the passing of the king’s cup at the Yule feast were particularly sacred. Sacred boar: a boar consecrated to Freyr, an integral part of the Yule rites. Hethin’s vow, which is, of course, the vengeance of the troll-woman, is too sacred to be broken, but he immediately realizes the horror of his oath.

31. From Norway: Bugge uses this phrase as evidence that the poem was composed in one of the Icelandic settlements of the western islands, but as the annotator himself seems to have thought that Hethin came to Helgi by land (“on wild paths southward”), this argument does not appear to have much weight.

32. The second line is conjectural; a line has; clearly been lost from this stanza, and various emendations have been suggested.

33. Perhaps this is the remnant of two stanzas, or perhaps two lines (probably the ones in parenthesis) have been interpolated. The isle: duels were commonly fought on islands, probably to guard against treacherous interference, whence the usual name for a duel was “isle-going.” A duel was generally fought three days after the challenge. Reckoning the lapse of time by nights instead of days was a common practice throughout the German and Scandinavian peoples.

Prose. Some editors place all or part of this prose passage after stanza 35. Following-spirits: the “fylgja” was a female guardian spirit whose appearance generally betokened death. The belief was common throughout the North, and has come down to recent times in Scottish and Irish folk-lore. Individuals and sometimes whole families had these following-spirits, but it was most unusual for a person to have more than one of them. Alf: son of the Hrothmar who killed Helgi’s grandfather, and who was in turn later killed by Helgi. Sigarsvoll (“Sigar’s Field”): cf. stanza 8 and note; the Sigar in question may be the man who appears as Helgi’s messenger in stanzas 36-39.

36. Sigar (“The Victorious”): cf. the foregoing note.

39. Frekastein (“Wolf-Crag”): the name appears several times in the Helgi lays applied to battlefields; cf. Helgakvitha Hundingsbana I, 46 and 55, and II, 18 and 24. Need: i. e., Alf deserves no credit for the victory, which was due to the troll woman’s magic.