Translated by Lee Milton Hollander, 1962.
1 [Sorrowful deeds the dayspring saw,
Unwelcome dawn, the alf folk’s grief;
Thus early morn the ills of men
And every sorrow and sadness quickens.]
2 „Twas not but now, nor newly, either,
But ages ago, time out of mind,
[of all things older than any, this,]
When Guthrún egged on, Gjúki’s daughter,
Her young sons to avenge Svanhild the fair:
3 “A sister had ye, was she Svanhild hight;
Her Jormunrekk in wrath had trampled
By white and black steeds, on highroad faring,
By grey, war-hardened Gothic horses.
4 “Ye alone are left of my lordly strain;
But not keen are ye as those kings of yore.
(Ye are little like beloved Gunnar
Or Hogni, his brother, bear-hard in mind.)
5 “On earth I am lonely like to asp in holt,
Amidst foes unfriended like fir stripped of boughs,
Of gladness bereft as the greenwood of leaves
When the waster-of-twigs on a warm day cometh.”
6 Said then Hamthir, the hardy-minded:
“Not so highly thought’st thou of Hogni’s deed
When from sleep they waked Sigurth, thy husband —
On thy bed wert seated, — but his slayers laughed.
7 “With blood was thy bluish-white bed linen reddened —
By skilled hands woven — in his wounds as he lay.
By the side of Sigurth thou sat’st when he died,
No glee thee gladdened: thus Gunnar willed it.
8 “When thou ended Eitil’s, and Erp’s life too,
Thou would’st harm Atli, but didst harm more thyself;
So ought each one work ill on his foe
With slaughterous sword that himself he harm not.”
9 Said then Sorli with seemly wisdom:
“Not yet wearied are ye of words, meseemeth:
With our mother I wish not idle words to bandy;
Whate’er cravest, Guthrún, but will bring thee grief?
10 “Didst bewail thy brethren and both thy dear sons,
Thy trusted kinsmen, betrayed foully:
Shalt thou us, Guthrún, eke bewail now;
We sit fey on our horses, and afar we shall die.”
11 Said the highborn lady, before the heroes standing
The slim-fingered one, to her sons speaking:
“Are your lives at stake if ye list not to me:
How could two men else ten hundred Goths
Strike down and fetter in their stronghold alone?”
12 Then rashly rode they, with wrath snorting,
(Sorli and Hamthir, the sons of Guthrún,)
Forwardly fared over fells cloud-dripping,
On their Hunnish horses, their harm to avenge.
13 On the way found they their wily brother.
“This brownish bastard will bring us help?”
14 Answered them Erp, of another born:
“Full quickly I come to my kinsmen’s help,
As one hand hastens to help the other,
(Or one foot fain would its fellow help.)”
15 “Scace could one foot its fellow help,
Or one hand hasten to help the other!”
16 Said Erp these words as on they fared —
High on horseback the hero state —
“I reck not to show the road to a craven.”
A brazen bastard they called their brother.
17 From the sheathes they drew their sharp swords forth,
The gleaming wound-gashers, to gladden Hel:
The twain overthrew a third of their strength
When they struck down to earth young Erp, their brother.
18 Their fur cloaks they shook and fastened their swords,
In silken sarks then themselves arrayed.
19 Still further they fared on their fateful path,
Till their sister’s stepson they saw on the gallows,
The wind-cold wolf-tree, to the west of the castle,
By the cranes’ food becrept — uncouth was that sight.
20 There was glee in the hall, ale-gay the throng,
And the horses’ hoofbeats they heard not at all,
Ere a hero stouthearted his horn did blow
(The tidings to tell of the twain coming).
21 Went then to warn the wassailing king
Of the helm-clad twain on horseback seen:
“Be on guard now, ye Goths, wend they grimly hither,
The mighty kinsmen of the maid ye trod down.”
22 Chuckling, Jormunrekk his chin-beard stroked,
With wine wanton he welcomed the fray;
Shook his dark locks, at his white shield looked,
In his hand upheld the horn all golden.
23 “Most happy were I if behold I might
Hamthir and Sorli my hall within:
Bind them would I with bowstrings long,
The good sons of Guthrún on gallows fasten.”
24 There rose outcry in hall, alecups were shattered
In the blood they lay from the breasts of Goths.
25 Then said Hamthir the hardy-minded:
“Thou didst wish, Jornumrekk, that we should come;
Your feet you see into the fire hurled,
And both your hands into the hot flames thrown.”
26 Then roared the king, akin to gods,
Bold in his byrnie, as a bear would roar:
“Cast stones, ye men, as steel will bite not,
Nor iron swords, on the sons of Jónakr.”
27 “Ill didst thou, brother, to ope that bag:
From wordy bag oft cometh baleful speech;
Thou art hardy, Hamthir, but a hotspur ever:
Much wanteth he who sitless is.”
28 “Off were his head if Erp lived still,
Our warlike brother, on the way whom we slew,
The stouthearted hero whom hateful norns
Egged us to kill, who ought have been hallowed.
29 “[Not should we, ween I, be of wolfish kind,
Nor seek to slay one another
Like the wolfs of the waste, wild and greedy,
That howl in the hills.]
30 “Well we have fought and felled many Goths,
Stand on athelings slain like eagles on tree;
Glorious we die, whether today or tomorrow:
Lives till no man when the norns have spoken.”
31 There fell Sorli, slain at the gable,
At the hall’s hindwall stooped Hamthir then.
This song is called “The Old Lay of Hamthir.”
“The Lay of Hamthir” enjoys the sad distinction of having been handed down in a more fragmentary condition than any other of the longer Eddic lays. A number of stanzas are certainly missing, others clearly interpolated, and still other under suspicion. And the genuine material left has needed much surgery and sympathetic treatment to make it at all intelligible. Nevertheless, enough is discernible to recognize that it brought the great Eddic cycle of heroic songs to a worthy, as well as a logical, conclusion. In its original form it must have been a masterpiece of dramatic construction, with every episode furthering the action of the poem.
As it happens, Hamðismál is also the one poem in the Collection which unquestionably goes back to recorded history. The Gothic historian Jordanes (sixth century A.D.) in his Getica reports that Hermanaricus, King of the Ostrogoths, had a woman by the name of Sunilda bound to wild horses and torn to pieces because of the treachery of her husband, and that in revenge therefor her two brothers, Sarus and Ammius, fell upon him and wounded him. Legend, we may suppose, explained the king’s otherwise inexplicable, cruel deed as one done in a jealous rage; it made Sunilda his wife and invented the figure of his son Randvér, who seduced her and was hanged by the king. Connection with the Burgundian cycle of legends was effected, presumably in the North, by making Svanhild the daughter of Guthrún by Sigurth.
As pointed out above, several stanzas of “Guthrún’s Lament” seem to have originally belonged to this lay and are fairly considered in this connection. As a whole, they and the following stanzas breathe a sinister power equal to the best in Eddic poetry: the unwilling brothers dashing away to their doom—snorting with rage, their wild laugh yet ringing in their ears — a doom which they seal by venting their wrath on their half brother Erp. And the scenes in Jormunrekk‟s hall, however fragmentary, are full of energy and passion.
The measure is, variously, málaháttr and fornyrðislag, which, in itself, constitutes a sufficient reason for considering the lay as it stands a composite of two or more older, fragmentary poems. That another lay existed seems to follow from the fact that the Vǫlsunga saga (Chap. 42) paraphrases only the fornyrðislag stanzas (quoting St. 28, ll. 1-2), and none of the málaháttr stanzas from which, indeed, the version of the saga differs considerably.
The origin of the lay is sought, with little conclusiveness, in Norway. Both vocabulary and style point to the tenth century or earlier. The skald Bragi (early ninth century) devotes four spirited stanzas of his Ragnarsdrápa to the attack and slaying of Jormunrekk by Hamthir and Sorli; but it is impossible to decide which of the two poems is the earlier.
 However, dawn is the grief only of the swart alfs — the dwarfs — and of the giants whom it transforms into stone. Indeed, the sun is called “fair wheel” by the alfs (Alvíssmál, St.16). The whole stanza is generally regarded as spurious.
 This absurd line must be interpolated.
 A difficult line.
 Supplied after Grundtvig‟s suggestion from the similar third stanza of Guðrúnarhvǫpt.
 Of evergreen trees (?). Compare with Hávamál, St.50.
 Kenning for “fire.” Compare with Vǫluspa, St.51.
 It is precisely Guthrún‟s tragic fate that she may not ever heed this counsel. See Guðrúnarkviða II, St.10.
 Stanzas 6-8 of Guðrúnarhvǫpt most likely contain material originally from Hamðismál.
 This stanza is transposed here, following Grundtvig and Bugge, from its position in the original after St.23. Its text is badly mutilated, and the translation hence largely conjectural.
 As they can now, in their charmed armor: the Vǫlsunga saga, Ch.42, tells how Guthrún gave her sons armor impenetrable to iron, but bade them “not to damage it by stones and other large matter” as else it were their death.
 Supplied after Grundtvig‟s suggestion.
 The order of Sts. 13-16 is changed, following Grundtvig and Bugge.
 Supplied by Gering.
 Their half brother Erp, the “Brownish One.”
 Vǫlsunga saga, Ch.42, continues: “Then they went on their way, and but a little while after, Hamthir slipped and put his hand out and said: „Erp may have said sooth — I would have fallen if my hand had not steadied me.‟ Soon after, Sorli stumbled, but put forth his foot and thus steadied himself. He said: „I would have fallen now if both my feet had not steadied me.‟ Then both said that they had done ill by their brother.”
 They have arrived in the confines of Jormunrekk’s castle and now change their garments, arraying themselves in the magic (silken) armor.
 Randver: he is called thus in Saxo, Gesta Danorum, which also tells this story. Here the original has “sister’s son,” which is quite in keeping with the Old Norse way of thinking: he is Svanhild’s stepson as the son of her husband.
 Kenning for “gallows.” “Wolf” was the designation of outlaws who had been proscribed and who were hanged wherever seized.
 Kenning for “serpent.” Doubtful.
 Supplied after Grundtvig‟s suggestion.
 Here, probably, not the white shield of peace (Helgakviða Hundingsbana I, St.33, note) but a shield made of the white wood of the linden tree.
 In Stanza 4 of the skald Bragi’s Ragnarsdrápa (ninth century) Jormunrekk is described as falling prone into the ale on the floor with which is mixed his own blood.
 According to the account of Skáldskaparmál, Ch.39, Guthrún advised them to attack Jormunrekk at night in his bed: “was Sorli and Hamthir to hew off his hands and feet, but Erp his head.” They follow her advice, but Erp is lacking at the critical moment to perform his share.
 The (ever blazing) hearth fire in the middle of the hall. See Rígsþula, St.2, note, and Atlakviða, St.1, note. The two last lines translated after Neckel’s conjectural restoration.
 In the Vǫlsunga saga, Ch.42, it is Óthin who gives the counsel to stone the brothers.
 Thy mouth (Compare with Hávamál, St.134). Is a stanza lacking here in which Hamthir had taunted the king with their invulnerability to iron?
 As their half brother and thus being of their own kin, he ought to have been inviolable.
 This stanza is ljóðaháttr and with adhortative content is generally supposed to be an interpolation.