BRYNHILD’S HEL RIDE: An Excerpt from The Poetic Edda as Translated by Jeramy Dodds


BRYNHILD’S HEL RIDE
       Helreið Brynhildar

When Brynhild died, they piled two pyres. The first was stoked for Sigurd; on the second, Brynhild burned. Wound in cloth, she was cremated in her wagon. Some say she drove that wagon all the way to Hel. But on her way, she was stopped by a Jotuness perched atop a grave mound.

          The Jotuness said:
  1. ‘Don’t saunter through my rock-hewn
    houselands; you’d be better bound
    to your weaving, not driving to evening
    with another lady’s man.

  2. ‘You know full well you’ve waded to the wrists
    in that man’s blood. Why are you here in my
    pebbled paradise, a gilded southern girl rambling
    with half a rock rolling round her rattlebrain?’

    Brynhild replies:

  3. ‘Don’t bother berating me, crag-hag.
    I’ve sacked whole coasts with the longboats –
    I guarantee that anyone who probes
    our pedigree will find me the better born.’

    The Jotuness said:

  4. ‘Yes, you are Budli’s daughter,
    Brynhild, born luckless into this world,
    but you conned Gjuki’s kin, doused their dazzling
    hearth-seats with your false fare-thee-wells.’

    Brynhild said:

  5. ‘Stupid sow, you must know the old news
    by now: Gjuki’s kin duped me, violated
    their vow, starved me of love. Me,
    the witty lady of this ironwood wagon!

  6. ‘If you’d like a nip of truth, we were eight sisters  
    reclining under an oak when that clever king stole
    our swan-robes; I was twelve when I promised
    myself to a prepubescent prince.

  7. [‘That king kindly raised me in his regal court
    with all the lavish pomp a girl should want.]
    But in Hlymdales, those who really knew me
    named me iron-helmed war-wraith.

  8. ‘So, with a swift downthrust I dispatched that old
    Goth king, Helmet-Gunnar, all the way to Hel –
    I gave Auda bragging rights for that bloodbath.
    And for this, Odin was livid with me.

  9. ‘In Skatalund he caught me in a cage of shields,
    their red-and-white rims domed over me;
    daring a man during night to shatter my sleep,
    a man who has never known  fear.

  10. ‘Fafnir’s gold-hoard had been won by this one man,
    the one who’s never felt fear. He sprung his steed over
    the blaze Odin lit in the brush, then stood, with sacks
    of gold, stock-still at the gates of my south hall.

  11. ‘That prince of Danes cantered his piebald mount,
    Grani, through my foster father’s endless halls,
    dishing out his gold hoard – a crown-opal of a man,
    a real Viking among a procession of shams.

  12. ‘Like chaste siblings, we shared a thin cot.
    For eight nights we shut eyes beside each other,
    never going at one another, never tapping
    our crush with an offhand brush or touch.

  13. ‘Then  I heard what I needn’t hear: I’d won
    fearless Sigurd through another’s conniving.
    His wife, Gudrun, acted the cuckold and accused
    me, Gjuki’s golden girl, of writhing with him.

  14. ‘Most couples live too long in catatonic lament,
    but not Sigurd and I. No fissure shall be struck
    between us. I’ll not be kept from him a moment
    more. Stand down, witch, sink into your mound!’

_____________________

Jeramy Dodds's first collection of poems, Crabwise to the Hounds, won the Trillium Book Award for Poetry and was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize. His poems have won the CBC Literary Prize and the Bronwen Wallace Memorial Award. He holds an MA in Medieval Icelandic Studies.

In addition to appearing in Dodds's translation of The Poetic Edda, this poem originally appeared in Riddle Fence

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