Biarkamol hin Fornu – “The old Lay of Biarki”


The old lay of Biarki.

1 “Awake, arise, rally, friends!
All ye foremost athelings of Hrólf!
Awake not to wine nor to your wives’ converse,
but rather to Gondul’s game of war.”

(drowsily responds, calling out to a thrall:)
2 “Bring a fardel of fagots to kindle the fire!
Brush thou the hearth and blow in the embers!
Let the kindling crackle to kindle the logs:
’tis winsome, with warm hand to welcome friends.”

(He relapses into sleep; but Hialti exhorts the housecarls and plunges into battle with his king:)

3 “Our great-hearted king gave to his housecarls
rings, helms, short-swords, and shining mail-coats;
his gifts in peace must be gained in war;
in war is proved what was pledged over ale.

4 “The ruler of Danes chose him the doughty;
courage is known when the craven flee;
in the tumult of battle he needs trusty fighters:
conquest follows king who may count on his men.

5 “Hold firm your hilts, ye chosen housecarls,
shield flung on shoulder, to show ye are men;
breast open ’gainst breast offer we to our foemen:
beak against beak, so shall battle the eagles.

6 “Foremost among fighters bold Hiorvarth fares,
glorying in swordplay, in gold-helm dight;
after him are marching martial hosts of Gauts,
with ring-laid helms and rattling spears.

7 “Skuld him egged on, the Skioldung queen,
to his kin to be false, his king to betray;
raving she is and bereft of reason,
by evil norns for ill created.”

(The tide of battle turns against Hrólf and he falls. Hialti continues:)

8 “Now their last cup for kingsmen is poured,
after his liege-lord shall no one live
but he show him fearful and shrink from blows,
or be too listless his lord to avenge.

9 “Our byrnies are slit and sundered our limbs;
blows of the bill have broken the king’s shield;
wide gapes the gate, and the gallant flee,
the baleful battle-axe gnaws men’s brows.

10 “Lift thou now, Hrút, thy light-haired brow,
leave thy bower, for battle is nigh.

the towers are tumbling, the castle-gates tremble.”

(Hialti and his men fire the castle. They discover Biarki in profound sleep:)

11 “Bidest thou yet, Biarki? Do sleep-runes bind thee?
Come forth now with me ere thee fire assail!
We fend off our foes as we do bears—with firebrands:
the castle crumbles, the king’s hall flames.”

(As Biarki still tarries, Hialti once more rallies his warriors:)

12 “Let us rally our ranks as Hrólf us taught,
the hero who hewed down the ring-hoarder.
Wretched was Hrœrek though he riches owned:
but gold he gathered, not gallant men.

13 “Hrólf harried on Hrœrek. He ransom offered—
before the gates disgorged his purse its gold:
he strewed before stronghold stores of treasure.
Then was lavished on foe what on friends was saved.

14 “Though our liege him slew: he allotted the hoard
among faithful followers, refused it himself.
Nothing him gladdened but he gave it to them:
to award it to warriors naught was too welcome.

15 “The most large-hearted lord lifeless has sunk;
lost is the life men will longest remember:
he ran to the sword-play as river toward sea,
fared against foe like the fleet-footed stag.

16 “A burn of blood from the battle-field flows,
as Hiorvarth arnong hosts Hild’s-play speedeth.
But the sword-giver smiles in his sleep of death,
as at bountiful banquet he beakers emptied.

17 “Fróthi’s kinsman on the Fýri Plains
his gold rings sowed, glad in his mind;
him we joyfully follow on his journey to Hel,
manly of speech and firm of mettle.

18 “Blows of our brands shall back our faith,
the glory of great deeds never is forgotten.
Latched and locked the hall still is right.
A third time, Biarki, I bid thee come forth!”

19 “Eagerly doest thou, Hialti, egg on Hrólf’s kinsman;
but to vaunting words fit valiant deeds.
Bide thou whilst Biarki his byrnie fastens;
little he lists to be burned alive.

20 “On an isle was I born, barren and little;
twelve demesnes gave me Hrólf to master,
realms to rule, and ruddy gold, too—
his sister to wife; here’s worth to requite.
(He plunges into battle:)

21 “Shields on your shoulders, if ye shun not death!
Only the craven covers him now.
Bare your breasts! Your bucklers fling down!
Gold-weighted arm the glaive best wields.

22 “With my steel erst I struck the ‘wild stag’ in battle,
with my short-sword slew him which Snirtir is named.
Hero’s name got I when its hilt I gripped—
when Agnar Ingialdsson’s life I ended.

23 “’Gainst my head he hewed, but Hœking broke,
on Biarki’s brow his blade was shattered.
Then raised I Snirtir, through his ribs thrust him,
his right hand and right leg I lopped with one blow.

24 “Never was there, I ween, a more warlike hero
than when, sword-hewn, sank the son of Ingiald:
lifeless he lay and laughed toward death;
to Valholl’s gates he gleefully hied him.

25 “To his heart I hewed the hero but now,
young in years but unyielding in spirit;
through his buckler I battered, naught booted him his hauberk:
my Snirtir but seldom slackens its blow.

26 “Guard you now, ye gallant Gautish chieftains!
Athelings only enter this battle!


27 “His loved son now loses many a lord;
but for barons, not bondmen Hel’s bars will be lowered.
More closely comes the clash of battle,
three blows I get for one I give.

28 “Alone in the strife I stand amongst the slain.
A bulwark I build me of fallen bodies.
Where is now he who whetted me before,
and tempted me sore, as though twelve lives he had?”

29 “Few are the followers, but far I am not.
strong is now need of stout-hearted men;
battered is my buckler, broken and shattered—
yourself may see it: sight goes before hearsay.
Doest battle now, Biarki, as thou bidedst before?”

30 “Thy spiteful speech spurs me no longer:
not I am the cause that tardy I came.
Now a Swedish sword sorely has struck me;
through my war-weeds it went as though water it cleft.”

(Biarki’s wife Hrút has found her mortally wounded husband on the battle field, where the conflict is now dying down.)

31 “But where is Óthin, the one-eyed grey-beard?
Say now, Hrút, swiftly: Seest thou him nowhere?”

32 “Lower thy eye and look through my arm,
sign then thy view with victory-runes:
unscathed shalt thou, Biarki, then scan with thy glance
and fasten thy eyes on the father of victory.”

33 “Could I fasten my eyes on Frigg’s husband now,
the swift shield-swinger and Sleipnir’s rider,
his life would lose the war-god at Leire—
blood for blood then would Biarki crave.

34 “Here by my chieftain’s head I shall sink now,
thou by his feet shalt find thee a rest.
Booty-seekers on battle field shall bear me out:
the great-souled king’s gifts even the dead forget not.

35 “Soon greedy eagles will gorge on our bodies,
ramping ravens will rend our limbs.
to high-minded, hardy hero it is seeming
dying to dwell by his king rich in deeds.”


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