Lay of Völund – Völundakvitha

The Völundarkvitha (Old Norse Vǫlundarkviða) is an Old Norse poem that appears in the Codex Regius as well as partially …

The Völundarkvitha (Old Norse Vǫlundarkviða) is an Old Norse poem that appears in the Codex Regius as well as partially in the Arnamagnæan Codex. Unfortunately, only a few lines of the opening prose of the poem remain in the latter manuscript.

The origins of the story of Völund

The legend of the smith, which forms the basis of the Norse Völundarkvitha, is however believed to have come to the North from Saxon regions. The earlier presence of the story in Anglo-Saxon poetry from as early as the eighth century proves that it cannot be a native product of Scandinavia. The name of Wayland Smith is familiar to readers of Walter Scott and Rudyard Kipling’s tales of England.

It is uncertain in what form the Wayland story reached the Norsemen, but there are striking parallels between the diction of the Völundarkvitha and the Weland passage in Deor’s Lament. This makes it probable that a Saxon song on this subject found its way to Scandinavia or Iceland. However, the prose introduction to the Völundarkvitha mentions the “old sagas” in which Völund was celebrated.

In addition to this, in the Thithrekssaga, there is definite evidence of the existence of such prose narrative in the form of the Velentssaga. It is probable that Weland stories were current in both prose and verse in Scandinavia as early as the latter part of the ninth century. The Lay of Völund is a settled part of the Poetic Edda, coming just after Thrymskvida and before Alvissmál.

The main story of the Völundarkvitha is that of the laming of the smith by King Nithuth or some other enemy, and of Völund’s following terrible revenge. To the poetic verses, by way of introduction, has been added the story of Völund and the swan-maiden, who is also said to be a Valkyrie. 

Prose sections and missing parts of the manuscripts

The swan-maiden story appears in many places quite distinct from the Weland tradition and, in another form, became one of the most popular German folk tales. The Völundarkvitha has several such prose narrative links, including the introduction. The narrative outline was provided in prose, and each reciter later put in their own explanation according to their fancy and knowledge. Some of it later thankfully found its way into the written record.

The manuscript of the Völundarkvitha is in bad shape and various amendments or later interpretations have been numerous. I have been working with an old translation of the poem by Henry Adams Bellows, but have made some slight updates to the language here and there. In some places where words or whole lines are missing, they are replaced by “. . . . .”

I have also added a couple of short comments, those I’ve put in (brackets) like so.

Völundarkvitha – The Lay of Völund

There was a king in Sweden named Nithuth. He had two sons and one daughter; her name was Bothvild. There were three brothers, sons of a king of the Finns: one was called Slagfith, another Egil, the third Völund. 

They went on snowshoes and hunted wild beasts. They came into Ulfdalir and there they built themselves a house; there was a lake there which is called Ulfsjar. Early one morning they found on the shore of the lake three women, who were spinning flax. 

Friedrich Wilhelm Heine (1845-1921), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Near them were their swan garments, for they were Valkyries. Two of them were daughters of King Hlothver, Hlathguth the Swan-White and Hervor the All-Wise, and the third was Olrun, daughter of Kjar from Valland.

They brought the three maidens home to their hall with them. Egil took Olrun, and Slagfith Swan-White, and Völund All-Wise. There they dwelt seven winters, but then they flew away to find battles, and came back no more. Then Egil set forth on his snowshoes to follow Olrun, and Slagfith followed Swan White, but Völund stayed in Ulfdalir. He was a most skillful man, as men know from old tales. King Nithuth had him taken by force, as the poem here tells.

Short comment on introduction

(From the introduction it is understood that the three brothers took the Valkyries as wives when it says they “took” them. In the Viking age that was likely just understood, but with all the rapes and slavery found in this poem as well as others I feel it’s good to point out.)

1. Maids from the south | flew through Myrkwood,
Fair and young, | they followed their fate;
By the shore of the sea | they sat to rest,
The maids of the south, | there they spun flax.

2. . . . . . . | . . . . .
Hlathguth and Hervor, | children of Hlothver’s,
And Olrun the Wise | was Kjar’s daughter.

3. . . . . . . | . . . . .
One in her arms | took Egil then
To her bosom white, | the fair woman.

4. Swan-White second,– | swan-feathers she wore,
. . . . . | . . . . .
And her arms the third | of the sisters threw
Next round Völund’s | neck so white.

5. There did they stay | for seven winters,
In the eighth at last | their longing came back,
And in the ninth | need divided them.
The maidens yearned | for Myrkwood,
The fair young maids, | followed their fate again.

Discrepency between prose and Poecy

(This breaks from the prose earlier introduction which has the Valkyries staying only seven winters. To my understanding the verses are likely more authentic, than the injected prose introduction. This also tracks with other instances involving the number nine found in Norse mythology).

6. Völund home | from his hunting came,
From a weary way, | the weathered bowman,
Slagfith and Egil | found the hall empty,
Out and in they went, | looking everywhere.

7. Egil traveled east | after Olrun,
And Slagfith south | to seek for Swan-White;
Völund alone | stayed in Ulfdalir,
. . . . . | . . . . .

8. Red gold he created | with wonderful gems,
And rings he strung | on ropes of bast;
So for his wife | he waited long,
Hoping she back home | might come to him.

9. This Nithuth learned, | the lord of the Njars,
That Völund alone | in Ulfdalir lay;
By night went his men, | their mail-coats were studded,
Their shields in the waning | moonlight shone.

10. From their saddles the gable | wall they sought,
And in they went | at the end of the hall;
Rings they saw there | on ropes of bast,
Seven hundred | the hero had.

11. They took them off, | but they left all
Save one alone | which they bore away.
. . . . . | . . . . .
. . . . . | . . . . .

12. Völund home | from his hunting came,
From a weary way, | the weathered bowman;
A brown bear’s flesh | would he roast with fire;
Soon the wood so dry | was burning well,
The wind-dried wood | that was Völund’s.

13. On the bearskin he rested, | and counted the rings,
The master of elves, | but he missed one;
That Hlothver’s daughter | had it he thought,
And the all-wise maid | had come once more.

14. He sat so long | that he fell asleep,
His waking empty | of happiness was;
Heavy chains | he saw on his hands,
And fetters bound | his feet together.

Völund spoke:

15. “What men are you | who have laid
Ropes of bast | to bind me now?”

Then Nithuth called, | the lord of the Njars:
“How did you get, Völund, | greatest of elves,
These treasures of ours | in Ulfdalir?”

Völund spoke:

16. “The gold was not | on Grani’s way,
Far, I think, is our realm | from the hills of the Rhine;
I created that treasures | more we had
When happy together | at home we were.”

17. Outside stood the wife | of Nithuth wise,
And in she came | from the end of the hall;
On the floor she stood, | and softly spoke:
“He does not look kind | who comes from the wood.”

King Nithuth gave to his daughter Bothvild the gold ring that he had taken from the bast rope in Völund’s house, and he himself wore the sword that Völund had had. The queen spoke:

18. “The glow of his eyes | is like gleaming snakes,
His teeth he gnashes | if now is shown
The sword, or Bothvild’s | ring he sees;
Let them straightway cut | his sinews of strength,
And set him then | in Sævarstath.”

So it was done: the sinews in his knee-joints were cut, and he was set on an island which was near the mainland, called Sævarstath. There he smithied for the king all kinds of precious things. No man dared to go to him, save only the king himself.

Völund spoke:

19. “At Nithuth’s belt| gleams the sword
That I sharpened keen | with cunningest craft,
And hardened the steel | with highest skill;
The bright blade far | forever is borne,
Nor shall I see it | borne back to my smithy;
Now Bothvild gets | the golden ring
That was once my bride’s,– | never shall it be good.”

20. He sat, never sleeping, | and worked with his hammer,
Fast for Nithuth | he fashioned wonders;
Two boys did go | to his door to gaze,
Nithuth’s sons, | into Sævarstath.

21. They came to the chest, | and they wanted the keys,
The evil was open | when they looked in;
To the boys it seemed | that gems they saw,
Gold in plenty | and precious stones.

Völund spoke:

22. “Come alone, | the next day come,
Gold to you both | shall then be given;
Do not tell the maids | or the men of the hall,
Say to no one | that you have visited me.”

23. . . . . . | . . . . .
Early one brother | to the other called:
“Hurry let us go | to see the rings.”

24. They came to the chest, | and they wanted the keys,
The evil was open | when they looked in;
He cut off their heads, | and he hid their feet
Under the sooty | straps of the bellows.

(The bellows are the large bags of air used to blow into the forge of the smithy).

25. Their skulls, once hid | by their hair, he took,
Set them in silver | and sent them to Nithuth;
Gems full fair | he crafted from their eyes,
To Nithuth’s wife | so wise he gave them.

(So basically Völund cleaned the skulls “once hid by their hair” and created some silver ornaments of them).

26. And from the teeth | of the two he wrought
A brooch for the breast, | to Bothvild he sent it;
. . . . . | . . . . .

27. Bothvild then | boasted of her ring,
. . . . . | . . . . .
. . . . . | ” I have broken the ring,
I dare not tell anyone | only to you.”

(This verse is missing several lines, but something happens to Bothvild’s ring and she comes out alone to the island where Völund works).

Völund spoke:

28. ‘I shall weld the break | in the gold so well
That finer than ever | your father will find it,
And much better | will your mother think it is,
And then no worse | than it ever was.”

29. He brought her beer, | as he was more cunning,
Until in her seat | She soon fell asleep.

Völund spoke:

“Now vengeance I have | for all my hurts,
Save one alone, | on the evil woman.”

30. . . . . . | . . . . .
. . . . . | . . . . .
Said Völund: “Would | that well were the sinews
Maimed in my feet | by Nithuth’s men.”

31. Laughing Völund | flew into the air,
Weeping Bothvild | went from the isle,
For her lover’s flight | and her father’s wrath.

32. Outside stood the wife | of Nithuth wise,
And in she came | from the end of the hall;
But he by the wall | in weariness sat:
“Are you awake, Nithuth, | lord of the Njars?”

Nithuth spoke:

33. “Always I wake, | and ever joyless,
Little I sleep | since my sons were slain;
Cold is my head, | cold was your counsel,
One thing, with Völund | I wish to speak.

34. . . . . . . . . . .
“Answer me, Völund, | greatest of elves,
What happened with my boys | that once were alive?”

Völund spoke:

35. “First you all must | now swear an oath,
By the rail of ship, | and the rim of shield,
By the shoulder of steed, | and the edge of sword,
That to Völund’s wife | you will do no harm,
Nor yet my bride | to her death will bring,
Though a wife I should have | that you know well,
And a child I should have | within your hall.

36. “Seek the smithy | that you did set,
You will find the bellows | sprinkled with blood;
I cut off the heads | of both your sons,
And their feet underneath the sooty | straps I hid.

37. “Their skulls, once hid | by their hair, I took,
Set them in silver | and sent them to Nithuth;
Wonderful gems | I made from their eyes,
To Nithuth’s wife | so wise I gave them.

38. “And from the teeth | of the two I wrought
A brooch for the breast, | to Bothvild I gave it;
Now big with child | does Bothvild go,
The only daughter | you two ever had.”

Nithuth spoke:

39. “You never spoke words | that could hurt me worse,
Nor that made me, Völund, | more bitter for vengeance;
There is no man so high | from a horse to take you,
Or so good an archer | as to shoot you down,
While high in the clouds | thy course thou takest.”

40. Laughing Völund | rose into the air,
But left in sadness | Nithuth sat.
. . . . . | . . . . .

41. Then spoke Nithuth, | lord of the Njars:
“Rise up, Thakkrath, | best of my thralls,
Ask Bothvild to come, | the bright-browed maiden,
Looking so fair, | with her father to speak.”

42. . . . . . | . . . . .
“Is it true, Bothvild, | what was told me;
Once on the isle | with Völund were you?”

Bothvild spoke:

43. “It is true, Nithuth, | what you were told,
Once on the isle | with Völund was I,
An hour of lust, | alas it should be!
I had no power | with such a man,
Nor from his strength | could I save myself.”

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Norse mythology enthusiast, Norwegian and living in Oslo next to a series of old Viking age burial mounds.I am also able to navigate and understand quite a lot of the old Norse texts and I often lean on original texts when researching an article. Through this blog I hope more people, young and old will get to know Norse mythology and the world of the Vikings a bit better.

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