The Meeting of Ragnar and Aslaug, by August Malmstrom, 1880

The Death Song of Ragnar Lothbrok

In honor of the return of the fourth season of the History Channel series Vikings, below is a translation of the 12th Century Krákumál, or the Lay of Kraka, another name for Ragnar Loðbrok’s wife Aslaug, who is a notable figure in her own right with a mythology at least as extensive as Ragnar’s. In fact, the poem starts off naming Ragnar a dragonslayer, just as Aslaug was the daughter of the famous dragonslayer Sigurd. This poem, and Ragnars saga [pdf], came along well after the deaths of the protagonists, so whether the embellishments came from a creative author or an oral tradition, they were likely a form of nostalgia for better years, and mythologizing the lineage of rulers descended from them.

Just to be clear: this poem explains how the character played by Travis Fimmel in Vikings dies, and events in the series are catching up to the end of this (excerpt of the) poem. I don’t know how you can call semi-historical events in a 900 year-old poem “spoilers” but… if you want to be surprised by the TV show, you may want to limit yourself to the first few stanzas.

And a final point: the poem’s actually more than twice as long as this, but this is the best version available in the public domain, by James Johnstone in 1793.

Krákumál

We hewed with the brand!
Long since we went to Gothland for the slaying of the Worm,
There I won Thora and my name of Leathern-Breeches,
Since I pierced that serpent through, with my blade of inlaid steel.

We hewed with the brand!
Young was I when east of Oere-sound we made good breakfast for the wolves,
While our steels sang on the high-crested helms much food did they find,
Blood-stained the sea, the ravens waded through.

We hewed with the brand!
Ere twenty years passed o’er us, high-borne were our spears,
At Dvina’s mouth in the far east eight jarls did we lay low,
Warriors died; the crimson death colored the sea and ravens feasted.

We hewed with the brand!
The war-queen loved us when we sent the Helsinga to Odin’s halls,
Keen bit the feathered arrow when our ships reached Iva’s flood East Baltic ,
Gay was the music of sword on breast-plate and cleft shield.

We hewed with the brand!
Great was our courage when fierce Herraudr, ‘mid his winged steeds, died.
No jarl more fearless sent his framing coursers o’er the main;
His stout heart drove him, fearless, by the sea-fowls’ haunt.

We hewed with the brand!
The brand bit sore at Scarpa-reef Scarborough , the sword flew from its sheath,
Crimson the borders of our moon-shields when King Raven died;
Loud roared the spear on Ulla’s field, as low lay Eystan the King.

We hewed with the brand!
O’er us was fated Herthiof to win a mighty victory,
There fell my son, bold Rognvald, before the host of spears.
His bow, unerring, shot in Sudorey Hebrides its last fatal bolt.

We hewed with the brand!
In Ireland King Marstan let not the she-wolf nor the eagle starve.
A sacrifice he made at Wetherford Waterford , for the steel-thorn issuing from its sheath,
Pierced to the heart of Ragnar, fearless son of mine.

We hewed with the brand!
South we played at war with three kings, the blood of the Irish dyed the sea,
Then stormed we to the sword-play at the river-mouth of Anglesey,
No kissing of a girl was it to fight as we fought there.

We hewed with the brand!
Little did I wot that at the hands of Ella my death should come!
Yet what boots it? None can withstand his fate and well is it
To quaff the mead in skull-boughs drinking horns in the great hall of Odin.

We hewed with the brand!
Before cold death does no brave man quail; no thought of fear have I.
Soon with the battle wake when Aslaug’s sons their bitter blades unsheath,
Soon will they learn the manner of my death, stout hearts of their brave mother!

We hewed with the brand!
My life is well-nigh o’er; sharp is the pang that the serpent gives.
Goinn the Snake, nests deep in my heart. No more will my children rest;
Great wrath will be theirs at the undoing of their sire.

We hewed with the brand!
Full gladly do I go! See the Valkyrjar fresh from Odin’s halls!
High-seated among heroes shall I quaff the yellow-mead.
The Aesir welcome me. Laughing gladly do I die!

Ragnar's sons, or, Vikings: The Next Generation
Ragnar’s sons with Aslaug, or, Vikings: The Next Generation
Advertisements

3 comments on “The Death Song of Ragnar Lothbrok

  1. […] Egla, or The Saga of Egill Skallagrimsson, is the story of a Viking Age Norwegian farmer and skald (poet) who lived a full life with many adventures. It likely dates to the 13th century and may be another of the works of Snorri Sturluson; regardless of who put the words to paper, there’s likely an oral tradition about an actual historical figure supporting the story, but there’s some creative license implied as well. The tales in the saga are often extraordinary, though not on the order of dragon-slaying. […]

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s