Johannes Gehrts - Gudrun at Sigurd's deathbed, in Walhall: Germanische Götter- und Heldensagen by Felix and Therese Dahn, 1885.

She Must Weep or She Will Die

You might have heard that 2016 has been infamous for not being great for a lot of people. Cities have burned here in the US and also abroad, while headlines are filled with death and disaster.

Let’s bury 2016.

This poem seems like an appropriate epitaph on the year. It doesn’t have a title. It’s a very small piece in a much larger work – The Princess by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Poem first, then explanation.

Home they brought her warrior dead:
She nor swooned, nor uttered cry:

All her maidens, watching, said,
‘She must weep or she will die.’

Then they praised him, soft and low,
Called him worthy to be loved,

Truest friend and noblest foe;
Yet she neither spoke nor moved.

Stole a maiden from her place,
Lightly to the warrior stept,

Took the face-cloth from the face;
Yet she neither moved nor wept.

Rose a nurse of ninety years,
Set his child upon her knee—

Like summer tempest came her tears—
‘Sweet my child, I live for thee.’

You might be wondering why this poem is being shared on a blog about Thor, or one where Norse mythology and culture otherwise associated with Thor more generally has been featured, anyway. It takes a second to get there, but there really is a connection.

Tennyson, as you undoubtedly know, is one of the most famous poets of the English language, and The Princess was Tennyson’s major work on women’s rights. It consists of seven main sections, or Cantos, with a prologue and conclusion. The poem has shorter interstitial poems to contrast with the lengthier Cantos. “Home they brought…” is the piece between the fifth and sixth Cantos.

“Home they brought…” isn’t part of the narrative of the poem. Someone dies at the end of Canto V, and is mourned in Canto VI, but… not quite like this.

Instead, this is most closely modeled on Guthrunarkvitha, or “The Lay of Gudrun,” one of the heroic poems of the Poetic Edda. In that poem, Gudrun becomes so filled with grief at the loss of her husband, Sigurd-yes-that-Sigurd that she is incapable of weeping, of tears, of anything, his death is too much for her to bear. While she doesn’t have a child, she does finally find a way to move on with life after seeing Sigurd’s body.

And so I leave you with this poem to end 2016. With a version altered from the Old Norse original – a version where Gudrun finds strength to move on from the young life that needs her still. Maybe that’s a useful metaphor for 2017.

After Ragnarok by Emil Doepler, ca. 1905
After Ragnarok by Emil Doepler, ca. 1905
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