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Rígsmál – The Lay of Rig

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Rig_in_Great-grandfather's_Cottage

“Rig in Great-grandfather’s Cottage” (1908) by W.G. Collingwood [1]

People say in the old stories that one of the Æsir, who was called Heimdall, went on a journey, and as he went along the sea-shore somewhere he came to a household and he called himself Rig*.  This poem is about that story.

The Birth of Thrall

  1. Once walked, ’tis said, the green ways along,
    mighty and ancient, a god most glorious;
    strong and vigorous, striding, Rig.
  2. Ever on he went in the middle of the way,
    till he came to a house with door unclosed.
    He entered straight; there was fire on the floor
    and a hoary couple sitting by the hearth,
    Great-grandfather and mother in ancient guise.
  3. Well knew Rig how to give them counsel,
    he sat him down in the middle of the floor,
    with the home-folk twain upon either side.
  4. Great-grandmother fetched a coarse-baked loaf,
    all heavy and thick and crammed with husk:
    she bore it forth in the middle of the dish,
    with broth in a bowl, and laid the board.
  5. Thence Rig uprose, prepared to rest; —
    well he knew how to give them counsel —
    he laid him down in the middle of the bed
    and the home-folk twain upon either side.
    Thus he tarried three nights together,
    then on he strode in the middle of the road
    while thrice three moons were gliding by.
  6. Great-grandmother bore a swarthy boy;
    with water they sprinkled him, called him Thrall.
    Forthwith he grew and well he throve,
    bur tough were his hands with wrinkled skin,
    with knuckles knotty and fingers thick;
    his face was ugly, his back was humpy,
    his heels were long.
    Straightway ‘gan he to prove his strength,
    with bast a-binding loads a-making,
    he bore home faggots the livelong day.
  7. There came to the dwellings a wandering maid,
    with wayworn feet, and sunburned arms,
    with down-bent nose,- the Bond-maid named.
  8. She sat her down in the middle of the floor;
    beside her sat the son of the house:
    they chatted and whispered, their bed preparing —
    Thrall and Bond-maid — the long day through.
  9. Joyous lived they and reared their children.
    Thus they called them: Brawler, Cowherd,
    Boor and Horsefly, Lewd and Lustful,
    Stout and Stumpy, Sluggard, Swarthy,
    Lout and Leggy. They fashioned fences,
    they dunged the meadows, swine they herded,
    goats they tended and turf they dug.
  10. Daughters were there, — Loggy and Cloggy,
    Lumpy-leggy, and Eagle-nose,
    Whiner, Bondwoman, Oaken-peggy,
    Tatter-coat and the Crane-shanked maid.
    Thence are come the generations of thralls.

The Birth of Churl

  1. Ever on went Rig the straight roads along
    till he came to a dwelling with door unclosed;
    he entered straight; there was fire in the floor;
    Grandfather and Grandmother owned the house.
  2. The home-folk sat there hard a-working;
    by them stood on the floor a box;
    hewed the husband wood for a warp-beam;
    trim his beard and the locks o’er his brow,
    but mean and scanty the shirt he wore.
  3. The wife sat by him plying her distaff,
    swaying her arms to weave the cloth,
    with snood on her head and smock on her breast,
    studs on her shoulders, and scarf on her neck.
  4. Well knew Rig how to give them counsel;
    he sat him down in the middle of the floor,
    and the home-folk twain upon either side.
  5. Grandmother set forth plenteous dishes;
    cooked was the calf, of dainties best.
    Thence Rig uprose prepared to rest. —
    Well he knew how to give them counsel —
    he laid him down in the middle of the bed
    and the home-folk twain upon either side.
  6. Thus he tarried three nights together,
    then on he strode in the middle of the road
    while thrice three moons were gliding by.
  7. A child had Grandmother, Churl they called him,
    and sprinkled with water and swathed in linen,
    rosy and ruddy, with sparkling eyes.
    He grew and throve, and forthwith ‘gan he
    to break in oxen, to shape the harrow,
    to build him houses and barns to raise him,
    to fashion carts and follow the plough.
  8. Then home they drove with a key-hung maiden
    in goat-skin kirtle, named Daughter-in-Law.
    They wed her to Churl in her bridal linen:
    the twain jade ready, their wealth a-sharing,
    kept house together, and joyous lived.
  9. Children reared they thus they called them:
    Youth and Hero, Thane, Smith, Yeoman,
    Broad-limb, Peasant, Sheaf-beard, Neighbour,
    Farmer, Speaker and Stubbly-beard.
  10. By other names were the daughters called:
    Dame, Bride, Lady, Gay, and Gaudy,
    Maid, Wife, Woman, Bashful, Slender.
    Thence are come the kindreds of churls.

The Birth of Earl

  1. Still on went Rig the straight roads along
    till he came to a hall whose gates looked south.
    Pushed was the door to, a ring in the post set:
    he forthwith entered the rush-strewn room.
    Each other eyeing, the home-folk sat there —
    Father and Mother, — twirling their fingers.
    There was the husband, string a-twining,
    shafting arrows and shaping bows:
    and there was the wife o’er her fair arms wondering,
    smoothing her linen, stretching her sleeves.
    A high-peaked coif and a breast-brooch wore she,
    trailing robes and a blue-tinged sark.
    Her brow was brighter, her breast was fairer,
    her throat was whiter than driven snow.
  2. Well knew Rig how to give them counsel;
    he sat him down in the middle of the floor,
    and the home-folk twain upon either side.
  3. Then took Mother a figured cloth,
    white, of linen, and covered the board;
    thereafter took she a fine-baked loaf,
    white of wheat and covered the cloth:
    next she brought forth plenteous dishes,
    set with silver, and spread the board
    with brown-fried bacon and roasted birds.
    There was wine in a vessel and rich-wrought goblets;
    they drank and revelled while day went by.
  4. Well knew Rig how to give them counsel;
    he rose ere long and prepared his couch:
    he laid him down in the middle of the bed,
    and the home-folk twain upon either side.
  5. Thus he tarried three nights together;
    then on he strode in the middle of the road
    while thrice three moons were gliding by.
  6. Then a boy had Mother; she swathed him in silk,
    and with water sprinkled him; called him Earl.
    Light were his locks, and fair his cheeks,
    flashing his eyes like a serpent’s shone.
  7. Grew Earl forthwith in the halls and ‘gan
    to swing the shield, to fit the string,
    to bend the bow, to shaft the arrow,
    to hurl the dart, to shake the spear,
    to ride the horse, to loose the hounds,
    to draw the sword, and to swim the stream.
  8. Forth from the thicket came Rig a-striding,
    Rig a-striding, and taught him runes,
    his own name gave him, — as son he claimed him,
    and bade him hold the ancestral fields, —
    the ancestral fields — and the ancient home.
  9. Then on rode Earl through the murky wood,
    through the rimy fells till he reached a hall.
    His shaft he shook, his shield he brandished,
    his steed he galloped, his sword he drew;
    war he wakened, the field he reddened,
    the doomed he slew, and won him lands —
    till alone he ruled over eighteen halls.
    Gold he scattered and gave to all men
    treasures and trinkets and slender-ribbed horses;
    wealth he strewed and sundered rings.
  10. Along dewy roads his messengers drive
    till the hall they reached where Ruler dwelt.
    A daughter owned he, dainty fingered,
    fair and skilful, Erna called.
  11. They wooed her and brought her home a-driving;
    to Earl they wed her in veil fine-woven:
    husband and wife lived happy together,
    their children waxed and life enjoyed.

The Birth of King

  1. Heir was the eldest, Bairn the second,
    Babe, Successor, Inheritor, Boy,
    Descendent, Offspring, Son, Youth, Kinsman;
    Kon the kingly was youngest born.
  2. Forthwith grew up the sons of Earl;
    games they learned, and sports and swimming,
    taming horses, round shields bending,
    war shafts smoothing, ash spears shaking;
    but King the youngest alone knew runes,
    runes eternal and runes of life.
    Yet more he knew, — how to shelter men,
    to blunt the sword-edge and calm the sea:
    he learnt bird language, to quench the fire flame,
    heal all sorrows and soothe the heart;
    strength and might of eight he owned.
  3. Then he strove in runes with Rig, the Earl,
    crafty wiles he used and won,
    so gained his heritage, held the right thus
    Rig to be called and runes to know.
  4. Young King rode once through thicket and wood,
    shooting arrows and slaying birds,
    till spake a crow, perched lone on a bough:
    “Why wilt thou thus kill birds, young King?
    ‘Twould fit thee rather to ride on horses,
    to draw the sword and to slay the foe.
  5. “Dan and Damp have dwellings goodlier,
    homesteads fairer than ye do hold;
    and well they know the keel to ride,
    the sword to prove and wounds to strike.”[2]

*Rig: the name is derived from the Irish (ríg in other cases) meaning ‘king’.  The identification of Heimdall with Rig is not absolutely secure, since it is based only on the prose introduction, but the beginning of Völuspá (the Seeress’s Prophecy), asking for attention from all ‘the offspring of Heimdall’, seems to suggest that the god did have some connection with the creation of mankind.[3]

References

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R%C3%ADgs%C3%BEula#/media/File:Rig_in_Great-grandfather%27s_Cottage.jpg
  2. Bray, O. (1908). The Elder or Poetic Edda. Part I {The Mythological Poems, volume II.
  3. Larrington, C. (1996). trans. The Poetic Edda.

 

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