The Story of Sigurd the Volsung and the Fall of the Niblungs


While still working on the prose translation Morris wrote to Charles Eliot Norton:

I had it in my head to write an epic of it, but though I still hanker after it, I see clearly it would be foolish, for no verse could render the best parts of it, and it would only be a flatter and tamer version of a thing already existing.[15]

Morris visited Iceland in 1871 and 1873. Also in 1873 he was aware that Richard Wagner was writing Der Ring des Nibelungen, and wrote:

I look upon it as nothing short of desecration to bring such a tremendous and world-wide subject under the gaslights of an opera: the most rococo and degraded of all forms of art – the idea of a sandy-haired German tenor tweedledeeing over the unspeakable woes of Sigurd, which even the simplest words are not typical enough to express![16]

Morris began work on Sigurd the Volsung in October 1875, completing it the following year. In the end the poem extended to over 10,000 lines.[17] He took both the Volsunga Saga and the corresponding poems of the Poetic Edda|Elder Edda as his basic sources, but felt free to alter them as he thought necessary.[18] The poem is in rhyming hexameter couplets, often with anapaestic movement and a feminine caesura. In keeping with the Germanic theme Morris used kennings, a good deal of alliteration, and wherever possible words of Anglo-Saxon origin.[19] This resulted in a difficult and archaic diction,[20] involving such lines as:

The folk of the war-wand's forgers wrought never better steel Since first the burg of heaven uprose for man-folk's weal.[21]


So they make the yoke-beasts ready, and dight the wains for the way.[22]

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