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~ Historical & Classical Poetry ~

Krákumál
(Death Song of Ragnar Lodbrok)

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!
  

The complete Old Norse skaldic poem "Krákumál" (Lay of Kráka), probably composed
at the end of the 12th century on Iceland, consists of 29 stanzas.

 

In 1782, Rev. James Johnstone translated the above 13 stanzas. He was an eminent Scandinavian antiquary,
and for some years chaplain to the English envoy extraordinary in Denmark.

 

Ragnar Lodbrok (Ragnar 'Hairy-Breeches', Old Norse: Ragnarr Lođbrók) was a semi-legendary king of Sweden
and Denmark who reigned sometime in the eighth or ninth centuries. As the "Ragnars saga lođbrókar" has it,
he was a renowned Viking and dragon-killer. He died bravely, laughing in the face of death, in a snakepit
in which his enemy Ćlla of Northumbria had him thrown. His sons avenge him.

 

Note that Ragnar has a vision of entering Valhall even though he does *not* die in battle !
This is one of ca. five similar instances in written lore when a non-battle death still leaves the hero eligible for Valhall.
These examples are usually ignored in modern heathen discussions about who goes or doesn´t go to Valhall...

 

"We hewed with the brand" = We fought with the sword.
 

Image: Gunnar in the snakepit, playing the harp with his toes. 13th century woodcarving from the portal
of the stave church in Hylestad (which was pulled down; portals now in Oslo museum).
Gunnar´s death is a similar theme from the Atlakvida.