A Study Guide 
[Index to Svipdagsmál 
Gróugaldur and Fjölsvinnsmál
Medieval Ballads

Danish Ballads by E. M. Smith-Dampier



A CERTAIN number of Ballads borrowed their subjects from the Old Norse Lays, making of them, not translations, but fresh creations ; for the Lays tower above the many-coloured ballad- world like ice-peaks that loom over flowery meads. The story of Young Svejdal is derived from two Lays dealing with the adventures of Svipdag, who wakes Menglad from her trance on the magic mountain ; but there is a vast difference between the simplicity of the Ballad and the stately measure and rhetorical pomp of the original :

'Svipdag is my name ; Sunbright was my father's name ;
The winds have driven me far, along cold ways ;
No one can gainsay the word of Fate,
Though it be spoken to his own destruction.'

"The difference is as great as the difference between the ballad of the 'Marriage of Gawayne' and the same story as told in the Canterbury Tales; or the difference between Homer's way of describing the recovery of lifted cattle and the ballad of 'Jannie Telfer of the Fair Dodhead' (W. P. Ker's Epic and Romance, chap, II., section 3).

This Ballad, indeed, brings down the story from the misty peaks of Valhalla into the garrulous region of fairy-tale. It is faithful to the primitive tradition which depicts the dead as waking unwillingly from their slumbers. Svejdal's mother speaks as does the dead Vala in the nameless Lay called "Baldr's Doom" by the editors of the Corpus Poeticum Boreale:

"Hvat es manna bat mer ókunnra,
es mer hefir aukit ervitt sinni?
Vas-ek snivin sniévi, ok slegin regni,
ok drifin dæggo; dauð vas-ek lengi.

(Who is the man unknown to me that has put
me to this weary journey ? I was snowed on
with snow, and smitten with rain, and dripped
on with dew ; dead was I lang syne.)

The refrain is :

" Nauðig sagðak. Nú mun-ek þegja ! "

(Loath have I spoken. Now must I be silent !)
Gray, in his translation, " The Descent of Odin,"
puts it with eighteenth-century elegance :

"Again my wearied eyes I close,
Leave me, leave me to repose ! "

and readers of Mansfield Park will remember how fitly these words are applied to the languid speech of Lady Bertram. A "clever fancy" on the part of the Norns, to spin this slender thread  connecting Jane Austen (of all people!) with the "Runick savages boozing ale!" Had she known more of them, she would doubtless have agreed with Frederick the Great, that all their works were not worth a charge of powder, and that she would have no such stuff in her library.
IT was he, young Svejdal,

Was playing at the ball ;
The ball flew into the maiden's breast,
And her cheeks grew white withal.
Choose thy words well !

The ball flew into the maiden's bower,
And after went the swain,
And or ever he left the bower behind
She dreed full bitter pain.

"Oh, never shouldst thou venture
To throw thy ball to me !
There sits a maid in a far-off land
A-longing after thee.

"Oh, ne'er shalt thou seek slumber,
And never rest shalt know,
Until thou hast loosed the lovely maid
That long hath lain in woe ! "

It was he, young Svejdal,
Wrapped him in cloak of vair,
And to the hall betook him
To seek the captains there.

" Now sit in peace, my captains,
And pledge your healths in mead,
Whiles I fare forth to the grave-mound
To seek my mother's rede ! "

It was he, young Svejdal,
That loud did cry and call,
Till the marble-stone was rent and riven
And the mound was nigh to fall.

" Oh, who is it that wakes me r
Who calls with cry so bold ?
May I not lie and sleep in peace
All under darksome mould ? "

" It is I, young Svejdal,
Only son o' thine !
And all I ask is counsel good
From thee, dear mother mine.

" My sister and my stepmother
Have made me pale and pine,
All for a lovely lady
That ne'er I saw with eyne."

" I will give thee a palfrey
Shall serve thy need, I ween !
He can go as well o'er the salt sea-swell
As over the land so green.

" A sword I will give thee also,
Is tempered in dragon's blood,
And it will shine like a burning brand
When thou ridest the darksome wood."

It was he, young Svejdal,
That spurred his steed so free ;
Forth he rode thro' darksome wood
And over the wide sea.

It was he, young Svejdal,
That rode 'twixt sea and land ;
And he was 'ware of a herdsman there
That drove his flock to the strand.

"Lithe and list, good herdsman,
And speak thou sooth to me !
Who is it owns the flock so fair
Thou drivest down to the sea ? "

"Oh, a maiden there is in this countrie
Lies spellbound in dule and pine,
All for a swain hight Svejdal
That never she saw with eyne."

" And knowest thou where the maiden dwells,
Then hide it not from me !
Whenas I am king of all this land
A knight I'll make of thee."

" Oh, yonder under the linden green
There stands my lady's hold ;
The towers are all of the marble grey,
And the doors are decked with gold !

" The towers are all of the marble grey,
And the doors are decked with gold !
Full seven years are over and gone
Since she did sun behold.

"There stands a bear by my lady's bower,
And a lion so fell to see,
But art thou Svejdal in very sooth
Thou shalt pass by them free."

Forth he fared, young Svejdal,
And up to the hold he went ;
All the locks that held it
Were riven asunder and rent.

The bear and the lordly lion
They followed him from the door ;
The linden with all its silvery leaves
Bowed down to earth before.

The linden bowed adown to earth
With every silver leaf :
And up she stood, the maiden proud,
That long had lain in grief.

Up she waked, the maiden proud,
When she heard the spurs a-ringing :
" Now thanks be unto God in heaven
Who help to me is bringing!"

In he went, Sir Svejdal,
That was both young and fair ;
It was the haughty maiden
That hailed his entrance there.

"Welcome to thee, young Svejdal,
Thou noble lord of mine !
Now praised be God in heaven
Hath loosed us from pain and pine ! '
Choose thy words well !

Svipdag and Menglad
by John Bauer (1907)
Colorized by Guddipoland
[Index to Svipdagsmál