The Story of Burnt Njal

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The Story of Burnt Njal
   

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The Story of Burnt Njal

This book was especially published to raise funds for charities.

What is a Saga? A Saga is a story, or telling in prose, sometimes mixed with verse. There are many kinds of Sagas with varying degrees of truth. There are the mythical Sagas, the historical Sagas of the kings of Norway, and then there are Sagas relating to Iceland narrating the lives, the feuds and the ends of mighty chiefs who dwelt in the districts of the island. These were told by men who lived on the very spot, and told with an exactness as to time and place. The Saga of Njal is one of these.

Of all the Sagas relating to Iceland, this tragic story bears away the palm for truthfulness and beauty. To use the words of one well qualified to judge, it is, when compared with all similar compositions, as gold to brass. In this Saga we learn of the sad story of Njal's fate, Gunnar's peerlessness and Hallgerda's infamy, of Bergthora's helpfulness, of Skarphedinn's hastiness, of Flosi's foul deed, and Kari's stern revenge.

To tell a story truthfully was what was looked for from all men in those days; but to tell it properly and gracefully, and to clothe the facts in fitting diction, was given to few, and of those few the Saga teller who first threw Njal into its present shape, was one of the first and foremost. As for truthfulness, there are many other Sagas relating to the same period in which the actors in our Saga are mentioned by name and in which their deeds are corroborated.

But, of all the Sagas, none were so interesting as Njal, whether as regarding the length of the story, the number of ranking chiefs who appeared in it as actors and the graphic way in which the tragic tale is told.

Excerpt from The Saga of Burnt Njal

THE WOOF OF WAR.

"See! warp is stretched
For warriors' fall,
Lo! weft in loom
'Tis wet with blood;
Now fight foreboding,
'Neath friends' swift fingers,
Our grey woof waxeth
With war's alarms,
Our warp bloodred,
Our weft corseblue.

"This woof is y-woven
With entrails of men,
This warp is hardweighted
With heads of the slain,
Spears blood-besprinkled
For spindles we use,
Our loom ironbound,
And arrows our reels;
With swords for our shuttles
This war-woof we work;
So weave we, weird sisters,
Our warwinning woof.

"Now Warwinner walketh
To weave in her turn,
Now Swordswinger steppeth,
Now Swiftstroke, now Storm;
When they speed the shuttle
How spearheads shall flash!
Shields crash, and helmgnawer
On harness bite hard!

"Wind we, wind swiftly
Our warwinning woof
Woof erst for king youthful
Foredoomed as his own,
Forth now we will ride,
Then through the ranks rushing
Be busy where friends
Blows blithe give and take.

"Wind we, wind swiftly
Our warwinning woof,
After that let us steadfastly
Stand by the brave king;
Then men shall mark mournful
Their shields red with gore,
How Swordstroke and Spearthrust
Stood stout by the prince.

"Wind we, wind swiftly
Our warwinning woof.
When sword-bearing rovers
To banners rush on,
Mind, maidens, we spare not
One life in the fray!
We corse-choosing sisters
Have charge of the slain.

"Now new-coming nations
That island shall rule,
Who on outlying headlands
Abode ere the fight;
I say that King mighty
To death now is done,
Now low before spearpoint
That Earl bows his head.

"Soon over all Ersemen
Sharp sorrow shall fall,
That woe to those warriors
Shall wane nevermore;
Our woof now is woven.
Now battlefield waste,
O'er land and o'er water
War tidings shall leap.

"Now surely 'tis gruesome
To gaze all around.
When bloodred through heaven
Drives cloudrack o'er head;
Air soon shall be deep hued
With dying men's blood
When this our spaedom
Comes speedy to pass.

"So cheerily chant we
Charms for the young king,
Come maidens lift loudly
His warwinning lay;
Let him who now listens
Learn well with his ears
And gladden brave swordsmen
With bursts of war's song.
"Now mount we our horses,
Now bare we our brands,
Now haste we hard, maidens,
Hence far, far, away."

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