Saturday, October 12, 2013

More old reading

Kaputt by Curzio Malaparte is vivid and bears the stink of truth in its recollections of the horrors of a war, the Second World War seen from the Axis side.  That so much of it has been revealed to be fiction disguised as journalism takes off some of the edge; but not much, really, because it retains its plausibility whatever the reality of the events it invents or purports to describe.

On The Yard by Malcolm Braly, a prison novel, is gritty and evocative.

I encountered the work of Jorge Luis Borges while a teenager, because I liked his publisher, New Directions, which had produced Labyrinths, an anthology of his stories.  This is still my favorite of his books translated into English, of which it was the first.

Isaiah Berlin's Russian Thinkers is a fascinating mix of literary criticism and philosophy, including his famous essay "The Hedgehog and the Fox," which includes a brilliant focus on Tolstoy.

I still prefer the Louise Varese translation of Rimbaud's Illuminations to anyone else's including Ashbery's recent publication.  As with Borges, the first translations to which one is exposed often evoke the most lasting affection.  It took a while for me to come to prefer Peter Constantine's raucous translations of Isaac Babel's stories to those translated by Walter Morison, which I had read so many years previously.  Perhaps someday a more recent translation than Stephen Spender's of Rilke's Duino Elegies and M. D. Herter Norton's of his Sonnets to Orpheus will loosen my expectations of the "right" words.

Speaking of Rilke, I remember as a teenager being much moved by The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, where the narrator's disease echoed my own adolescent uneasiness.  I wonder what I would make of it now, or Sartre's Nausea, or any of the other dimly understood books that I read at the time?  This was all in the air at the time and I breathed it in, however imperfectly.

The last of those teenage years appear in surreal fashion in my old friend Michael Disend's Stomping the Goyim, wherein I make two brief appearances.

Amidst all this literary company, I wanted to mention The Tallest Trees by Richard Preston, portions of which I first read in The New Yorker magazine.  He treats of scientists and adventurers who discovered entire ecosystems at the top of redwood trees, complete with meter-high shrubs and a unique species of nematode.  Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher by the journalist Timothy Egan, formerly of The New York Times, is a popular treatment of the life of the photographer Edward S. Curtis, mentioned earlier in this blog.  It quickly overcame my usually dismissive attitude towards popular history and biography.

I close today with a proverb, from the "Proverbs of Hell" section of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by William Blake, a magnificent short work that I would describe oxymoronically, as manifesting an enigmatic clarity:  Enough! or Too much.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Recent reading

Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey shines a brilliant and largely skeptical light on heroes of what was then the recent past.  He treats of Cardinal Manning with Cardinal Newman as a telling sidelight on Manning's climb;  Florence Nightingale (whom Strachey clearly respects more than the others) and the appalling state of British military medicine before her interventions;  Thomas Arnold, who reformed the British public schools into what many considered an even worse institution;  and General Gordon, who is still associated with his defeat by al-Mahdi at Khartoum.

I found Baladhuri's The Origins of the Islamic State a largely tedious retelling of stories mostly of conquest.  Perhaps the translation was somewhat at fault.  However, there were occasional surprising anecdotes which sweetened the slog for this interested layman, and I quote one here:  "The state of 'Uman continued in a fair way, its people paying sadakah on their property, and poll-tax being taken from those among them who were dhimmis until the caliphate of ar-Rashid who made Isa ibn-Ja'far ibn-Sulaiman ibn-'Ali ibn-'Abdallah ibn-al-'Abbas its ruler. The latter left for 'Uman with some troops from al-Basrah, who began to violate women, and rob the people, and make public use of musical instruments.  The people of 'Uman, who were mostly Shurat, having learned that, fought against him and held him back from entering the city.  Finally, they succeeded in killing and crucifying him."

Alec Wilder's American Popular Song is a valuable treatment of the work of composers for popular media in the period 1900 - 1950.  He provides extended treatments of the work of Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Richard Rogers, Cole Porter and Harold Arlen, with briefer treatments of numerous others and finally of outstanding individual songs.  These treatments include many samples of musical transcriptions, for which some ability to read music is of course requisite.

Another novel by R. K. Narayan, The Vendor of Sweets, includes many beautiful touches of comedy and nostalgia in a tale of a generational cultural clash.  As usual, it is my favorite of his books, since it is the last one I read!

Over recent weeks of commuting I listened to a recording of Joyce's Ulysses read by Jim Norton, with the Penelope episode read by Marcella Riordan.  This version loaned additional humor to the written page, and gave me more insight into the work.  Additional insight came from reading the first half of Richard Ellmann's biography James Joyce.  I abandoned this after it tells of the publication of Ulysses and its aftermath, as I found the tale of the artist ascending far more interesting than the story of Joyce at work on Finnegan's Wake.  This I continue to find unreadable other than in the beautiful or comical excerpts provided by Joyce's legion of commentators.

I found the contemporary Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami's lengthy The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle easy enough to read but lacking in meaning.  Li Yu's The Carnal Prayer Mat contains some truly extraordinary pieces of adult fiction, so it's not for everyone!  But it is unique treatment of Chinese society during the Ming and Qing dynasties, at least among the various translations of old Chinese writing that I've seen.

I've not previously noted two books by the artist Rockwell Kent that have given me great pleasure.  Both are diaries illustrated with his often beautiful woodcuts.  N by E describes a sailing adventure from the US to Greenland in a small boat that wrecks on the Greenland coast.  Wilderness tells of a time with his young son on a nearly uninhabited island near Seward, Alaska.  Richard Nelson's Hunters of the Northern Ice and Hunters of the Northern Forest are anthropological treatments of vanishing North American aboriginal cultures.

Georges Perec's W, or, The Memory of Childhood has two seemingly distinct narratives:  one regarding his childhood in occupied France and after, and the other a treatment of a prison-like society.  It is an enigmatic yet powerfully told story.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Three Kingdoms: A Historical Novel, in the Moss Roberts translation, has many hundreds of pages of action, adventure, profound strategy and psychology, elevated and debased rhetoric and ethics, and a compelling set of overlapping stories.  It was the first of the "four great Chinese classic novels," a favorite in China for hundreds of years and is still widely read today.  It shares some characteristics with my other medieval favorites, the Baghdad historian al-Tabari and the Icelandic sagas:  pithiness, action, interspersed poetry, and such a large canvas of characters that one must be prepared to be satisfied without full understanding.

A selection from Plutarch, The Fall of the Roman Republic, with biographies of Caius Marius, Sulla, Crassus, Pompey, Caesar and Cicero, in Rex Warner's translation, shines an illuminating and occasionally harsh light on the lives of some very powerful and ambitious men.

Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited is a quick and vivid read, following heights of the pleasures of youthful freedom and dissipation with depths of the degradation that follows.  Kipling's Kim is a great boy's story, full of exotic adventure.

The Book of J, i.e., the Jahwist, is a selection from the Torah with translation by David Rosenberg and commentary by Harold Bloom.  It presents especially in Bloom's commentaries a startling version of the meanings in this ancient book.  TANAKH: The Holy Scriptures, a contemporary translation of the Jewish Bible (roughly equivalent to the Christian Old Testament) by the Jewish Publication Society, contains many fascinating stories and some lovely religious poetry.

Arthur Rubinstein's My Young Years spends many pages on the great pianist's dissipated youth, with its repeated cycles of poverty and luxury, mixed with tales of acquaintance with great musicians and various aristocrats.  With its purportedly faithful reproduction of dialog and descriptions of many loves and high society, its tone is reminiscent of Casanova.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sol T. Plaatje's Mhudi gives a colorful depiction of native life in what became South Africa, including early contacts with the Dutch colonists, from a young African woman's viewpoint.

I've read the first two parts of Arturo Barea's memoir, The Forging of a Rebel, including The Forge, about his boyhood in Spain, and The Track, concerning his experiences with the Spanish military in Morocco. The stories he relates are accentuated by his unusual attention to concrete details of description.

Evelyn Waugh's novel about journalists in Africa, Scoop, retains its comic effect despite the author's Tory views.

Henri Pirenne's A History of Europe combines the details of European politics from late Roman times through the Renaissance with an overarching sense of the evolution of social and economic life, resulting in a stylish work of great explanatory power.

Vasily Grossman’s unfinished Forever Flowing (also published as Everything Flows) loses its compelling story of a political prisoner's return from Stalin's camps to Soviet society in angry reflections about the Soviet leadership, and the evils they brought, from Lenin on. But the first half is extraordinarily powerful.

Halldor Laxness' Iceland's Bell has many extraordinary scenes in Iceland and Denmark as he recreates aspects of Iceland's colonial period under Danish rule. His dark humor is alternately darker or more comic.

Monday, November 16, 2009

George Lewis’ A Power Strong Than Itself combines academic discourse, intellectual biography, oral history and other normally segregated genres in its extraordinary story of a long-lived self-help organization created by black Chicago avant-garde musicians.

Carlo Emilio Gadda’s That Awful Mess on Via Merulana is a witty treatment of the mystery genre. Cesar Pavese’s The Moon and the Bonfires and The Beach are like Antonioni movies magically translated to the printed page: beautiful, frustrating, intermittently but perhaps meaninglessly eventful, puzzling and seductive.

Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate is a profound novel of the battle of Stalingrad and the lives of Russians elsewhere in that period.

The Plum in the Golden Vase (Chin Ping Mei) is an anonymous Ming Dynasty classic replete with literary allusion, occasional pornography, and an amazing variety of villainous or put-upon characters. The Scholars, by the Qing Dynasty writer Wu Jingzi, is a series of linked tales, gentle satires describing the attractive or vicious characteristics of quite a few from the class of literati with office.

Jorge Amado’s Gabriella Clove and Cinnamon and Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands are marvelous works of overflowing humor and humanity, with particular sympathy for women in their oppression, set in the northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia and very particular in their treatment of local society, customs, nightlife, and so on.

R. K. Narayan’s Swami and His Friends; Mr. Sampath: the Printer of Malgudi; The Financial Expert, The Painter of Signs; The Bachelor of Arts; The Guide are as particular as Amado, in their treatment of a small southern Indian city, peopled with a marvelous set of characters and sparkling flashes of wit. I find that Narayan has difficulty bringing a plot line to a satisfactory conclusion but this is not a great fault in his short and highly entertaining novels.

Confucius Analects, translated by Slingerland, is both readable and precise, and includes much supplementary material, in particular material on each saying drawn from the long Chinese tradition of commentary.

Casanova’s History of My Life, in twelve volumes combined into six books in an excellent contemporary translation, is full of thrills and details about life in post-Renaissance Italy and France. Casanova played out many roles in a very eventful lifelong attempt at material and social success and I tend to believe his claim that remorse over a particular bad deed (described in some detail) compels him to perfect honesty. True or not, many fascinating stories.

V. S. Pritchett’s A Cab at the Door and Midnight Oil are entertaining memoirs of his childhood, youth and apprenticeship as a writer. The first of these two has wonderful descriptions of the older people in his life.

Although The Life of Muhammad by Ibn Ishaq, translated and introduced by Guillaume, is overlong, excessively credulous, replete with tedious martial lyrics, yet contains much material that is so full of another actual world, the world of sixth-century Arabia, as to provide intermittent fascination.

David Shapiro's New and Selected Poems is by turns (or often, simultaneously) enthralling and bewildering.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Today's walk and a Chilean poet in translation

The work of the Chilean Nicanor Parra can seem too entertaining to be poetry. His currency is irony and outright laughter. He mocks received opinion as vivaciously as his fellow Hispanophone Luis Buñuel. Often he works by disorienting his reader's expectations... Here's a sample.


I'm Not a Sentimental Old Man

a baby leaves me absolutely cold
I wouldn't take a baby in my arms
even if the world were caving in
every man scratches his own itch
I can't stand a family get-together
I'd rather be stuck in the eye with a sharp stick
than play with my nephews
my grandchildren don't move me very much either
what I mean is they set my nerves on edge
the second they see me come back from the coast
they come running at me with open arms
as if I were Santa Claus
little sons of bitches!
who the hell do they imagine I am

(Emergency Poems, translated by Miller Williams, published by New Directions, 1972)

Today the Pink House walk: up through the steepest part of Hendricks Park on the path that angles up from the south side of Summit Avenue under the big Douglas Firs, reading as I walk, a dangerous habit I'm told. The light rain is not doing so much damage to my New Yorker as to dissolve the pages; the clay which I've recently learned is the basis for the shininess of the pages of many of the slicks holds up well.

I pass the side trail that's been cut off for park work, but now is open. The city and a private group are restoring the formerly common and now rare white oak woodland at the top of the ridge, by cutting down the Doug Firs. I'm planning to catch this trail from the street side on my descent and see what's different.

The Pink House, a stucco multistory mission-style dwelling with substantial land and a carriage house, sits at the high point. Walking downhill on Capital Drive and turning right on the first intersection, at Cresta de Ruta Street. Walking steeply downhill now onto Madrona Drive and finding where the side trail, just previously anticipated, briefly touches the street. A pile of slash, neater than most logging operations to be sure, as if they're piling it for some future use. City yellow tape marks the slash area's perimeter but the Oak Knoll Trail that my wife's brother Michael built is open, so I take it. Here my reading stops.

A narrow trail, paralleling the long-closed park street below. Perhaps someday there will be a path down to that abandoned road but for now what look like trails down are perhaps only the marks left by trees felled as part of the restoration: straight, a foot or so wide, and ending abruptly amidst the tangle of ferns and shrubs that survived the crash of timber. All along as I go, there are many white oaks on the ridgeline above, more visible than I'd remembered, and also more numerous than in my recollection. They are so many, they are obvious.

At the beginning of the knoll loop, where the trail passes above the property of people known to have dumped their garden cuttings in the park, is an attractive result of this pernicious practice, a group of hellebores, magenta and white, in spring bloom. Lenten hellebores? It is March 1st, after all.

On the knoll itself where the trail traces an outer circle, more white oaks and also the multitudinous green shoots of Camas, reminding me of the later spring, or perhaps just "spring" since March 1st is still winter, when this place will be replete with the heavy blue of a mass of Camas blossoms.

The unmaintained trail, which I first discovered while wishing that such access to lower streets would be along here somewhere, leads steeply down, dangerously so in such wet weather where I can't tell if the rock step below will give me some traction or the slip. So I hold on to what I suspect to be a cherry sapling leafing out, just another weed as far as the oak knoll program goes, and get over the rock steps to a more continuous trail. This continues down almost into a backyard where it turns sharply left and out onto the dead end of Malabar Drive.

Then along Malabar Drive to the fenced yard where there appears to be an easement between properties, perhaps where some civic-minded individual will some day build a staircase. In the meantime, it's bark mulch down to Spring Boulevard, directly across from its intersection with Oak Grove Drive which itself dead-ends shortly into Mission Park. But that's for a drier time, later in the year. Well, now I can finish my New Yorker as I walk home on the Spring Boulevard, waving prophylatically at each of the few cars that could easily run a pedestrian off the road through inattention or malice. Not that I've noticed malice on Spring Boulevard and environs.

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Sunday, December 24, 2006

Two marriage episodes from The Saga of Thidrek of Bern, translated by Edward R. Haymes (New York: Garland Publishing, 1988; out of print)


225. Thidrek’s champions return to their lands

Now that King Thidrek and all of his men had proven themselves so that no man in the world would dare to bear a shield against them in battle, they wished to set their lands in order and put great chieftains over castles to rule them. Earl Hornbogi went home to Vindland along with his son Amlung and his wife Fallborg, and they ruled over their land for a long time with honor and respect. Sistram went east to Fenidi and became duke there and the most famous of men, just as his kinsmen had been before. Herbrand went home to his country where he was the most powerful duke.

226. Sigurd takes Grimhild

Then Thidrek rode home with King Gunnar to Niflungaland along with all those who were later to be his knights, and they made the plan that later became very famous, namely that Young Sigurd should marry Grimhild, the sister of King Gunnar and of Hogni, and that he should take half of King Gunnar’s kingdom. This was now celebrated with a great feast and all the best men of the realm were invited and this feast lasted five days and was exceedingly grand in all ways.

And now when they were all sitting together, King Thidrek, King Gunnar and Young Sigurd, Sigurd spoke to Gunnar, his brother-in-law: “I know of a woman who is outstanding above all the women in the world in fame and in all courtesy. She is also superior to all other women in wisdom, courtliness, and all knowledge, nobility, and ambition and she is called Brynhild. She rules over the castle that is called Saegard. You should take this woman as your wife, and I shall help you because I know all the ways that lead there.’

Then King Gunnar answered and eagerly accepted this advice.

227. King Gunnar asks for Brynhild

Then King Thidrek, King Gunnar, Hogni, Young Sigurd and all of their fellows left the feast and traveled a long way without stopping until they reached the castle of Brynhild. And when they arrived, she welcomed warmly King Thidrek and King Gunnar, but she was cool toward Sigurd, because she knew that he had his own wife. The first time they had met he had promised her with oaths that he would take no other woman but her, and she had sworn that she would take no other man.

Then Sigurd went and spoke with Brynhild and told her their purpose and asked that she accompany King Gunnar.

And she answered in this way: “I have found out in truth how badly you keep your word to me, the oaths we swore. In spite of that, if I had all the men in the world to choose from, I would still choose you as a husband.”

Then Young Sigurd answered: “It must take place as has been planned, for you are the most worthy woman and the noblest I know, and things cannot be between us as was intended earlier. I have urged King Gunnar to do this for he is the greatest man. He is an excellent knight and a powerful king, and you and he seem to me a good match. I took his sister rather than you because you do not have any brothers. And he and I have sworn that he shall be my brother and I his.”

Then Brynhild answered: “I see now that I cannot have you and for that reason I will take good advice from you and from King Thidrek.”

Then King Thidrek and King Gunnar came to where they were speaking and they did not end their discussion before it was decided that Gunnar would wed Brynhild.

228. Gunnar does not get his will with Brynhild

And now a great feast was prepared. When it was ready and many worthy men had come together, King Gunnar was supposed to go to wed Brynhild. The first night Gunnar wished to stay beside Brynhild in her bed, and no third person was allowed to sleep in the chamber, because the watchmen kept their watch outside the hall.

When the two were together, the king wished to lie with his wife, but she certainly did not want it. And they strove so much between them that she took his belt and bound his feet and his hands and hung him on a nail by his hands and feet, and there he remained almost until daybreak. When day began she freed him, and he went to his bed and lay there until he was supposed to get up and his men came in to him. Then the men went to drink and he told no one what had happened, nor did she. The second night the same thing happened and also on the third. King Gunnar was completely dejected and did not know what to do about it.

And then he remembered that Sigurd, his brother-in-law, had sworn an oath to be as a brother to him in all things, and he was the wisest of men, so Gunnar decided to trust him in this case, to let him know, and to take his advice about what was to be done. He spoke privately to Sigurd and told him the truth.

And Sigurd answered: “I shall tell you what it is that causes this. She has a supernatural power as long as she retains her virginity so that there is scarcely a man who has her strength, but when it is lost she will be no stronger than other women.”

Then Gunnar answered: “For the sake of our friendship and family ties I trust you more than any other man in those cases where much is at stake and things must be kept secret. I also know that you are such a strong man that you could take her virginity if any man in the world can, and I would most like to trust you that it will never become known to any man if it is done this way.”

Then Sigurd answered and said that he would do what Gunnar wanted. And thus it was decided.

229. Sigurd sleeps with Brynhild

Evening came and Gunnar set out to go to his bedchamber, and at the first opportunity, he arranged for Young Sigurd to go into his bed. He put on Sigurd’s clothes and went away, and everyone believed that he was Young Sigurd. Sigurd cast clothes over his head and appeared completely weak and thus lay there until everyone had gone away and was asleep. And then he went to Brynhild and quickly took her virginity. In the morning he took from her hand a gold ring and put another in its place. And now a hundred men came to meet him and the first was King Gunnar. He went to the bed, and Sigurd went to meet them after he and Gunnar had changed their clothes. They managed for no one to know that it had happened thus.

230. The knights go home after Gunnar’s wedding

When the feast had lasted seven days and nights, they prepared to ride home. King Gunnar set chieftains in charge of the castle to rule it and he rode home to Niflungaland with his wife Brynhild. When he had come home, he sat in his kingdom and ruled it now in peace together with his brother-in-law Young Sigurd and his brothers Högni and Gernoz. But King Thidrek and all of his men rode home to Bern and they parted in the best friendship.


231. Tristram kills his brother Herthegn

Count Herthegn was married to Isolde, the sister of King Thidrek. They had three sons. The oldest was named Herburt, the second Herthegn, and the third Tristram. The champion Vigbald was also with the count. The count wished to have him teach his sons to fence, since they were now old enough to learn all kinds of skills and courtesy. Herburt and Herthegn learned well, but Tristram, the youngest, was slow and learned worst of all.

One day, when Vigbald was sitting at table with his apprentices, the two older brothers were talking between themselves, saying that their brother Tristram was not learning to fence. They said that he should learn another occupation, since he could not understand any of this. Tristram answered and said that they should test him at fencing with either one of them and they would find out whether he could do anything or whether it was as they said that he could not learn anything. They consented to do as he wished and Tristram wished to fight immediately. The brothers and their master Vigbald went out and they took the swords they expected to fence with.

Young Tristram said that it would be of no importance to fight with blunted swords. He said he wanted to fight with sharp swords: “and then we will know,” he said, “if you or I can do something with our weapons if our swords cut. We shall not get angry over this, though.”

His brother Herthegn was going to fight and he thought it good that they were fighting with sharp weapons, because he was already better at fencing. But Master Vigbald wanted to see if they had learned anything while they were learning from him, and he bade them not get angry because they had sharp swords. Herthegn said that he would certainly not get angry, but young Tristram lifted up his sword and went against his brother rather angrily and then he took up his shield. His master went to him and said that he should not take up the shield in this way and that he had not taught him to pick up his shield this way, but rather in this fashion and he told him how. Tristram answered him angrily and said that he would not learn anything now if he had not learned anything before and that there was no use for him to teach him.

They now went together and fenced and it seemed to Herthegn that he could land a blow on his brother any way he wanted to and he did not defend himself. Young Tristram raised his sword and aimed a blow at his brother Herthegn, but Herthegn raised up his shield before the blow. When Tristram saw that, he ran his sword under the shield and into the body above the belt, so that the sword ran through him and Herthegn fell dead to the ground.

Tristram threw down his shield and went away with drawn sword to where his horse was. He leapt onto the horse and rode away out of the country to Brandinaborg to Duke Irons, and stayed there a long time. He told the duke all about his trip and what had happened when he had left his country and what he had done. The duke welcomed him warmly and made him his servant and gave him into the care of Nordian, his hunter. He now took care of the duke’s hunting dogs and rode in the hunt. He pleased the duke well.

232. Herburt comes to Bern

Count Herthegn was informed that his son had been killed and that young Tristram had gone away. He called his son Herburt to him and asked where his brother was, and whether it was true what had been told him that his son Herthegn had been killed and that Tristram had ridden away. Herburt said that it was true.

The count now said: “I have now lost two sons, and you alone are responsible, because you are the oldest and you should have advised them and prevented them from doing something that would turn out ill. But you have urged them together and advised them to the course that things have taken. It is fitting that you alone pay and you will never be a respected man again.”

Herburt thought it bad that his father was angry at him, and he became anxious about this, and he went away and thought it over a short while. Then he got his horse and his weapons and rode away from Ivern.’ He took the roads that led to Bern to meet King Thidrek, his uncle, and he told him everything that had happened: that his brother had been killed and that their youngest brother Tristram had done it and that his old father had blamed him for it. That was why he had gone away. King Thidrek welcomed his kinsman warmly. He remained with him in great honor.

Herburt became a man of great accomplishments in all things, so that his equal could scarcely be found in any sport or in knightly prowess.

233. Thidrek hears about Hild, the daughter of King Artus

King Thidrek did not have a wife at this time because he had neither seen nor heard of a woman as beautiful as he wanted. He was told about a woman named Hild, the daughter of King Artus of Bertanga [Bretagne].She was said to be the most beautiful of all women. King Thidrek sent his men out into all the world to find him the most courteous of ladies. These men came to Bertanga and to King Artus and were told that his daughter was the most beautiful woman in the world. She was protected so carefully that the messengers could never see her as long as they stayed there. Everyone who had seen her said that no man had seen as beautiful or as fair a woman. After this they returned to Bern and told King Thidrek how much they were told about this woman: that she was more courteous and fairer than others might find if they sought through all the world. They also told him that she was so carefully guarded that no foreigner could see her, nor could any of her countrymen except the closest friends of the king.

When the king had heard this news, he began to think much about how be could win this woman. He called his kinsman Herburt to him and said that he should bring his message to Bertanga and ask for the hand of Hild, the daughter of King Aflus. Herburt said that he would go wherever he wished to send him.

King Thidrek had him prepared for the trip and gave him twenty-four knights and gave them good armor and good horses and good clothing.

234. Herburt brings King Thidrek’s proposal

Herburt now rode all the way to Bertanga where he was well received by King Artus. When Herburt had been there a short time, he went before the king and told him that King Thidrek of Bern, his uncle, had sent him thence to ask for his daughter Hild on behalf of of King Thidrek.

King Artus asked why King Thidrek did not come there himself to ask for his daughter if he wished to gain her.

Herburt answered that there had been other men of King Thidrek’s there for some time and that they had not gotten to see her. “And now he sends his nephew, whom he trusts well, to see the woman himself.”

The king answered that he would also not be able to see her, because it was not their custom to let foreigners see her except on the one day when she was in the habit of going to church.

235. Herburt serves King Artus

Herburt remained a long time with King Artus and the king made him his man and he was supposed to serve the king at table. When he had been there a while, Herburt was such a courteous knight that the king and his men thought that they had scarcely seen his equal. When the king had seen how well he served, the king increased his honor, made him his steward. He was put in charge of the mead, of waiting on guests, and of serving those who required the greatest care. He served him in this office with such skill that no one had ever seen anyone like him before. The king increased his honor even more and made him his personal steward, and he had to serve the king himself. He carried out this task so well that the king himself and all his men thought that no man who had come there was his equal in courtesy and in all the tasks he was to perform, neither foreigner nor countryman. One time when he had been serving at the king’s table and had washed his hands, he did not take a towel, but held his hands up in the sun and dried them in this fashion.

236. Herburt hears about the princess

Herburt was with the king when an important holiday arrived. There was a great festival in the king’s hall and on the same day Hild was due to go to church. Herburt went to the road ahead of her and planned to see her. When Hild went out from her hail, twelve counts went with her, six on each side, holding up her gown, and then came twelve monks, six on each side, who held up her mantle. After that came twelve earls with byrnies, helmets, shields and swords and they were to see that no one would be so bold as to speak with her. Over her head there was a structure like two peacocks, and this was held up with all of the framework that went with it to shield her so that the sun could not burn her fair face. Around her head were silken veils, so that no one could see her face, and so she went to the church, sat on her seat, took her book, and sang and never looked up from it.

Herburt now went into the church, so that he came as close to the princess as possible, but he did not see her face because the men who were supposed to guard her stood in front of her. These were the men who had come with her, the twelve counts and the twelve monks. The twelve earls who were supposed to defend her with weapons stood before the church.

Herburt had taken two mice and had one decorated with gold and the other with silver. He turned the mouse that was decorated with gold loose and the mouse ran toward the stone wall near where the princess was sitting. When the mouse ran toward her, she looked around quickly to see where the mouse was running, and Herburt was able to see a little of her face. A little while later he turned the other mouse loose, the one decorated with silver, and this mouse ran the same way as the first one had toward the wall where the princess was, and for the second time the princess looked up from her book to see where the mouse was running. Now she saw a distinguished and courteous man and smiled at him, and he smiled in return. A short time later she sent her lady in waiting to ask who he was, where he came from, and what he was doing there.

He answered: “My name is Herburt. I am a kinsman of King Thidrek of Bern and he sent me here. I cannot tell you my errand, but if your lady wishes to know it, then I will tell it only to her alone.”

The girl returned and told the princess everything she had been told and how this man wished to meet with her. She answered and said that she dared not speak one word with a foreigner while her mother and father were present and she asked him to wait until they had left and told him to stand behind the church door. The girl went back again and told him what the princess had said. He did as he had been told and waited at the door, as she had said, until the king and queen had left. The princess now went out to the door after the king. She turned behind the door and Herburt greeted her. She bade him welcome and asked what mission he had with her.

He answered: “That will take a long time to say. I have been in this place a half year, and I have not been able to come near you nor to hear you speak. But my mission has to do with you and I would like it if you can arrange for us to talk for a longer time so that you can know my errand.”

She answered and said that she would arrange it.

A monk, who was a watchman for her, went between them, pushed him aside and asked how he could be so bold, as a foreigner, “that he speak with you, lady, and he shall pay for it quickly.”

But Herburt took the monk’s beard in his right hand and shook him so hard that the beard came away with the skin. He said that he would teach him not to push foreigners. The princess went away along with her attendants and ladies-in-waiting, and Herburt went back to the king’s board and served. And the princess was drinking there with her father in the hall because it was a great feast.

237. Herburt serves the princess

Herburt stood before the king’s table and served. The princess spoke to her father: “Sir, will you give me a gift if I request it of you?”

The king asked: “What are you going to request? Everything is at your disposal that you wish to own in my kingdom.”

She answered: “I wish you to give me this courteous table servant as my servant.”

The king answered: “You shall have the servant, but I promised you the fulfillment before I knew what you would ask.”

When the feast was over, the princess returned to her castle and young Herburt traveled with her and was supposed to serve her now.

Herburt now sent twelve knights back to Bern to tell King Thidrek that it had come about that he would now be able to speak with her. He added that he had seen her and that she was the most beautiful of all women as had been said. The other twelve knights remained there and were supposed to wait on how his mission turned out. Now the messengers traveled back to Bern and told King Thidrek all of this news, and he was pleased about their journey.

238. Herburt woos the princess and flees with her

Herburt spoke often with Hild, the daughter of King Artus, and he told her that King Thidrek, his uncle, had sent him to her with the mission of asking for her hand.

She asked: “What kind of man is Thidrek of Bern and what does he look like?”

Herburt answered: “King Thidrek is the greatest of warriors in the world and the most generous person, and if you will become his wife, you shall lack neither gold, nor silver, nor treasure.”

She answered: “Can you draw his face on this wall?”

He answered: “Lady, I can draw with my hands so that a man would recognize King Thidrek who had seen him before.”

He drew a large and frightening face on the stone wall and he said: “Lady, look here at the face of Thidrek of Bern, and may God help me, if his face is not really much more frightening.”

She replied: “May God not be so angered with me that this frightening devil would take me.”

And she continued: “Sir, why are you wooing me for the hand of King Thidrek of Bern instead of for your own hand?”

Herburt spoke: “I shall carry out the mission for King Thidrek as he commanded. But if you do not want to have him, then I will gladly ask for you myself, if you wish to have me. Even though I am not a king, all of my family is high-born, and I have enough gold and silver to give you, and I fear no man, neither King Artus, nor his men, nor Thidrek of Bern, nor any man in the world, and I shall do any sort of thing you wish.”

She answered then: “Sir, of all men I have seen, I would choose you first. I do not know anything about King Thidrek, except that he is more powerful than you are, but I wish to have you and not him.”

Before they ended their discussion, they put their hands together and gave each other oaths that they would not part until death.

Herburt now remained in her hall for some time before he spoke one day in the morning to the princess: “Lady, I would advise that we ride out of the city before the king becomes suspicious of us.”

She said that he should decide everything about her and that she would follow him all her life. He took two horses and saddled them, one for himself and one for her. They rode from the castle quickly to the forest. When the guardsmen who were guarding the city walls saw them riding, they suspected who might be accompanying Herburt and they went quickly to the king and told them what they had seen. When the king heard that, he sent men to the princess’s castle. When the messengers became aware that the princess had ridden away and that Herburt had gone with her, they quickly went back to the king’s hall and told the king what they had found out.

239. Herburt escapes with the princess

The king called for his knight Hermann and bade him ride after Herburt and not to return home until he had the head of Herburt to give the king.

Hermann quickly took his weapons and his horse and he had thirty knights riding with him, along with thirty squires carrying weapons and byrnies, and they all rode the road that Herburt had taken earlier. They came so near that Herburt could see them and he spoke to his lady: “The king’s knights are riding after us. The king will think that you have gone away without much honor. Because of this he will have sent his knights so that they should serve you and both of us.”

She answered in this fashion: “Sir, they will have a different mission than you said, because they will be wanting to have your life.”

He answered: “Lady, why should they seek the life of an innocent man? And if that is their mission, as you say it is, then may God help me that I shall not die before these men for no reason. But I shall not run away any longer.”

He now dismounted and took her down and bound the horses to a tree. He lay down beside the princess and took her maidenhood. A short time later, Hermann, the kinsman of King Artus, and his men arrived, and Herburt said that they should be welcome.

But Hermann answered that he would never receive a truce, and he continued: “Tell me, you evil dog, before you die, and may God help you that you do not lie, has Hild retained her maidenhood?”

Herburt answered: “When the sun went up this morning, she was a maiden. Now she is my wife.”

Hermann rode at him and aimed his spear at his chest, but at the same moment Herburt drew his sword and cut the spearshaft in two. The second blow struck Hermann and split his helmet, his byrnie and his neck asunder, and he fell dead to the ground. He immediately dealt another knight a blow in the thigh that cut off his leg and he fell off the other side of the horse. He struck at the third one. A very hard battle ensued for a long time until twelve knights and fourteen squires were killed. The ones who remained all fled back to the city. But Herburt had eleven great wounds and his shield and byrnie were cut apart and made useless. Hild now took her cloth and wiped off his wounds. After that he got on his horse and they rode for a long way until they found a king. Herburt remained with him a long time and was made a duke in his army and he had great honor there and there are many great stories to be told of him.

240. The marriage of Thidrek, Fasold, and Thetleif the Dane

It happened one time that King Thidrek made a journey north through the mountains and he was accompanied by Fasold and Thetleif the Dane. They had sixty knights with them. They traveled until they came to a castle called Drekanflis, where he was well received, along with his men. The castle was ruled by King Drusian’s nine daughters, whose mother had died of the grief she had received when Ekka was killed.

Thidrek told them that he wished to ask for the hand of the eldest daughter of King Drusian, who was called Gudilinda. The second sister should go to Fasold and the third to Thetleif the Dane. The daughters of King Drusian did not wish to refuse this honor and so they accepted. A great and rich feast was prepared, and at this feast King Thidrek and Fasold and Thetleif the Dane all married. This broke the promise that had been made to the daughter of Sigurd the Greek. This feast lasted nine days and it increased every day so that more was offered each day than had been offered on the previous one.

Fasold and Thetleif were now placed over the kingdom that had belonged to King Drusian, and King Thidrek made them both dukes, and he himself rode home to Bern along with his wife Gudilinda. When he came home he ruled over his kingdom.