William Morris Archive

Book I

Introduction by Stuart Blersch


May Morris, while describing the Sigurd manuscripts, questions "the popular notion that the poet's verse was easy and unlaboured and that it always flowed from the source in an unbroken stream” (Morris, May, WMAWS).  Such notions, if not based on, are at least   reinforced by certain oft-repeated bits of information: that Morris wrote 700 lines of verse in one day (Thompson 177), that he called poetry "a mere matter of craftsmanship,” and that he said "if a chap can't compose an epic poem while he's weaving tapestry, he had better shut up, he'll never do any good at all” (Mackail 192).  Not only is Morris’s verse thought to be quickly and easily written, but also free of revision.  Paul Thompson writes:

His method was to think out a poem in his head while he was busy at some other work.  He would sit at an easel, charcoal or brush in hand, working away at a design while he muttered to himself, 'bumble-beeing' as his family called it; then, when he thought he had got the lines, he would get up from the easel, prowl round the room still muttering, returning occasionally to add a touch to the design; then suddenly he would dash to the table and write out twenty or so lines.  As his pen slowed down, he would be looking around, and in a moment would be at work on another design.  Later, Morris would look at what he had written, and if he did not like it he would put it aside and try again.  But this way of working meant that he never submitted a draft to the painful evaluation which poetry requires (Thompson 177).

At the end of his chapter on Morris's poetry, Thompson concludes that "the pervading weakness of all Morris's poetry, was that it was written with insufficient care” (Thompson 188). Similarly, Mackail states that "revision was . . . at no time a thing much to his taste, or for which he had any aptitude" (I 295).  Earlier in the biography, Mackail quotes Canon Dixon as saying that Morris "had no notion whatever of correcting a poem, and very little power to do so” (I 55). Mackail continues:

This incapacity or impatience of correction remained characteristic of Morris as a literary artist.  The manuscripts of his longer poems show little alteration from the first drafts.  When he was dissatisfied with a poem, he wrote it afresh, or wrote another instead of it" (I 55).

If this were so, one would expect, when looking at the Sigurd manuscripts, to find the poem hastily but smoothly written out in much the same form as it appears in the printed editions.  This is not what one finds, and it is this fact, no doubt, that led May Morris to make her comment about the popular notion of Morris's unlabored, flowing verse.  The fact is that, while the first draft of Book I does appear to be hastily written, judging from the handwriting and lack of punctuation, it is by no means free of revision.  John Robert Wahl has already pointed out in his No Idle Singer that "the Sigurd manuscripts reveal that where necessary Morris reshaped and revised this poem with consummate skill" (12).    Wahl goes on to say that Morris revised four passages in Book I, six in Book II, five in Book III, and seven in Book IV; he then discusses three of these passages.  By bringing these revisions to light, Wahl has succeeded, as Philip Henderson says, in "completely exploding the notion that Morris habitually wrote hurriedly and carelessly and was incapable of revision" (168). 

However, by discussing only three major rewritten passages, in their final and discarded forms, Wahl has actually done little to offset the old notions about Morris's methods of revision. A close look at the manuscripts of Book I reveals that Morris did more than discard and rewrite major passages. In the first draft of Book I, fully 476 of the lines—one fourth of the poem—have some sort of correction or revision: a word or words crossed out, altered, or added, or the entire line recast. On the manuscript pages of the fair copy, 246 lines show revisions. An even greater number of revisions can be found when the first draft and the fair copy are collated: not counting changes in punctuation, there are 1145 lines of the fair copy that are different from the first draft, while 234 lines are added and 28 are deleted. Hence it can be seen that Morris revised not only four passages, but nearly every line of Book I. This number of revisions sheds some new light on what Morris meant when he said that poetry was a "matter of craftsmanship."

What is believed about Morris's treatment of manuscripts is also believed about his treatment of proof sheets. Mackail writes that, when Morris wrote The Defence of Guenevere, he was "a bad and impatient corrector of proofs" (I 134).    May Morris agrees that her father "could not be bothered with meticulous proof-correcting" (I 426).  The fact is, however, that Morris did revise his poetry; The Defence of Guenevere is the only one of his major poetical works that was not later published with revisions: the title page of the 1875 Guenevere edition reads "Reprinted without alteration from the edition of 1858."  (This edition, however, was printed from a copy lacking the errata slip, so it is not truly identical with the first edition.  Also, Morris did alter two lines for the Kelmscott Defence) (Morris, May CWWM xxv-xxvi). The title page of the 1882 edition of The Life and Death of Jason, on the other hand, contains the words "Eighth Edition, revised by the Author," and Morris revised The Earthly Paradise as well.  The 1890 edition features a revised text that, according to H. Buxton Forman, "was all ready for the sumptuous Kelmscott edition, which was still being printed when the poet died" (72).

Evidence shows that Morris was interested in the texts of Kelmscott editions.  In the holograph catalogue of his private collection, Sydney Cockerell lists the Kelmscott Press proofs of News from Nowhere, The Wood Beyond the World, The Life and Death of Jason, The Well at the World's End, Poems by the Way, and The Story of the Glittering Plain as having "corrections in the autograph of William Morris." Cockerell's catalogue also lists the proofs of Syr Perecyvelle of Gales and Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Hand and Soul, both with corrections in Morris's handwriting.  Morris's concern with texts can also be seen in the following statement by W. H. Bowden, Kelmseott Press compositor and press-printer:

Everybody had plenty of time allowed him, so that he might put forth his best effort.  No man ever detested a botch more than William Morris; he was a firm believer in the oldfashioned maxim that if a thing is worth doing at all, it should be done well.  I recollect once telling Morris that a certain typographical correction, if done according to his directions, would take a long time.  His reply—and it was characteristic—was: ‘I don't care: if it takes three months, it must be done!’ (Sparling 83)

Even when Morris was touring northern France with his daughter Jenny in August, 1891, he still maintained his supervision of texts.  In a letter to Bowden, dated August 17, Morris writes, "I send you the proofs corrected; but of course I shall want to see the corrections of my poems before they go to press" (William Morris and the Kelmscott Press 8).

Morris's interest in revision is also apparent in the results of collating Book I of the six editions of Sigurd the Volsung prepared during his lifetime.  The first edition, published by Ellis and White in 1876, contains two new lines and 770 changes in wording and punctuation from the fair copy, indicating that Morris did take some trouble going over the proof sheets.  By examining them on the Lindstrand Comparator, it becomes apparent that the second and third editions, published by Ellis and White in 1877 and 1880, are identical with the first edition in every way but the title pages, which verifies H. Buxton Forman's statement that these three editions were printed at the same time.  The fourth edition, however, published by Reeves and Turner in 1887, contains 127 variants from the first edition, only six of which seem to be printers' errors.  This edition, then, appears to be a revised edition, even though the title page does not identify it as such.  Use of the Lindstrand Comparator again shows that the fifth edition, published by Longmans, Green and Company in 1896, is printed from the same plates as the fourth edition; three errors are corrected, but there are fourteen additional variants, all being punctuation marks dropped from the ends of lines.  The Kelmscott edition, published in 1898, appears to be another revised edition. It contains 227 variants in wording and punctuation from the first edition, but 107 of these variants are identical with changes made in the fourth edition; hence, it seems to be based on that earlier revised edition.  The Kelmscott edition was printed after Morris's death on October 3, 1896, but the edition had been planned for some years, as Sydney Cockerell explains:

An edition of Sigurd the Volsung, which Morris rightly considered to be his masterpiece, was contemplated early in the history of the Kelmscott Press.  An announcement appears in a proof of the first list, dated April 1892, but it was excluded from the list as issued in May.  It did not reappear until the list of November 26, 1895, in which, the Chaucer being near its completion, Sigurd comes under the heading "in preparation,” as a folio in Troy type, "with about twenty-five illustrations by Sir E. Burne-Jones.”  In the list of June 1, 1896, it is finally announced as "in the press," the number of illustrations is increased to forty, and other particulars are given.  Four borders had then been designed for it, two of which were used on pages 470 and 471 of the Chaucer.  The other two have not been used, though one of them has been engraved.  Two pages only were in type, thirty-two copies of which were struck off on Jan. 11, 1897, and given to friends (Cockerell and Morris 57).
The Kelmscott Sigurd was finally issued on February 25, 1898. It was one of the last books printed there, since, as Haliday Sparling explains, the trustees, before closing the press, wanted to finish those editions already planned and prepared for by Morris:
After Morris's death on October 3rd, 1896, the Kelmscott Press was kept in being for some eighteen months by his trustees, F. S. Ellis and S. C. Cockerell, with Emery Walker's assistance, in order to clear up the work already in hand and carry through the more important undertakings that he had planned and prepared for. Many other books than those actually printed had been talked of by him, and would have been produced had he lived; but these, in the absence of instructions as to type, style, size, etc., and of the decorations to be specially designed for them, the trustees did not feel free to proceed with. They rightly felt that William Morris was the Kelmscott Press; that without him it could not continue to exist; and that their duty ended with completing work actually undertaken or clearly outlined and fully prepared for by him (Sparling 90).

This indication that Morris prepared the Kelmscott edition of Sigurd agrees with a piece of evidence in the errata list of the Collected Works. Here May Morris changes "is" on page 17, line 5 (line 555) of her edition of Sigurd to "be," noting that this was "corrected by Morris on his copy of Sigurd."    The only edition that actually makes this change in the text is the Kelmscott edition.

These facts—that, after Morris's death, the trustees of the Kelmscott Press printed only those books prepared for by Morris; that Morris took an active interest in the texts of Kelmscott editions and prepared revisions for the Kelmscott Jason, Earthly Paradise, and Defence of Guenevere; and that the one Sigurd revision known to be Morris's appears in the Kelmscott edition—all indicate a likelihood that Morris prepared the text of the Kelmscott edition of Sigurd. There is only a likelihood, however, and not absolute proof: none of Morris's published letters mentions revising Sigurd, and the copy of the text prepared for the Kelmscott edition and the proof sheets, if still extant, remain to be found.

There is a possibility that someone besides Morris, such as Sydney Cockerell (who, according to his Holograph Catalogue, corrected the Kelmscott Sigurd proofs) was responsible for the 120 variants that appear in the Kelmscott edition of Sigurd.  There is a strong possibility, however, that these were Morris's final revisions of Sigurd. Although the evidence is inconclusive, the possibility that Morris, directly or indirectly, made the final revisions for Sigurd must be taken seriously. In the hopes of presenting Morris's final intentions, I have used the text of the Kelmscott Sigurd for this edition. In the event that some further evidence materializes and indicates that the Kelmscott edition does not represent Morris's final intentions, the changes in my edition necessitated by new evidence could easily be made, since I have recorded all of the variants.

A word should be said about why the Sigurd edition in the Collected Works, usually considered standard for all Morris's writing, is not used as the copy text. In the introduction to her editions of The Defence of Guenevere, The Life and Death of Jason, and The Earthly Paradise, May Morris discusses the text at some length, explaining which edition she has followed and what corrections, if any, she herself has made.  In the introduction to her edition of Sigurd, however, she makes no mention of the text.  Collation reveals that, of the 148 variants between her edition and the first edition, 100 are identical with variants in the fourth edition (96 of which appear in the Kelmscott edition), 16 are identical with variants first appearing in the Kelmscott edition, while 32 variants are new.  Two of these 32 variants are corrections of errors contained in all previous editions; three of the variants are changes in wording.  Spaces between stanzas are added in five places and omitted in two.  In the Collected Works, the edition of Sigurd appears to be a composite of the fourth and Kelmscott editions, with thirty added variants. One can only wish that May Morris had been as careful about explaining her treatment of Sigurd as she was of her father's other works.  Until some further evidence, such as Morris's marked copy of Sigurd mentioned by his daughter in the errata list, becomes available, certain revisions in the Collected Works edition remain questionable and rule out its use as a copy text.


The greatest number of changes made in Sigurd the Volsung have to do with punctuation. The first draft is, for the most part, unpunctuated, the dash being the most frequently used punctuation mark; Morris added punctuation when he prepared the fair copy. The first edition, however, also shows a substantial number of added punctuation marks, as do, to a lesser extent, the fourth edition and the Kelmscott edition. Not only do these three revised versions all show an increase in punctuation, but there are similarities in the added punctuation as well. For instance, all three show a marked increase in the number of commas, especially at the middle and end of lines, whereas the number of periods, colons, and semicolons remains about the same. In general, the revisions in punctuation in the first, fourth, and Kelmscott editions improve the clarity of the long hexameter lines without halting the flow of the verse.

Of the three editions mentioned, the first edition contains the most revisions of punctuation: there are 422 punctuation marks added, 56 deleted, and 103 altered. Of the 422 added marks, 183 are commas, most of which are placed in the expected locations. There are 60 apostrophes added as part of possessive nouns or contractions. There are 14 quotation marks added to indicate quotations, and 34 periods are added, mostly at the end of the last line of a stanza where a stop has been obviously intended.

While May Morris has complained about the effect of "the iron rules of the printer's reader" (Morris, May WMAWS I 425) on her father's punctuation, there is little evidence of any such rules having been applied to Sigurd. The only example of regularization in the first edition of Book I is the substitution of colons for seventeen semicolons before quotations. Even so, three such semicolons remain in the first edition. There is less consistency with commas. Of the commas added in the first edition, most occur in the usual places: between words in a series, after exclamatory words at the beginning of a sentence, before and after appositives and nonrestrictive clauses and phrases, and before coordinating conjunctions. Of the 36 commas deleted, however, 8 are removed from locations similar to those of commas added. And while the remainder of the deleted commas were in locations where a comma is not conventionally considered necessary, such as between the verbs in a compound predicate and before subordinating conjunctions, 36 of the commas added in the first edition are also placed in these locations. Hence it can be seen that, as far as commas are concerned, no "iron rules" have been enforced. It appears that Morris has punctuated each line not so that it would follow rules but so that it would read well.

What the commas added in the first edition do have in common is that most come either at the end of the line of verse (69 commas) or in the middle of the line, after the third foot (66 commas).  Here it should be kept in mind that when Morris began the first draft, he wrote the poem with three-beat lines and did not change to six-beat lines until line 88.  Even when the lines are hexameter, the rhythm of the line often indicates a slight pause after the third foot, which frequently ends with an extra unaccented syllable.  Hence the many lines in Sigurd containing a caesura, emphasized by Morris's increasing use of the comma in the middle of the line, continue the original concept of three-beat phrases.

An increase in punctuation continues in the fourth edition, which contains 74 new punctuation marks.  Again, most of these marks (68) are commas, and most are added in conventional locations such as before coordinating conjunctions (24 of the commas).  Nine of the new commas, however, are placed in positions where they are not conventionally necessary.  Most of the new commas (53) come at the end of a line of verse, while 5 come in the middle of the line.  Of the seven commas deleted, two were in locations where commas are usually placed, while five were not necessary.  It can be seen that the comma revisions made in the fourth edition resemble those made in the first edition.

Punctuation changes made in the Kelmscott edition move in the same direction as those made in the first edition and the fourth edition.  With 47 new punctuation marks, the trend towards an increase in punctuation continues.  Of the new marks, 18 are commas, all of which are added in locations similar to those of commas added in previous revisions.  Again, most of the commas come at the middle of the line (4) or at the end of the line (10).

While most of the added commas in the revised editions of Sigurd come in places where they are expected and hence clarify but do not alter the meaning of the line, a few of the added commas do bring about a slight change in meaning or emphasis.  An example occurs in line 1264, where Sigmund reveals his and Sinfiotli's identity to Siggeir.  In the fair copy, Sigmund answers Siggeir's question, "Who lit the fire I burn in?" (l. 1249) with

"Thou shall say by Sigmund the Volsung and Sinfiotli Signy's son."
In the first edition, Morris adds a comma not only after "Sinfiotli" but after "Volsung" as well:
"Thou shall say by Sigmund the Volsung, and Sinfiotli, Signy’s Signy’ son."

In so doing, Morris has given added emphasis to the two names, the revelation of which is the climax of this passage.

Another example of punctuation emphasizing the meaning of a line can be seen in lines 1066-67.  In the first edition the lines read:

Till she lay there dead before him: then he sorrowed over her dead;
But no long while he abode there, but into the thicket he went.

In the fourth edition the semicolon at the end of line 1066 is replaced by a colon; in the Kelmscott edition, this colon is replaced by a comma:
Till she lay there dead before him: then he sorrowed over her dead,
But no long while he abode there, but into the thicket he went.

The effect of this revision is to shorten the pause after "dead" and, by suggestion, the weasel's period of sorrowing, which, as the line says, is "no long while." The shortened pause at the end of the line emphasizes the sense of the line.

Several commas are added to Sigurd to avoid ambiguity. For instance, before revision, line 856 reads:

And long she pondered and said: What is it my heart hath feared?
An added comma in the Kelmscott edition makes it clear that "long" modifies only "pondered" and not "said" as well:
And long she pondered, and said: What is it my heart hath feared?
Similarly, a comma added at the end of line 1835 alters the meaning of the line slightly.  Before revision the lines read:
So there lies Sigmund the Volsung, and far away, forlorn
Are the blossomed boughs of the Branstock, and the house where he was born.

The revised lines in the Kelmscott edition read as follows:

So there lies Sigmund the Volsung, and far away, forlorn,
Are the blossomed boughs of the Branstock, and the house where he was born.

Without the comma, "forlorn" is the primary modifier of "boughs" and "house," whereas the sense of the line and the added comma indicate that "far away" is a modifier of equal importance.

In addition to the similar handling of comma revisions, the treatment of the dash and the hyphen appears to connect the revisions done in the different editions of Sigurd. The dash is the most frequently used mark of punctuation in the first draft, but it is used less in the fair copy, where it is often replaced by other punctuation marks. The number of dashes is again reduced in the first edition, where four dashes are deleted, and the Kelmscott edition replaces eight dashes and deletes thirteen, thus eliminating all dashes from the poem.

While the use of the dash is reduced, the use of the hyphen is greatly expanded. The first draft contains 45 hyphenated words; the fair copy adds 135; the first draft adds 111 and deletes 10; the fourth edition adds 2 hyphens and deletes 5; and the Kelmscott edition adds 26 hyphens while it deletes 3. Many of the hyphenated words, such as "lovely-eyed" and "over-great," serve as adjectives, but most of the hyphenated words in Sigurd function as nouns. Many of these are coinages used in place of familiar but non-Anglo-Saxon words, such as "queen’s-daughter" for "princess," "yea-saying" for "assent," "hand-bonds" for "manacles," "battle-blencher" for "coward," and "high-seat" for "throne." 

Thus Morris has strived for diction that suggests a time preceding Latin and French influences.  In addition to suggesting a pre-Roman setting, some of the coinages have their own specific meanings, such as "death-field," "doom-song," and "death-word."  Still other hyphenated words are kennings: "blood-reed," "war-wand," and "war-shaft" are all used in place of "spear," for instance.  Other words, such as "Goth-folk," "long-ship," and "dwarf-kind," seem to have been hyphenated to end confusion over their being one or two words.  All of these examples appear both as one word and two words in the first draft, while they are all hyphenated either in the fair copy or the first edition.

It is clear that there are similar patterns in the punctuation revisions done in the manuscripts and editions of Book I of Sigurd, and these patterns make it appear likely that one person did these revisions.  This corresponds with information already presented about Morris's concern with revisions, making it appear even more probable that it was Morris who made these revisions of Sigurd.

Revisions in wording in Book I of Sigurd can be seen in the first draft through the Kelmscott edition, and they vary in extent from changes in spelling of a word to the addition and deletion of long passages.  Some of these revisions bring about changes in the story, while others alter or develop characters; still others strengthen certain of Morris's themes.  Many simply improve the poetry of the work.

When Morris wrote the fair copy, he changed the names of certain minor characters in Book I.  In a few cases he omitted their names altogether.  Four of Volsung's ten sons—Agnar, Solar, Geirmund, and Gylfi—are named Olaf, Thorir, Thorstein, and Gunnar in the first draft.  None of these characters has a name in the Volsunga Saga, incidentally.  Gudrod, Queen Borghild's brother who is slain by Sinfiotli, is also named Gunnar in the first draft.  King Elf, who rescues Hiordis after Volsung's death, is in the first draft named Alf, as in the Volsunga Saga, and his father, the Helper, is named Hialprek. Names omitted include those of Hiordis’s maid Thora, Helgi's wife Sigrun, and the gods Thor and Frey, who are merely referred to as "the Gods" in the fair copy [of book I]..

One of the changes in the poem's action is brought about by the rewriting of the passage leading up to the duel between Sinfiotli and Gunnar (Gudrod).  The original passage in the first draft, which comes between lines 1366 and 1373, tells how Sinfiotli and Gunnar (Gudrod) are rivals for the love of the same woman.  The twelve lines, which follow the story as told in the Volsunga Saga, are crossed out in the first draft and replaced by a longer passage describing the expedition with Gunnar (Gudrod) and the ensuing duel over the division of the plunder.  By rewriting this passage, Morris has lessened the theme of jealousy in love in Book I [ed., of the Volsunga Saga] and looked forward to the preoccupation with gold in Book IV. In addition, he has kept Sinfiotli unmarried and childless, so that his early death places the responsibility of producing a Volsung heir on Sigmund.

Another rewritten passage shows Morris eliminating violence from an incident in the story. In the first draft, Sigmund and Sinfiotli must fight when they enter the house in the woods containing the magic wolf-skins:

Lo the war storm rose against them and the swords fell thick and fast.
Morris crosses out this line and replaces it with:
And lo, a gold-hung hall, and two men on the benches laid
In slumber as deep as the death. . . (1016-17)
Violence is again de-emphasized at the end of Book I when Hiordis answers King Elf's proposal of marriage. In the first draft, she praises Elf for his warfaring:

"Thou art a mighty war king and wide in the world wilt go."

In the fair copy, Hiordis praises Elf as a man of peace:

"I see thy goodly kingdom, thy country set apart,
With the day of peace begirdled from the change and the battle's wrack."  (1916-17)

Hence, in Book II, Sigurd is to be brought up in a country at peace.

A number of lines added in the fair copy make the plot of Book I more coherent. For instance, in the first draft, Signy warns Volsung that she has forseen his death when he travels to the land of the Goths, yet he goes on this journey despite her warning.  To explain this action, Morris adds eight lines in the fair copy (375-382) in which Volsung states that, while he knows his daughter is wise, her warning may not be true and he will disregard it.  Two lines added to Signy's second warning to Volsung (415-416) heighten the sense of urgency, while two additional lines (419-420) further clarify the danger and explain her opportunity to warn her countrymen.  While describing the events following the battle where Sigmund is killed, Morris adds two lines (1801-02) telling that Hiordis has fled from the battlefield, where King Elf has beached his ship, to the thicket, where, eleven lines later, King Elf finds her.  In these and other places, Morris's added lines improve the cohesion of the plot.

Of the lines added in the fair copy that develop characters, most are concerned with Sigmund and Signy, although Sinfiotli and Siggeir are also expanded somewhat. Lines 773-782 replace ten lines in the first draft describing how Sigmund, while hiding in the forest, often shares the company of the Vikings.  The new lines in the fair copy eliminate this companionship for Sigmund and make him a solitary figure in the forest, feared by the Goth-folk as a king of the giants. 

Here Morris has increased Sigmund's stature as an alienated hero. While Sigmund gains a reputation as the "terror of men-folk" (920), however, Morris adds four lines (919-922) that balance his fierceness with compassion.  Disguised, his sister Signy appears at his cave and asks shelter from the night, and his sympathetic answer includes a description of himself as "the bearer of many a guilt" (922).  This line is, of course, ironic, since Signy has planned her seduction of Sigmund so that she alone will bear the guilt of incest.  Finally, Morris adds eight lines (1757-64) to the speech given by the dying Sigmund to Hiordis that show both his heroic stature and his affection for his young wife.  He comforts her by accepting his death and by anticipating the future of their son:

Our wisdom and valour have kissed, and thine eyes shall see the fruit,
And the joy for his days that shall be hath pierced mine heart to the root. (1761-62)
While added lines give Sigmund more human qualities, Sinfiotli is made more ruthless. In the first draft, Sigmund cautiously tells Sinfiotli about his hopes for revenge on Siggeir and asks that Sigmund pay him weregild before his son agrees to help.  In the fair copy, this passage is crossed out and rewritten (1081-1102) so that Sinfiotli anticipates Sigmund's request by impatiently asking what great deeds he will perform.  No offer of weregild is needed as Sinfiotli responds in two added lines showing his hate for Siggeir:
"Is the fox of the King-folk my father, that adder of the brake,
Who gave me never a blessing, and many a cursing spake?" (1105-06)

Hence Sinfiotli is further depicted as fiercer than his father.

Just as he has increased the heroic stature of Sigmund, Morris also further emphasizes this quality in Signy. To the passage telling how Signy changes identities with a beautiful witch in order to conceive a son by Sigmund, Morris adds ten new lines (897-902 and 936-939) which contrast the motives of the two women: Signy hopes for world-redemption while the witch merely seeks selfish material gain. Morris also gives Signy two additional lines to speak, her final, beautifully understated, farewell to Sigmund before she returns to her death in Siggeir's burning hall:

She said: "Farewell, my brother, for the earls my candles light
And I must wend me bedward lest I lose the flower of night." (1321-22)

Following this, four added lines (1323-26) describe how she kisses Sigmund and, without turning back, steps into the flames. Thus Morris completes his picture of Signy and her total commitment to revenge.

The character of King Siggeir is developed in a passage added to Signy’s wedding feast (255-272). This passage gives lines to Sigmund that display his integrity and lack of diplomacy as he scornfully refuses Siggeir's offer to buy Odin's sword. Here also Morris reveals Siggeir's anger and humiliation at Sigmund's answer, and he also shows the Goth-king's deviousness as he smoothly begs Sigmund's pardon and invites Signy's kinsmen to visit his country. By adding these eighteen lines, Morris has connected one of the major events of the plot of Book I, the massacre of Volsung and his men by the Goths, with the personal interaction of Sigmund and Siggeir; the reader sees Sigmund humiliate Siggeir in front of his wife and people, and the reader hears him speak the words that show he has planned his revenge. Hence Volsung's death is not only foreshadowed by Signy's warning, but it is psychologically motivated as well.

In addition to making the plot more coherent and developing his characters, Morris has also added numerous lines in the fair copy that frame the actions of the characters in Sigurd with references to fate and the gods. During Signy's wedding feast, for example, Morris adds a four-line description (131-134) of Odin thrusting his sword into the tree and then twenty-one lines (135-155) in which Odin explains the significance of the sword, tells of his house in heaven for fallen warriors, and states that the earth is moving towards a time of darkness. This speech of Odin's explains Volsung's death as rewritten in lines 469-496. Weary of fighting, Volsung calls to Odin as he throws down his sword and deliberately meets death:

"Wouldst thou have me toil for ever, nor win the wages due?" (1491)
Moreover, line 510, also added in the fair copy, mentions Volsung's coming to the Hall of Odin. In nine more added lines (514-522), the narrator of the poem says that Volsung's sons will have to suffer more before they can join their father in God-home, and he bemoans the future of the Volsungs' land: with the death of Volsung and the capture of his sons, the time of darkness foretold by Odin has begun.  Odin's speech at Signy's wedding feast is also connected to the birth of Sinfiotli by a line added in the fair copy.  At that feast, Odin has given his sword to Sigmund; now Sinfiotli says,
"I am the sword of the Gods: and thine hand shall hold the hilt." (1110)

Thus it becomes apparent that Signy and Sigmund, as well as Sinfiotli, are instruments of divine will in their revenge against Siggeir.

The two lines added in the first edition complete the thematic frame of the poem.  Odin has entered the hall of the Volsungs, and Morris has described his clothing; now he adds:

And such was the guise of his raiment as the Volsung elders had told
Was borne by their fathers' fathers, and the first that warred in the wold. (129-130)

Here Morris has completed his connection between the gods and the main characters in Sigurd by revealing that the Volsungs believe themselves to be the descendants of Odin.  These two lines, then, increase the heroic stature of the Volsungs, on the one hand, and explain Odin's interest in their affairs, on the other.

In some instances Morris has revised lines to make them more fitting to their subject matter.  For instance, line 1673, which describes Hiordis hiding to watch the battle in which her husband Sigmund is killed, is first written:

Where she lay with one of her maidens on that game of swords to gaze.
Morris replaces the last seven words, so that the line reads:
Where she lay with one of her maidens the death and the deeds to behold.
The revised line is obviously better suited to the seriousness of this particular battle.  Line 1148 depicts the speech of Signy's small children telling that they have seen Sigmund and Sinfiotli hiding in their hall:
"With fierce unhappy faces and bright their byrnies shine."
The revised line in the fair copy reads as follows:
"And their hats are wide and white, and their garments tinkle and shine."

The simplified syntax and the repetition of "and" help the line to resemble children’s speech more closely.

Most of the rewritten lines in Sigurd, while bringing about no direct change in character or plot, do, however, read better in their revised state.  As the six-beat lines of the poem vary in length from thirteen to nineteen syllables, mixing iambic and anapestic feet in different combinations, there is a high degree of flexibility in the wording and rhythm of a line.  Often in revision Morris has simplified the syntax and placed the important words in the positions of emphasis in the line, particularly the third foot.  The result is a more powerful, direct line of poetry.  Two lines crossed out and rewritten in the first draft will demonstrate this kind of revision.  In line 44, Siggeir's emissary arrives at Volsung's hall,

Bearing the tokens with him ready for oath and for troth.
This line is replaced on the back of the preceding page by a new line:
Bearing the gifts and the gold, the ring, and the tokens of troth.

The line is improved rhythmically and syntactically, as is line 404, which replaces "Were those that haled on the sheets" with "Were the halers of the hawsers . . . ."

Morris continues to improve lines when he writes the fair copy, strengthening the rhythm and adding alliteration.  Line 104 reads as follows in the first draft:

And he wished the wedding undone if it were not for oath and for troth.
In the fair copy it is rewritten as follows:
And there had he broken the wedding, but for plighted promise and troth.
A similar example is line 370, which reads as follows in the first draft:
Now I may not hide it from you that she gave a parting word.
This line is rewritten as follows in the fair copy:
Nor will I hide how Signy then spake a warning word.
Of special interest are lines that Morris has revised twice: his efforts to strengthen the rhythm and place an important word in the third foot of the line are doubly apparent. The first half of line 457 reads as follows in the first draft:
So they set their shields together . . . .
In the fair copy it is revised as follows:
So they serried the shield by the shield . . . .
In the first edition, Morris revises the line again:
So shield by shield they serried . . . .
The three versions of line 554 show a similar effort to write a more effective hexameter line. The first draft version reads as follows:
"For even now had I bid unpained from the world to go."
In the fair copy the line is rewritten:
"When e'en I e'en now had bid them unpained from the world to go."
Here is the final version in the first edition:
"When swift and untormented e'en I would let them go."

Of the 131 revisions in wording found by comparing the fair copy with the first edition, many are small, such as changing "born" to "borne" (362), while other revisions involve the rewriting of an entire line. Whatever the extent of the revision, there is usually a noticeable improvement in the poetry.

Eleven of the wording changes correct mistakes made in the fair copy. For instance, in line 379, "all together" is changed to "altogether," and "beakoning" is changed to "beaconing" in line 1166. Five of the wording changes involve finding a more specific word: "dealers with the oar" is changed to "luggers at the oar" in line 404, and in line 350, "the wine of parting" is changed to "the wine of departing."  Both "luggers" and "departing" are more precise than the words they replace.

A greater number of revisions have to do with Morris's poetic practices.  The diction of the poem, for instance, is made more archaic, with eleven words changed to their archaic forms.  "Eyes" is changed to "eyen" in line 610, for example, and "comes" is changed to "cometh" in line 1445.  Forty-five revisions involve improving the relationship of a line's words to the rhythm.  An example is line 1714, which reads as follows in the fair copy:

But woe's me for his fellows! they fall like the seeded hay.

Morris rewrites the line as follows for the first edition:
Ill hour for Sigmund's fellows! they fall like the seeded hay.
By placing an important word, "Sigmund," in a stressed position, Morris has strengthened the line.  Another example is line 576, which reads as follows in the fair copy:
And Signy watched and spied on, must abide in bower and hall.
Morris revises this line as follows in the first edition:
And watchful eyes held Signy at home in bower and hall.
The wording of the poem is altered only slightly in the fourth edition and the Kelmscott edition.  Of the five word revisions in the fourth edition, two are corrections: "set" is changed to "sit" in line 601, and "rapt" is changed to "wrapt" in line 1020.  Two archaic verbs are modernized: "wendeth" is changed to "wended" in line 1209, making the next word, "swift," easier to pronounce when read aloud; and "hearkeneth" is changed to "hearkened" in line 1587, which also makes the next word, "the," easier to say.  The substitution of "toward" for "towards" in line 1547 reduces the number of words in a row ending with a sibilant from four to three and hence improves the sound of the line.  The two remaining word changes are mistakes: "Sinfiotli" is spelled "Sinfioli" in line 1207, and "lay" is spelled "fay" in line 1055.  Both of these errors are contained in the fifth edition and corrected in the Kelmscott edition.

In addition to these two printer's errors, there are four errors in usage and one spelling error corrected in the Kelmscott edition: "past" is changed to "passed" in line 430, "lay" is changed to "laid" in line 523, "sung" is changed to "sang" in line 929, "call" is changed to "called" in line 1351, and "weazles" is spelled "weasels" in line 1065.  In line 555, "is" is changed to the subjunctive "be" in a speech by King Siggeir, a character Morris depicts as extremely careful in speech; this is the correction made by Morris in his copy of Sigurd, according to May Morris.  The three other changes make little difference in either the meaning or the sound of the poem, so it is difficult, after examining them, to say whether they are revisions or accidents. For instance, one word is added in line 1202: "hidden the" becomes "hidden in the."  This repeats the construction of "roofed in the " earlier in the same line but does not appear to be a clear improvement. A change in line 1633, from "their" to "there," has little effect on the line; spelled either way, the word is grammatical in the sentence, and there is no discernable improvement in the line.  The change in line 1717 from "were" to "are" places both verbs in that line in the present tense; the line reads better without the shift in tenses, but since the sentence of which this line is a part begins in the present tense, shifts to the past tense, and then shifts again to present tense, it is again hard to conclude that this one change is an improvement. The changes in wording done in the Kelmscott edition, then, are not obvious improvements in the poetry, as are, for instance, some of the revisions of punctuation done in that edition. There remains a possibility that someone at the Kelmscott Press such as Sydney Cockerell made these changes. Nevertheless, it is more likely that, just as Morris made final changes in The Earthly Paradise and The Defence of Guenevere for their Kelmscott editions, he also made these finishing touches on Sigurd.