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Hervararkviða (The Incantation of Hervor) (2016)

for solo mezzo soprano, violin, harp | 00:12:00

by Melissa Dunphy | text by Melissa Dunphy

Commissioned by Maren Montalbano for the album "Sea Tangle: Songs from the North."

Hervararkviða tells the story of Hervor, a Viking warrior princess immortalized in Old Norse Poetic Edda, in which she raises her father from the dead to demand a cursed sword that is her birthright. In "To my mother," Hervor asks her mother to assist in hiding her gender; she will embark on her journey as a man, Hervarth. In "To a stranger," Hervor encounters a frightened shepherd who refuses to help her in her quest. The final song addresses Hervor/Hervarth's father in his grave. Despite its age, the story resonates with modern-day issues of feminism, patriarchal expectation, and gender fluidity.

See this post for more information about the development of this work.

Adapted from the Icelandic saga Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks

I. To my mother
Mother, make haste,
hide my hair,
cut me a cloak and kirtle.
Wisest of women,
prepare me as you would a son.
The truth I seek is only in dreams.
There is no peace for me here.
I will seek out my slain kinsmen
I will claim their riches
as rightful heir,
if I survive.
Mother, make haste,
when morning comes,
I must depart.
No longer Hervor,
My name is Hervarth.
There is no peace for me here.

II. To a stranger
Shepherd, no, I shall not flee!
Shelter I'll deny.
Bring me to the burial mounds
where the sons of Arngrím lie.

I command a viking ship.
Hervarth is my name, my
crew and vessel bide off-shore.
Shepherd, no, I shall not fly!

Ghostly grave-fires fright' me not,
though your island blazes.
Long dead men shall never see
Hervarth quit or quaver!

Shepherd, here's a necklace dear—
I will give it to thee.
Guide me to the graveyard here.
Wherefore do you run from me?

Shepherd, fly! I shall not flee.
Coping with this coward
but serves to embolden me.
Brave, I seek my destiny!

III. To my father
Awaken, Angantýr!
I am Hervor,
the only daughter of you and my mother.
Give me the sword Tyrfing
which the dwarves once made for Svafrlami.

Hervarðr, Hjörvarðr, Hrani, Angantýr!
Sons of Arngrím, men of evil, speak to me.
Prove yourselves of stronger stuff
than mold and dust beneath this mound.

Hervarðr, Hjörvarðr, Hrani, Angantýr!
Bring me the sword that Dvalinn forged,
or I will curse you
with mounds of worms and stinging ants
that swarm your flesh.
Who are dead men to keep such a blade?

Hell's gate is lifting!
The grave yawns bright!
No infernal fire will daunt my courage.
My father's ghost!
Give me the sword!
I will guard and wield it.
The flames subside...

I return to my ship, the sword in hand.
I care not at all how my sons shall strive beneath its burden.
May you all be at peace, for I must depart.
I exist between worlds
when grave-fires burn around me.

Artwork by National Museum of Finland.


  • 04 Mar, 2024: Danielle Romano, soprano at Watson Hall, University of North Carolina School of the Arts, Winston-Salem, NC
  • 30 Oct, 2021: Sishel Claverie at The Tank, New York, NY
  • 14 Jan, 2021: Emily Owens, Dr. Grace Edgar, Daniel Ley at Magale Recital Hall, Northwestern State University, Natchitoches, LA
  • 18 May, 2019: Linda Collazo, Judy Kang, Tomina Parvanova (Brooklyn Metro Chamber Orchestra) at Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York, NY
  • 09 Mar, 2019: Jennifer Hambrick (Ohio Song Project) at Angela Meleca Gallery, Columbus, OH
  • 20 Apr, 2018: Amy Phillips, Taylor Trahan, Lara Connally, Jane Clark, Sarah Cullen at First United Methodist Church, Lake Charles, LA
  • 15 Apr, 2018: Jennifer Hambrick (Women in Music Columbus) at Huntington Recital Hall, Columbus OH
  • 21 Dec, 2016: Maren Montalbano, Rebecca Harris, Elizabeth Huston at Ethical Society of Philadelphia, PA