The poem was composed before the year 1000 and Bellows considered it to be in a "rather bad shape", but it was in that shape that it provided material for the Völsunga saga, where it was faithfully paraphrased. He states, however, that it is the only Old Norse poem from an earlier period than the year 1000 in the Sigurd tradition that has come down to modern times in a roughly complete form. The other older poems, Reginsmál, Fáfnismál and Sigrdrifumál, are collections of fragments and only the last part of Brot af Sigurðarkviðu remains. The remaining poems in the cycle are generally dated to the 11th century and the 12th century.
Bellows states that another reason for assuming that the poem derives from a lament originating in Germany is the fact that Sigurd's death takes place in the forest, as in the Nibelungenlied, and not in his bed. Other elements relating closely to the German tradition are her mother and her brother insisting that she marry Atli, the slaying of the Gjukungs and her future revenge on Atli.
Þjóðrekr and Atli's queen Guðrún were alone together and discussed their sorrows. Guðrún told Þjóðrekr that she was a young maiden when her father Gjúki gave her away to Sigurd with a dowry of gold. Then her brothers murdered her hero Sigurd:
4. Grani rann at þingi,
Guðrún held the rein of the horse and began to cry, as she understood what had happened:
5. Gekk ek grátandi
5. Weeping I sought
When she met her brothers, Gunnarr was bowing his head, but Högni told her the news that Sigurd had been slain, but that he had taken their brother Guthormr with him. He further told her that she could find Sigurd on the southern road where she would hear the cry of ravens and howling wolves. Guðrún went into the forest to search for what was left by the wolves and found Sigurd.
When she found Sigurd, Guðrún did not cry, wail or wring her hands, although she was so sad that she did not want to live anymore. She left the mountains and travelled for five days, until she saw the hall of Halfr, in Denmark, where she stayed for three and a half years with Thora, the daughter of Hakon.
Thora and Guðrún enjoyed themselves by weaving tapestries of southern halls, Danish swans and warriors:
16. Skip Sigmundar
Her mother Grimhild asked her sons Gunnarr and Högni what kind of wergild they would like to give their sister for the killing of her husband Sigurd and her son Sigmund, and they were both ready to compensate their sister. Guðrún met her mother, brothers and Valdar, the king of Denmark, and three men named Jarizleif, Eymoth and Jarizskar.
Færði mér Grímhildr
22. A draught did Grimhild
The poem relates that Guðrún forgot and the three kings kneeled before her and Grimhildr began to speak. Her mother told her that she gave her all her father's wealth, and that she would also have Buðli's wealth because she was to become Atli's wife.
27. Hunnish women,
Guðrún answered that she did not wish to marry Atli, but her mother responded that with Atli she would be as happy as if both Sigurd and her son Sigmund were still alive. Furthermore, if she did not marry Atli, she would live without husband for the rest of her life. Guðrún responded that her mother should not be so eager to giver her away to the Huns, and she prophesied that Atli would kill Gunnarr and tear out the heart of Högni. Grímhildr began to weep when she heard the prophecy and told Guðrún that she was forced to give her away to Atli.
Guðrún then continued her lament by telling that she married Atli for her kinsmen's sake. She was never happy with Atli and she lost her sons when her brothers died, and she would kill Atli.
She travelled to Atli first a week through cold lands, then a week on water and lastly a week through land that lacked water. They arrived to high walls and guardians opened the gates.
Bellows comments that there appears to be a large lacuna following her arrival to Atli. He adds that the ending of the lament appears to have been replaced another poem, because it deals with how Atli told Guðrún that he had had foreboding dreams of being killed by her. The description of the dream begins with this stanza:
Svá mik nýliga
Without understanding the meaning of the dream, Atli describes his future eating of his own sons, served to him by their own mother Guðrún, in revenge for Atli's killing her brothers.
Hugða ek mér af hendi
42. I dreamed my hawks
There the poem ends in a few cryptic lines where Guðrún says that people will talk of a sacrifice.
- Bellows comments that Þjóðrekr is the famous Theodoric the Great, the king of the Ostrogoths who would become famous in German legends as Dietrich von Bern. In German heroic legends, it was early accepted to bring together Attila (Etzel, Atli), who died in 453 with Theodoric who was born c. 455, and in addition make them the contemporaries with Ermanaric who died c. 376. In German legends, Ermanaric took the place of Theodoric's actual enemy Odovakar. It is in battle with Ermanaric/Odovakar that Þjóðrekr has lost most of his men in this poem.
- Compare with Guðrúnarkviða III, where Guðrún is accused of having been unfaithful with Þjóðrekr during this meeting.
- Guðrúnarkviða in forna at Heimskringla.no.
- Compare Brot af Sigurðarkviðu.
- Bellows' translation.
- In the end section of Brot af Sigurðarkviðu, the annotator is troubled by the existence of two versions of Sigurd's death and refers to the authority of "German men" for the version that Sigurd was murdered in the forest. The alternative version in which Sigurd is murdered in his bed appears in Sigurðarkviða hin skamma, Guðrúnarhvöt, Hamðismál and in the Völsunga saga. In the Völsunga saga, his brother-in-law Guthormr tried to kill him twice. The first time, he failed because he was terrified by the brightness of Sigurd's eyes, and so he had to wait until Sigurd had fallen asleep. The correctness of the annotator in referring to Germans for the version that Sigurd was killed in the forest is shown by the Nibelungenlied and the Þiðrekssaga.
- Bellows notes that this shows that the mortally wounded Sigurd killed his murderer Guthormr in both versions of his death.
- Compare Guðrúnarkviða I.
- Bellows renders Halfr as Hoalf and refers to a theory that Hoalf is identical to Àlfr, the son of Hjalprekr, and the second husband of Sigurd's mother Hjördis. A Thora appears in Hyndluljóð, as the wife of Dagr, one of the sons of Halfdan the Old and the mother of an Àlfr (this Halfr?).
- Funen is the name of the island in the Völsunga saga. Bellows notes that in the Codex Regius, it is the Scottish island Fife that is named.
- Grimhild is called the queen of the Goths. Similarly, her son Gunnar is called lord of the Goths in Grípisspá. Bellows notes that Goth could be used to refer to any south Germanic people.
- Bellows comments here that Atli threatens to declare war on the Burgundians, if they don't give him Guðrún as wife.
- Bellows comments that the names Jarizleif, Eymoth and Jarizskar, two of which are apparently Slavic, appear to be added as the names of Atli's messengers. They are described by the poem either as "long-beards" or Lombards, but their names fit neither Huns nor Lombards. According to Bellows, the Völsunga saga and some commentators interpret this meeting as taking place in Denmark, but Bellows finds it more likely that a line had dropped out and that she met the messengers at her brothers' place.
- In one version of the story, she also gave this potion to Sigurd. Bellows comments that the potion does not seem to have worked.
- Bellows comments that the three kings are probably Atli's messengers, but that they may also be Gunnar, Högni and the unnamed brother who seems to appear in Sigurðarkviða hin skamma.
- This refers to Guðrún's revenge as told in Dráp Niflunga when she avenged her brothers' death by killing her and Atli's sons Erpr and Eitil.
- Bellows comments that various unsuccessful efforts have been made to trace this journey from Worms, in Germany, and down the Danube.
- The Second, or Old, Lay of Guthrun, Henry Adams Bellows' translation and commentary
- The Second Lay of Gudrun, Benjamin Thorpe's translation
- The Second (or Old) Lay of Guðrún, translated by William Morris and Eirikr Magnusson
- Guðrúnarkviða hin forna Sophus Bugge's edition of the manuscript text
- Guðrúnarkviða in forna, Guðni Jónsson's edition with normalized spelling