And heard their hollow roar of dying men; But never was my heart thus touch'd before. Are they from Heaven, these softenings of the heart? O thou old warrior, let us yield to Heaven! Come, plant we here in earth our angry spears, And make a truce, and sit upon this sand, And pledge each other in red wine, like friends, And thou shalt talk to me of Rustum's deeds. There are enough foes in the Persian host, Whom I may meet, and strike, and feel no pang; Champions enough Afrasiab has, whom thou Mayst fight; fight them, when they confront thy spear! But oh, let there be peace 'twixt thee and me!" He ceased, but while he spake, Rustum had risen, And stood erect, trembling with rage; his club He left to lie, but had regain'd his spear, Whose fiery point now in his mail'd right-hand Blazed bright and baleful, like that autumn-star, The baleful sign of fevers; dust had soil'd His stately crest, and dimm'd his glittering arms. His breast heaved, his lips foam'd, and twice his voice Was choked with rage; at last these words broke way:— "Girl! nimble with thy feet, not with thy hands! Curl'd minion, dancer, coiner of sweet words! Fight, let me hear thy hateful voice no more! Thou art not in Afrasiab's gardens now With Tartar girls, with whom thou art wont to dance; But on the Oxus-sands, and in the dance Of battle, and with me, who make no play Of war; I fight it out, and hand to hand. Speak not to me of truce, and pledge, and wine! Remember all thy valour; try thy feints And cunning! all the pity I had is gone; Because thou hast shamed me before both the hosts With thy light skipping tricks, and thy girl's wiles." He spoke, and Sohrab kindled at his taunts, And he too drew his sword; at once they rush'd Together, as two eagles on one prey Come rushing down together from the clouds, One from the east, one from the west; their shields Dash'd with a clang together, and a din Rose, such as that the sinewy woodcutters Make often in the forest's heart at morn, Of hewing axes, crashing trees—such blows Rustum and Sohrab on each other hail'd. And you would say that sun and stars took part In that unnatural conflict; for a cloud Grew suddenly in Heaven, and dark'd the sun Over the fighters' heads; and a wind rose Under their feet, and moaning swept the plain, And in a sandy whirlwind wrapp'd the pair. In gloom they twain were wrapp'd, and they alone; For both the on-looking hosts on either hand Stood in broad daylight, and the sky was pure, And the sun sparkled on the Oxus stream. But in the gloom they fought, with bloodshot eyes And labouring breath; first Rustum struck the shield Which Sohrab held stiff out; the steel-spiked spear Rent the tough plates, but fail'd to reach the skin, And Rustum pluck'd it back with angry groan. Then Sohrab with his sword smote Rustum's helm, Nor clove its steel quite through; but all the crest He shore away, and that proud horsehair plume, Never till now defiled, sank to the dust; And Rustum bow'd his head; but then the gloom Grew blacker, thunder rumbled in the air, And lightnings rent the cloud; and Ruksh, the horse, Who stood at hand, utter'd a dreadful cry;— No horse's cry was that, most like the roar Of some pain'd desert-lion, who all day Hath trail'd the hunter's javelin in his side, And comes at night to die upon the sand. The two hosts heard that cry, and quaked for fear, And Oxus curdled as it cross'd his stream. But Sohrab heard, and quail'd not, but rush'd on, And struck again; and again Rustum bow'd His head; but this time all the blade, like glass, Sprang in a thousand shivers on the helm, And in the hand the hilt remain'd alone. Then Rustum raised his head; his dreadful eyes Glared, and he shook on high his menacing spear, And shouted: Rustum!—Sohrab heard that shout, And shrank amazed; back he recoil'd one step, And scann'd with blinking eyes the advancing form; And then he stood bewilder'd; and he dropp'd His covering shield, and the spear pierced his side. He reel'd, and staggering back, sank to the ground; And then the gloom dispersed, and the wind fell, And the bright sun broke forth, and melted all The cloud; and the two armies saw the pair— Saw Rustum standing, safe upon his feet, And Sohrab, wounded, on the bloody sand. Then, with a bitter smile, Rustum began:— "Sohrab, thou thoughtest in thy mind to kill A Persian lord this day, and strip his corpse, And bear thy trophies to Afrasiab's tent. Or else that the great Rustum would come down Himself to fight, and that thy wiles would move His heart to take a gift, and let thee go. And then that all the Tartar host would praise Thy courage or thy craft, and spread thy fame, To glad thy father in his weak old age. Fool, thou art slain, and by an unknown man! Dearer to the red jackals shalt thou be Than to thy friends, and to thy father old." And, with a fearless mien, Sohrab replied:— "Unknown thou art; yet thy fierce vaunt is vain. Thou dost not slay me, proud and boastful man! No! Rustum slays me, and this filial heart. For were I match'd with ten such men as thee, And I were that which till to-day I was, They should be lying here, I standing there. But that beloved name unnerved my arm— That name, and something, I confess, in thee, Which troubles all my heart, and made my shield Fall; and thy spear transfix'd an unarm'd foe. And now thou boastest, and insult'st my fate. But hear thou this, fierce man, tremble to hear: The mighty Rustum shall avenge my death! My father, whom I seek through all the world, He shall avenge my death, and punish thee!" As when some hunter in the spring hath found A breeding eagle sitting on her nest, Upon the craggy isle of a hill-lake, And pierced her with an arrow as she rose, And follow'd her to find her where she fell Far off;—anon her mate comes winging back From hunting, and a great way off descries His huddling young left sole; at that, he checks His pinion, and with short uneasy sweeps Circles above his eyry, with loud screams Chiding his mate back to her nest; but she Lies dying, with the arrow in her side, In some far stony gorge out of his ken, A heap of fluttering feathers—never more Shall the lake glass her, flying over it; Never the black and dripping precipices Echo her stormy scream as she sails by— As that poor bird flies home, nor knows his loss, So Rustum knew not his own loss, but stood Over his dying son, and knew him not. But, with a cold incredulous voice, he said:— "What prate is this of fathers and revenge? The mighty Rustum never had a son." And, with a failing voice, Sohrab replied:— "Ah yes, he had! and that lost son am I. Surely the news will one day reach his ear, Reach Rustum, where he sits, and tarries long, Somewhere, I know not where, but far from here; And pierce him like a stab, and make him leap To arms, and cry for vengeance upon thee. Fierce man, bethink thee, for an only son! What will that grief, what will that vengeance be? Oh, could I live, till I that grief had seen! Yet him I pity not so much, but her, My mother, who in Ader-baijan dwells With that old king, her father, who grows grey With age, and rules over the valiant Koords. Her most I pity, who no more will see Sohrab returning from the Tartar camp, With spoils and honour, when the war is done. But a dark rumour will be bruited up, From tribe to tribe, until it reach her ear; And then will that defenceless woman learn That Sohrab will rejoice her sight no more, But that in battle with a nameless foe, By the far-distant Oxus, he is slain." He spoke; and as he ceased, he wept aloud, Thinking of her he left, and his own death. He spoke; but Rustum listen'd, plunged in thought. Nor did he yet believe it was his son Who spoke, although he call'd back names he knew; For he had had sure tidings that the babe, Which was in Ader-baijan born to him, Had been a puny girl, no boy at all— So that sad mother sent him word, for fear Rustum should seek the boy, to train in arms And so he deem'd that either Sohrab took, By a false boast, the style of Rustum's son; Or that men gave it him, to swell his fame. So deem'd he; yet he listen'd, plunged in thought And his soul set to grief, as the vast tide Of the bright rocking Ocean sets to shore At the full moon; tears gather'd in his eyes; For he remember'd his own early youth, And all its bounding rapture; as, at dawn, The shepherd from his mountain-lodge descries A far, bright city, smitten by the sun, Through many rolling clouds—so Rustum saw His youth; saw Sohrab's mother, in her bloom; And that old king, her father, who loved well His wandering guest, and gave him his fair child With joy; and all the pleasant life they led, They three, in that long-distant summer-time— The castle, and the dewy woods, and hunt And hound, and morn on those delightful hills In Ader-baijan. And he saw that Youth, Of age and looks to be his own dear son, Piteous and lovely, lying on the sand, Like some rich hyacinth which by the scythe Of an unskilful gardener has been cut, Mowing the garden grass-plots near its bed, And lies, a fragrant tower of purple bloom, On the mown, dying grass—so Sohrab lay, Lovely in death, upon the common sand. And Rustum gazed on him with grief, and said:— "O Sohrab, thou indeed art such a son Whom Rustum, wert thou his, might well have loved. Yet here thou errest, Sohrab, or else men Have told thee false—thou art not Rustum's son. For Rustum had no son; one child he had— But one—a girl; who with her mother now Plies some light female task, nor dreams of us— Of us she dreams not, nor of wounds, nor war." But Sohrab answer'd him in wrath; for now The anguish of the deep-fix'd spear grew fierce, And he desired to draw forth the steel, And let the blood flow free, and so to die— But first he would convince his stubborn foe; And, rising sternly on one arm, he said:— "Man, who art thou who dost deny my words? Truth sits upon the lips of dying men, And falsehood, while I lived, was far from mine. I tell thee, prick'd upon this arm I bear That seal which Rustum to my mother gave, That she might prick it on the babe she bore." He spoke; and all the blood left Rustum's cheeks, And his knees totter'd, and he smote his hand Against his breast, his heavy mailed hand, That the hard iron corslet clank'd aloud; And to his heart he press'd the other hand, And in a hollow voice he spake, and said:— "Sohrab, that were a proof which could not lie! If thou show this, then art thou Rustum's son." Then, with weak hasty fingers, Sohrab loosed His belt, and near the shoulder bared his arm, And show'd a sign in faint vermilion points Prick'd; as a cunning workman, in Pekin, Pricks with vermilion some clear porcelain vase, An emperor's gift—at early morn he paints, And all day long, and, when night comes, the lamp Lights up his studious forehead and thin hands— So delicately prick'd the sign appear'd On Sohrab's arm, the sign of Rustum's seal. It was that griffin, which of old rear'd Zal, Rustum's great father, whom they left to die, A helpless babe, among the mountain-rocks; Him that kind creature found, and rear'd, and loved— Then Rustum took it for his glorious sign. And Sohrab bared that image on his arm, And himself scann'd it long with mournful eyes, And then he touch'd it with his hand and said:— "How say'st thou? Is that sign the proper sign Of Rustum's son, or of some other man's?" He spoke; but Rustum gazed, and gazed, and stood Speechless; and then he utter'd one sharp cry: O boy—thy father!—and his voice choked there. And then a dark cloud pass'd before his eyes, And his head swam, and he sank down to earth. But Sohrab crawl'd to where he lay, and cast His arms about his neck, and kiss'd his lips, And with fond faltering fingers stroked his cheeks, Trying to call him back to life; and life Came back to Rustum, and he oped his eyes, And they stood wide with horror; and he seized In both his hands the dust which lay around, And threw it on his head, and smirch'd his hair,— His hair, and face, and beard, and glittering arms; And strong convulsive groanings shook his breast, And his sobs choked him; and he clutch'd his sword, To draw it, and for ever let life out. But Sohrab saw his thought, and held his hands, And with a soothing voice he spake, and said:— "Father, forbear! for I but meet to-day The doom which at my birth was written down In Heaven, and thou art Heaven's unconscious hand. Surely my heart cried out that it was thou, When first I saw thee; and thy heart spoke too, I know it! but fate trod those promptings down Under its iron heel; fate, fate engaged The strife, and hurl'd me on my father's spear. But let us speak no more of this! I find My father; let me feel that I have found! Come, sit beside me on this sand, and take My head betwixt thy hands, and kiss my cheeks, And wash them with thy tears, and say: My son! Quick! quick! for number'd are my sands of life, And swift; for like the lightning to this field I came, and like the wind I go away— Sudden, and swift, and like a passing wind. But it was writ in Heaven that this should be." So said he, and his voice released the heart Of Rustum, and his tears broke forth; he cast His arms round his son's neck, and wept aloud, And kiss'd him. And awe fell on both the hosts, When they saw Rustum's grief; and Ruksh, the horse, With his head bowing to the ground and mane Sweeping the dust, came near, and in mute woe First to the one then to the other moved His head, as if inquiring what their grief Might mean; and from his dark, compassionate eyes, The big warm tears roll'd down, and caked the sand. But Rustum chid him with stern voice, and said:— "Ruksh, now thou grievest; but, O Ruksh, thy feet Should first have rotted on their nimble joints, Or ere they brought thy master to this field!" But Sohrab look'd upon the horse and said;— "Is this, then, Ruksh? How often, in past days, My mother told me of thee, thou brave steed, My terrible father's terrible horse! and said, That I should one day find thy lord and thee. Come, let me lay my hand upon thy mane! O Ruksh, thou art more fortunate than I; For thou hast gone where I shall never go, And snuff'd the breezes of my father's home. And thou hast trod the sands of Seistan, And seen the River of Helmund, and the Lake Of Zirrah; and the aged Zal himself Has often stroked thy neck, and given thee food, Corn in a golden platter soak'd with wine, And said; O Ruksh! bear Rustum well!—but I Have never known my grandsire's furrow'd face, Nor seen his lofty house in Seistan, Nor slaked my thirst at the clear Helmund stream; But lodged among my father's foes, and seen Afrasiab's cities only, Samarcand, Bokhara, and lone Khiva in the waste, And the black Toorkmun tents; and only drunk The desert rivers, Moorghab and Tejend, Kohik, and where the Kalmuks feed their sheep, The northern Sir; and this great Oxus stream, The yellow Oxus, by whose brink I die." Then, with a heavy groan, Rustum bewail'd:— "Oh, that its waves were flowing over me! Oh, that I saw its grains of yellow silt Roll tumbling in the current o'er my head!" But, with a grave mild voice, Sohrab replied:— "Desire not that, my father! thou must live. For some are born to do great deeds, and live, As some are born to be obscured, and die. Do thou the deeds I die too young to do, And reap a second glory in thine age; Thou art my father, and thy gain is mine. But come! thou seest this great host of men Which follow me; I pray thee, slay not these! Let me entreat for them; what have they done? They follow'd me, my hope, my fame, my star. Let them all cross the Oxus back in peace. But me thou must bear hence, not send with them, But carry me with thee to Seistan, And place me on a bed, and mourn for me, Thou, and the snow-hair'd Zal, and all thy friends. And thou must lay me in that lovely earth, And heap a stately mound above my bones, And plant a far-seen pillar over all. That so the passing horseman on the waste May see my tomb a great way off, and cry: Sohrab, the mighty Rustum's son, lies there, Whom his great father did in ignorance kill! And I be not forgotten in my grave." And, with a mournful voice, Rustum replied:— "Fear not! as thou hast said, Sohrab, my son, So shall it be; for I will burn my tents, And quit the host, and bear thee hence with me, And carry thee away to Seistan, And place thee on a bed, and mourn for thee, With the snow-headed Zal, and all my friends. And I will lay thee in that lovely earth, And heap a stately mound above thy bones, And plant a far-seen pillar over all, And men shall not forget thee in thy grave. And I will spare thy host; yea, let them go! Let them all cross the Oxus back in peace! What should I do with slaying any more? For would that all that I have ever slain Might be once more alive; my bitterest foes, And they who were call'd champions in their time, And through whose death I won that fame I have— And I were nothing but a common man, A poor, mean soldier, and without renown, So thou mightest live too, my son, my son! Or rather would that I, even I myself, Might now be lying on this bloody sand, Near death, and by an ignorant stroke of thine, Not thou of mine! and I might die, not thou; And I, not thou, be borne to Seistan; And Zal might weep above my grave, not thine; And say: O son, I weep thee not too sore, For willingly, I know, thou met'st thine end! But now in blood and battles was my youth, And full of blood and battles is my age, And I shall never end this life of blood." Then, at the point of death, Sohrab replied:— "A life of blood indeed, thou dreadful man! But thou shalt yet have peace; only not now, Not yet! but thou shalt have it on that day, When thou shalt sail in a high-masted ship, Thou and the other peers of Kai Khosroo, Returning home over the salt blue sea, From laying thy dear master in his grave." And Rustum gazed in Sohrab's face, and said:— "Soon be that day, my son, and deep that sea! Till then, if fate so wills, let me endure." He spoke; and Sohrab smiled on him, and took The spear, and drew it from his side, and eased His wound's imperious anguish; but the blood Came welling from the open gash, and life Flow'd with the stream;—all down his cold white side The crimson torrent ran, dim now and soil'd, Like the soil'd tissue of white violets Left, freshly gather'd, on their native bank, By children whom their nurses call with haste Indoors from the sun's eye; his head droop'd low, His limbs grew slack; motionless, white, he lay— White, with eyes closed; only when heavy gasps, Deep heavy gasps quivering through all his frame, Convulsed him back to life, he open'd them, And fix'd them feebly on his father's face; Till now all strength was ebb'd, and from his limbs Unwillingly the spirit fled away, Regretting the warm mansion which it left, And youth, and bloom, and this delightful world. So, on the bloody sand, Sohrab lay dead; And the great Rustum drew his horseman's cloak Down o'er his face, and sate by his dead son. As those black granite pillars, once high-rear'd By Jemshid in Persepolis, to bear His house, now 'mid their broken flights of steps Lie prone, enormous, down the mountain side— So in the sand lay Rustum by his son. And night came down over the solemn waste, And the two gazing hosts, and that sole pair, And darken'd all; and a cold fog, with night, Crept from the Oxus. Soon a hum arose, As of a great assembly loosed, and fires Began to twinkle through the fog; for now Both armies moved to camp, and took their meal; The Persians took it on the open sands Southward, the Tartars by the river marge; And Rustum and his son were left alone. But the majestic river floated on, Out of the mist and hum of that low land, Into the frosty starlight, and there moved, Rejoicing, through the hush'd Chorasmian waste, Under the solitary moon;—he flow'd Right for the polar star, past Orgunje, Brimming, and bright, and large; then sands begin To hem his watery march, and dam his streams, And split his currents; that for many a league The shorn and parcell'd Oxus strains along Through beds of sand and matted rushy isles— Oxus, forgetting the bright speed he had In his high mountain-cradle in Pamere, A foil'd circuitous wanderer—till at last The long'd-for dash of waves is heard, and wide His luminous home of waters opens, bright And tranquil, from whose floor the new-bathed stars Emerge, and shine upon the Aral Sea.
THE SICK KING IN BOKHARA
O most just Vizier, send away The cloth-merchants, and let them be, Them and their dues, this day! the King Is ill at ease, and calls for thee.
O merchants, tarry yet a day Here in Bokhara! but at noon, To-morrow, come, and ye shall pay Each fortieth web of cloth to me, As the law is, and go your way. O Hussein, lead me to the King! Thou teller of sweet tales, thine own, Ferdousi's, and the others', lead! How is it with my lord?
Alone, Ever since prayer-time, he doth wait, O Vizier! without lying down, In the great window of the gate, Looking into the Registan, Where through the sellers' booths the slaves Are this way bringing the dead man.— O Vizier, here is the King's door!
O Vizier, I may bury him?
O King, thou know'st, I have been sick These many days, and heard no thing (For Allah shut my ears and mind), Not even what thou dost, O King! Wherefore, that I may counsel thee, Let Hussein, if thou wilt, make haste To speak in order what hath chanced.
O Vizier, be it as thou say'st!
Three days since, at the time of prayer A certain Moollah, with his robe All rent, and dust upon his hair, Watch'd my lord's coming forth, and push'd The golden mace-bearers aside, And fell at the King's feet, and cried:
"Justice, O King, and on myself! On this great sinner, who did break The law, and by the law must die! Vengeance, O King!"
But the King spake: "What fool is this, that hurts our ears With folly? or what drunken slave? My guards, what, prick him with your spears! Prick me the fellow from the path!" As the King said, so it was done, And to the mosque my lord pass'd on.
But on the morrow, when the King Went forth again, the holy book Carried before him, as is right, And through the square his way he took; My man comes running, fleck'd with blood From yesterday, and falling down Cries out most earnestly: "O King, My lord, O King, do right, I pray!
"How canst thou, ere thou hear, discern If I speak folly? but a king, Whether a thing be great or small, Like Allah, hears and judges all.
"Wherefore hear thou! Thou know'st, how fierce In these last days the sun hath burn'd; That the green water in the tanks Is to a putrid puddle turn'd; And the canal, which from the stream Of Samarcand is brought this way, Wastes, and runs thinner every day.
"Now I at nightfall had gone forth Alone, and in a darksome place Under some mulberry-trees I found A little pool; and in short space, With all the water that was there I fill'd my pitcher, and stole home Unseen; and having drink to spare, I hid the can behind the door, And went up on the roof to sleep.
"But in the night, which was with wind And burning dust, again I creep Down, having fever, for a drink.
"Now meanwhile had my brethren found The water-pitcher, where it stood Behind the door upon the ground, And call'd my mother; and they all, As they were thirsty, and the night Most sultry, drain'd the pitcher there; That they sate with it, in my sight, Their lips still wet, when I came down.
"Now mark! I, being fever'd, sick (Most unblest also), at that sight Brake forth, and cursed them—dost thou hear?— One was my mother——Now, do right!"
But my lord mused a space, and said: "Send him away, Sirs, and make on! It is some madman!" the King said. As the King bade, so was it done.
The morrow, at the self-same hour, In the King's path, behold, the man, Not kneeling, sternly fix'd! he stood Right opposite, and thus began, Frowning grim down: "Thou wicked King, Most deaf where thou shouldst most give ear! What, must I howl in the next world, Because thou wilt not listen here?
"What, wilt thou pray, and get thee grace, And all grace shall to me be grudged? Nay but, I swear, from this thy path I will not stir till I be judged!"
Then they who stood about the King Drew close together and conferr'd; Till that the King stood forth and said: "Before the priests thou shalt be heard."
But when the Ulemas were met, And the thing heard, they doubted not; But sentenced him, as the law is, To die by stoning on the spot.
Now the King charged us secretly: "Stoned must he be, the law stands so. Yet, if he seek to fly, give way; Hinder him not, but let him go."
So saying, the King took a stone, And cast it softly;—but the man, With a great joy upon his face, Kneel'd down, and cried not, neither ran.
So they, whose lot it was, cast stones, That they flew thick and bruised him sore. But he praised Allah with loud voice, And remain'd kneeling as before.
My lord had cover'd up his face; But when one told him, "He is dead," Turning him quickly to go in, "Bring thou to me his corpse," he said.
And truly, while I speak, O King, I hear the bearers on the stair; Wilt thou they straightway bring him in? —Ho! enter ye who tarry there!
O King, in this I praise thee not! Now must I call thy grief not wise. Is he thy friend, or of thy blood, To find such favour in thine eyes?
Nay, were he thine own mother's son, Still, thou art king, and the law stands. It were not meet the balance swerved, The sword were broken in thy hands.
But being nothing, as he is, Why for no cause make sad thy face?— Lo, I am old! three kings, ere thee, Have I seen reigning in this place.
But who, through all this length of time, Could bear the burden of his years, If he for strangers pain'd his heart Not less than those who merit tears?
Fathers we must have, wife and child, And grievous is the grief for these; This pain alone, which must be borne, Makes the head white, and bows the knees.
But other loads than this his own One man is not well made to bear. Besides, to each are his own friends, To mourn with him, and show him care.
Look, this is but one single place, Though it be great; all the earth round, If a man bear to have it so, Things which might vex him shall be found.
Upon the Russian frontier, where The watchers of two armies stand Near one another, many a man, Seeking a prey unto his hand,
Hath snatch'd a little fair-hair'd slave; They snatch also, towards Merve, The Shiah dogs, who pasture sheep, And up from thence to Orgunje.
And these all, labouring for a lord, Eat not the fruit of their own hands; Which is the heaviest of all plagues, To that man's mind, who understands.
The kaffirs also (whom God curse!) Vex one another, night and day; There are the lepers, and all sick; There are the poor, who faint alway All these have sorrow, and keep still, Whilst other men make cheer, and sing. Wilt thou have pity on all these? No, nor on this dead dog, O King!
O Vizier, thou art old, I young! Clear in these things I cannot see. My head is burning, and a heat Is in my skin which angers me.
But hear ye this, ye sons of men! They that bear rule, and are obey'd, Unto a rule more strong than theirs Are in their turn obedient made.
In vain therefore, with wistful eyes Gazing up hither, the poor man, Who loiters by the high-heap'd booths, Below there, in the Registan,
Says: "Happy he, who lodges there! With silken raiment, store of rice, And for this drought, all kinds of fruits, Grape-syrup, squares of colour'd ice,
"With cherries serv'd in drifts of snow." In vain hath a king power to build Houses, arcades, enamell'd mosques; And to make orchard-closes, fill'd
With curious fruit-trees brought from far With cisterns for the winter-rain, And, in the desert, spacious inns In divers places—if that pain Is not more lighten'd, which he feels, If his will be not satisfied; And that it be not, from all time The law is planted, to abide.
Thou wast a sinner, thou poor man! Thou wast athirst; and didst not see, That, though we take what we desire, We must not snatch it eagerly.
And I have meat and drink at will, And rooms of treasures, not a few. But I am sick, nor heed I these; And what I would, I cannot do.
Even the great honour which I have, When I am dead, will soon grow still; So have I neither joy, nor fame. But what I can do, that I will.
I have a fretted brick-work tomb Upon a hill on the right hand, Hard by a close of apricots, Upon the road of Samarcand;
Thither, O Vizier, will I bear This man my pity could not save, And, plucking up the marble flags, There lay his body in my grave.
Bring water, nard, and linen rolls! Wash off all blood, set smooth each limb! Then say: "He was not wholly vile, Because a king shall bury him."
So on the floor lay Balder dead; and round Lay thickly strewn swords, axes, darts, and spears, Which all the Gods in sport had idly thrown At Balder, whom no weapon pierced or clove; But in his breast stood fixt the fatal bough Of mistletoe, which Lok the Accuser gave To Hoder, and unwitting Hoder threw— 'Gainst that alone had Balder's life no charm. And all the Gods and all the Heroes came, And stood round Balder on the bloody floor, Weeping and wailing; and Valhalla rang Up to its golden roof with sobs and cries; And on the tables stood the untasted meats, And in the horns and gold-rimm'd skulls the wine. And now would night have fall'n, and found them yet Wailing; but otherwise was Odin's will. And thus the father of the ages spake:— "Enough of tears, ye Gods, enough of wail! Not to lament in was Valhalla made. If any here might weep for Balder's death, I most might weep, his father; such a son I lose to-day, so bright, so loved a God. But he has met that doom, which long ago The Nornies, when his mother bare him, spun, And fate set seal, that so his end must be. Balder has met his death, and ye survive— Weep him an hour, but what can grief avail? For ye yourselves, ye Gods, shall meet your doom, All ye who hear me, and inhabit Heaven, And I too, Odin too, the Lord of all. But ours we shall not meet, when that day comes, With women's tears and weak complaining cries— Why should we meet another's portion so? Rather it fits you, having wept your hour, With cold dry eyes, and hearts composed and stern, To live, as erst, your daily life in Heaven. By me shall vengeance on the murderer Lok, The foe, the accuser, whom, though Gods, we hate, Be strictly cared for, in the appointed day. Meanwhile, to-morrow, when the morning dawns, Bring wood to the seashore to Balder's ship, And on the deck build high a funeral-pile, And on the top lay Balder's corpse, and put Fire to the wood, and send him out to sea To burn; for that is what the dead desire." So spake the King of Gods, and straightway rose, And mounted his horse Sleipner, whom he rode; And from the hall of Heaven he rode away To Lidskialf, and sate upon his throne, The mount, from whence his eye surveys the world. And far from Heaven he turn'd his shining orbs To look on Midgard, and the earth, and men. And on the conjuring Lapps he bent his gaze Whom antler'd reindeer pull over the snow; And on the Finns, the gentlest of mankind, Fair men, who live in holes under the ground; Nor did he look once more to Ida's plain, Nor tow'rd Valhalla, and the sorrowing Gods; For well he knew the Gods would heed his word, And cease to mourn, and think of Balder's pyre. But in Valhalla all the Gods went back From around Balder, all the Heroes went; And left his body stretch'd upon the floor. And on their golden chairs they sate again, Beside the tables, in the hall of Heaven; And before each the cooks who served them placed New messes of the boar Serimner's flesh, And the Valkyries crown'd their horns with mead. So they, with pent-up hearts and tearless eyes, Wailing no more, in silence ate and drank, While twilight fell, and sacred night came on. But the blind Hoder left the feasting Gods In Odin's hall, and went through Asgard streets, And past the haven where the Gods have moor'd Their ships, and through the gate, beyond the wall; Though sightless, yet his own mind led the God. Down to the margin of the roaring sea He came, and sadly went along the sand, Between the waves and black o'erhanging cliffs Where in and out the screaming seafowl fly; Until he came to where a gully breaks Through the cliff-wall, and a fresh stream runs down From the high moors behind, and meets the sea. There, in the glen, Fensaler stands, the house Of Frea, honour'd mother of the Gods, And shows its lighted windows to the main. There he went up, and pass'd the open doors; And in the hall he found those women old, The prophetesses, who by rite eterne On Frea's hearth feed high the sacred fire Both night and day; and by the inner wall Upon her golden chair the Mother sate, With folded hands, revolving things to come. To her drew Hoder near, and spake, and said:— "Mother, a child of bale thou bar'st in me! For, first, thou barest me with blinded eyes, Sightless and helpless, wandering weak in Heaven; And, after that, of ignorant witless mind Thou barest me, and unforeseeing soul; That I alone must take the branch from Lok, The foe, the accuser, whom, though Gods, we hate, And cast it at the dear-loved Balder's breast At whom the Gods in sport their weapons threw— 'Gainst that alone had Balder's life no charm. Now therefore what to attempt, or whither fly, For who will bear my hateful sight in Heaven? Can I, O mother, bring them Balder back? Or—for thou know'st the fates, and things allow'd— Can I with Hela's power a compact strike, And make exchange, and give my life for his?" He spoke: the mother of the Gods replied:— "Hoder, ill-fated, child of bale, my son, Sightless in soul and eye, what words are these? That one, long portion'd with his doom of death, Should change his lot, and fill another's life, And Hela yield to this, and let him go! On Balder Death hath laid her hand, not thee; Nor doth she count this life a price for that. For many Gods in Heaven, not thou alone, Would freely die to purchase Balder back, And wend themselves to Hela's gloomy realm. For not so gladsome is that life in Heaven Which Gods and heroes lead, in feast and fray, Waiting the darkness of the final times, That one should grudge its loss for Balder's sake, Balder their joy, so bright, so loved a God. But fate withstands, and laws forbid this way. Yet in my secret mind one way I know, Nor do I judge if it shall win or fail; But much must still be tried, which shall but fail." And the blind Hoder answer'd her, and said:— "What way is this, O mother, that thou show'st? Is it a matter which a God might try?" And straight the mother of the Gods replied:— "There is a road which leads to Hela's realm, Untrodden, lonely, far from light and Heaven. Who goes that way must take no other horse To ride, but Sleipner, Odin's horse, alone. Nor must he choose that common path of Gods Which every day they come and go in Heaven, O'er the bridge Bifrost, where is Heimdall's watch, Past Midgard fortress, down to earth and men. But he must tread a dark untravell'd road Which branches from the north of Heaven, and ride Nine days, nine nights, toward the northern ice, Through valleys deep-engulph'd, with roaring streams. And he will reach on the tenth morn a bridge Which spans with golden arches Giall's stream, Not Bifrost, but that bridge a damsel keeps, Who tells the passing troops of dead their way To the low shore of ghosts, and Hela's realm. And she will bid him northward steer his course. Then he will journey through no lighted land, Nor see the sun arise, nor see it set; But he must ever watch the northern Bear, Who from her frozen height with jealous eye Confronts the Dog and Hunter in the south, And is alone not dipt in Ocean's stream. And straight he will come down to Ocean's strand— Ocean, whose watery ring enfolds the world, And on whose marge the ancient giants dwell. But he will reach its unknown northern shore, Far, far beyond the outmost giant's home, At the chink'd fields of ice, the waste of snow. And he must fare across the dismal ice Northward, until he meets a stretching wall Barring his way, and in the wall a grate. But then he must dismount, and on the ice Tighten the girths of Sleipner, Odin's horse, And make him leap the grate, and come within. And he will see stretch round him Hela's realm, The plains of Niflheim, where dwell the dead, And hear the roaring of the streams of Hell. And he will see the feeble, shadowy tribes, And Balder sitting crown'd, and Hela's throne. Then must he not regard the wailful ghosts Who all will flit, like eddying leaves, around; But he must straight accost their solemn queen, And pay her homage, and entreat with prayers, Telling her all that grief they have in Heaven For Balder, whom she holds by right below; If haply he may melt her heart with words, And make her yield, and give him Balder back." She spoke; but Hoder answer'd her and said:— "Mother, a dreadful way is this thou show'st; No journey for a sightless God to go!" And straight the mother of the Gods replied:— "Therefore thyself thou shalt not go, my son. But he whom first thou meetest when thou com'st To Asgard, and declar'st this hidden way, Shall go; and I will be his guide unseen." She spoke, and on her face let fall her veil, And bow'd her head, and sate with folded hands, But at the central hearth those women old, Who while the Mother spake had ceased their toil, Began again to heap the sacred fire. And Hoder turn'd, and left his mother's house, Fensaler, whose lit windows look to sea; And came again down to the roaring waves, And back along the beach to Asgard went, Pondering on that which Frea said should be. But night came down, and darken'd Asgard streets Then from their loathed feasts the Gods arose, And lighted torches, and took up the corpse Of Balder from the floor of Odin's hall, And laid it on a bier, and bare him home Through the fast-darkening streets to his own house, Breidablik, on whose columns Balder graved The enchantments that recall the dead to life. For wise he was, and many curious arts, Postures of runes, and healing herbs he knew; Unhappy! but that art he did not know, To keep his own life safe, and see the sun. There to his hall the Gods brought Balder home, And each bespake him as he laid him down:— "Would that ourselves, O Balder, we were borne Home to our halls, with torchlight, by our kin, So thou might'st live, and still delight the Gods!" They spake; and each went home to his own house. But there was one, the first of all the Gods For speed, and Hermod was his name in Heaven; Most fleet he was, but now he went the last, Heavy in heart for Balder, to his house, Which he in Asgard built him, there to dwell, Against the harbour, by the city-wall. Him the blind Hoder met, as he came up From the sea cityward, and knew his step; Nor yet could Hermod see his brother's face, For it grew dark; but Hoder touch'd his arm. And as a spray of honeysuckle flowers Brushes across a tired traveller's face Who shuffles through the deep dew-moisten'd dust, On a May evening, in the darken'd lanes, And starts him, that he thinks a ghost went by— So Hoder brush'd by Hermod's side, and said:— "Take Sleipner, Hermod, and set forth with dawn To Hela's kingdom, to ask Balder back; And they shall be thy guides, who have the power." He spake, and brush'd soft by, and disappear'd. And Hermod gazed into the night, and said:— "Who is it utters through the dark his hest So quickly, and will wait for no reply? The voice was like the unhappy Hoder's voice. Howbeit I will see, and do his hest; For there rang note divine in that command." So speaking, the fleet-footed Hermod came Home, and lay down to sleep in his own house; And all the Gods lay down in their own homes. And Hoder too came home, distraught with grief, Loathing to meet, at dawn, the other Gods; And he went in, and shut the door, and fixt His sword upright, and fell on it, and died. But from the hill of Lidskialf Odin rose, The throne, from which his eye surveys the world; And mounted Sleipner, and in darkness rode To Asgard. And the stars came out in heaven, High over Asgard, to light home the King. But fiercely Odin gallop'd, moved in heart; And swift to Asgard, to the gate, he came. And terribly the hoofs of Sleipner rang Along the flinty floor of Asgard streets, And the Gods trembled on their golden beds Hearing the wrathful Father coming home— For dread, for like a whirlwind, Odin came. And to Valhalla's gate he rode, and left Sleipner; and Sleipner went to his own stall; And in Valhalla Odin laid him down. But in Breidablik, Nanna, Balder's wife, Came with the Goddesses who wrought her will, And stood by Balder lying on his bier. And at his head and feet she station'd Scalds Who in their lives were famous for their song; These o'er the corpse intoned a plaintive strain, A dirge—and Nanna and her train replied. And far into the night they wail'd their dirge. But when their souls were satisfied with wail, They went, and laid them down, and Nanna went Into an upper chamber, and lay down; And Frea seal'd her tired lids with sleep. And 'twas when night is bordering hard on dawn, When air is chilliest, and the stars sunk low; Then Balder's spirit through the gloom drew near, In garb, in form, in feature as he was, Alive; and still the rays were round his head Which were his glorious mark in Heaven; he stood Over against the curtain of the bed, And gazed on Nanna as she slept, and spake:— "Poor lamb, thou sleepest, and forgett'st thy woe! Tears stand upon the lashes of thine eyes, Tears wet the pillow by thy cheek; but thou, Like a young child, hast cried thyself to sleep. Sleep on; I watch thee, and am here to aid. Alive I kept not far from thee, dear soul! Neither do I neglect thee now, though dead. For with to-morrow's dawn the Gods prepare To gather wood, and build a funeral-pile Upon my ship, and burn my corpse with fire, That sad, sole honour of the dead; and thee They think to burn, and all my choicest wealth, With me, for thus ordains the common rite. But it shall not be so; but mild, but swift, But painless shall a stroke from Frea come, To cut thy thread of life, and free thy soul, And they shall burn thy corpse with mine, not thee. And well I know that by no stroke of death, Tardy or swift, would'st thou be loath to die, So it restored thee, Nanna, to my side, Whom thou so well hast loved; but I can smooth Thy way, and this, at least, my prayers avail. Yes, and I fain would altogether ward Death from thy head, and with the Gods in Heaven Prolong thy life, though not by thee desired— But right bars this, not only thy desire. Yet dreary, Nanna, is the life they lead In that dim world, in Hela's mouldering realm; And doleful are the ghosts, the troops of dead, Whom Hela with austere control presides. For of the race of Gods is no one there, Save me alone, and Hela, solemn queen; And all the nobler souls of mortal men On battle-field have met their death, and now Feast in Valhalla, in my father's hall; Only the inglorious sort are there below, The old, the cowards, and the weak are there— Men spent by sickness, or obscure decay. But even there, O Nanna, we might find Some solace in each other's look and speech, Wandering together through that gloomy world, And talking of the life we led in Heaven, While we yet lived, among the other Gods." He spake, and straight his lineaments began To fade; and Nanna in her sleep stretch'd out Her arms towards him with a cry—but he Mournfully shook his head, and disappear'd. And as the woodman sees a little smoke Hang in the air, afield, and disappear, So Balder faded in the night away. And Nanna on her bed sank back; but then Frea, the mother of the Gods, with stroke Painless and swift, set free her airy soul, Which took, on Balder's track, the way below; And instantly the sacred morn appear'd.
2. JOURNEY TO THE DEAD
Forth from the east, up the ascent of Heaven, Day drove his courser with the shining mane; And in Valhalla, from his gable-perch, The golden-crested cock began to crow. Hereafter, in the blackest dead of night, With shrill and dismal cries that bird shall crow, Warning the Gods that foes draw nigh to Heaven; But now he crew at dawn, a cheerful note, To wake the Gods and Heroes to their tasks. And all the Gods, and all the Heroes, woke. And from their beds the Heroes rose, and donn'd Their arms, and led their horses from the stall, And mounted them, and in Valhalla's court Were ranged; and then the daily fray began. And all day long they there are hack'd and hewn, 'Mid dust, and groans, and limbs lopp'd off, and blood; But all at night return to Odin's hall, Woundless and fresh; such lot is theirs in Heaven. And the Valkyries on their steeds went forth Tow'rd earth and fights of men; and at their side Skulda, the youngest of the Nornies, rode; And over Bifrost, where is Heimdall's watch, Past Midgard fortress, down to earth they came; There through some battle-field, where men fall fast, Their horses fetlock-deep in blood, they ride, And pick the bravest warriors out for death, Whom they bring back with them at night to Heaven To glad the Gods, and feast in Odin's hall. But the Gods went not now, as otherwhile, Into the tilt-yard, where the Heroes fought, To feast their eyes with looking on the fray; Nor did they to their judgment-place repair By the ash Igdrasil, in Ida's plain, Where they hold council, and give laws for men. But they went, Odin first, the rest behind, To the hall Gladheim, which is built of gold; Where are in circle ranged twelve golden chairs, And in the midst one higher, Odin's throne. There all the Gods in silence sate them down; And thus the Father of the ages spake:— "Go quickly, Gods, bring wood to the seashore, With all, which it beseems the dead to have, And make a funeral-pile on Balder's ship; On the twelfth day the Gods shall burn his corpse. But Hermod, thou, take Sleipner, and ride down To Hela's kingdom, to ask Balder back." So said he; and the Gods arose, and took Axes and ropes, and at their head came Thor, Shouldering his hammer, which the giants know. Forth wended they, and drave their steeds before. And up the dewy mountain-tracks they fared To the dark forests, in the early dawn; And up and down, and side and slant they roam'd. And from the glens all day an echo came Of crashing falls; for with his hammer Thor Smote 'mid the rocks the lichen-bearded pines, And burst their roots, while to their tops the Gods Made fast the woven ropes, and haled them down, And lopp'd their boughs, and clove them on the sward, And bound the logs behind their steeds to draw, And drave them homeward; and the snorting steeds Went straining through the crackling brushwood down, And by the darkling forest-paths the Gods Follow'd, and on their shoulders carried boughs. And they came out upon the plain, and pass'd Asgard, and led their horses to the beach, And loosed them of their loads on the seashore, And ranged the wood in stacks by Balder's ship; And every God went home to his own house. But when the Gods were to the forest gone, Hermod led Sleipner from Valhalla forth And saddled him; before that, Sleipner brook'd No meaner hand than Odin's on his mane, On his broad back no lesser rider bore; Yet docile now he stood at Hermod's side, Arching his neck, and glad to be bestrode, Knowing the God they went to seek, how dear. But Hermod mounted him, and sadly fared In silence up the dark untravell'd road Which branches from the north of Heaven, and went All day; and daylight waned, and night came on. And all that night he rode, and journey'd so, Nine days, nine nights, toward the northern ice, Through valleys deep-engulph'd, by roaring streams. And on the tenth morn he beheld the bridge Which spans with golden arches Giall's stream, And on the bridge a damsel watching arm'd, In the strait passage, at the farther end, Where the road issues between walling rocks. Scant space that warder left for passers by;— But as when cowherds in October drive Their kine across a snowy mountain-pass To winter-pasture on the southern side, And on the ridge a waggon chokes the way, Wedged in the snow; then painfully the hinds With goad and shouting urge their cattle past, Plunging through deep untrodden banks of snow To right and left, and warm steam fills the air— So on the bridge that damsel block'd the way, And question'd Hermod as he came, and said:— "Who art thou on thy black and fiery horse Under whose hoofs the bridge o'er Giall's stream Rumbles and shakes? Tell me thy race and home. But yestermorn, five troops of dead pass'd by, Bound on their way below to Hela's realm, Nor shook the bridge so much as thou alone. And thou hast flesh and colour on thy cheeks, Like men who live, and draw the vital air; Nor look'st thou pale and wan, like men deceased, Souls bound below, my daily passers here." And the fleet-footed Hermod answer'd her:— "O damsel, Hermod am I call'd, the son Of Odin; and my high-roof'd house is built Far hence, in Asgard, in the city of Gods; And Sleipner, Odin's horse, is this I ride. And I come, sent this road on Balder's track; Say then, if he hath cross'd thy bridge or no?" He spake; the warder of the bridge replied:— "O Hermod, rarely do the feet of Gods Or of the horses of the Gods resound Upon my bridge; and, when they cross, I know. Balder hath gone this way, and ta'en the road Below there, to the north, tow'rd Hela's realm. From here the cold white mist can be discern'd, Nor lit with sun, but through the darksome air By the dim vapour-blotted light of stars, Which hangs over the ice where lies the road. For in that ice are lost those northern streams, Freezing and ridging in their onward flow, Which from the fountain of Vergelmer run, The spring that bubbles up by Hela's throne. There are the joyless seats, the haunt of ghosts, Hela's pale swarms; and there was Balder bound. Ride on! pass free! but he by this is there." She spake, and stepp'd aside, and left him room. And Hermod greeted her, and gallop'd by Across the bridge; then she took post again. But northward Hermod rode, the way below; And o'er a darksome tract, which knows no sun, But by the blotted light of stars, he fared. And he came down to Ocean's northern strand, At the drear ice, beyond the giants' home. Thence on he journey'd o'er the fields of ice Still north, until he met a stretching wall Barring his way, and in the wall a grate. Then he dismounted, and drew tight the girths, On the smooth ice, of Sleipner, Odin's horse, And made him leap the grate, and came within. And he beheld spread round him Hela's realm, The plains of Niflheim, where dwell the dead, And heard the thunder of the streams of Hell. For near the wall the river of Roaring flows, Outmost; the others near the centre run— The Storm, the Abyss, the Howling, and the Pain; These flow by Hela's throne, and near their spring. And from the dark flock'd up the shadowy tribes;— And as the swallows crowd the bulrush-beds Of some clear river, issuing from a lake, On autumn-days, before they cross the sea; And to each bulrush-crest a swallow hangs Quivering, and others skim the river-streams, And their quick twittering fills the banks and shores— So around Hermod swarm'd the twittering ghosts. Women, and infants, and young men who died Too soon for fame, with white ungraven shields; And old men, known to glory, but their star Betray'd them, and of wasting age they died, Not wounds; yet, dying, they their armour wore, And now have chief regard in Hela's realm. Behind flock'd wrangling up a piteous crew, Greeted of none, disfeatured and forlorn— Cowards, who were in sloughs interr'd alive; And round them still the wattled hurdles hung, Wherewith they stamp'd them down, and trod them deep, To hide their shameful memory from men. But all he pass'd unhail'd, and reach'd the throne Of Hela, and saw, near it, Balder crown'd, And Hela set thereon, with countenance stern; And thus bespake him first the solemn queen:— "Unhappy, how hast thou endured to leave The light, and journey to the cheerless land Where idly flit about the feeble shades? How didst thou cross the bridge o'er Giall's stream, Being alive, and come to Ocean's shore? Or how o'erleap the grate that bars the wall?" She spake: but down off Sleipner Hermod sprang, And fell before her feet, and clasp'd her knees; And spake, and mild entreated her, and said:— "O Hela, wherefore should the Gods declare Their errands to each other, or the ways They go? the errand and the way is known. Thou know'st, thou know'st, what grief we have in Heaven For Balder, whom thou hold'st by right below. Restore him! for what part fulfils he here? Shall he shed cheer over the cheerless seats, And touch the apathetic ghosts with joy? Not for such end, O queen, thou hold'st thy realm. For Heaven was Balder born, the city of Gods And Heroes, where they live in light and joy. Thither restore him, for his place is there!" He spoke; and grave replied the solemn queen:— "Hermod, for he thou art, thou son of Heaven! A strange unlikely errand, sure, is thine. Do the Gods send to me to make them blest? Small bliss my race hath of the Gods obtained. Three mighty children to my father Lok Did Angerbode, the giantess, bring forth— Fenris the wolf, the Serpent huge, and me. Of these the Serpent in the sea ye cast, Who since in your despite hath wax'd amain, And now with gleaming ring enfolds the world; Me on this cheerless nether world ye threw, And gave me nine unlighted realms to rule; While on his island in the lake afar, Made fast to the bored crag, by wile not strength Subdued, with limber chains lives Fenris bound. Lok still subsists in Heaven, our father wise, Your mate, though loathed, and feasts in Odin's hall; But him too foes await, and netted snares, And in a cave a bed of needle-rocks, And o'er his visage serpents dropping gall. Yet he shall one day rise, and burst his bonds, And with himself set us his offspring free, When he guides Muspel's children to their bourne. Till then in peril or in pain we live, Wrought by the Gods—and ask the Gods our aid? Howbeit, we abide our day; till then, We do not as some feebler haters do— Seek to afflict our foes with petty pangs, Helpless to better us, or ruin them. Come then! if Balder was so dear beloved, And this is true, and such a loss is Heaven's— Hear, how to Heaven may Balder be restored. Show me through all the world the signs of grief! Fails but one thing to grieve, here Balder stops! Let all that lives and moves upon the earth Weep him, and all that is without life weep; Let Gods, men, brutes, beweep him; plants and stones! So shall I know the lost was dear indeed, And bend my heart, and give him back to Heaven." She spake; and Hermod answer'd her, and said:— "Hela, such as thou say'st, the terms shall be. But come, declare me this, and truly tell: May I, ere I depart, bid Balder hail, Or is it here withheld to greet the dead?" He spake, and straightway Hela answered him:— "Hermod, greet Balder if thou wilt, and hold Converse; his speech remains, though he be dead." And straight to Balder Hermod turn'd, and spake:— "Even in the abode of death, O Balder, hail! Thou hear'st, if hearing, like as speech, is thine, The terms of thy releasement hence to Heaven; Fear nothing but that all shall be fulfill'd. For not unmindful of thee are the Gods, Who see the light, and blest in Asgard dwell; Even here they seek thee out, in Hela's realm. And sure of all the happiest far art thou Who ever have been known in earth or Heaven; Alive, thou wast of Gods the most beloved, And now thou sittest crown'd by Hela's side, Here, and hast honour among all the dead." He spake; and Balder utter'd him reply, But feebly, as a voice far off; he said:— "Hermod the nimble, gild me not my death! Better to live a serf, a captured man, Who scatters rushes in a master's hall, Than be a crown'd king here, and rule the dead. And now I count not of these terms as safe To be fulfill'd, nor my return as sure, Though I be loved, and many mourn my death; For double-minded ever was the seed Of Lok, and double are the gifts they give. Howbeit, report thy message; and therewith, To Odin, to my father, take this ring, Memorial of me, whether saved or no; And tell the Heaven-born Gods how thou hast seen Me sitting here below by Hela's side, Crown'd, having honour among all the dead." He spake, and raised his hand, and gave the ring. And with inscrutable regard the queen Of Hell beheld them, and the ghosts stood dumb. But Hermod took the ring, and yet once more Kneel'd and did homage to the solemn queen; Then mounted Sleipner, and set forth to ride Back, through the astonish'd tribes of dead, to Heaven. And to the wall he came, and found the grate Lifted, and issued on the fields of ice. And o'er the ice he fared to Ocean's strand, And up from thence, a wet and misty road, To the arm'd damsel's bridge, and Giall's stream. Worse was that way to go than to return, For him;—for others all return is barr'd. Nine days he took to go, two to return, And on the twelfth morn saw the light of Heaven. And as a traveller in the early dawn To the steep edge of some great valley comes, Through which a river flows, and sees, beneath, Clouds of white rolling vapours fill the vale, But o'er them, on the farther slope, descries Vineyards, and crofts, and pastures, bright with sun— So Hermod, o'er the fog between, saw Heaven. And Sleipner snorted, for he smelt the air Of Heaven; and mightily, as wing'd, he flew. And Hermod saw the towers of Asgard rise; And he drew near, and heard no living voice In Asgard; and the golden halls were dumb. Then Hermod knew what labour held the Gods; And through the empty streets he rode, and pass'd Under the gate-house to the sands, and found The Gods on the sea-shore by Balder's ship.
The Gods held talk together, group'd in knots, Round Balder's corpse, which they had thither borne; And Hermod came down tow'rds them from the gate. And Lok, the father of the serpent, first Beheld him come, and to his neighbour spake:— "See, here is Hermod, who comes single back From Hell; and shall I tell thee how he seems? Like as a farmer, who hath lost his dog, Some morn, at market, in a crowded town— Through many streets the poor beast runs in vain, And follows this man after that, for hours; And, late at evening, spent and panting, falls Before a stranger's threshold, not his home, With flanks a-tremble, and his slender tongue Hangs quivering out between his dust-smear'd jaws, And piteously he eyes the passers by; But home his master comes to his own farm, Far in the country, wondering where he is— So Hermod comes to-day unfollow'd home." And straight his neighbour, moved with wrath, replied:— "Deceiver! fair in form, but false in heart! Enemy, mocker, whom, though Gods, we hate— Peace, lest our father Odin hear thee gibe! Would I might see him snatch thee in his hand, And bind thy carcase, like a bale, with cords, And hurl thee in a lake, to sink or swim! If clear from plotting Balder's death, to swim; But deep, if thou devisedst it, to drown, And perish, against fate, before thy day." So they two soft to one another spake. But Odin look'd toward the land, and saw His messenger; and he stood forth, and cried. And Hermod came, and leapt from Sleipner down, And in his father's hand put Sleipner's rein, And greeted Odin and the Gods, and said:— "Odin, my father, and ye, Gods of Heaven! Lo, home, having perform'd your will, I come. Into the joyless kingdom have I been, Below, and look'd upon the shadowy tribes Of ghosts, and communed with their solemn queen; And to your prayer she sends you this reply: Show her through all the world the signs of grief! Fails but one thing to grieve, there Balder stops! Let Gods, men, brutes, beweep him; plants and stones: So shall she know your loss was dear indeed, And bend her heart, and give you Balder back." He spoke; and all the Gods to Odin look'd; And straight the Father of the ages said:— "Ye Gods, these terms may keep another day. But now, put on your arms, and mount your steeds, And in procession all come near, and weep Balder; for that is what the dead desire. When ye enough have wept, then build a pile Of the heap'd wood, and burn his corpse with fire Out of our sight; that we may turn from grief, And lead, as erst, our daily life in Heaven." He spoke, and the Gods arm'd; and Odin donn'd His dazzling corslet and his helm of gold, And led the way on Sleipner; and the rest Follow'd, in tears, their father and their king. And thrice in arms around the dead they rode, Weeping; the sands were wetted, and their arms, With their thick-falling tears—so good a friend They mourn'd that day, so bright, so loved a God. And Odin came, and laid his kingly hands On Balder's breast, and thus began the wail:— "Farewell, O Balder, bright and loved, my son! In that great day, the twilight of the Gods, When Muspel's children shall beleaguer Heaven, Then we shall miss thy counsel and thy arm." Thou camest near the next, O warrior Thor! Shouldering thy hammer, in thy chariot drawn, Swaying the long-hair'd goats with silver'd rein; And over Balder's corpse these words didst say:— "Brother, thou dwellest in the darksome land, And talkest with the feeble tribes of ghosts, Now, and I know not how they prize thee there— But here, I know, thou wilt be miss'd and mourn'd. For haughty spirits and high wraths are rife Among the Gods and Heroes here in Heaven, As among those whose joy and work is war; And daily strifes arise, and angry words. But from thy lips, O Balder, night or day, Heard no one ever an injurious word To God or Hero, but thou keptest back The others, labouring to compose their brawls. Be ye then kind, as Balder too was kind! For we lose him, who smoothed all strife in Heaven." He spake, and all the Gods assenting wail'd. And Freya next came nigh, with golden tears; The loveliest Goddess she in Heaven, by all Most honour'd after Frea, Odin's wife. Her long ago the wandering Oder took To mate, but left her to roam distant lands; Since then she seeks him, and weeps tears of gold. Names hath she many; Vanadis on earth They call her, Freya is her name in Heaven; She in her hands took Balder's head, and spake:— "Balder, my brother, thou art gone a road Unknown and long, and haply on that way My long-lost wandering Oder thou hast met, For in the paths of Heaven he is not found. Oh, if it be so, tell him what thou wast To his neglected wife, and what he is, And wring his heart with shame, to hear thy word! For he, my husband, left me here to pine, Not long a wife, when his unquiet heart First drove him from me into distant lands; Since then I vainly seek him through the world, And weep from shore to shore my golden tears, But neither god nor mortal heeds my pain. Thou only, Balder, wast for ever kind, To take my hand, and wipe my tears, and say: Weep not, O Freya, weep no golden tears! One day the wandering Oder will return, Or thou wilt find him in thy faithful search On some great road, or resting in an inn, Or at a ford, or sleeping by a tree. So Balder said;—but Oder, well I know, My truant Oder I shall see no more To the world's end; and Balder now is gone, And I am left uncomforted in Heaven." She spake; and all the Goddesses bewail'd. Last from among the Heroes one came near, No God, but of the hero-troop the chief— Regner, who swept the northern sea with fleets, And ruled o'er Denmark and the heathy isles, Living; but Ella captured him and slew;— A king whose fame then fill'd the vast of Heaven, Now time obscures it, and men's later deeds. He last approach'd the corpse, and spake, and said:— "Balder, there yet are many Scalds in Heaven Still left, and that chief Scald, thy brother Brage, Whom we may bid to sing, though thou art gone. And all these gladly, while we drink, we hear, After the feast is done, in Odin's hall; But they harp ever on one string, and wake Remembrance in our soul of wars alone, Such as on earth we valiantly have waged, And blood, and ringing blows, and violent death. But when thou sangest, Balder, thou didst strike Another note, and, like a bird in spring, Thy voice of joyance minded us, and youth, And wife, and children, and our ancient home. Yes, and I, too, remember'd then no more My dungeon, where the serpents stung me dead, Nor Ella's victory on the English coast— But I heard Thora laugh in Gothland Isle, And saw my shepherdess, Aslauga, tend Her flock along the white Norwegian beach. Tears started to mine eyes with yearning joy. Therefore with grateful heart I mourn thee dead." So Regner spake, and all the Heroes groan'd. But now the sun had pass'd the height of Heaven, And soon had all that day been spent in wail; But then the Father of the ages said:— "Ye Gods, there well may be too much of wail! Bring now the gather'd wood to Balder's ship; Heap on the deck the logs, and build the pyre." But when the Gods and Heroes heard, they brought The wood to Balder's ship, and built a pile, Full the deck's breadth, and lofty; then the corpse Of Balder on the highest top they laid, With Nanna on his right, and on his left Hoder, his brother, whom his own hand slew. And they set jars of wine and oil to lean Against the bodies, and stuck torches near, Splinters of pine-wood, soak'd with turpentine; And brought his arms and gold, and all his stuff, And slew the dogs who at his table fed, And his horse, Balder's horse, whom most he loved, And placed them on the pyre, and Odin threw A last choice gift thereon, his golden ring. The mast they fixt, and hoisted up the sails, Then they put fire to the wood; and Thor Set his stout shoulder hard against the stern To push the ship through the thick sand;—sparks flew From the deep trench she plough'd, so strong a God Furrow'd it; and the water gurgled in. And the ship floated on the waves, and rock'd. But in the hills a strong east-wind arose, And came down moaning to the sea; first squalls Ran black o'er the sea's face, then steady rush'd The breeze, and fill'd the sails, and blew the fire. And wreathed in smoke the ship stood out to sea. Soon with a roaring rose the mighty fire, And the pile crackled; and between the logs Sharp quivering tongues of flame shot out, and leapt, Curling and darting, higher, until they lick'd The summit of the pile, the dead, the mast, And ate the shrivelling sails; but still the ship Drove on, ablaze above her hull with fire. And the Gods stood upon the beach, and gazed. And while they gazed, the sun went lurid down Into the smoke-wrapt sea, and night came on. Then the wind fell, with night, and there was calm; But through the dark they watch'd the burning ship Still carried o'er the distant waters on, Farther and farther, like an eye of fire. And long, in the far dark, blazed Balder's pile; But fainter, as the stars rose high, it flared, The bodies were consumed, ash choked the pile. And as, in a decaying winter-fire, A charr'd log, falling, makes a shower of sparks— So with a shower of sparks the pile fell in, Reddening the sea around; and all was dark. But the Gods went by starlight up the shore To Asgard, and sate down in Odin's hall At table, and the funeral-feast began. All night they ate the boar Serimner's flesh, And from their horns, with silver rimm'd, drank mead, Silent, and waited for the sacred morn. And morning over all the world was spread. Then from their loathed feasts the Gods arose, And took their horses, and set forth to ride O'er the bridge Bifrost, where is Heimdall's watch, To the ash Igdrasil, and Ida's plain; Thor came on foot, the rest on horseback rode. And they found Mimir sitting by his fount Of wisdom, which beneath the ashtree springs; And saw the Nornies watering the roots Of that world-shadowing tree with honey-dew. There came the Gods, and sate them down on stones; And thus the Father of the ages said:— "Ye Gods, the terms ye know, which Hermod brought. Accept them or reject them! both have grounds. Accept them, and they bind us, unfulfill'd, To leave for ever Balder in the grave, An unrecover'd prisoner, shade with shades. But how, ye say, should the fulfilment fail?— Smooth sound the terms, and light to be fulfill'd; For dear-beloved was Balder while he lived In Heaven and earth, and who would grudge him tears? But from the traitorous seed of Lok they come, These terms, and I suspect some hidden fraud. Bethink ye, Gods, is there no other way?— Speak, were not this a way, the way for Gods? If I, if Odin, clad in radiant arms, Mounted on Sleipner, with the warrior Thor Drawn in his car beside me, and my sons, All the strong brood of Heaven, to swell my train, Should make irruption into Hela's realm, And set the fields of gloom ablaze with light, And bring in triumph Balder back to Heaven?" He spake, and his fierce sons applauded loud. But Frea, mother of the Gods, arose, Daughter and wife of Odin; thus she said:— "Odin, thou whirlwind, what a threat is this! Thou threatenest what transcends thy might, even thine. For of all powers the mightiest far art thou, Lord over men on earth, and Gods in Heaven; Yet even from thee thyself hath been withheld One thing—to undo what thou thyself hast ruled. For all which hath been fixt, was fixt by thee. In the beginning, ere the Gods were born, Before the Heavens were builded, thou didst slay The giant Ymir, whom the abyss brought forth, Thou and thy brethren fierce, the sons of Bor, And cast his trunk to choke the abysmal void. But of his flesh and members thou didst build The earth and Ocean, and above them Heaven. And from the flaming world, where Muspel reigns, Thou sent'st and fetched'st fire, and madest lights, Sun, moon, and stars, which thou hast hung in Heaven, Dividing clear the paths of night and day. And Asgard thou didst build, and Midgard fort; Then me thou mad'st; of us the Gods were born. Last, walking by the sea, thou foundest spars Of wood, and framed'st men, who till the earth, Or on the sea, the field of pirates, sail. And all the race of Ymir thou didst drown, Save one, Bergelmer;—he on shipboard fled Thy deluge, and from him the giants sprang. But all that brood thou hast removed far off, And set by Ocean's utmost marge to dwell; But Hela into Niflheim thou threw'st, And gav'st her nine unlighted worlds to rule, A queen, and empire over all the dead. That empire wilt thou now invade, light up Her darkness, from her grasp a subject tear?— Try it; but I, for one, will not applaud. Nor do I merit, Odin, thou should'st slight Me and my words, though thou be first in Heaven; For I too am a Goddess, born of thee, Thine eldest, and of me the Gods are sprung; And all that is to come I know, but lock In mine own breast, and have to none reveal'd. Come then! since Hela holds by right her prey, But offers terms for his release to Heaven, Accept the chance; thou canst no more obtain. Send through the world thy messengers; entreat All living and unliving things to weep For Balder; if thou haply thus may'st melt Hela, and win the loved one back to Heaven." She spake, and on her face let fall her veil, And bow'd her head, and sate with folded hands. Nor did the all-ruling Odin slight her word; Straightway he spake, and thus address'd the Gods: "Go quickly forth through all the world, and pray All living and unliving things to weep Balder, if haply he may thus be won." When the Gods heard, they straight arose, and took Their horses, and rode forth through all the world; North, south, east, west, they struck, and roam'd the world, Entreating all things to weep Balder's death. And all that lived, and all without life, wept. And as in winter, when the frost breaks up, At winter's end, before the spring begins, And a warm west-wind blows, and thaw sets in— After an hour a dripping sound is heard In all the forests, and the soft-strewn snow Under the trees is dibbled-thick with holes, And from the boughs the snowloads shuffle down; And, in fields sloping to the south, dark plots Of grass peep out amid surrounding snow, And widen, and the peasant's heart is glad— So through the world was heard a dripping noise Of all things weeping to bring Balder back; And there fell joy upon the Gods to hear. But Hermod rode with Niord, whom he took To show him spits and beaches of the sea Far off, where some unwarn'd might fail to weep— Niord, the God of storms, whom fishers know; Not born in Heaven; he was in Vanheim rear'd, With men, but lives a hostage with the Gods; He knows each frith, and every rocky creek Fringed with dark pines, and sands where seafowl scream— They two scour'd every coast, and all things wept. And they rode home together, through the wood Of Jarnvid, which to east of Midgard lies Bordering the giants, where the trees are iron; There in the wood before a cave they came, Where sate, in the cave's mouth, a skinny hag, Toothless and old; she gibes the passers by. Thok is she call'd, but now Lok wore her shape; She greeted them the first, and laugh'd, and said:— "Ye Gods, good lack, is it so dull in Heaven, That ye come pleasuring to Thok's iron wood? Lovers of change ye are, fastidious sprites. Look, as in some boor's yard a sweet-breath'd cow, Whose manger is stuff'd full of good fresh hay, Snuffs at it daintily, and stoops her head To chew the straw, her litter, at her feet— So ye grow squeamish, Gods, and sniff at Heaven!" She spake; but Hermod answer'd her and said:— "Thok, not for gibes we come, we come for tears. Balder is dead, and Hela holds her prey, But will restore, if all things give him tears. Begrudge not thine! to all was Balder dear." Then, with a louder laugh, the hag replied:— "Is Balder dead? and do ye come for tears? Thok with dry eyes will weep o'er Balder's pyre. Weep him all other things, if weep they will— I weep him not! let Hela keep her prey." She spake, and to the cavern's depth she fled, Mocking; and Hermod knew their toil was vain. And as seafaring men, who long have wrought In the great deep for gain, at last come home, And towards evening see the headlands rise Of their dear country, and can plain descry A fire of wither'd furze which boys have lit Upon the cliffs, or smoke of burning weeds Out of a till'd field inland;—then the wind Catches them, and drives out again to sea; And they go long days tossing up and down Over the grey sea-ridges, and the glimpse Of port they had makes bitterer far their toil— So the Gods' cross was bitterer for their joy. Then, sad at heart, to Niord Hermod spake:— "It is the accuser Lok, who flouts us all! Ride back, and tell in Heaven this heavy news; I must again below, to Hela's realm." He spoke; and Niord set forth back to Heaven. But northward Hermod rode, the way below, The way he knew; and traversed Giall's stream, And down to Ocean groped, and cross'd the ice, And came beneath the wall, and found the grate Still lifted; well was his return foreknown. And once more Hermod saw around him spread The joyless plains, and heard the streams of Hell. But as he enter'd, on the extremest bound Of Niflheim, he saw one ghost come near, Hovering, and stopping oft, as if afraid— Hoder, the unhappy, whom his own hand slew. And Hermod look'd, and knew his brother's ghost, And call'd him by his name, and sternly said:— "Hoder, ill-fated, blind in heart and eyes! Why tarriest thou to plunge thee in the gulph Of the deep inner gloom, but flittest here, In twilight, on the lonely verge of Hell, Far from the other ghosts, and Hela's throne? Doubtless thou fearest to meet Balder's voice, Thy brother, whom through folly thou didst slay." He spoke; but Hoder answer'd him, and said:— "Hermod the nimble, dost thou still pursue The unhappy with reproach, even in the grave? For this I died, and fled beneath the gloom, Not daily to endure abhorring Gods, Nor with a hateful presence cumber Heaven; And canst thou not, even here, pass pitying by? No less than Balder have I lost the light Of Heaven, and communion with my kin; I too had once a wife, and once a child, And substance, and a golden house in Heaven— But all I left of my own act, and fled Below, and dost thou hate me even here? Balder upbraids me not, nor hates at all, Though he has cause, have any cause; but he, When that with downcast looks I hither came, Stretch'd forth his hand, and with benignant voice, Welcome, he said, if there be welcome here, Brother and fellow-sport of Lok with me! And not to offend thee, Hermod, nor to force My hated converse on thee, came I up From the deep gloom, where I will now return; But earnestly I long'd to hover near, Not too far off, when that thou camest by; To feel the presence of a brother God, And hear the passage of a horse of Heaven, For the last time—for here thou com'st no more." He spake, and turn'd to go to the inner gloom. But Hermod stay'd him with mild words, and said:— "Thou doest well to chide me, Hoder blind! Truly thou say'st, the planning guilty mind Was Lok's; the unwitting hand alone was thine. But Gods are like the sons of men in this— When they have woe, they blame the nearest cause. Howbeit stay, and be appeased! and tell: Sits Balder still in pomp by Hela's side, Or is he mingled with the unnumber'd dead?" And the blind Hoder answer'd him and spake:— "His place of state remains by Hela's side, But empty; for his wife, for Nanna came Lately below, and join'd him; and the pair Frequent the still recesses of the realm Of Hela, and hold converse undisturb'd. But they too, doubtless, will have breathed the balm, Which floats before a visitant from Heaven, And have drawn upward to this verge of Hell." He spake; and, as he ceased, a puff of wind Roll'd heavily the leaden mist aside Round where they stood, and they beheld two forms Make toward them o'er the stretching cloudy plain. And Hermod straight perceived them, who they were Balder and Nanna; and to Balder said:— "Balder, too truly thou foresaw'st a snare! Lok triumphs still, and Hela keeps her prey. No more to Asgard shalt thou come, nor lodge In thy own house, Breidablik, nor enjoy The love all bear toward thee, nor train up Forset, thy son, to be beloved like thee. Here must thou lie, and wait an endless age. Therefore for the last time, O Balder, hail!" He spake; and Balder answer'd him, and said:— "Hail and farewell! for here thou com'st no more. Yet mourn not for me, Hermod, when thou sitt'st In Heaven, nor let the other Gods lament, As wholly to be pitied, quite forlorn. For Nanna hath rejoin'd me, who, of old, In Heaven, was seldom parted from my side; And still the acceptance follows me, which crown'd My former life, and cheers me even here. The iron frown of Hela is relax'd When I draw nigh, and the wan tribes of dead Love me, and gladly bring for my award Their ineffectual feuds and feeble hates— Shadows of hates, but they distress them still." And the fleet-footed Hermod made reply:— "Thou hast then all the solace death allows, Esteem and function; and so far is well. Yet here thou liest, Balder, underground, Rusting for ever; and the years roll on, The generations pass, the ages grow, And bring us nearer to the final day When from the south shall march the fiery band And cross the bridge of Heaven, with Lok for guide, And Fenris at his heel with broken chain; While from the east the giant Rymer steers His ship, and the great serpent makes to land; And all are marshall'd in one flaming square Against the Gods, upon the plains of Heaven, I mourn thee, that thou canst not help us then." He spake; but Balder answer'd him, and said:— "Mourn not for me! Mourn, Hermod, for the Gods; Mourn for the men on earth, the Gods in Heaven, Who live, and with their eyes shall see that day! The day will come, when fall shall Asgard's towers, And Odin, and his sons, the seed of Heaven; But what were I, to save them in that hour? If strength might save them, could not Odin save, My father, and his pride, the warrior Thor, Vidar the silent, the impetuous Tyr? I, what were I, when these can nought avail? Yet, doubtless, when the day of battle comes, And the two hosts are marshall'd, and in Heaven The golden-crested cock shall sound alarm, And his black brother-bird from hence reply, And bucklers clash, and spears begin to pour— Longing will stir within my breast, though vain. But not to me so grievous, as, I know, To other Gods it were, is my enforced Absence from fields where I could nothing aid; For I am long since weary of your storm Of carnage, and find, Hermod, in your life Something too much of war and broils, which make Life one perpetual fight, a bath of blood. Mine eyes are dizzy with the arrowy hail; Mine ears are stunn'd with blows, and sick for calm. Inactive therefore let me lie, in gloom, Unarm'd, inglorious; I attend the course Of ages, and my late return to light, In times less alien to a spirit mild, In new-recover'd seats, the happier day." He spake; and the fleet Hermod thus replied:— "Brother, what seats are these, what happier day? Tell me, that I may ponder it when gone." And the ray-crowned Balder answer'd him:— "Far to the south, beyond the blue, there spreads Another Heaven, the boundless—no one yet Hath reach'd it; there hereafter shall arise The second Asgard, with another name. Thither, when o'er this present earth and Heavens The tempest of the latter days hath swept, And they from sight have disappear'd, and sunk, Shall a small remnant of the Gods repair; Hoder and I shall join them from the grave. There re-assembling we shall see emerge From the bright Ocean at our feet an earth More fresh, more verdant than the last, with fruits Self-springing, and a seed of man preserved, Who then shall live in peace, as now in war. But we in Heaven shall find again with joy The ruin'd palaces of Odin, seats Familiar, halls where we have supp'd of old; Re-enter them with wonder, never fill Our eyes with gazing, and rebuild with tears. And we shall tread once more the well-known plain Of Ida, and among the grass shall find The golden dice wherewith we play'd of yore; And that will bring to mind the former life And pastime of the Gods, the wise discourse Of Odin, the delights of other days, O Hermod, pray that thou may'st join us then! Such for the future is my hope; meanwhile, I rest the thrall of Hela, and endure Death, and the gloom which round me even now Thickens, and to its inner gulph recalls. Farewell, for longer speech is not allow'd!" He spoke, and waved farewell, and gave his hand To Nanna; and she gave their brother blind Her hand, in turn, for guidance; and the three Departed o'er the cloudy plain, and soon Faded from sight into the interior gloom. But Hermod stood beside his drooping horse, Mute, gazing after them in tears; and fain, Fain had he follow'd their receding steps, Though they to death were bound, and he to Heaven, Then; but a power he could not break withheld. And as a stork which idle boys have trapp'd, And tied him in a yard, at autumn sees Flocks of his kind pass flying o'er his head To warmer lands, and coasts that keep the sun;— He strains to join their flight, and from his shed Follows them with a long complaining cry— So Hermod gazed, and yearn'd to join his kin.
At last he sigh'd, and set forth back to Heaven.
TRISTRAM AND ISEULT
Is she not come? The messenger was sure. Prop me upon the pillows once again— Raise me, my page! this cannot long endure. —Christ, what a night! how the sleet whips the pane! What lights will those out to the northward be?
The lanterns of the fishing-boats at sea.
Soft—who is that, stands by the dying fire?
Ah! not the Iseult I desire.
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What Knight is this so weak and pale, Though the locks are yet brown on his noble head, Propt on pillows in his bed, Gazing seaward for the light Of some ship that fights the gale On this wild December night? Over the sick man's feet is spread A dark green forest-dress; A gold harp leans against the bed, Ruddy in the fire's light. I know him by his harp of gold, Famous in Arthur's court of old; I know him by his forest-dress— The peerless hunter, harper, knight, Tristram of Lyoness.
What Lady is this, whose silk attire Gleams so rich in the light of the fire? The ringlets on her shoulders lying In their flitting lustre vying With the clasp of burnish'd gold Which her heavy robe doth hold. Her looks are mild, her fingers slight As the driven snow are white; But her cheeks are sunk and pale. Is it that the bleak sea-gale Beating from the Atlantic sea On this coast of Brittany, Nips too keenly the sweet flower? Is it that a deep fatigue Hath come on her, a chilly fear, Passing all her youthful hour Spinning with her maidens here, Listlessly through the window-bars Gazing seawards many a league, From her lonely shore-built tower, While the knights are at the wars? Or, perhaps, has her young heart Felt already some deeper smart, Of those that in secret the heart-strings rive, Leaving her sunk and pale, though fair? Who is this snowdrop by the sea?— I know her by her mildness rare, Her snow-white hands, her golden hair; I know her by her rich silk dress, And her fragile loveliness— The sweetest Christian soul alive, Iseult of Brittany.
Iseult of Brittany?—but where Is that other Iseult fair, That proud, first Iseult, Cornwall's queen? She, whom Tristram's ship of yore From Ireland to Cornwall bore, To Tyntagel, to the side Of King Marc, to be his bride? She who, as they voyaged, quaff'd With Tristram that spiced magic draught, Which since then for ever rolls Through their blood, and binds their souls, Working love, but working teen?— There were two Iseults who did sway Each her hour of Tristram's day; But one possess'd his waning time, The other his resplendent prime. Behold her here, the patient flower, Who possess'd his darker hour! Iseult of the Snow-White Hand Watches pale by Tristram's bed. She is here who had his gloom, Where art thou who hadst his bloom? One such kiss as those of yore Might thy dying knight restore! Does the love-draught work no more? Art thou cold, or false, or dead, Iseult of Ireland?
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Loud howls the wind, sharp patters the rain, And the knight sinks back on his pillows again. He is weak with fever and pain, And his spirit is not clear. Hark! he mutters in his sleep, As he wanders far from here, Changes place and time of year, And his closed eye doth sweep O'er some fair unwintry sea, Not this fierce Atlantic deep, While he mutters brokenly:—
The calm sea shines, loose hang the vessel's sails; Before us are the sweet green fields of Wales, And overhead the cloudless sky of May.— "Ah, would I were in those green fields at play, Not pent on ship-board this delicious day! Tristram, I pray thee, of thy courtesy, Reach me my golden phial stands by thee, But pledge me in it first for courtesy.—" Ha! dost thou start? are thy lips blanch'd like mine? Child, 'tis no true draught this, 'tis poison'd wine! Iseult!...
* * * * *
Ah, sweet angels, let him dream! Keep his eyelids! let him seem Not this fever-wasted wight Thinn'd and paled before his time, But the brilliant youthful knight In the glory of his prime, Sitting in the gilded barge, At thy side, thou lovely charge, Bending gaily o'er thy hand, Iseult of Ireland! And she too, that princess fair, If her bloom be now less rare, Let her have her youth again— Let her be as she was then! Let her have her proud dark eyes, And her petulant quick replies— Let her sweep her dazzling hand With its gesture of command, And shake back her raven hair With the old imperious air! As of old, so let her be, That first Iseult, princess bright, Chatting with her youthful knight As he steers her o'er the sea, Quitting at her father's will The green isle where she was bred, And her bower in Ireland, For the surge-beat Cornish strand; Where the prince whom she must wed Dwells on loud Tyntagel's hill, High above the sounding sea. And that potion rare her mother Gave her, that her future lord, Gave her, that King Marc and she, Might drink it on their marriage-day, And for ever love each other— Let her, as she sits on board, Ah, sweet saints, unwittingly! See it shine, and take it up, And to Tristram laughing say: "Sir Tristram, of thy courtesy, Pledge me in my golden cup!" Let them drink it—let their hands Tremble, and their cheeks be flame, As they feel the fatal bands Of a love they dare not name, With a wild delicious pain, Twine about their hearts again! Let the early summer be Once more round them, and the sea Blue, and o'er its mirror kind Let the breath of the May-wind, Wandering through their drooping sails, Die on the green fields of Wales! Let a dream like this restore What his eye must see no more!
Chill blows the wind, the pleasaunce-walks are drear— Madcap, what jest was this, to meet me here? Were feet like those made for so wild a way? The southern winter-parlour, by my fay, Had been the likeliest trysting-place to-day! "Tristram!—nay, nay—thou must not take my hand!— Tristram!—sweet love!—we are betray'd—out-plann'd. Fly—save thyself—save me!—I dare not stay."— One last kiss first!—"'Tis vain—to horse—away!"
* * * * *
Ah! sweet saints, his dream doth move Faster surely than it should, From the fever in his blood! All the spring-time of his love Is already gone and past, And instead thereof is seen Its winter, which endureth still— Tyntagel on its surge-beat hill, The pleasaunce-walks, the weeping queen, The flying leaves, the straining blast, And that long, wild kiss—their last. And this rough December-night, And his burning fever-pain, Mingle with his hurrying dream, Till they rule it, till he seem The press'd fugitive again, The love-desperate banish'd knight With a fire in his brain Flying o'er the stormy main. —Whither does he wander now? Haply in his dreams the wind Wafts him here, and lets him find The lovely orphan child again In her castle by the coast; The youngest, fairest chatelaine, Whom this realm of France can boast, Our snowdrop by the Atlantic sea, Iseult of Brittany. And—for through the haggard air, The stain'd arms, the matted hair Of that stranger-knight ill-starr'd, There gleam'd something, which recall'd The Tristram who in better days Was Launcelot's guest at Joyous Gard— Welcomed here, and here install'd, Tended of his fever here, Haply he seems again to move His young guardian's heart with love; In his exiled loneliness, In his stately, deep distress, Without a word, without a tear. —Ah! 'tis well he should retrace His tranquil life in this lone place; His gentle bearing at the side Of his timid youthful bride; His long rambles by the shore On winter-evenings, when the roar Of the near waves came, sadly grand, Through the dark, up the drown'd sand, Or his endless reveries In the woods, where the gleams play On the grass under the trees, Passing the long summer's day Idle as a mossy stone In the forest-depths alone, The chase neglected, and his hound Couch'd beside him on the ground. —Ah! what trouble's on his brow? Hither let him wander now; Hither, to the quiet hours Pass'd among these heaths of ours By the grey Atlantic sea; Hours, if not of ecstasy, From violent anguish surely free!
All red with blood the whirling river flows, The wide plain rings, the dazed air throbs with blows. Upon us are the chivalry of Rome— Their spears are down, their steeds are bathed in foam. "Up, Tristram, up," men cry, "thou moonstruck knight! What foul fiend rides thee? On into the fight!" —Above the din her voice is in my ears; I see her form glide through the crossing spears.— Iseult!...
* * * * *
Ah! he wanders forth again; We cannot keep him; now, as then, There's a secret in his breast Which will never let him rest. These musing fits in the green wood They cloud the brain, they dull the blood! —His sword is sharp, his horse is good; Beyond the mountains will he see The famous towns of Italy, And label with the blessed sign The heathen Saxons on the Rhine. At Arthur's side he fights once more With the Roman Emperor. There's many a gay knight where he goes Will help him to forget his care; The march, the leaguer, Heaven's blithe air, The neighing steeds, the ringing blows— Sick pining comes not where these are. Ah! what boots it, that the jest Lightens every other brow, What, that every other breast Dances as the trumpets blow, If one's own heart beats not light On the waves of the toss'd fight, If oneself cannot get free From the clog of misery? Thy lovely youthful wife grows pale Watching by the salt sea-tide With her children at her side For the gleam of thy white sail. Home, Tristram, to thy halls again! To our lonely sea complain, To our forests tell thy pain!
All round the forest sweeps off, black in shade, But it is moonlight in the open glade; And in the bottom of the glade shine clear The forest-chapel and the fountain near. —I think, I have a fever in my blood; Come, let me leave the shadow of this wood, Ride down, and bathe my hot brow in the flood. —Mild shines the cold spring in the moon's clear light; God! 'tis her face plays in the waters bright. "Fair love," she says, "canst thou forget so soon, At this soft hour, under this sweet moon?"— Iseult!...
* * * * *
Ah, poor soul! if this be so, Only death can balm thy woe. The solitudes of the green wood Had no medicine for thy mood; The rushing battle clear'd thy blood As little as did solitude. —Ah! his eyelids slowly break Their hot seals, and let him wake; What new change shall we now see? A happier? Worse it cannot be.
Is my page here? Come, turn me to the fire! Upon the window-panes the moon shines bright; The wind is down—but she'll not come to-night. Ah no! she is asleep in Cornwall now, Far hence; her dreams are fair—smooth is her brow Of me she recks not, nor my vain desire. —I have had dreams, I have had dreams, my page, Would take a score years from a strong man's age; And with a blood like mine, will leave, I fear, Scant leisure for a second messenger. —My princess, art thou there? Sweet, do not wait! To bed, and sleep! my fever is gone by; To-night my page shall keep me company. Where do the children sleep? kiss them for me! Poor child, thou art almost as pale as I; This comes of nursing long and watching late. To bed—good night!
* * * * *
She left the gleam-lit fireplace, She came to the bed-side; She took his hands in hers—her tears Down on his wasted fingers rain'd. She raised her eyes upon his face— Not with a look of wounded pride, A look as if the heart complained— Her look was like a sad embrace; The gaze of one who can divine A grief, and sympathise. Sweet flower! thy children's eyes Are not more innocent than thine. But they sleep in shelter'd rest, Like helpless birds in the warm nest, On the castle's southern side; Where feebly comes the mournful roar Of buffeting wind and surging tide Through many a room and corridor. —Full on their window the moon's ray Makes their chamber as bright as day. It shines upon the blank white walls, And on the snowy pillow falls, And on two angel-heads doth play Turn'd to each other—the eyes closed, The lashes on the cheeks reposed. Round each sweet brow the cap close-set Hardly lets peep the golden hair; Through the soft-open'd lips the air Scarcely moves the coverlet. One little wandering arm is thrown At random on the counterpane, And often the fingers close in haste As if their baby-owner chased The butterflies again. This stir they have, and this alone; But else they are so still! —Ah, tired madcaps! you lie still; But were you at the window now, To look forth on the fairy sight Of your illumined haunts by night, To see the park-glades where you play Far lovelier than they are by day, To see the sparkle on the eaves, And upon every giant-bough Of those old oaks, whose wet red leaves Are jewell'd with bright drops of rain— How would your voices run again! And far beyond the sparkling trees Of the castle-park one sees The bare heaths spreading, clear as day, Moor behind moor, far, far away, Into the heart of Brittany. And here and there, lock'd by the land, Long inlets of smooth glittering sea, And many a stretch of watery sand All shining in the white moon-beams— But you see fairer in your dreams!
What voices are these on the clear night-air? What lights in the court—what steps on the stair?
Iseult of Ireland
Raise the light, my page! that I may see her.— Thou art come at last, then, haughty Queen! Long I've waited, long I've fought my fever; Late thou comest, cruel thou hast been.
Blame me not, poor sufferer! that I tarried; Bound I was, I could not break the band. Chide not with the past, but feel the present! I am here—we meet—I hold thy hand.
Thou art come, indeed—thou hast rejoin'd me; Thou hast dared it—but too late to save. Fear not now that men should tax thine honour! I am dying: build—(thou may'st)—my grave!
Tristram, ah, for love of Heaven, speak kindly! What, I hear these bitter words from thee? Sick with grief I am, and faint with travel— Take my hand—dear Tristram, look on me!
I forgot, thou comest from thy voyage— Yes, the spray is on thy cloak and hair. But thy dark eyes are not dimm'd, proud Iseult! And thy beauty never was more fair.
Ah, harsh flatterer! let alone my beauty! I, like thee, have left my youth afar. Take my hand, and touch these wasted fingers— See my cheek and lips, how white they are!
Thou art paler—but thy sweet charm, Iseult! Would not fade with the dull years away. Ah, how fair thou standest in the moonlight! I forgive thee, Iseult!—thou wilt stay?
Fear me not, I will be always with thee; I will watch thee, tend thee, soothe thy pain; Sing thee tales of true, long-parted lovers, Join'd at evening of their days again.