Historical & Classical Poetry ~
Tales of a Wayside Inn
The Musician's Tale: The Saga of King Olaf:
IV. Queen Sigrid the Haughty
Queen Sigrid the Haughty sat proud and aloft
In her chamber, that looked over meadow and croft.
Why dost thou sorrow so?
The floor with tassels of fir was besprent,
Filling the room with their fragrant scent.
She heard the birds sing, she saw the sun shine,
The air of summer was sweeter than wine.
Like a sword without scabbard the bright river lay
Between her own kingdom and Norroway.
But Olaf the King had sued for her hand,
The sword would be sheathed, the river be spanned.
Her maidens were seated around her knee,
Working bright figures in tapestry.
And one was singing the ancient rune
Of Brynhilda's love and the wrath of Gudrun.
And through it, and round it, and over it all
Sounded incessant the waterfall.
The Queen in her hand held a ring of gold,
From the door of Lade's Temple old.
King Olaf had sent her this wedding gift,
But her thoughts as arrows were keen and swift.
She had given the ring to her goldsmiths twain,
Who smiled, as they handed it back again.
And Sigrid the Queen, in her haughty way,
Said, "Why do you smile, my goldsmiths, say?"
And they answered: "O Queen! if the truth must be told,
The ring is of copper, and not of gold!"
The lightning flashed o'er her forehead and cheek,
She only murmured, she did not speak:
"If in his gifts he can faithless be,
There will be no gold in his love to me."
A footstep was heard on the outer stair,
And in strode King Olaf with royal air.
He kissed the Queen's hand, and he whispered of love,
And swore to be true as the stars are above.
But she smiled with contempt as she answered: "O King,
Will you swear it, as Odin once swore, on the ring?"
And the King: "O speak not of Odin to me,
The wife of King Olaf a Christian must be."
Looking straight at the King, with her level brows,
She said, "I keep true to my faith and my vows."
Then the face of King Olaf was darkened with gloom,
He rose in his anger and strode through the room.
"Why, then, should I care to have thee?" he said,--
"A faded old woman, a heathenish jade!
His zeal was stronger than fear or love,
And he struck the Queen in the face with his glove.
Then forth from the chamber in anger he fled,
And the wooden stairway shook with his tread.
Queen Sigrid the Haughty said under her breath,
"This insult, King Olaf, shall be thy death!"
Why dost thou sorrow so?
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
Image: Detail from a painting with Njord and Skadhi.