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~ Historical & Classical Poetry ~

 

The Descent of Odin
An Ode (From the Norse Tongue)

Up rose the King of Men with speed,
And saddled strait his coal-black steed;
Down the yawning steep he rode,
That leads to Helaīs drear abode.

Him the Dog of Darkness spied,
His shaggy throat he open'd wide,
While from his jaws, with carnage fill'd,
Foam and human gore distill'd:

Hoarse he bays with hideous din,
Eyes that glow, and fangs, that grin;
And long pursues, with fruitless yell,
The Father of the powerful spell.

Onward still his way he takes
(The groaning earth beneath him shakes,)
Till full before his fearless eyes
The portals nine of hell arise.

Right against the eastern gate,
By the moss-grown pile he sate;
Where long of yore to sleep was laid
The dust of the prophetic Maid.

Facing to the northern clime,
Thrice he traced the runic rhyme;
Thrice pronounc'd, in accents dread,
The thrilling verse that wakes the Dead:

Till from out the hollow ground
Slowly breath'd a sullen sound.
Prophetess: What call unknown, what charms presume
To break the quit of the tomb?

Who thus afflicts my troubled sprite,
And drags me from the realms of night?
Long on these mould'ring bones have beat
The winter's snow, the summer's heat,

The drenching dews, and driving rain!
Let me, let me sleep again.
Who is he, with vice unblest,
That calls me from the bed of rest?

Odin: A Traveller, to thee unknown,
Is he that calls, a warriour's Son.
Thou the deeds of light shalt know;
Tell me what is done below,

For whom yon glitt'ring board is spread,
Drest for whom yon golden bed.
Pr. Mantling in the goblet see
The pure bev'rage of the bee,

O'er it hangs the shield of gold;
'Tis the drink of Balder bold:
Balder's head to death is giv'n.
Pain can reach the Sons of Heav'n!

Unwilling I my lips unclose:
Leave me, leave me to repose.

O. Once again my call obey,
Prophetess, arise, and say,

What dangers Odin's Child await,
Who the Author of his fate.

Pr. In Hoder's hand the Heroe's doom:
His Brother sends him to the tomb.

Now my weary lips I close;
Leave me, leave me to repose.

O. Prophetess, my spell obey,
Once again arise, and say,
Who th' Avenger of his guilt,
By whom shall Hoder's blood be spilt?

Pr. In the caverns of the west,
By Odin's fierce embrace comprest,
A wond'rous Boy shall Rinda bear,
Who ne'er shall comb his raven-hair,

Nor wash his visage in the stream,
Nor see the sun's departing beam,
Till he on Hoder's corse shall smile
Flaming on the fun'ral pile.

Now my weary lips I close:
Leave me, leave me to repose.

O. Ye awhile my call obey;
Prophetess, awake, and say,
What Virgins these, in speechless woe,
That bend to earth their solemn brow,

That their flaxen tresses tear,
And snowy veils, that float in air.
Tell me, whence their sorrows rose:
Then I leave thee to repose.

Pr. Ha! no Traveller art thou,
King of Men, I know thee know;
Mightiest of a mighty line--

O. No boding Maid of skill divine
Art thou, nor Prophetess of good;
But Mother of the giant-brood!

Pr. Hie thee hence, and boast at home;
That never shall Enquirer come
To break my iron-sleep again;
Till Lok has burst his tenfold chain;

Never, till substantial Night
Has reassum'd her ancient right;
Till wrapt in flames, in ruin hurl'd;
Sinks the fabric of the world.

Thomas Gray (1716-1771)

Image: "Hermodīs Hellride" by E.Ph. Fleischer