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~ Historical & Classical Poetry ~

Valhalla: The Myths of Norseland; A Saga, in Twelve Parts

Part Eleventh

Ragnarock

'Twas done ! th' avenging deed was
wrought !
Alas, too late !
Decrees of Fate
With judgment fraught
Must be obeyed.
With Baldur dead
Pure Peace and Innocence had fled ;
When his swift, shining course was stayed,
Then darkness gathered o'er the Earth,
Strife and Corruption sprang to birth.
Tho' Loki lay fast bound below,
The seeds of woe
Were sown broadcast;
Nearer and nearer drew the hour,
Blacker and fiercer grew the power
That should o'erwhelm all things at last.

Grim Fimbul raged, and o'er the world
Tempestuous winds and snow-storms hurled ;
The roaring ocean icebergs ground,
And flung its frozen foam around
E'en to the top of mountain height ;
No warming air,
Nor radiance fair
Of gentle Summer's soft'ning light,
Tempered this dreadful glacial night.

Three other winters howled abroad
With furious storms of ice and hail ;
Beneath the might of fearful gale
Earth trembled ; while, thro' wild abyss,
The seas around, upthundering, roared
To sable skies, with moan and hiss !
Crag hurled on crag with deaf'ning crash ;
Great Igdrasil, beneath the lash
Of tempest shock, all quivering stood ;
The blackened skies were flecked with blood ;
By raging powers of Darkness riven
From their fixed orbits in the heaven,
The pallid stars were ruthless driven
Thro' flying cloud.
Hoarse earthquakes bellowed loud ;
Crumbled the rocks; forests down bowed !
Forth burst the hot volcanic stream ;
Flashed forth the fatal lightning's gleam ;
Streamed sheets of flame to lurid sky;
Devouring tongues of fire rose high,
Did mighty Igdrasil enshroud,
And Time expired in burning flood.

All bonds were burst ;
Troops of accursed
Tore rampant thro' the Earth and air ;
The gloomy hordes of Night roamed free;
The powers that erst from Chaos came —
Fire and Water, Darkness, Death —
'Gainst Earth and Asgard strove in wrath.
More fiercely than the lurid glare
Of conflagration, hideously
Shone on men's faces Murder's flame !
Brother slew brother — father, child ;
Men turned to tigers, mad for gore !
Creation raged ! war followed war ;
Impiety, Injustice piled
Huge heaps of horror to the sky ;
Passion, and Fear, and every crime
Mad riot held thro' this dread time — 
Undaunted, reared their pale heads high !

So came, with blood and tempest shock,
Wild Ragnarock !
The Day of Doom —
The hour was come!
Shrill crowed Valhalla's golden Cock !
The crimson bird of Hel replied.
Fierce Fenrir flung his fetters wide,
Deep howling, rushed with ravening jaws.
Nostrils flame flashing, outstretched claws,
Hot eyeballs glaring for his prey ;
On-leaping thro' the gulfs of air,
With jaws agape from Earth to Heaven,
A yawning chasm of red fear !
Well knew the Wolf, that awful Day,
What prey should to his maw be given.

In giant wrath, the Serpent tossed
In ocean depths, till, freed from chain.
He rose upon the foaming main ;
Beneath the lashings of his tail.
Seas, mountain high, swelled o'er the land ;
Then, darting mad the waves acrost,
Pouring forth bloody froth like hail,
Spurting with poisoned, venomed breath
Foul, deadly mists o'er all the Earth,
Thro' thundering surge, he sought the strand.

Over the lurid ocean flew
The Death-ship, Nagelfari, dread,
Filled with Hrimthursar, led by Hrym,
Bearing huge rocks ; the winds that blew
And sped it on this final time,
Were dying sighs of mortal dead.

Now at the head of Hel's pale host,
Those livid armies of the lost,
The unchained Loki furious came.
Grimmer and closer, thro' the gloom
On pressed they to the plain of Doom.
Scorching on high, rolled pillared flame ;
With bayings that thro' Nature pierced,
From Gnipa, Garm, the Hel-Dog, burst ;
In mad, chaotic rout,
Thro' baleful light,
The powers of Night
Reeled and careered about !

Amid the hideous din,
Confusion dire,
The blackened Heav'ns were rent in twain ;
Thro' the jaggéd rift,
With dazzling radiance swift,
Streamed the World of Fire !
'Gainst the hosts of Sin,
On hastening to broad Vigrid's plain,
The blazing sons of Muspel rode ;
Thro' gloomy clouds their pathway glowed.
Down thro' the fields of air,
With glittering armor fair,
In battle order bright,
They sped, while seething flame
From rapid hoof strokes came.
Leading his gleaming band, rode Surtur,
Mid the red ranks of raging fire ;
His very sword a ray of light
Snatched from the Sun !
Flinging on high
Flame banners flaunting to the sky,
Onward they came at headlong pace ;
The Rainbow Bridge, 'neath furious race.
Shivered and sank — its work was done !

White as the winter snows.
Great Heimdal now arose —
Valhalla's Warder,
High Heaven's Guarder ! —
Siezed his huge trump and boldly blew.
Loudly and long thro' Asgard rang
Great Gjallar-horn, with startling clang !
That summons well the Aesir knew !
Then, for the third time, crowed the Cock,
Assembling all for Ragnarock !

As thro' the Heavens the summons rang,
Swift to their Chief the Aesir sprang !
Fresh armor seized from steel-draped hall ;
Exulting loud in awful joy
That conflict mighty should employ
Once more their might,
E'en though the fight
Should end in Asgard's fatal fall ;
For, high o'er Vigrid's gory plain.
The Aesir saw fair Gimli's fane.

Little delay was in that hour :
Great Odin gathered all his power !
Ah ! well for him that to his feasts
Had bidden he such warrior guests.
Now, wakened by Valkyriar,
Brave armies of Einheriar
With stiffened fingers bound on swords ;
With shield and lance,
'Mid bright spears' glance,
Pressed on amid the hastening gods.
Then, gold-helmed Odin at their head,
Valhalla's hosts to Vigrid led ;
With polished armor shining bright,
And cuirass gleaming thro' the night.
On to the final battle sped.
Close by his side, the Thunderer.
With Odin, Fenrir closed in strife !
Awful and strong
That contest long,
For death and life !
Powerless to aid was mighty Thor ;
'Gainst him the fell World-Serpent raged,
And all his Aesir powers engaged !

Blood-stained the helmet's burnished gold !
In struggles mad o'er Earth they rolled.
At last, huge Fenrir's wide-stretched jaw
Engulfed the God in grizzly maw;
Thus, by foul Loki's fearful son,
Was greatest ill to Asgard done.
 
Lo ! Vidar, as avenger, came
Of Odin's fame !
The Monster in his mighty grasp,
Resistless clasp,
He seized; loud howlings broke,
And far, affrighted echoes woke.
Upon his writhing foe
Planting his iron shoe.
Rending and tearing with vast strength,
Until, at length,
Split he Fenrir's jaws asunder !

The reft sky shook with deep death growls,
And sharp, prolongéd, hideous howls
Like harsh peals of angry thunder.
Scarce conquered was the Gray Wolf dread,
E'er, with the life blood oozing slow
From wound dealt forth by dying foe,
On Fenrir foul fell Vidar, dead.

Caught in the loathsome toils
Of Jormungandur's coils,
Thro' all this fearful war
No aid could bear the Thunderer :
The Serpent, armed with fatal sting,
Loud clanking now with scaly side,
Fierce fold on fold out-lapping wide,
With toss and fling
To crush the Aesir-champion tried.
At length,
With wondrous strength,
Great Thor the horrid coils off flung ;
Beneath the blows of Mjölnir dread,
The savage Monster, stricken dead,
In jet-black gore lay weltering.
But, in that awful combat, stung
By venomed fang, nine steps and more
Back recoiled the unconquered Thor,
And in his last World-Victory died.

Once, high in Valhal held a god,
But now, a fallen shape abhorred.
Condemned for ill
Stern doom to fill,
Full long had Loki writhed enchained,
Tormented, tortured, agonized ;
Stretched at gigantic length,
Useless his Jötun strength,
Tearing at iron fetters fast ;
Heavings and howlings — all in vain !
There had he tossed long ages past,
Revolving schemes of deeds accursed.
Wild hopes of wrath and vengeance nursed ;
For these, alone, he freedom prized,
That, with his pristine power regained,
He hatred fierce might wreak at last ;
Joyful to him was Vigrid's plain.

Roused to fresh ire at Fenrir's fall,
Up-towered in rage his figure tall,
Breathing defiance deep and loud,
Leading ahead Hel's ghostly crowd,
With vengeful lust, the Aesir sought.
Swift o'er the field,
With brazen shield,
And lance in rest,
Great Heimdal rushed to meet the foe
'Mid streams of gore,
While shout and roar
And thund'rous blow
Convulsed the earth, the aether split ;
There, thro' the rift with flames alit,
Bright Muspel's sons in awful gaze,
One instant glaring in amaze,
Marked how in frenzied fight they fought.
Then, in death-struggle, wildly pressed,
Infuriate, grappling breast to breast,
In vengeful arms they, gasping, reeled.

The universal fury swelled
Fiercer on high !
The vaulted sky,
High arched with flame,
Resounded with the deaf'ning clang
Which, deep below, in earthquakes rang.
Millions advancing hosts repelled,
Whom millions met and fought, unquelled !
From air, and earth, and sea, there came
Throngs until now in bondage held ;
Down from their cloudy prisons swept
The sons of Aegir, fettered kept
By thunderbolt and lightning's chain.
From seething whirlpools of the main,
Up Aegir sprang with Ran's dank train
Of pallid Drowned ; while ravening waves,
Huge, rearing high their foaming breasts,
Destruction bearing on their crests,
To battle rushed from ocean caves.
Terrific conflict! each on field,
Alone, could devastation wield.
Host surged on host; then, rallying, flew
To join more fierce the strife anew.
No thought of flight !
On his own might
Each in this mad'ning hour relied.
Down to her very central point
Trembled the earth ; thro' every joint
Of pale Creation's quiv'ring frame,
Confusion wild, and warring came :
Till, darting down from scorching sky,
Great Surtur flung his fiery brand !
In conflagration flared the land.
Shrivelled like scroll the heaven high ;
Above, below, surrounding fire
Still mounting higher.
Played lurid 'gainst the crumbling home
Of Valhal's gods in Asgard's dome.

Ended the frightful war.
Alone, as conqueror,
Stood Surtur, Victor!
With ruined Nature's birth,
Down sank the blackened Earth
In boiling sea.
All smould'ring fell !
That which from Chaos came,
To Chaos back returned ;
Disastrously,
In the eclipse of Asgard's lords.
Faded the twilight of the gods.
At length one universal flame.
Enwrapping distant spheres, high burned;
Laid on one mighty funeral pyre,
Forth flashed in fierce consuming fire,
In World-blaze dread, — Earth, Heaven and Hell !

Julia Clinton Jones (publ. 1878)

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