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~ Historical & Classical Poetry ~

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

Part Eighth

Odin´s Visit to the Valä

Of all the gods of  Asgard fair
Who did in Valhal's feast-hall meet,
'Mong Aesir twelve who gathered there
To quaff their mead at Odin's feet,
And tell their tales of rare emprize
Beneath the light of Freya's eyes; —
Of all the twelve round Odin's throne,
Baldur, the Beautiful, alone,
The Sun-god, good, and pure, and bright.
Was loved by all, as all love light.

But now strange dreams and omens ill
O'erclouded brows whence light e'er streamed ;
While Midgard all, with Asgard's hill,
Trembled for him, most cherished deemed.
At council grave did hither come
Beneath Valhalla's royal dome,
The anxious Aesir, thus to seek
What harm might hang o'er Baldur meek.

They prayed and offered great reward,
And begged the Earth this charge to make, —
Round Baldur fair a watch and ward
By day and night to ceaseless take.
Friga, his mother, restless went
To every plant, each element,
Each thing, with breath or breathless, she
Bound by an oath to harmless be
To her dear son ; but, woe ! ah, woe !
She passed the sacred mistletoe.

Then up rose Odin, anxious still,
Saddled Sleipnir, of Loki's brood; —
To dark Niflheim, fearing some ill.
Then quickly rode Al-Father good.
Forth in his path sprang Garm, the hound,
Fierce keeper he of Hela's gate;
On rode Odin ; from Earth came sound
Of moaning over Baldur's fate.
Reached he soon the eastern portal
Whence returns no living mortal,
Chaunted loud the Saga's song-spell
Which shades shall call from death and hell.

Forth from the tomb the Väla came,
Foreboding shape of woe and ill;
" What man art thou, — called by what name, —
Who dares disturb my rest at will ?
Dead have I lain long years gone by.
The snows of winter on me lie,
The rains have washed my bleached bones dry,
Long since the worms have ate their fill;
And now thou 'rt come to break my rest, —
Speak ! I must answer thy behest !""

" Vegtam my name is, Valtam's son,
And come I now to question thee;
Behold these seats ! see every one
Bedecked with rings and jewelry ;
For whom prepared ? The mead is set,
The foamina; draught with shield laid o'er; —
For whom the feast ? the guest stays yet !
Can gods withhold from Hela's shore?"

"For Baldur gleams the beaker bright,
His seat is set by Hela's side :
Compelled to speak by power of might,
Silent henceforward I abide.
Hoedur, by Löki's fraud led on,
Blind arbiter of sighs and tears !
Will slay the bright, the mighty One,
And bring the end on Odin's heirs.
But, see! th' avenger, Vali, come,
Sprung from the west, in Rindus' womb.
True son of Odin ! one day's birth !
He shall not stop nor stay on earth
His locks to comb, his hands to lave.
His frame to rest, should rest it crave,
Until his mission be complete,
And Baldur's death find vengeance meet.'"

"Close not thy lips! I further seek
The name of her who will not mourn,
Who will not weep for Baldur meek,
But scornful smiles from eve till dawn."
" Thou art not Wegtam, as I deemed !
Closed are my lips forever more."

" Nor art thou Väla, as thou seemed !
No seeress thou of Hela's shore,
But mother of the giants dread,
Appointed guarders of the dead !"

" Ride on, great Odin ! thou hast found
Answers to all that troubled thee;
I to my cold sleep under ground.
Will lay me calm and quietly.
Compelled, unwilling, have I said;
My words shall weigh on thee as lead.
Never for man shall ope my tomb
Till fatal Ragnarock be come!"

So homeward thro' dark Hela's shade
Odin his upward journey made;
Passed close beside the waters still
That lave the roots of Igdrasil ;
Nor heeded Valkyr's greetings fair.
When now he reached the purer air;
That air to him breathed but one sigh,-
"Baldur the Beautiful must die !"

Baldur´s Death

With mournful brow and heavy eye,
Came Odin to Valhalla's gate,
And passed the fateful Nornir by,
But found within all joyful state;
For Aesir strong and Vingolf fair
Had met in Baldur's honor there,
And placed him in their midst on high, —
A mark for spear and archery ;
Most god-like of the gods was he,
And proven deathless now to be.

Huge rocks and mighty boulders Thor
Hurled with full force, but without harm ;
And Vidar, with the Thunderer, —
And Njörd, — the Sun-god bore a charm !
Loki alone stood silent by;
Mad, jealous hate was in his eye;
Swift his device, — as ancient dame.
He to the loving Mother came,
And thro' fair words the secret found, —
That all in, on, above the ground,
Except the feeble mistletoe,
Had sworn to shield her son from woe.

Then loud laughed Loki ! swift returned,
The slighted plant within his hand,
Soon the blind Hoedur he discerned;
Then, giving him the tender wand, —
" Wherefore, O Hcedur ! dost not pay
Due honor to this festal day ?
Dost thou not see the Aesir great
Think it not ill to show him state ?
Blind as thou art, I'll lead to where
Bright Baldur stands, a target fair;
Thou knowest well, Creation now
To work no ill has taken vow."

Blind Hoedur threw, — ah, woe ! the dart
By Loki from the frail plant shred,
Pierced fatal to the Sun-god's heart.
Baldur the Beautiful lay dead !

Dead lay the Sun-god. Never more
Should summer-light stream from his brow ;
To do him honor, to the shore
Came Odin, with the Aesir now ]
Heroic souls, by Valkyr led,
Ljus-Alfers, Vans, thro' sorrow sped
To swell the train that mourned the dead.
Near, with bent brows, the Thunderer stood;
While Hoedur, bowed 'neath weight of blood,
All shod with silence, slow drew near
To weep with him their brother dear.

On swift Hringhorni's giant prow
Baldur the Beautiful they laid, —
The burning ship must bear him now
Thro' gloomy skies of gathering shade ;
Dull yellow fringe on pale gold shroud
Gleamed coldly 'neath the wintry cloud.
Then Odin lit the funeral pyre, —
Out to the north, in streams of fire,
To Saga's call his spirit sailed,
While Nature's heart his loss bewailed.
Ne'er shall the mild god hasten home
Till fatal Ragnarock be come.

Hermodur´s Visit to Hela

Sad Mother ! watching her dear son
Borne by the burning ship away,
Dreamed might be Loki's work undone
Should she to Hela ransom pay.
With veiléd head and mournful brow,
Then did she to the Aesir go,
And sought which of them all would prove
The depth and greatness of his love,
By riding swift to Elvidnir,
Ransom from Hel the White-God dear.
And bring him back, the loved of all,
Safe to his seat in Asgard's hall.

At once Hermodur claimed the quest.
Mounted Sleipnir, who saddled stood,
And never sought he stay nor rest
Till he nine days had been on road ;
Then, on the tenth, he came to where
The bridge of glass hung on a hair
Thrown o'er the river terrible, —
The Giöll, boundary of Hel.
Now here the maiden, Mödgud, stood
Waiting to take the toll of blood, —
A maiden horrible to sight,
Fleshless, with shroud and pall bedight.
As swift Hermodur thundered by, —
"Stop!" quoth the maiden, "give thy name !
Thou hast not hue of those who die;
Only yestreen five dead troops came,
Yet trembled not this bridge so much
Beneath their tread as thy one touch."'

And when he asked, " Did Baldur ride
Down to the dead within her sight ?"
"E'en now," she answered, " at the side
Of Hel he feasts in halls of night."
On rode Hermodur. Fearful Garm,
The Hel-dog, bayed, nor caused alarm ;
The Nornir dread, by Igdrasil,
Could not withstay him 'gainst his will.
So he to dark Elvidnir came.
And there invoked Hel's mighty name, —
Gave Friga's message, told her how
All nature mourned for Baldur now.
And prayed her set the White-god free.
That joy in Asgard's halls might be.

" And is it so?" swift answered Hel;
" Now shall the truth of tliis appear !
If all things loved thy God so well
No loss of Baldur need thou fear.
Let all things from fair Nature's birth,
Breathing or breathless, on the earth,
For him, throughout creation, mourn ;
And then your Sun-God shall return."

Back rode Hermodur to the hall
Where Friga and the Aesir stayed ;
There, filled with hope, he told them all
What promises dark Hela made.
Already light seemed to return,
For did not Nature e'en now mourn ?
What breathing thing, or without breath.
That would not mourn for Baldur's death ?
Quick o'er the earth great Friga sent
Her mandate that all things should weep ;
And gods and Vanir loving lent
Their powerful aid, that all should keep
A day of universal woe
To ransom Baldur from below.

Now, as Hermodur homeward rode
From bearing Friga's message forth.
A giantess, all shameless, strode
From a dark cave that fronts the north.
Veilless her head, undimmed her eye.
A hateful smile her lips shone nigh ; —
'Twas Loki, in the form of Thökt,
Who, evil, at the summons mocked.
" If so thou please, let Nature wail ;
Without my tears 'twill not avail.
Why should I weep, whose heart is dry ?
Weeping and wailing, none will I !
Living or lifeless, ill or well,
Let Baldur bide his time with Hel !"
Then, with loud laughter, Thökt was gone,
But where she stood a stream poured down.

Hermodur sad returned, and slow, —
Through Asgard spread the words of woe,
' Baldur the Beautiful shall ne'er
From Hel return to upper air !
Betrayed by Löki, twice betrayed,
The prisoner of Death is made ;
Ne'er shall he 'scape the place of doom
Till fatal Ragnarock be come !"

Julia Clinton Jones, 1878

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