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~ Historical & Classical Poetry ~

Gorm Grymme

King Gorm did over the Land of the Danes
for thirty full years reside,
still strong of might and strong of main -
only his hair had grown white;
White had grown only his bushy brow,
and many fell mute before him
for grimly he liked his face to show
- that´s why they called him Gorm Grymme.

When the Jarls arrived for the feast of Yule
Grymme welcomed them in his house;
beside him sat on an ivory stool
Thyra Danebod, beautiful spouse.
They quietly held each other´s hand,
each looked in the other´s eyes;
that in such moments Gorm Grymme did smile
he could not well deny.

Between the benches of the hall
fair curls were tossing wild:
Young Harald at his game of ball;
young Harald, their only child.
His stature slim and blonde his hair,
his gown was gold and blue;
The fifteenth year they´ve watched him there
and they loved him as parents do.

They love him dear; a sense of doom
befalls the queen in her chair;
Gorm Grymme however, across the room
points at his only heir
and rising, said - his cloak of red
was gliding to the floor:
"Whoever spoke to me ´He´s dead´
himself would live no more."

Moons passed, and molten had the snow
when summer came to the shore.
Three hundred ships were ready to go,
young Harald stood at the fore.
At the fore he stood and sang a lay
until the gales broke the song;
At the fading sails o´er the ocean away
Gorm Grymme stood staring for long.

Moons pass again. An autumn day
lies heavy over the sea.
Rowing homeward over the grey,
with tired oars, ships three.
Black hangs the sail; at Brömsebro
young Harald lies in his blood -
To tell the king, who´ll dare and go?
Nobody has the gut.

Thyra Danebod walked to the shore
for she had seen the sail;
She said, "And though you do not dare,
I´ll bring to him the tale."
Her gems of coral she took down
and the cameo of opal;
She donned of deepest black a gown
and entered in the hall.

Between the columns, on the wall
hung golden tapestry;
Black rugs she put over them all,
and over the masonry.
She placed twelve candles; with flickering light
their flames but dimly shone;
And spread a weaving, black and tight,
over the ivory throne.

Enter Gorm Grymme. With trembling gait
as in a dream he strides,
And staring at the hall´s black state
he hardly sees the lights.
He said, "This stuffy air smells old,
I long for sea and sand;
Give me my cloak of red and gold
and give to me your hand."

A cloak she gave him then to wear
that was not golden nor red;
Gorm Grymme said, "What no-one dares,
I speak it: He is dead."
The king sat down where he did stand,
a wind-gust blew about;
The king´s wife held her husband´s hand,
the flickering lights went out.

Theodor Fontane (1819-1898)


German original by Theodor Fontane, translation by Michaela Macha.


I have stayed very literal, resp. as close to the sense and athmosphere of the original as possible, while retaining the end rhyme scheme. I´ve mildly rephrased one or two "oldish/dusty" expressions.


Image: © "Thorin", John Howe, www.john-howe.com, used as permitted.