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~ Historical & Classical Poetry ~

The Death of Baldur

Varth af theim meithi
Er mjor syndiz
Harmslaug haettlig
Hauthr nam skiota
Baldur's brothir
Yar of-borin snemma
Sa nam Othins son
Ein-naettr vega.
Volu-spa.— P. Edda.

"Woe in high Asgard! wailing, and the moan
Of anguish, and deep agony, awaken
Echoes in the Aesir's blessed abodes unknown:
Ah ! blessed no longer now, but joy-forsaken!
Baldur! heart-cherished Baldur! thou art slain,
By treachery before the time o'ertaken;
Not in the glorious fight of Vigrid's plain
Battling with Surtur's hosts; when, carnage-rife,
Muspel's empyrean to that dread campaign
Vomits her daemon hordes; and the ancient strife
Of elemental discord shall attain
Its issue in a nobler, holier life:

When from the quivering boughs of Yggdrasil
Shattered Creation falls; in ruined state
Impregnate with new birth; where seeds of ill,
By the ordeal of Fire annihilate,
No more through Nature shall their taint distil;
And from the whelming Ocean-depths of Fate
Shall rise a realm of Light for evermore.
That hour in Hela's hall thou must await
(Since Nature's tears avail not to restore)
In the dim regions of inglorious death;
Whose clammy caverns echo with the roar
Of spray-clothed storms, and the heart-chilling breath
Of Nifelhel. Ah weary — weary days !

Weep, Aesir's children! weep, albeit your tears
May not recal the lost one — Him, whose praise
Exceeds all utterance. Brighter than the spheres
Around the Zones of Space celestial rays
Diffusing, Mundilfari's charioteers—
Lovely, beyond all power of love to speak
Its wondering intensity, was he!
The melody of Bragi's lyre were weak
In echo of his spirit-melody;
Though Heaven-toned harmony may most express
The soul's emotion, whose high ecstasy
Of unrevealed ineffable tenderness
Yearns flickering tow'rd perfection's holy blaze;
And he was essence of all perfectness,
Beaming sublime — unshadowed — without haze !

Weep Aesir's children! Ye have seen him borne
To the sand-strewn margin of old Niord's domain,
With steps woe-laden; silent, pale, forlorn,
Sweet Nanna following in the mournful train.
Such unison of hearts, so roughly torn,
Left her soul weltering deep in mortal pain:
But when on Ringhorn's bale-pyre she beheld
Her loved one stretched all lifeless, then again
Her agony, bursting from its swoon, rebelled
Against the slender prison of her breast;
And so she perished: but her spirit, impelled
On passion's pinion, winged itself to rest.
So Nana's corse beside her lord's was lain:
And both were lost to Asgard; yet both blest—
Lost to all else, each other to regain.

Then sacred Mölnir flashed upon the pyre—
From spar to spar the nimble lightnings leapt:
Veiled in one vast white fluttering sheet of fire,
O'er Aegir's plain afar the vessel swept:
The wild winds wailed— With sad and solemn roar
The wild waves burst in showery spray and wept,
Sobbed down the keel, and toward the echoing shore
Rolled their hoarse dirge. Slow on the horizon set
That waning beacon dear— At last no more
Glimmered in eyes divine with weeping wet.

"Who is there a reft mother's heart will earn?
Who will approach grim Hela, to reclaim
Our lost delight, and ransom his return?"
Thus weeping spake Fensalir's queenly dame:
But Hermod answered— " Gladly for thy sake,
Sweet mother, as for his, and in the name
Of brotherhood, will I that journey make."

Now, while lit Ringhorn speeds before the blast
Which huge Hraesvelgur, from the topmost peak
Of Ymir's brow, wafts eagle-wing'd, he passed
The tremulous bridge's triple-woven streak.
In Himinbiorg's high portal arch, the clang
Of Sleipnir's tramp resounded; through the bleak
And desolate chasms its clattering cadence rang
From crag to crag; as, leaving far behind
The holy fountain whose weird sisters rule
By runic spells the destiny of mankind,
He galloped by the venom-welling pool,
Where Nidhogg and her serpent kindred wind
Their slimy coils, and gnaw the Eternal Tree.

Nine days he rode through darkness dense and deep,
Where Niorvi's children hold no rivalry;
Where reigns unbroken the primordial sleep
Of nothingness; as, ere the birth of Time,
When Elivagar first began to creep
In turbid streams; and from the drifting rime,
By Muspel's fire impregnate, Ymir sprung;—
Great Ymir— first-born of creation's prime.
Him slew the sons of Bor: his carcase, flung
Into Ginnunga-gap, was Earth. The gore
Flowed round— a purple eea. His bones they strung
In mountain-chains; and fenced the outward shore
With his high beetling brows 'gainst Utgard; home
Of his sons the huge Hrimthursar: arching o'er
The Heavens his hollowed scull;— a wondrous dome!

But Hermod galloped on along the tracts
Of melancholy gloom with stedfast soul ;
Until he heard the booming cataracts
That roar adown the rocky rush of Gioll;
Until he saw the golden arches bend.

"Whence are thy steps, rash rider! and what goal
Tempts thee upon our desert way to wend?
Thou wearest not the livid hues of death,
For in thy cheek the rose and lily blend:
The golden bridge beneath thee quivereth—
What brings thee hither?"— "I to Hela ride.
Oh dark-haired maiden, to demand the breath
Of Baldur slain, the flower of Aesir's pride."
"Baldur, with many horsemen, yestere'en
Rode o'er the golden arches;" she replied:
"There dips the way down yonder dark ravine."

On! on!— Lo! rise the ebon walls that gird
The dismal city of the dead. Its gate
Frowns high with iron bars:— but on he spurred;
Nor deigned for doubtful access to debate:
A rush— a pause— upreared, on haunches bent—
A bound, thew-strained— and horse and horseman's weight,
As bolt from arbalist, o'er the barrier went,—
And far beyond: with cumb'rous staggering shock
Lighting, the iron hoofs, deep-planted, rent
The adamantine bosom of the rock.

''Now shall be proved the love which, as ye say,
Is Baldur's birthright! Now let all things weep,
His fate lamenting; and to the realms of day
He shall return from this my dungeon deep!
But if, in his behoof, the boon denay
Living or lifeless thing in Heaven or Earth,—
Mid joyless gloom he unredeemed shall stay,
Till Hela perish in Time's second birth."

And Aesir, by their messengers, entreat
All nature's mournful tribute far and near:
Those ravens who each day, on pinions fleet,
Borne through all space, bring to the monarch's ear
All tidings, swoop from off their sacred seat:
And the swift maiden, on her wingèd steed,
Bears the great mother's prayer from sphere to sphere:
Glisten with tears the forest and the mead,
The rock-piled mountain and the sandy plain:—
As when at dawn, from nightly trammels freed,
Hrimfaxi shakes the dew-drops from his mane.

All wept save one. The unrelenting hag,
Fit incarnation of most hideous hate,
Squatted like toad beneath the caverned crag,
Spat forth her poisonous spite, and sealed the fate
Predestined. But that loathsome frame contained
The traitor-heart malignly obdurate,
Now with its two-fold murder doubly stained:
Him everlasting agonies await!
Close iron-clenched on Nästrond's dismal shore,
Shall keen-edged flint-jags gall his festering weight;
And from the fell snake's fangs for evermore
Sharp scorching venom on his brow distil:
There, howling, shall he bitterly deplore,
In abject anguish, these his deeds of ill.

Baldur is gone! but mild Forseti sways
With even hand the balance and the sword:
Justice to Love succeeds, in evil days
When hearts no longer are of one accord;
And from his righteous lip the sentence spoken
Dispenses retribution and reward.
For now, alas ! the reign of love is broken:
Mute is the golden-stringèd harmony
Of soul with soul, in sweetest union yoken,
Mingling melodious diversity:
Yet faintly linger in our bosoms still
The echoes of its music memory;
And ever and anon some fitful thrill
Startles the spirit from its world of sense;
A holier sunshine piercing through the chill
And misty scope of Earth's intelligence."

Thus sang the Scald who, in bedarkened days,
(Ere yet, upon his Zone of arctic gloom,
Had dawned the orient dayspring) hymnèd praise
To names long sunken in oblivion's tomb—
Who born in outer darkness, yet could win
From his wild natural heart a spirit-bloom
Of love, weed-tangled truly— but akin
To the pure growth that rays of grace illume.

Our being is for love, and not for thought!
To love alone should thought and action tend:
For, reft of love, all power availeth nought :
While perfect love must all perfections blend.
Science, Earth's deepest mysteries to the light
Unveiling, may her lofty claims extend
To track the starry mazes of the night;
And from its manifold undulation, rend
Day's blinding secret.— Yet if in her height
Of proud discovery she forget to own
The guerdon of her toil, a glimpse more bright
Of the vast scheme of Heavenly Love, alone;
Then is the infant's wondering awe more wise
By far, who, to the star-bespangled throne
Of his Creator, lifting innocent eyes,
Pours forth his simple little orison:
Yea— deeper in the learning of the skies!

George John Cayley (1826-1878) (?)
Trinity College, Cambridge

From: "The death of Baldur: a poem, which obtained the Chancellor's Medal
at the Cambridge commencement, M.DCCC.XLVIII." (1848) by George John Cayley

Resp. from: "A Complete Collection of the English Poems Which Have Obtained
the Chancellor's Gold Medal in the University of Cambridge (V.2 ) (1859-94 )"