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~ Historical & Classical Poetry ~

The Vaner

When the gods of wide Valhalla
Ruled of yore in eastern land,
Far away, mid Asia’s mountains,
Near where Vana13 rolls his sand;
Ere they hither, northwards wended,
Where tall glaciers break the flood,
Ere they blended
Hostile dwarfs’ and giants’ blood;

Then were wont the skilful Vaner
Oft to Asgard to repair;
Vaner, famed for hidden wisdom,
Arts and manners debonair;
They the Aser first instructed
Flowers to plant, to till the earth,
There conducted,
Hostage, Njord, of noble birth.

When in sultry heat of summer,
Earth is parch’d and fevers rule:
If Njord mount his coal-black courser,
Air and earth once more are cool.
Njord the skies with rain-clouds covers,
Hides awhile, the fair blue sky;
Anxious hovers
O’er the murk storm passing by.

Njord was wed by law of Vaner:
Heeded nought blood’s holy tie,
Children twain had of his sister,
Blue-eyed Freya, lofty Frey.
Fair as spring flowers earth which gladden,
All with joy their charms behold:
Swain and maiden
Own their beauty—young and old.

When Valhalla’s mighty princes
From their native vales went forth,
Fire of southern clime to mingle
With the cold blood of the north;
Asgard’s warriors nought contented,
Till Njord to their prayer they’d won;
Njord relented,
Followed too with maid and son.

Odin spake: “The north invites us
With its mountains, pine o’er-grown;
With its lakes, and falls, and rivers,
And dark woods to ocean down:
Spite of foe or hostile barrier,
Soon we’ll reach the verdant shore,
Thor, the warrior,
There shall lead our chiefs to war.

“Soon its tyrant, giant rulers,
’Fore our conquering spears shall bow,
Soon shall rise a loftier Asgard,
Where clear mead in streams shall flow,
When with cold north’s iron race
Fiery east shall mingle blood—
From the embrace
Think what matchless warrior brood!”

Njord in front, on winged charger,
Leads the sacred squadrons on;
Dries up marshes, levels mountains,
Beats the compact forests down;
Thick, opposing clouds doth sever,
Shows the winds the vessel’s course
Restless ever,
Wearies ne’er his mettled horse.

’Twas a goodly sight to look on
Njord glide through the cloudy way,
With his dark steed’s pinions waving,
Like a dream in morning grey;
Swift as light—o’er horse-neck pendent—
Past, e’er yet well seen from far—
Beams resplendent
On his helm the morning star.

And without benignant Vaner
What were th’ Aser in the North?
What thy wisdom, mighty Odin?
What, great Thor! thy prowess worth?
Freyr calls forth the quickening waters,
Makes fair fruits in deserts grow;
On earth’s daughters
Freya beauty doth bestow.

Freya once had husband, godlike,
He, in Asgard, Oddur hight,
Him she met beyond the Ganges,
Victor god, in morion bright.
Youths and maids, with flutes and cymbals,
Follow, shouting, joyous throng,
Ocean trembles,
Earth re-echoes with their song.

In his golden chariot seated,
See him in his proud career,
Tawny lions, mottled tigers,
Crouching at his feet for fear;
The forest’s lords the car rolls after,
Maids with timbrels dance before,
Shouts and laughter
Drown e’en father ocean’s roar.

Wondering at th’ unwonted clamour,
Rugged men start from the glade,
Trembling, gazing, leaping, shouting,
Half enraptured, half afraid.
Oddur calm’d their groundless terror,
Charm’d them with his magic lay,
Held his mirror,
Shew’d to peace and wealth the way.

On south slope of sun-gilt mountain,
Near a river swift and clear,
First the stocks divine he planted,
Which the luscious berry bear;
Soon he taught the simple nation
Press the sugar’d purple blood,
Love’s hot passion
From the nectar takes its food.

Freya, once bewilder’d roaming,
Chanced the treacherous drink to sip:
Oddur, drank with wine and pleasure,
Watch’d the rich juice kiss her lip:
Oddur now in manhood’s flower,
Grapes and vine-leaves wreathed his hair,
From his bower
Raptured view’d the goddess fair.

Oddur saw how Freya musing,
In a soft delirium lay;
At her feet his burning passion
Told, could Freya turn away?
Feather’d choir their pleasures vaunted,
Violets were their bridal bed,
Earth, enchanted,
Thousand sweets around them shed.

Freya thus was spouse to Oddur,
Still together were they seen,
And when th’ Aser left their city,
Oddur followed too his queen.
In his gold car drawn by leopards,
Sate the warrior with his bride,
Maids and shepherds
Sorrowing paced the car beside.

True, his sunny land t’ abandon,
And vine hills, the god did grieve;
But the grape’s more vapid pleasures
Who for beauty would not leave!
Piled on high, in osier waggons,
Choicest wine with care he stores,
Which in flagons
Rist each noon to Odin pours.

For though all less noble Aser
Quaff but cider, ale and mead,
Still for Odin, raven-monarch,
Oddur’s purple grape must bleed.
Freya’s heart with grief corroding,
When he quitted Valhal’s shore;
Left to Odin
Of the nectar, Oddur, store.

So they lived, the joy of Asgard,
Brighter dawn’d each golden morn,
Secret prayer of love-sick maiden,
On soft sighs, to them was borne.
And could love so pure, so holy,
Like a vision melt away?
Like youth’s folly,
Scarce outlive a summer’s day.

Idun, stol’n by false Loke’s treason,
Long Valhalla’s gods had wept,
And old age, with withering wrinkles,
O’er each late full cheek had crept.
When for Freya, blooming, youthful,
Radiant with celestial charms,
Sorceress loathful
Oddur found within his arms;

Starting from the couch with horror,
“Ha! and am I thus deceived?
Was’t for this then, foul enchantress!
Fondly I thy tale believed?
Spells worn out the cheat discover,
Now in native form thou’rt seen;
The charm over,
Henceforth, witch! thine arts are vain.”

Freya’s weeping nought avail’d her;
From her arms in wrath he tore,
From those arms, now shrunk and feeble,
Where he’d found his joy before.
Not e’en one last farewell taking,
Mounted quick his golden car,
With heart aching,
Freya follow’d him from far.

But when Asgard’s chiefest treasure
Coward Loke again retrieved;
Beauty’s queen a prey to sorrow,
Still to witness, Odin grieved;
Full of wrath ’gainst fickle Oddur,
Breach of vow to punish bent,
Swift Hermodur,
Arm’d with Runic staff, he sent.

Spirits sunk, with dark forebodings
Oddur secret shades had sought;
On his once loved, blooming Freya,
And fond dream of joy he thought;
Nymphs with loose hair, ivy-woven,
Dancing, sought to soothe his pain,
With feet cloven,
Satyrs sang and piped in vain.

Sick at heart, the sun’s light loathing,
In the dark grove’s thickest gloom,
Oddur thought in bitter anguish
On his joys soon withered bloom:
Bow’d to earth—his aching forehead
’Twixt his burning palms he prest,
Visions horrid
Rack’d his brain, sobs rent his breast.

Hermod through the leaves stole on him,
On his head the Rune-stock laid,
And the heart-blood’s fervid current,
Chill’d in death, at once was staid,
Thus, long since, the poet found him,
Changed into a senseless stone,
All around him
Vines and ivy wild had grown!

Long the goddess sought her lover,
O’er parch’d sands and mountains cold;
From her eyes, all swoln with weeping,
Dropp’d round tears of purest gold.
All, who ‘neath love’s fever languish,
Hence derive their burning care;
Freya’s anguish
Each true lover’s breast must share.

From Adam Gottlob Oehlenschläger (1779-1850)     Short Biography of Adam Oehlenschläger

Translation by Grenville Pigott, in "A Manual of Scandinavian Mythology, Containing a
Popular Account of the Two Eddas and of the Religion of Odin" (London, 1839)