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~ Historical & Classical Poetry ~

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

Part Fifth

Mimir´s Well

In the dread Frost-Giants' dwelling,
In the realm of Jötunheim,
By the sacred Life Tree swelling,
Filled with mysteries of Time,
The Fountain sprang of Mimir wise, —
Mimir, knowing good and ill,—
While from those silver waves would rise
Mists that watered Igdrasil.

Thoughtful there sat Wisdom's son.
Warder of the Well
In whose waters dwell
Future, past and present lore,
From which Nornir evermore
Deeply drank. He, knowing One,
Whene'er the early dawn was breaking.
And Jötunheim from sleep awaking,
His constant thirst these waters slaking.
Would his very heart-strings steep
In full horn drawn from the deep.

With silv'ry beard which far below
His girdle fell in glist'ning flow.
With wrinkled brow yet flashing eye,
Sat Bragi old, stern Mimir nigh.
He, worthy son of Odin high.
Who held the gift of minstrelsy.
When, sudden, from the sacred Well
Up would light foam and vapor swell,
Or when o'erlapping wave.
Springing from deepest cave,
Outflung its misty spray,
Then to his golden harp would stray
His quiv'ring hand, and forth would roll
Such strains as straight enchant the soul
And hold, spell-bound, the listener's ear :
Rich runic rhymes
Of olden times,
High words of ancient lore,
Deep words from wisdom's store;—
While still thro' all the lofty measure,
With soft sounds breathing clear
Of Love's delight and godlike pleasure,
Were mingled notes of woe,
Tho' sadly, sweetly low,
The burden, wierd, unearthly wailing.
As tho' doomed spirits, unavailing,
Lost raptures mourned; then tones faint failing
Would rise again, with harp high sounding.
Thro' all the silent air resounding.
And louder, longer e'er swelled high.
Inspiring themes of poesy, —
Deeds of the gods that yet should be,
And deeds that were of Eld.
By Bragi's deep-rune-written tongue
Oft were such magic song-notes sung ;
Oft with his harp, in vesture white.
He would the Aesir proud delight.
For Inspiration's power he held

Hither came the awful Vala,
Seeress from the land of Hela,
Counsel wise to take ;
Here her thirst would slake.
Often, too, came Aesir hither ;
Often sent the Jötuns whither
Welled the fount of Wisdom fast,
Draining deep the horn of Knowledge,
Solving secrets of the Past.
Vapors, rising from the Well's edge,
Shadows of the Future cast.

Now, great Odin, just and true,
God of gods, on Asgard's hill,
Tho' his ravens faithful flew,
Bringing news from all earth through,
Tho' he quaffed from Urda's bowl
Wisdom's draughts that feast the soul,
Tho' by Sökvabek he stayed
With fair Saga, all-wise maid, —
Knowledge still
Lacked the God to right the ill.

Anxious, troubled, full of thought
To undo the evils wrought,
Gloomy, grieving,
Great God Odin
Uprising from Valhalla's throne.
Slow, the pillared Feast Hall leaving,
Engraven deep with runes within.
Sad, parting from those halls of light.
Forth rode he out into the night,
Down to dark Jötunheim alone.

Rode he long and rode he fast.
First, beneath the great Life Tree,
At the sacred Spring, sought he
Urdar, Norna of the Past ;
But her backward seeing eye
Could no knowledge now supply.
Across Verdandi's page there fell
Dark shades that ever woes foretell ;
The shadows which 'round Asgard hung
Their baleful darkness o'er it flung ;
The secret was not written there
Might save Valhal, the pure and fair.
Last, youngest of the sisters three,
Skuld, Noma of Futurity,
Implored to speak, stood silent by, —
Averted was her tearful eye.
And now, deprived of guiding light,
Onward rode Odin thro' the night.

When to the Fountain's brink he came.
The God invoked the Sage's name.
Arising slow
Respect to show
To Odin great, the Aesir chief,
Stood Mimir wise,
Whose piercing eyes
Saw that the Father sought relief
From some sharp trouble, fear or grief.

Straight to him, then, Al-father spoke.
With questioning words the silence broke.
" Oh ! all wise Mimir !
Sprung of the Aesir,
Wise wert thou e'er of old,
Prophet and seer ! unfold
What mysteries the Fates may hold !
Darkened Valhalla's hall.
The gods, confounded all !
Shame and disgrace o'er Asgard's race
Hang like an evil shrouding pall.
Where is our perfect quiet gone ?
Why has the peace of Asgard flown ?
Whence come the ills, the wrongs that fill
With strife and care our happy Hill ?
Has yet a god wrought this disgrace ?
Or springs it from the Jötun race ?
Speak thou ! for thou cans't tell !
Speak ! Watcher o'er the Well !
For, by the oath of gods.
Whatever rich rewards
Thou seek, they shall be thine ; —
Thou hast my pledge divine !"

Then spoke Mimir, stern and slow,
Filling high his golden' horn,
While deep murmurings, muttered low.
Up from out the Well were borne, —
Surges of all-knowing Time,
Utt'ring faint their solemn chime :
" Odin, drink ! this beaker drain !
Every drop a Fate shall be ;
Spill not one ! great God, in vain
Misty veil shall lift for thee.

Yet e'er these waters can be thine,
Sure pledge of payment must be mine ;-
Not helmet bright, nor corslet strong,
For they to war and strife belong ;
No jewels rare, nor golden store ;
Thine eye in pledge leave evermore."

" Uneven sway thy scales.
Blind meekness ever fails
To balance crafty strength, —
The strength that springs from ill,--
Behold ! at length
From guile and lies
Pure peace e'er flies.
Strength is evil, vain is will.
Meekness, weakness, — each is sin.
While false Loki's brood within
Ye shall cherish and shall nourish.
Giving thus ill deeds to flourish.
Be Loki's brood outcast,
In deepest depths chained fast ;
Else on the cow'ring world
Shall torments fierce be hurled !
Ruined shall fall proud Asgard's wall,
Void be each throne, — guestless each hall !
Thro' the Serpent, Hel, and Fenrir
Shall come destruction, deep and drear.
But, battle with them as ye will,
Dread Ragnarock thro' them comes still.
Too long has Loki dwelt within,
Too long have Aesir cherished sin ;
Too late ! too late, great God ! too late !
Unchangeable the words of Fate.
Ward off the ills, if so ye may, —
But Ragnarock ye cannot stay !
On Baldur's brilliant crest
What shining glories rest !
White vestured God !
Love is his sword,
Peace is his battle-cry !
But even now false Loki waits
Within the shade of Asgard's gates ;
Lo ! even now the Tempter stands
By Hoedur blind, with guiding hands.
The hour is drawing nigh !
Alas ! full soon shall Asgard's light
Be quenched and lost in blackest night !
Then triumphs Loki base !
Ravens his fearful race !
Terrible shall be the hour
When is loosed their baleful power !
Thee, thee shall hideous Fenrir slay
With cruel fangs that awful Day
When Earth shall burn, gods pass away.
All this great Friga knoweth well.
But heron's crown forbids to tell, —
The pluméd crown, Forgetfulness,
Condemns her lips to silentness.

" Quaff once again, O God !
But mark thou well each word.
Not strength of Thor, or heart of Tyr,
'Gainst Serpent, Hel, or fierce Fenrir,
Can aught alone. Let all Aesir
Rise in their might, cast out to night
Loki's foul brood ; then, in the light
Of Justice high, let judgment fall
With equal measure upon all.
Restored Valhalla's purity,
Thus Ragnarock delayed may be.
Return thou, Odin, e'er too late !
Hear, and obey the words of Fate."

So ended Mimir, while the swell
Of sigh-like murmurs from the well
Ceased with his voice ; then all was still.
Back Odin rode to Asgard's Hill,
Where, in Valhalla's shield-hung hall,
Assembled were the Aesir all
To learn what might from Fate befall.
Again, when early dawn was breaking.
And Jötunheim from sleep awaking,
Then Mimir, in the morn's first glowing.
Going to the fountain's edge.
Drank ever of the clear mead flowing
In his horn, o'er Odin's pledge.

Julia Clinton Jones, 1878