The Northern Way

The Norse King's Bridal

BALLAD OF ALL SOULS' EVE

Between the shrouded fen, and the desolate
        dunes of sand
Where the fretting seas gnash white, there
        lies a lonely land.

No heights about it couch their grim flanks
        seamed with scars;
But it hath the wider heaven, and the sky
        more full of stars.

Like the verge of the ultimate seas are its
        long horizon lines;
Like the moan of mourning waves the song
        of its sombre pines.

The minstrel's out on the moor; while far
        and faint in the wind
Ring the bells of All Souls' Eve in the town
        he has left behind.

Beneath the sombre pine he has laid him down
        to sleep,
With his harp beside his head; and night
        grows dark and deep.

Softly the wind came sighing, and as it sighed
        he heard
In the harp a voice that moaned and mourned
        on a woeful word;

"Lo, is it naught?" said the voice in the
        sobbing strings that sighed---
With the wind it wailed and rose, with the
        wind it sank and died.

Spell-bound he, Herluin, lay, and watched
        like one in a dream,
The moonbeams quiver and dance, and the
        long reeds sway in the stream.

Till again, an icy breath, the wind came
        whispering,
And stirred his stiffened hair, and sighed
        from string to string.

And sobbed into speech; "Is it naught,"
        the low voice singing said,
"Is it naught to thee at all that dust of
        uncounted dead

"Is mixed in this lean grey soil? that on
        this moorland lone
The hosts of mighty men lie scattered bone
        from bone?

"Go search the monkish records, and scarce
        shall be descried
Thro' the dust on an ancient page, the tale
        of us who died!

"Ho, morn of shrieks and slaughter, when
        my Danes and I came down,
Driving our foes like flocks, and sacked the
        trembling town!---

"When I struck to my battle-song, and the
        swords rang round my head
That I heard not mine own voice, and
        knew not that I bled!

"Woe worth the brand that broke! Woe
        worth the blinding blow!
Woe worth, woe worth the day when I felt
        my life-blood flow!

"I felt my life-blood flow; I felt my strength
        and my wit,
My heart and my hope and my valour flow
        drop by drop with it.

"Under these pines I fell, and under these
        pines I woke;
And I saw their stems as a fire, their boughs
        as a brooding smoke.
"Woe, woe! for the fight was over, and all
        around was peace,
Save for a moan on the moor, and a long
        sigh in the trees,

"And a voice that came and went and wailed
        in its wandering---
Deep in my mazed mind I knew 'twas an evil
        thing.

"Oh for the age that I heard, dying alone in
        the dark,
That baleful voice, and watched the green
        and glimmering spark,

"The eye of the prowling wolf, draw near
        and near and near!---
Thou of the stone-built dwelling what dost
        thou know of fear?"

Sudden, the wind dropped. The voice died
        into the night
As the ripples died on the river, and, in
        the wan moonlight,

Still grew the wavering rushes, and still
        the trembling strings:
Spell-bound lay Herluin, who gazed on all
        these things,

And knew not that he saw---while o'er the
        moorland's rim,
Lucent, and wan, and lone, the cold moon
        stared at him.

Long, long it seemed till the wind, a frozen,
        fleeting breath,
Wailed back from far away, "What dost
        thou know of Death?"

Murmured the voice, "Give heed, list to the
        dark, oh day!
Hot heart, hear thou the dust! For, as in
        fear I lay,

"Cursing my limbs of lead, Death's icy hand
        took hold
Of my heart; the stars went out; thus,
        thus my tale was told!

"I stood, a naked soul; 'tis strange and
        still, I trow,
When the heart has ceased to beat, and the
        blood has ceased to flow.

"Ay, strange to the shuddering soul, when
        the heart has ceased to beat,
And it sees the wan corse lie, unheeding at is
        feet!---

"I hear a rush in the firs, a rush as of hasten-
        ing horse---
Like the forelocks of fiery steeds the branches
        waver and toss.

"See, see where Odin's war-maids to choose
        the dead draw nigh!
They come with the shout o' the storm along
        the scurrying sky.

"See where their lucent spears, like shafts
        of wan moonlight,
Pierce from the height of the heavens, lay
        bare the heart of night!

"See, see where Bifrost Bridge arches from
        cloud to cloud,
Built of the gleaming rainbow! See the
        exulting crowd.

"Of the heroes that shouting cross to feast
        in high Valhall,
Where the Maids pour the Æsir-mead to
        glad their souls withal!

"And I---I strained and strove" (and the
        voice grew shrill and thin;
Like to the shuddering harp was the soul of
        Herluin).

"But the Maids were drifting clouds, and
        the Bridge that spanned the skies
Was the glint of the mocking moon on the
        tears that filled mine eyes.

"Dead, they are dead, the gods in whom we
        have put our trust;
The hopes of heroes' hearts are ashes and
        dross and dust.

"We have seen our flesh the sport of the
        crows and the creeping things---
We have seen the moss and lichen grow
        over the bones of kings---

"The firs from us have fed their writhen
        boughs and thin
Our burning blood springs up in the cold
        green sap o' the whin---

"A whirl of withered leaves in the desolate
        land of death,
Such are our haughty hosts, and our foes
        are wind and breath.

"I found in thy harp a voice; and, after
        uncounted years,
As a man to a man I spoke, and thou couldst
        not close thine ears.

"Yea, now thine ears are opened, for I saw
        thy soul as a fire
Aflame in the wastes of the night, the depth
        of my vain desire.

"As a moth to the torch's flame, as to the
        moon the tide,
Drawn by thy tameless spirit, drawn by thy
        passion and pride,
"Storming the gates of Sense, as the cry of
        the chords outbroke,
Out of the deep I called, and unto the deep
        I spoke!"

Darkness dissolved; the earth stole back to
        sight; and shrill
A cock crew far away; like tears the dew lay
        chill;

And Herluin raised his head, and saw the
        pallid gleam
Stand in the face of the East above the shim-
        mering stream,

While o'er him as he lay, half-mazed in a
        magic sweven,
The black pine-branches hovered like torn
        clouds hung in heaven.

Day stood upon the moor; and the wailing
        voice, withdrawn,
Sighed, o'er the sobbing harp-strings, and
        died in the wind of dawn.

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