Jack London.

Romantic Ballads, Translated from the Danish; and Miscellaneous Pieces online

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And out hurried he, in the gloom of the night.

"Fill high, little Kirstin, my best drinking cup,
And be the brown liquor with poison mixt up."

She gave him the draught, and returning with speed,
"Young gallant," said he, "thou must taste my old mead."

Sir Fridleif unbuckled his helmet and drank;
Sweat sprung from his forehead - his features grew blank.

"I never have drain'd, since the day I was born,
A bitterer draught, from a costlier horn:

"My course is completed, my life is summ'd up,
For treason I smell in the dregs of the cup."

Sir Erik then said, while he stamp'd on the ground,
"Young knight, 't is thy fortune to die like a hound.

"My best belov'd friend thou didst boast to have slain,
And I have aveng'd him by giving thee bane:

"Not Helga, but Hela, {f:1} shall now be thy bride;
Dark blue are her cheeks, and she looks stony-eyed."

"Sir Erik, thy words are both witty and wise,
And hell, when it has thee, will have a rich prize!

"Convey unto Helga her gold ring so red;
Be sure to inform her when Fridleif is dead;

"But flame shall give water, and marble shall bleed,
Before thou shalt win by this treacherous deed:

"And I will not die like a hound, in the straw,
But go, like a hero, to Odin and Thor."

He cut himself thrice, with his keen-cutting glaive,
And went to Valhalla, {f:2} the way of the brave.

The knight bade his daughter come into the room:
"Look here, my sweet child, on thy merry bridegroom."

She look'd on the body, and gave a wild start;
"O father, why hadst thou so cruel a heart?"

She moan'd and lamented, she rav'd and she curst;
She look'd on her love, till her very eyes burst.

At midnight, Sir Erik was standing there mute,
With two pallid corses beside his cold foot:

He stood stiff and still; and when morning-light came,
He stood, like a post, without life in his frame.

The youth and the maid were together interr'd,
Sir Erik could not from his posture be stirr'd:

He stood there, as stiffly, for thirty long days,
And look'd on the earth with a petrified gaze.

'T is said, on the night of the thirtieth long day,
To dust and to ashes he moulder'd away.




SIR MIDDEL.
FROM THE OLD DANISH.


So tightly was Swanelil lacing her vest,
That forth spouted milk, from each lily-white breast;
That saw the Queen-mother, and thus she begun:
"What maketh the milk from thy bosom to run?"
"O this is not milk, my dear mother, I vow;
It is but the mead I was drinking just now."
"Ha! out on thee minion! these eyes have their sight;
Would'st tell me that mead, in its colour, is white?"
"Well, well, since the proofs are so glaring and strong,
I own that Sir Middel has done me a wrong."
"And was he the miscreant? dear shall he pay,
For the cloud he has cast on our honour's bright ray;
I'll hang him up; yes, I will hang him with scorn,
And burn thee to ashes, at breaking of morn."
The maiden departed in anguish and wo,
And straight to Sir Middel it lists her to go;
Arriv'd at the portal, she sounded the bell,
"Now wake thee, love, if thou art living and well."
Sir Middel he heard her, and sprang from his bed;
Not knowing her voice, in confusion he said,
"Away: for I have neither candle nor light,
And I swear that no mortal shall enter this night!"
"Now busk ye, Sir Middel, in Christ's holy name;
I fly from my mother, who knows of my shame;
She'll hang thee up; yes, she will hang thee with scorn,
And burn me to ashes, at breaking of morn."
"Ha! laugh at her threat'nings, so empty and wild;
She neither shall hang me, nor burn thee, my child:
Collect what is precious, in jewels and garb,
And I'll to the stable and saddle my barb."
He gave her the cloak, that he us'd at his need,
And he lifted her up, on the broad-bosom'd steed.
The forest is gain'd, and the city is past,
When her eyes to the heaven she wistfully cast.
"What ails thee, dear maid? we had better now stay,
For thou art fatigu'd by the length of the way."
"I am not fatigu'd by the length of the way;
But my seat is uneasy, in truth, I must say."
He spread, on the cold earth, his mantle so wide;
"Now rest thee, my love, and I'll watch by thy side."
"O Jesus, that one of my maidens were near!
The pains of a mother are on me, I fear."
"Thy maidens are now at a distance from thee,
And thou art alone in the forest with me."
"'Twere better to perish, again and again,
Than thou should'st stand by me, and gaze on my pain."
"Then take off thy kerchief, and cover my head,
And perhaps I may stand in the wise-woman's stead."
"O Christ, that I had but a draught of the wave!
To quench my death-thirst, and my temples to lave."
Sir Middel was to her so tender and true,
And he fetch'd her the drink in her gold-spangled shoe.
The fountain was distant, and when he drew near,
Two nightingales sat there and sang in his ear:
"Thy love, she is dead, and for ever at rest,
With two little babes that lie cold on her breast."
Such was their song; but he heeded them not,
And trac'd his way back to the desolate spot;
But oh, what a spectacle burst on his view!
For all they had told him was fatally true.
He dug a deep grave by the side of a tree,
And buried therein the unfortunate three.
As he clamp'd the mould down with his iron-heel'd boot
He thought that the babies scream'd under his foot:
Then placing his weapon against a grey stone,
He cast himself on it, and died with a groan.
Ye maidens of Norway, henceforward beware!
For love, when unbridled, will end in despair.




ELVIR-SHADES.
FROM THE DANISH OF OEHLENSLAEGER.


A sultry eve pursu'd a sultry day;
Dark streaks of purple in the sky were seen,
And shadows half conceal'd the lonely way;

I spurr'd my courser, and more swiftly rode,
In moody silence, through the forests green,
Where doves and linnets had their lone abode:

It was my fate to reach a brook, at last,
Which, by sweet-scented bushes fenc'd around,
Defiance bade to heat and nipping blast.

Inclin'd to rest, and hear the wild birds' song,
I stretch'd myself upon that brook's soft bound,
And there I fell asleep and slumber'd long;

And only woke, O wonder, to perceive
A gold-hair'd maiden, as a snowdrop pale,
Her slender form from out the ground upheave:

Then fear o'ercame me, and this daring heart
Beat three times audibly against my mail;
I wish'd to speak, but could no sound impart.

And see! another maid rose up and took
Some drops of water from the foaming rill,
And gaz'd upon me with a wistful look.

Said she, "What brings thee to this lonely place?
But do not fear, for thou shalt meet no ill;
Thou steel-clad warrior, full of youth and grace."

"No;" sang the other, in delightful tone,
"But thou shalt gaze on prodigies which ne'er
To man's unhallow'd eye have yet been shown."

The brook which lately brawl'd among the trees
Stood still, the murmur of that song to hear;
No green leaf stirr'd, and fetter'd seem'd the breeze.

The thrush, upstarting in the distant dell,
Shook its brown wing, with golden streaks array'd,
And ap'd the witch-notes, as they rose and fell.

Bright gleam'd the lake's broad sheet of liquid blue,
Where, with the rabid pike, the troutling play'd;
The rose unlock'd its folded leaves anew,

And blush'd, besprinkled with the night's cold tear.
Once more the lily rais'd its head and smil'd,
All ghastly white, as when it decks the bier.

Though sweet she sang, my fears were not the less,
For in her accents there was something wild,
Which I can feel, 't is true, but not express.

"Come with us," sang she, "deep below the earth,
Where sun ne'er burns, and storm-winds never rave;
Come with us to our halls of princely mirth,

"There thou shalt learn from us the Runic lay;
But dip thee, first, in yonder crystal wave,
Which binds thee to the Elfin race for aye:

"Though painted flowers on earth's breast abound,
Yet we have far more lovely ones below;
Like grass the chrysolites there strew the ground."

"O come," the other syren did exclaim,
"For rubies there more red than roses grow -
The sapphir's blue the violet puts to shame."

I rais'd my eyes to heaven's starry dome,
And gripp'd my faulchion with convulsive might,
Resolv'd no witchcraft should my mind o'ercome.

My lengthen'd silence vex'd the maidens sore:
"Wilt thou detain us here the live-long night,
Or must we, stripling, proffer something more?

"Taught by us, thou shalt bind the rugged bear, -
Seize on the mighty dragon's heap of gold, -
And slay the cockatrice while in her lair!

"But from thy breast the blood we will suck out,
Unless thou follow us beneath the mould!
Decide, decide, nor longer pause in doubt!"

Cold sweat I shed, and as, with trembling hand,
I strove to whirl my beaming faulchion round,
It sank, enthrall'd by magic's potent band.

Each witch drew nigh, with dagger high uprear'd;
Just then a cock, beyond the wild wood's bound,
Crew loud - and in the earth they disappear'd.

I flung myself upon my frighten'd barb,
Just as the shades began to grow less murk,
And sun-beams clad the sky in gayer garb.

Let each young warrior from such places fly:
Disease and death beneath the flowers lurk;
And elves would suck the warm blood from his eye.




THE HEDDYBEE-SPECTRE.
FROM THE OLD DANISH.


I clomb in haste my dappled steed,
And gallop'd far o'er mount and mead;
And when the day drew nigh its close,
I laid me down to take repose.

I laid me down to take repose,
And slumbers sweet fell o'er my brows:
And then, methought, as there I slept,
From out the ground the dead man leapt.

Said he, "If thou art valiant, Knight,
My murder soon will see the light;
For thou wilt ride to Heddybee,
Where live my youthful brothers three:

"And there, too, thou wilt surely find
My father dear and mother kind;
And there sits Kate, my much-loved wife,
Who with her women took my life.

"They chok'd me, as in bed I lay,
Then wrapp'd me in a truss of hay;
And bore me out at dead of night,
And laid me in this lonely height.

"The Groom, who lately clean'd my stall,
Now struts and vapours through my hall, -
Eats gaily with my silver knife,
And sleeps with Kate, my much-lov'd wife.

"His place is highest at the board;
But what is most to be deplor'd,
He gives my babes so little bread,
And mocks them now their sire is dead.

"Clad in my clothes he proudly stalks
Along the shady forest-walks;
And, arm'd with bow and hunting spear,
He shoots my birds and stabs my deer.

"Were I alive, to meet him now,
All underneath the linden bough,
With no one nigh, my wrath to check,
I'd wring his head from off his neck!

"But hie thee hence to Heddybee,
Where live my youthful brothers three;
First tell them all - then stab the groom -
Allow my wife a milder doom."




SIR JOHN.
FROM THE OLD DANISH.


Sir Lave to the island stray'd;
He wedded there a lovely maid:
"I'll have her yet," said John.

He brought her home across the main,
With knights and ladies in the train:
"I'm close behind," said John.

They plac'd her on the bridal seat;
Sir Lave bade them drink and eat:
"Aye: that we will," said John.

The servants led her then to bed,
But could not loose her girdle red!
"I can, perhaps," said John.

He shut the door with all his might;
He lock'd it fast, and quench'd the light:
"I shall sleep here," said John.

A servant to Sir Lave hied; -
"Sir John is sleeping with the bride:"
"Aye, that I am," said John.

Sir Lave to the chamber flew:
"Arise, and straight the door undo!"
"A likely thing!" said John.

He struck with shield, he struck with spear -
"Come out, thou Dog, and fight me here!"
"Another time," said John.

"And since thou with my bride hast lain,
To our good king I will complain."
"That thou canst do," said John.

As soon as e'er the morning shone,
Sir Lave sought our monarch's throne;
"I'll go there too," said John.

"O King, chastise this wicked wight,
For with my wife he slept last night."
"'T is very true," said John.

"Since ye two love one pretty face,
Your lances must decide the case."
"With all my heart," said John.

The sun on high was shining bright,
And thousands came to see the fight:
"Lo! here I am:" said John.

The first course that they ran so free,
Sir John's horse fell upon his knee:
"Now help me God!" said John.

The next course that they ran, in ire,
Sir Lave fell among the mire.
"He's dead enough!" said John.

The victor to the castle hied,
And there in tears he found the bride:
"Thou art my own," said John.

That night, forgetting all alarms,
Again she blest him in her arms.
"I have her now!" said John.




MAY {f:3} ASDA.
FROM THE DANISH OF OEHLENSLAEGER.


May Asda is gone to the merry green wood;
Like flax was each tress on her temples that stood;
Her cheek like the rose-leaf that perfumes the air;
Her form, like the lily-stalk, graceful and fair:

She mourn'd for her lover, Sir Frovin the brave,
For he had embark'd on the boisterous wave;
And, burning to gather the laurels of war,
Had sail'd with King Humble to Orkney afar:

At feast and at revel, wherever she went,
Her thoughts on his perils and dangers were bent;
No joy has the heart that loves fondly and dear -
No pleasure save when the lov'd object is near!

May Asda walk'd out in the bonny noon-tide,
And roam'd where the beeches grew up in their pride;
She sat herself down on the green sloping hill,
Where liv'd the Erl-people, {f:4} and where they live still:

Then trembled the turf, as she sat in repose,
And straight from the mountain three maidens arose;
And with them a loom, and upon it a woof,
As white as the snow when it falls on the roof.

Of red shining gold was the fairy-loom made;
They sang and they danc'd, and their swift shuttles play'd;
Their song was of death, and their song was of life,
It sounded like billows in tumult and strife.

They gave her the woof, with a sorrowful look,
And vanish'd like bubbles that burst on the brook;
But deep in the mountain was heard a sweet strain,
As the lady went home to her bower again.

The web was unfinish'd; she wove and she spun,
Nor rested a moment, until it was done;
And there was enough, when the work was complete,
To form for a dead man a shirt or a sheet.

The heroes return'd from the well-foughten field,
And bore home Sir Frovin's corse, laid on a shield;
Sad sight for the maid! but she still was alert,
And sew'd round the body the funeral shirt:

And when she had come to the very last stitch,
Her feelings, so long suppress'd, rose to a pitch,
The cold clammy sweat from her features outbroke;
Death struck her, and meekly she bow'd to the stroke.

She rests with her lover now deep in the grave,
And o'er them the beeches their mossy boughs wave;
There sing the Erl-maidens their ditties aloud,
And dance while the merry moon peeps from the cloud.




AAGER AND ELIZA.
FROM THE OLD DANISH.


Have ye heard of bold Sir Aager,
How he rode to yonder isle;
There he saw the sweet Eliza,
Who upon him deign'd to smile.

There he married sweet Eliza,
With her lands and ruddy gold -
Wo is me! the Monday after,
Dead he lay beneath the mould!

In her bower sat Eliza;
Rent the air with shriek and groan;
All which heard the good Sir Aager,
Underneath the granite stone.

Up his mighty limbs he gather'd,
Took the coffin on his back;
And to fair Eliza's bower
Hasten'd, by the well-known track.

On her chamber's lowly portal,
With his fingers long and thin,
Thrice he tapp'd, and bade Eliza
Straightway let her bridegroom in!

Straightway answer'd fair Eliza,
"I will not undo my door
Till I hear thee name sweet Jesus,
As thou oft hast done before."

"Rise, O rise, my own Eliza,
And undo thy chamber door;
I can name the name of Jesus,
As I once could do before."

Up then rose the sweet Eliza, -
Up she rose, and twirl'd the pin.
Straight the chamber door flew open,
And the dead man glided in.

With her comb she comb'd his ringlets,
For she felt but little fear:
On each lock that she adjusted
Fell a hot and briny tear.

"Listen, now, my good Sir Aager,
Dearest bridegroom, all I crave
Is to know how it goes with thee,
In that lonely place, the grave?"

"Every time that thou rejoicest,
And thy breast with pleasure heaves,
Then that moment is my coffin
Lin'd with rose and laurel leaves.

"Every time that thou art shedding
From thine eyes the briny flood,
Then that moment is my coffin
Fill'd with black and loathsome blood.

"Heard I not the red cock crowing,
Distant far upon the wind?
Down to dust the dead are going,
And I may not stop behind.

"Heaven's ruddy portals open, -
Daylight bursts upon my view;
Though the word be hard to utter,
I must bid thee, love, adieu!"

Up his mighty limbs he gather'd,
Took the coffin on his back,
To the church-yard straight he hasten'd
By the well-known, beaten, track.

Up then rose the sweet Eliza;
Tear-drops on her features stood,
While her lover she attended
Through the dark and dreary wood.

When they reach'd the lone enclosure,
(Last, sad, refuge of the dead) -
From the cheeks of good Sir Aager
All the lovely colour fled:

"Listen, now, my sweet Eliza,
If my peace be dear to thee:
Never, then, from this time forward,
Shed a single tear for me.

"Turn thy lovely eyes to heaven,
Where the stars are beaming pale;
Thou canst tell me, then, for certain,
If the night begins to fail."

When she turn'd her eyes to heaven,
All with stars besprinkled o'er,
In the earth the dead man glided,
And she never saw him more.

Homeward went the sweet Eliza;
Oh, her heart was chill and cold: -
Wo is me! the Monday after,
Dead she lay beneath the mould!




SAINT OLUF.
FROM THE OLD DANISH.


St. Oluf was a mighty king,
Who rul'd the Northern land;
The holy Christian faith he preach'd,
And taught it, sword in hand.

St. Oluf built a lofty ship,
With sails of silk so fair;
"To Hornelummer I must go,
And see what's passing there."

"O do not go," the seamen said,
"To yonder fatal ground,
Where savage Jutts, {f:5} and wicked elves,
And demon sprites, abound."

St. Oluf climb'd the vessel's side;
His courage nought could tame!
"Heave up, heave up the anchor straight;
Let's go in Jesu's name.

"The cross shall be my faulchion now -
The book of God my shield;
And, arm'd with them, I hope and trust
To make the demons yield."

And swift, as eagle cleaves the sky,
The gallant vessel flew;
Direct for Hornelummer's rock,
Through ocean's wavy blue.

'T was early in the morning tide
When she cast anchor there;
And, lo! the Jutt stood on the cliff,
To breathe the morning air:

His eyes were like the burning beal -
His mouth was all awry;
The truth I tell, and say he stood
Full twenty cubits high:

His beard was like a horse's mane,
And down his bosom roll'd;
The claws that fenc'd his finger ends
Were frightful to behold.

"I never yet have seen," he cried,
"A ship come near my strand,
That here to shore I could not drag,
By putting out my hand."

The good St. Oluf smil'd thereat,
And thus address'd his crew:
"Now hold your tongues, and well observe
What I'm about to do."

The giant stretch'd his mighty arm;
The ship was nigh his own;
But when St. Oluf rais'd the cross,
He sank knee-deep in stone.

"Here am I, sunk knee-deep in stone!
My legs I cannot move;
But, since my back and fists are free,
My might thou yet shalt prove."

"Be still, be still, thou noisy guest -
Be still for evermore;
Become a rock and beetle there,
Above the billows hoar."

Up started then, from out the hill,
The demon's hoary wife;
She curs'd the king a thousand times,
And brandish'd high her knife.

Sore wonder'd then the little elves,
Who sat within the hill,
To see their mother, all at once,
Stand likewise stiff and still:

"'T is done," they cried, "by yonder wight,
Who rides upon the waves;
Let's wade out to him, through the surf,
And beat him with our staves."

At Hornelummer happen'd then,
What happen'd ne'er before;
The elfins wish'd to leave the hill,
And could not find a door:

They ran their heads against the wall,
And tried to break it through;
They could not break the solid rock,
But broke their necks in lieu.

Now, thanks to God, and Jesus Christ,
And good St. Oluf's arm,
To Hornelummer we can sail
Without mishap or harm.




THE HEROES OF DOVREFELD.
FROM THE OLD DANISH.


On Dovrefeld, {f:6} in Norway,
Were once together seen
The twelve heroic brothers
Of Ingeborg, the queen:

And they were all magicians,
Possest of mighty art,
Who freely read the Runic,
And knew the rhyme by heart. {f:7}

The first could turn the lightning,
And quench its ruddy gleam:
The second, with a whisper,
Could still the running stream:

The third beneath the water
Could dive like any fish:
The fourth could get provision
By striking on his dish:

The fifth upon the gold harp
So pleasantly could play,
That all the men who heard him
Began to dance away:

The sixth, he had a bugle,
And when he blew a blast,
The stoutest of his foemen
Would fly before him fast:

The seventh, unimpeded,
Through solid hills could roam:
The eighth could walk the ocean,
When billows were in foam:

The ninth could draw, by magic,
The fishes from the deep:
The tenth was never weary,
Nor overcome by sleep:

The eleventh bound the dragon
Which crept among the grass;
And all he wish'd to happen
Was sure to come to pass:

The twelfth, who was reputed
The wisest of the band,
Knew what was going forward
In every foreign land.

And now, forsooth, I tell ye,
Who listen to my strain,
That such a set of brothers
Will ne'er be seen again.




SVEND VONVED.
FROM THE OLD DANISH.


Grimm, in the preface to his German translation of the Kiaempe Viser,
characterizes this Ballad in the following magnificent words: -

"Seltsam ist das Lied von dem Held Vonved. Unter dem Empfang des
Zauberseegens und mit rathselhaften Worten, dass er nie wiederkehre
oder dann den Tod seines Vaters rachen musse, reitet er aus. Lange
sieht er keine Stadt und keinen Menschen, dann, wer sich ihm entgegen
stelit, den wirft er nieder, den Hirten legt er seine Rathsel vor uber
das edelste und abscheuungswurdigste, ubar den Gang der Sonne und die
Ruhe des Todten: wer sie nicht Iost, den erschlagt er; trotzig sitzt
er unter den Helden, ihre Anerbietungen gefallen ihm nicht, er reitet
heim, erschlagt zwolf Zauberweiber, die ihm entgegen kommen, dann
seine Mutter, endlich zernichtet er auch sein Saitenspiel, damit kein
Wohllaut mehr den wilden Sinn besanftige. Es scheint dieses Lied vor
allen in einer eigenen Bedeutung gedichtet, und den Mismuth eines
zerstorten herumirrenden Gemuths anzuzeigen, das seine Rathsel will
gelost haben: es ist die Angst eines Menschen darin ausgedruckt, der
die Flugel, die er fuhlt, nicht frei bewegen kann, und der, wenn ihn
diese Angst peinigt, gegen alles, auch gegen sein Liebstes, wuthen
muss. Dieser Charakter scheint dem Norden gantz eigenthumlich; in dem
seltsamen Leben Konigs Sigurd des Jerusalemfahrers, auch in
Shakspeare's Hamlet ist etwas ahnliches."

"Singular is the song of the hero Vonved. After having received the
magic blessing, he rides out, darkly hinting that he must never
return, or have avenged the death of his father. For a long time he
sees no city and no man; he then overthrows whomsoever opposes him; he
lays his enigmas before the herdsmen, concerning that which is most
grand, and that which is most horrible; concerning the course of the
sun and the repose of the dead; he who cannot explain them is
slaughtered. Haughtily he sits among the heroes - their invitations do
not please him - he rides home - slays twelve sorceresses who come
against him - then his mother, and at last he demolishes his harp, so
that no sweet sound shall in future soften his wild humour. This
song, more than any of the rest, seems to be composed with a meaning
of its own; and shows the melancholy of a ruined, wandering mind,
which will have its enigmas cleared up! The anguish of a man is
expressed therein, who cannot move freely the wings which he feels;
and, who, when this anguish torments him, is forced to deal out
destruction against all - even against his best-beloved. Such a
character seems to be quite the property of the North. In the strange
life of King Sigurd, the wanderer to Jerusalem, and likewise in
Shakspeare's Hamlet, there is something similar."

Svend Vonved sits in his lonely bower;
He strikes his harp with a hand of power;
His harp return'd a responsive din;
Then came his mother hurrying in:


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