And deem it changed ; the years that on him lay
Seemed to grow nought, and no more wan and grey
He looked, but ever glorious, wise and strong,
As though no lapse of time for him were long.
At last, when six days through the kindly sea
Their keel had slipped, he said : " Come hearken now,
For so it is that things fare wondrously
E'en in these days ; and I a tale can show
That, told by you unto your sons shall grow
A marvel of the days that are to come :
Take heed and tell it when ye reach your home.
THE GOLDEN APPLES. 27
" Yet living in the world a man there is
Men call the Theban King Amphitryon's son,
Although perchance a greater sire was his ;
But certainly his lips have hung upon
Alcmena's breasts : great deeds this man hath won
Already, for his name is Hercules,
And e'en ye Asian folk have heard of these.
" Now ere the moon, this eve in his last wane.
Was bom, this Hercules, the fated thrall
Of King Eurystheus, was straight bid to gain
Gifts from a land whereon no foot doth fall
Of mortal man, beyond the misty wall
Of unknown waters ; pensively he went
Along the sea on his hard life intent.
" And at the dawn he came into a bay
Where the sea, ebbed far down, left wastes of sand.
Walled from the green earth by great cliffs and grey ;
Then he looked up, and wondering there did stand,
For strange things lay in slumber on the strand ;
Strange counterparts of what the firm earth hath
Lay scattered all about his weary path :
"Sea-lions and sea-horses and sea-kine.
Sea-boars, sea-men strange-skinned, of wondrous hair ;
And in their midst a man who seemed divine
For changeless eld, and round him women fair,
Clad in the sea-webs glassy green and clear,
2 4 THE EAR THL V PA RADISE.
With gems on head and guxlle, hmb and breast,
Such as earth knoweth not among her best.
" A moment at the fair and wondrous sight
He stared, then, since the heart in him was good,
He went about with careful steps and Hght
Till o'er the sleeping sea-god now he stood ;
And if the white-foot maids had stirred his blood
As he passed by, now other thoughts had place
Within his heart when he beheld that face.
" For Nereus now he knew, who knows all things ;
And to himself he said, ' If I prevail,
Better than by some god-^\Tought eagle-\\'ings
Shall I be holpen ; ' then he cried out : ' Hail,
O Nereus ! lord of shifting hill and dale !
Arise and wrestle ; I am Hercules !
Not soon now shalt thou meet the ridgy seas.'
"And mightily he cast himself on him ;
And Nereus cried out shrilly ; and straightway
That sleeping crowd, fair maid with half-hid limb.
Strange man and green-haired beast, made no delay,
But glided down into the billows grey.
And, by the lovely sea embraced, were gone,
While they two A\Testled on the sea strand lone.
" Soon found the sea-god that his bodily might
Was nought in dealing with Jove's dear one there ;
THE GOLDEN APPLES. 25
And soon he 'gan to use his magic sleight :
Into a lithe leopard, and a hugging beax*
He turned him ; then the smallest fowl of air
The straining arms of Hercules must hold,
And then a mud-born wriggling eel and cold.
" Then as the firm hands mastered this, forth brake
A sudden rush of waters all around,
Blinding and choking : then a thin gTeen snake
With golden eyes ; then o'er the shell-strewn ground
Forth stole a fly the least that may be found ;
Then earth and heaven seemed wrapped in one huge
But from the midst thereof a voice there came :
" ' Kinsman and stout-heart, thou hast won the day.
Nor to my grief: what wouldst thou have of me?'
And therewith to an old man small and grey
Faded the roaring flame, who wearily
Sat down upon the sand and said, ' Let be !
I know thy tale ; worthy of help thou art ;
Come now, a short way hence will there depart
" ' A ship of Tyre for the warm southern seas,
Come we a-board ; according to my will
Her way shall be.' Then up rose Hercules,
Merry of face, though hot and panting still ;
But the fair summer day his heart did fill
2 6 THE EARTHLY PARADISE.
AVith all delight ; and so forth went the twain,
And found those men desirous of all gain.
"Ah, for these gainful men â€” somewhat indeed
Their sails are rent, their bark beat ; kin and friend
Are weaiying for them ; yet a friend in need
They yet shall gain, if at their journey's end,
Upon the last ness where the wild goats wend
To lick the salt-washed stones, a house they raise
Bedight with gold in kindly Nereus' praise."
Breathless they waited for these latest words.
That like the soft wind of the gathering night
Were grown to be : about the mast flew birds
Making their moan, hovering long-winged and white ;
And now before their straining anxious sight
The old man faded out into the air,
And from his place flew forth a sea-mew fair.
Then to the Mighty Man, Alcmena's son.
With yearning hearts they turned till he should speak,
And he spake softly : " Nought ill have ye done
In helping me to find what I did seek :
The world made better by me knows if weak
My hand and heart are : but now, light the fire
Upon the prow and worship the grey sire."
So did they ; and such gifts as there they had
Gave unto Nereus ; yea, and sooth to say.
THE GOLDEN APPLES. 27
Amid the tumult of their hearts made glad,
Had honoured Hercules in e'en such way;
But he laughed out amid them, and said, " Nay,
Not yet the end is come ; nor have I yet
Bowed down before vain longing and regret.
" It may be â€” who shall tell, when I go back
There whence I came, and looking down behold
The place that my once eager heart shall lack,
And all my dead desires a-lying cold.
But I may have the might then to enfold
The hopes of brave men in my heart? â€” but long
Life lies before first with its change and wrong."
So fair along the watery ways they sped
In happy wise, nor failed of their return ;
Nor failed in ancient Tyre the ways to tread.
Teaching their tale to whomsoe'er would learn.
Nor failed at last the flesh of beasts to burn
In Nereus' house, turned toward the bright day's end
On the last ness, round which the wild goats wend.
28 THE EARTHLY PARADISE.
HE made an end, and gazed about the place,
With rest enow upon his ancient face,
And smiling ; but to some the tale did seem
Like to the middle of some pleasant dream,
Which, waked from, leaves upon the troubled mind
A sense of something ill that lurked behind,
If morn had given due time to dream it out.
Yet as the women stirred, and went about
The board with flask and beaker, and the scent
Of their soft raiment 'mid the feasters went,
The hill-side sun of autumn-tide at least
Seemed to come back unto their winter feast ;
Rest, half remembering time past, did they win.
And somewhat surely wrought the tale therein.
IN late December shone the westering sun
Through frosty haze of the day nearly done,
Without the hall wherein our elders were :
Within, the firelight gleamed on raiment fair,
And heads far fairer ; because youth and maid
Midwinter words of hope that day had said
Before the altars , and were come at last,
No worse for snowy footways over-past,
Or for the east wind upon cheek and brow,
Their fairness to the ancient folk to show ;
And, dance and song being done, at end of day.
With ears pricked up, amid the furs they lay.
To have reward of tale for sound and sight
So given erewhile.
The flickering firelight.
And the late sun still streaming through the haze.
Made the hall meet enow for tale of days
So long past over : nigh the cheery flame
A wanderer sat, and a long sunbeam came
On to his knees, then to the hearth fell down.
There in the silence, with thin hands and brown
Folded together, and a dying smile
Upon his face, he sat a little while.
Then somewhat raised his bright eyes, and began
To name his people's best beloved man.
30 THE EARTHLY PARADISE.
THE FOSTERING OF ASLAUG.
AsLAUG, the daughter of Sigurd who slew the Dragon, and of
Brynhild whom he loved, lost all her friends and kin, and
was nourished amid great misery ; yet in the end her fortune,
her glory, and her beauty prevailed, and she came to mighty
A FAIR tale might I tell to you
Of Sigurd, who the dragon slew
Upon the murder-wasted heath,
And how love led him unto death,
Through strange wdld ways of joy and pain ;
Then such a story should ye gain,
If I could tell it all aright,
As well might win you some delight
From out the woefullest of days ;
But now have I no heart to raise
That mighty sorrow laid asleep,
That love so sweet, so strong and deep,
That as ye hear the wonder told
In those few strenuous words of old,
The whole world seems to rend apart
When heart is torn away from heart.
But the world lives still, and to-day
The green Rhine wendeth on its way
THE FOSTERING OF ASLA UG.
Over the unseen golden curse
That drew its lords to worse and worse,
Till that last dawn in Atli's hall,
When the red flame flared over all,
Lighting the leaden, sunless sea.
Yet so much told of this must be,
That Sigurd, while his youth was bright
And unstained, 'midst the first delight
Of Brynhild's love â€” that him did gain
All joy, all woe, and very bane â€”
Begat on her a woman-child.
In hope she bore the maid, and smiled
When of its father's face she thought ;
But when sad time the change had brought,
And she to Gunnar's house must go.
She, thinking how she might bestow
The memory of that lovely eve.
That morn o'er-sweet, the child did leave
With Heimir, her old foster-sire,
A mighty lord ; then, with the fire
Of her old love still smouldering,
And brooding over many a thing,
She went unto her life and death.
Nought, as I said, the story saith
Of all the wrong and love that led
Her feet astray : together dead
They lie now on their funeral pile,
And now the little one doth smile
32 THE EARTHLY PARADISE.
Upon the glittering war-airay
Of the men come the sooth to say
To Heimir of that bitter end.
Silent he stared till these did wend
Into the hall to fire and board,
Then by the porch without a word
Long time he sat : then he arose
And drew his sword, and hard and close
Gazed on the thin-worn edge, and said :
" Smooth cheeks, sweet hands, and art thou dead ?
me thy glory ! Woe is me !
1 thought once more thine eyes to see â€”
Had I been young three years agone,
When thou a maiden burd-alone,
Hadst eighteen summers !"
As he spake,
He gat him swiftly to the brake
Of thorn-trees nigh his house : and some,
When calm once more he sat at home,
Deemed he had wept : but no word more
He spake thereof.
A few days wore,
And now alone he oft would be
Within his smithy ; heedfully
He guarded it, that none came in ;
Nor marvelled men ; " For he doth win
Some work of craftsmanship," said they,
" And such before on many a day
THE FOSTERING OF A SLA UG. ^
Hath been his wont."
So it went on
That a long while he wrought alone ;
But on the tenth day bore in there
Aslaug, the little maiden fair,
Three winters old ; and then the thing
A little set folk marvelling ;
Yet none the less in nought durst they
To watch him. So to end of day
Time drew, and still unto the hall
He came not, and a dread 'gan fall
Upon his household, lest some ill
The quiet of their lives should kill ;
And so it fell that the next morn
They found them of their lord forlorn,
And Aslaug might they see no more ;
Wide open was the smithy door.
The forge a-cold, and hammering tools
Lay on the floor, with woodwright's rules,
And chips and shavings of hard wood.
Moreover, when they deemed it good
To seek for him, nought might they do.
The tale says, for so dark it grew
Over all ways, that no man might
Know the green meads from water white.
So back they wended sorrowfully.
And still most like it seemed to be,
That Odin had called Heimir home ;
And nothing strange it seemed to some
34 THE EARTHLY PARADISE.
That with him the sweet youngling was,
Since Biynhild's love might bring to pass
E'en mightier things than this, they said,
And sure the little gold-curled head,
The pledge of all her earthly weal,
In Freyia's house she longed to feel.
Further the way was than they deemed
Unto that rest whereof they dreamed
Both to the greybeard and the child ;
For now by trodden way and wild
Goes Heimir long : wide-faced is he,
Thin-cheeked, hooked-nosed, e'en as might be
An ancient erne ; his hair falls do'wii
From 'neath a wide slouched hat of bro\\'n,
And mingles white with his white beard ;
A broad brown brand, most men have feared,
Hangs by his side, and at his back
Is slung a huge harp, that doth lack
All fairness certes, and so great
It is, that few might bear its weight ;
Yea, Heimir even, somewhat slow
Beneath its burden walketh now.
And looketh round, and stayeth soon.
On a calm sunny afternoon.
Within a cleared space of a wood.
At last the huge old warrior stood
And peered about him doubtfully ;
Who, when nought living he might see.
THE FOSTERING OF ASLAUG. 35
But mid the beech-boughs high aloft
A blue-winged jay, and squirrel soft,
And in the grass a watchful hare,
Unslung his harp and knelt down there
Beside it, and a little while
Handled the hollow with a smile
Of cunning, and behold, the thing
Opened, as by some secret spring,
And there within the hollow lay,
Clad in gold-fringed well-wrought array,
Aslaug, the golden-headed child,
Asleep and rosy ; but she smiled
As Heimir's brown hand drew a-near,
And woke up free from any fear.
And stretched her hands out towards his face.
He sat him down in the green place,
With kind arms round the little one,
Till, fully waked now, to the sun
She turned, and babbling, 'gainst his breast
Her dimpled struggling hands she pressed :
His old Hps touched those eyes of hers,
That Sigurd's hope and Brynhild's tears
Made sad e'en in her life's first spring ;
Then sweet her chuckling laugh did ring.
As down amid the flowery grass
He set her, and beheld her pass
From flower to flower in utter glee ;
Therewith he reached out thoughtfully,
And cast his arms around the harp,
36 THE EARTHLY PARADISE.
That at the first most strange and sharp
Rang through the still day, and the child
Stopped, startled by that music wild :
But then a change came o'er the strings,
As, tinkling sweet, of merry things
They seemed to tell, and to and fro
Danced Aslaug, till the tune did grow
Fuller and stronger, sweeter still,
And all the woodland place did fill
With sound, not merry now nor sad.
But sweet, heart-raising, as it had
The gathered voice of that fair day
Amidst its measured strains ; her play
Amid the flowers grew slower now.
And sadder did the music grow.
And yet still sweeter : and with that,
Nigher to where the old man sat
Aslaug 'gan move, until at last
All sound from the strained strings there passed
As into each other's eyes they gazed ;
Then, sighing, the young thing he raised.
And set her softly on his knee.
And laid her round cheek pitifully
Unto his own, and said :
Of such as I shalt thou have need.
As swift the troubled days wear by,
And yet I know full certainly
My life on earth shall not be long :
THE FOSTERING OF ASLAUG. 37
And those who think to better wrong
By working wrong shall seek thee wide
To slay thee ; yea, belike they ride
E'en now unto my once-loved home.
Well, to a void place shall they come,
And I for thee thus much have wrought â€”
For thee and Brynhild â€” yea, and nought
I deem it still to turn my face
Each morn unto some unknown place
Like a poor churl â€” for, ah ! who knows
Upon what wandering wind that blows
Drives Brynhild's spirit through the air ;
And now by such road may I fare
That we may meet ere many days."
Again the youngling did he raise
Unto his face, for to the earth
Had she slipped down ; her babbling mirth
Had mingled with his low deep speech ;
But now, as she her hand did reach
Unto his beard, nor stinted more
Her babble, did a change come o'er
His face ; for through the windless day
Afar a mighty horn did bray ;
Then from beneath his cloak he drew
A golden phial, and set it to
Her ruddy lips in haste, and she
Gazed at him awhile fearfully,
As though she knew he was afraid ;
38 THE EARTHLY PARADISE.
But silently the child he laid
In the harp's hollow place, for now
Drowsy and drooping did she grow
'Neath the strong potion ; hastily
He shut the harp, and raised it high
Upon his shoulder, set his sword
Ready to hand, and with no word
Stalked off along the forest glade ;
But muttered presently :
Is a strange word for me to say ;
But all is changed in a short day.
And full of death the world seems grown.
Mayhap I shall be left alone
When all are dead beside, to dream
Of happy life that once did seem
So stirring 'midst the folk I loved.
Ah ! is there nought that may be moved
By strong desire ? yea, nought that rules
The very Gods who thrust earth's fools,
This way and that as foolishly,
For aught I know thereof, as I
Deal with the chess when I am drunk?"
His head upon his breast was sunk
For a long space, and then again
He spake : " My life is on the wane ;
Somewhat of this I yet may learn
Ere long ; yet I am fain to earn
THE FOSTERING OF A SLA UG. 39
My rest by reaching Atli's land ;
For surely 'neath his mighty hand
Safe from the Niblungs shall she be,
Safe from the forge of misery,
Grimhild the Wise-wife."
As a goad
That name was to him ; on he strode
Still swifter, silent. But day wore
As fast between the tree-stems hoar
He went his ways ; belike it was
That he scarce knew if he did pass
O'er rough or smooth, by dark or light,
Until at last the very night
Had closed round him as thinner grew
The wood that he was hurrying through ;
And as he gained a grey hill's brow
He felt the sea-breeze meet him now,
And heard the low surf's measured beat
Upon the beach. He stayed his feet,
And through the dusky gathering dark
Peered round and saw what seemed a spark
Along the hill's ridge ; thitherward
He turned, still warily on guard,
Until he came unto the door
Of some stead, lone belike and poor :
There knocking, was he bidden in.
And heedfuUy he raised the pin.
And entering stood with blinking gaze
Before a fire's unsteady blaze.
40 THE EARTHLY PARADISE.
There sat a woman all alone
"Whom some ten years would make a crone,
Yet would they little worsen her ;
Her face was sorely pinched with care,
Sour and thin-lipped she was ; of hue
E'en like a duck's foot ; whitish blue
Her eyes were, seeming as they kept
Wide open even when she slept.
She rose up, and was no less great
Than a tall man, a thing of weight
Was the gaunt hand that held a torch
As Heimir, midmost of the porch,
Fixed his deep grey and solemn eyes
Upon that ^\Tetched wife's surprise.
" Well," said she, " what may be your will ?
Little we have your sack to fill,
If on thieves' errand ye are come ;
But since the goodman is from home
I know of none shall say you nay
If ye have will to bear away
As on a burned house
Grown cold, the moon shines dolorous
From out the rainy lift, so now
A laugh must crease her lip and brow.
" I am no thief, goodwife," he said,
" But ask wherein to lay my head
THE FOSTERING OF ASLAUG. 41
" Well, goodman, sit," said she :
" Thine ugly box of minstrelsy
With thine attire befits not ill ;
And both belike may match thy skill."
So by the fire he sat him doAvm,
And she too sat, and coarse and brown
The thread was that her rock gave forth
As there she spun ; of little worth
Was all the gear that hall did hold.
Now Heimir new-come from the cold
Had set his harp down by his side,
And, turning his grey eyes and wide
Away from hers, slouched down his hat
Yet farther o'er his brows, and sat
With hands outstretched unto the flame.
But had he noted how there came
A twinkle into her dead eyes,
He had been minded to arise,
Methinks ; for better company
The wild-wood wolf had been than she.
Because, from out the hodden grey
That was the great man's poor array,
Once and again could she behold
How that the gleam of ruddy gold
Came forth : so therewith she arose.
And, wandering round the hall, drew close
Unto the great harp, and could see
Some fringe of golden bravery
42 THE EARTHLY PARADISE.
Hanging therefrom. â€” And the man too,
In spite of patch and clouted shoe,
And unadorned sword, seemed indeed
Scarce less than a great king in need,
So wholly noble was his mien.
So, with these things thus thought and seen,
Within her mind grew fell intent
As to and fro the hall she went.
And from the ark at last did take
Meal forth for porridge and for cake,
And to the fire she turned, and 'gan
To look still closer on the man
As with the girdle and the pot
She busied her, and doubted not
That on his arm a gold ring was \
For presently, as she did pass.
Somewhat she brushed the cloak from him.
And saw the gold gleam nowise dim.
Then sure, if man might shape his fate.
Her greed impatient and dull hate
Within her eyes he might have seen,
And so this tale have never been.
But nought he heeded ; far away
His thoughts were.
Therewith did she lay
The meal upon the board, and said,
" Meseems ye would be well apaid
Of meat and drink, and it is here.
Fair lord â€” though somewhat soiTy cheer ;
THE FOSTERING OF A SLA UG. 43
Fall to now."
Whining, with a grin
She watched, as one who sets a gin,
If at the name of lord at all
He started, but no speech did fall
From his old lips, and wearily
He gat to meat, and she stood by,
And poured the drink to him, and said :
" To such a husband am I wed
That ill is speech with him, when he
Comes home foredone with drudgery ;
And though indeed I deem thee one
Who deeds of fame full oft hath done
And would not fear him, yet most ill
'Twould be the bliss of us to spill
In brawl with him, as might betide
If thou his coming shouldst abide.
Our barley bam is close hereby,
Wherein a weary man might lie
And be no worse at dawn of day."
" Well, goodwife," said he, " lead the way !
Worse lodging have I had than that,
Where the wolf howled unto the bat,
And red the woodland stream did run."
She started back, he seemed as one
Who might have come back from the dead.
To wreak upon her evil head
44 THE EARTHLY PARADISE.
Her sour ill life, but nought the more
He heeded her ; " Go on before,"
He said, " for I am in no case
To-night to meet an angry face
And hold my hand from my good sword."
So out she passed without a word,
Though when he took in careful wise
The heavy harp, with greedy eyes
And an ill scowl she gazed thereon,
Yet durst say nought. But soon they won
Unto the barn's door â€” he turned round,
And, gazing down the rugged ground.
Beheld the sea wide reaching, white
Beneath the new-risen moon, and bright
His face waxed for a little while,
And on the still night did he smile.
As into the dark place he went, â€”
And saw no more of the grey bent.
Or sea, or sky, or morrow's sun.
Unless perchance when all is done,
And all the wTongs the Gods have wrought
Come utterly with them to nought.
New heavens and earth he shall behold,
And peaceful folk, and days of gold.
When Baldur is come back again
O'er an undying world to reign.
For when the carl came home that night.
In every ill wise that she might,
THE FOSTERING OF ASIA UG. 45
She egged him on their guest to slay
As sleeping in the barn he lay ;
And, since the man was no ill mate
For her, and heedless evil fate
Had made him big and strong enow.
He plucked up heart to strike the blow.
Though but a coward thief he was.
So at the grey dawn did he pass
Unto the barn, and entered there ;
But through its dusk therewith did hear
The sound of harp-strings tinkling : then.
As is the wont of such-like men,
Great fear of ghosts fell on his heart ;
Yet, trembling sore, he thrust apart
The long stems of the barley-straw,
And, peering round about, he saw
Heimir asleep, his naked brand
Laid o'er his knees, but his right hand
Amid the harp-strings, whence there came
A mournful tinkling ; and some name
His lips seemed muttering, and withal
A strange sound on his ears did fall
As of a young child murmuring low
The muffled sounds of passing woe.
Nought dreadful saw he ; yet the hair
'Gan bristle on his head with fear,
And twice was he at point to turn
His bread by other craft to earn ;
But in the end prevailed in him
46 THE EARTHLY PARADISE.
His raging greed 'gainst glimmerings dim
Of awe and pity ; which but wrought
In such wise in him that he thought
How good it were if all were done,
And day, and noise, and the bright sun
Were come again : he crept along,