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XLVIII.

All day, all night, glared fires, dark-red and dull
With mystic gums, before the Teuton god,

And waved o'er runes which Mimer's trunkless skull
Had whisper'd Odin — the Diviner's rod;

And rank with herbs which baleful odours breathed,

The bubbling hell juice in the caldron seethed.

XLIX.

Now towards that hour when hito coverts dank
Slinks back the wolf; when to her callow brood

Veers, thro' still boughs, the owl; when from the bank
The glow-worm wanes; w^hen heaviest droops the w^ood,

Ere the faint twitter of the earliest lark, —

Ere dawn creeps chill and timorous thro' the dark ;

L.

About that hour, of all the dreariest,

A flame leaps up from the dull fire's repose.

And shoots weird sparks along the runes, imprest
On stone and elm-bark, ranged in ninefold rows ;

The vine's deep flush the purpling seid assumes,

And the strong venom coils in maddening fumes.

LI.

Pale grew the elect Diviner's altered brows ;

Swell'd the large veins, and writhed the foaming lips ;
And as some swart and fateful planet glows

Athwart the disk to which it brings eclipse ;
So that strange Pythian madness whose control
Seems half to light and half efface the soul,

faint distinctions between the two ; so in this portion of the work, whether in narra-
tive, or in the dialogue of the Saxons, the former appellation of the Deity of the
North (Odin) will be uniformly preserved.



198 KING ARTHUR.

LII.

Broke from the horror of his glaring look ;

His breath that died in hollow gusts away ;
Seized by the grasp of unseen tempests, shook

To its rack'd base the spirit-house of clay ;
Till the dark Power made firm the crushing spell ;
And from the man burst forth the voice of hell.

LIII.

" The god — the god ! lo, on his throne he reels !

Under his knit brows glow his wrathful eyes !
At his dread feet a spectral Valkyr kneels.

And shrouds her face ! And cloud is in the skies,
And neither sun nor star, nor day nor night.
But in the cloud a steadfast Cross of Light !

LIV.

" The god — the god ! hide, hide me from his gaze !

Its awful anger burns into the brain !
S2)are me, spare me ! Speak, thy child obeys !

What rites appease thee. Father of the Slain ?*
What direful omen do these signs foreshow ?
What victim ask'st thou ? Speak; the blood shall flow !"

LV.

Sunk the Possest One — ^writhing with wild throes ;

And one appalling silence dusk'd the place.
As with a demon's wing. Anon, arose.

Calm as a ghost, the soothsayer : form and face
Rigid with iron sleep ; and hollow fell
From stonelike lips the hateful oracle.

« Father of the Slain, Valfader.— Odin.



BOOK XII. 199



LVI.

" A cloud wliere Noma's nurse the thunder lowers ;

A curse is cleaving to the Teuton race ;
Before the Cross the stricken Valkyr cowers ;

The Herr-god trembles on his column'd base ;
A virgin's loss aroused the Teuton strife ;
A virgin's love hath charm'd the Avenger's life ;

LVII.

«' A virgin's blood alone averts the doom ;

Revives the Valkyr, and preserves the god.
Whet the quick steel — she comes, she comes, for w^hom

The runes glow'd blood-red to the soothsayer's rod !
king, whose wrath the Odin-born array'd.
Regain the lost, and yield the Christian maid !"

LVIII.

As if that voice had quicken'd some dead thing
To give it utterance, so, when ceased the sound.

The dull eye fix'd, and the faint shuddering

Stirr'd all the frame ; then sudden on the ground

Fell heavily the lumpish inert clay,

From which the demon noiseless rush'd away.

LIX.

Then the gray priests and the gray king creep near
The corpselike man ; and sit them mutely down

In the still fire's red vaporous atmosphere ;
The bubbling caldron sings and simmers on ;

And thro' the reeks that from the poison rise,

Looks the w^olf's blood-lust from those cruel eyes.



200 KING ARTHUR.

LX.

So sat they, musing fell ; — when liark, a shout
Rang loud from rank to rank, re-echoing deep ; -

Hark to the tramp of multitudes without !

Near and more near the thickening tumults sweep ;

King Crida wrathful rose ; " what steps profane

Thy secret thresholds^ Father of the Slain ?"

LXI.

Frowning he strode along the lurid floors,

And loud, and loud the invading footsteps ring ;

His hand impetuous flings apart the doors : —
" Who dare insult the god, and brave the king ?"

Swift thro' the throng a bright-haired vision came ;

Those stern lips falter with a daughter's name !

LXII.

Those hands uplifted, or to curse or smite,

Fold o'er a daughter's head their tremulous joy !

Oh, to the natural worship of delight,

How came the monstrous dogma — to destroy !

Sure, Heaven foreshow'd its gospel to the wild

In earth's first bond — the father and the child !

LXIII.

While words yet fail'd the bliss of that embrace.
The muttering priests, unmoved, each other eyed ;

Then to the threshold came their measured pace : —
" Depart, Profane," their Pagan pontiff cried,

" Depart, Profane, too near your steps have trod

To altars darkened with an angry God.



BOOK XII. 201

LXIV.

" Dire are the omens ! Skulda rides the clouds,
Her sisters tremble"'^ at the Urdar spring ;

The hour demands us — shun the veil that shrouds
The Priests, the God, the Victim and the King."

Shuddering, the crowds retreat, and whispering low,

Spread the contagious terrors where they go.

LXV.

Then the stern elders came to Crida's side.

And from their lock'd embrace unclasp'd his hands :

^' Lo," said their chieftain, " how the gods provide
Themselves the offering which the shrine demands !

By Odin's son be Odin's voice obey'd ;

The lost is found — behold, and yield the maid !"

LXVI.

As when some hermit saint, in the old day

Of the soul's giant war with Solitude,
From some bright dream which wrajDt his life away

Amidst the spheres — unclosed his eyes, and view'd,
'Twixt sleep and waking, vaguely horrible,
The grausame tempter of the gothic hell ;

LXVII.

So, on the father's bliss abruptly broke
The dreadful memory of his dismal god ;

And his eyes pleading ere his terrors spoke,

Look'd round the brows of that foul brotherhood.

Then his big voice came weak and strangely mild,

" What mean those words ? — why glare ye on my child ?

• <' Her sisters tremble," «&c., that is, the other two Fates (the Present and the
Past) tremble at the Well of Life.



202 KING ARTHUR.

LXVIIT.

" Do ye not know her ? Elders, she is mine, —
My flesh, my blood, mine age's youngest-born !

Why are ye mute ? Why point to yonder shrine ?
Ay," — and here haughty mth the joy of scorn

He raised his front. — " Ay, he the voice obeyed 1

Priests, ye forget, — it was a Christian maid !"

LXIX.

He ceased, and laugh'd aloud, as humbled fell
Those greedy looks, and mutteringly replied

Faint voices, " True, so said the Oracle !
When the arch Elder, with an eager stride

Reach'd child and sire, and cried, " See Crida, there,

On the maid's breast the Cross that Christians wear !'•

LXX.

Those looks, those voices, thrill'd thro' Genevieve,
With fears as yet vague, shapeless, undefined ;

" Father," she murmured, " Father, let us leave
These dismal precincts ; how those eyes unkind

Freeze to my soul ; sweet father, let us go ;

My heart to thine would speak ! why frown'st thou so ?"

LXXI.

"" Tear from thy breast that sign, unhappy one !

Sign to thy country's wrathful gods accurst !
Back, priests of Odin, I am Odin's son.

And she my daughter ; in my war-shield nurst,
Reared at your altars ! Trample down the sign,
child, and say — the Saxon's God is mine !"



BOOK XII. 203

Lxxir.

Infant, who came to bid a war relent,

And rob ambition of its carnage-prize,
Is it on thee those sombre brows are bent ?

For thee the death-greed in those ravening eyes ?
Thy task undone, thy gentle prayer unspoken ?
Ay, press the cross ; it is the martyr's token !

LXXIII.

She press'd the cross with one firm faithful hand,
While one — (that trembled !) — clasp'd her father's
knees ;

As clings a wretch, that sinks in sight of land.
To reeds swept with him down the weltering seas,

And murmured, " Pardon ; Him whose agony

Was earth's salvation, I may not deny !

LXXIV.

'^ Him who gave God the name I give to thee,
' Father,' — in Him, in Christ, is my belief!"

Then Crida turned unto the priests, — " Ye see,"
Smiling, he said, "that I have done with grief:

Behold the victim ! be the God obey'd !

The son of Odin dooms the Christian maid !"

LXXV.

He said, and from his robe he wrench'd the hand,
And, where the gloom was darkest, stalk'd away.

But whispering low, still pause the hellish band ;
And dread lest Nature yet redeem the prey.

And deem it wise against such chance to arm

The priesthood's puissance with the host's alarm ;



204 KING ARTHUR.

LXXVI.

To bruit abroad the dark oracular threats,

From which the Virgin's blood alone can save;

Gird with infuriate fears the murtherous nets,
And plant an army to secure a grave ;

The whispers cease — the doors one gleam of day

Give — and then close ; — the blood-hound slinks away.

LXXVII.

Around the victim — where, with wandering hand,
Tho' her blind tears she seems to search thro' space,

For him who had forsaken, — circling stand
The solemn butchers; calm in every face

And death in every he:\rt ; till from the belt

Stretched one lean hand and grasp'd her where she knelt.

LXXVIII.

And her wild shriek went forth and smote the shrine,
Which echoed, shrilling back the sharp despair.

Thro' the waste gaps between the shafts of pine
To th' unseen father's ear. Before the glare

Of the weird fire, the sacrifice they chain

To stones impress'd with rune and shamble-stain.

LXXIX.

Then wait (for so their formal rites compel)
Till from the trance that still his senses seals,

Awakes the soothsayer of the oracle ;

At length with tortured spasms, and slowly, steals

Back the reluctant life — slow as it creeps

To one hard-rescued from the drowning deeps.



BOOK XII. . 205

LXXX.

And when from dim, uncertain, swimming eyes
The gaunt long fingers put the shaggy hair,

And on the j)riests, the shrine, the sacrifice,
Dwelt the fixed sternness of the glassy stare.

Before the god they led the demon-man,

And, circling round the two, their hymn began.

LXXXI,

So rapt in their remorseless ecstasy,

They did not hear the quick steps at the door,

Nor that loud knock, nor that impatient cry ;

Till shook, — till crash 'd, the portals on the floor, —

Crash'd to the strong hand of the fiery Thane ;

And Harold's stride came clanging up the fane. —

LXXXII.

But from his side bounded a shape as light

As forms that glide thro' Elf heim's limber air ; •

Swift to the shrine — where on those robes of white
The gloomy hell fires scowled their sullen glare.

Thro' the death-chaunting choir,— she sprang,— she prest,

And bowed her head upon the victim's breast ;

LXXXIIT.

And cried, " With thee, with thee, to live or die.
With thee, my Genevieve !" the Elders raised

Their hands in wrath, when from as stern an eye
And brow erect as theirs, they shrunk amazed —

And Harold spoke, " Ye priests of Odin, hear !

Your Gods are mine, their voices I revere.

VOL. II. 14



206 KING ARTHUR.

LXXXIV.

" Voices in winds, in groves, in hollow caves,
Oracular dream, or runic galdra sought ;

But ages ere from Don's ancestral waves

Such wizard signs the Scythian Odin brought,

A voice that needs no priesthood's sacred art.

Some earlier God placed in the human heart.

LXXXV.

" I bow to charms that doom embattled walls ;

To dreams revealing no unworthy foe ;
A warrior's God in Glory's clarion calls ;

Where war-steeds snort and hurtling standards flow ;
But when weak women for strong men must die,
My Man's proud nature gives your Gods the lie !

LXXXVI.

'- If, — not yon seer by fumes and dreams beguiled,
But, Odin's self stood where his image stands,

Against the god I w^ould protect my child !

Ha,Crida! — come! — ^/^t/ child in chains! — those hands

Lifted to smite ! — and thou, whose kingly bann

Arms nations, — wake, statue, into man !"

LXXXVII.

For from his lair, and to his liegeman's side

Had Crida listening strode : When ceased the Thane,

His voice, comprest and tremulous, replied, —

" The life thou plead'st for doth these shrines profane,

In Odin's son a father lives no more ;

Yon maid adores the God our foes adore."



BOOK XII. 207

LXXXVIII.

"And I — and I, stern king!" — Genevra cries,
" Her God is mine, and if that faith is crime,

Be just — and take a twofold sacrifice !"

" Cease," cried the Tliane, — " is this, ye Powers^ a time

For kings and chiefs to lean on idle blades, —

Our leaders dreamers^ and our victims maids ?

LXXXIX.

^' Be vaiying gods by varying tribes addrest,
I scorn no gods that worthy foes adore ;

Brave was the arm that humbled Harold's crest,
And large the heart that did his child restore.

To all the valiant, Gladsheim's Halls unclose ;*

In Heaven the comrades were on Earth the foes.

xc.

" And if our Gods are wrath, what wonder, when
Their traitor priests creep whispering coward fears ;

Unnerve the arms and rot the hearts of men,

And filch the conquest from victorious spears ? —

Yes, reverend Elders, one such priest I found.

And cheer'd my bandogs on the meaner hound !"

XCT.

" Be dumb, blasphemer," cried the Pontiff seer,
" Depart, or dread the vengeance of the shrine ;

Depart or armies from these floors shall hear

How chiefs can mock what nations deem divine ;

Then, let her Christian faith thy daughter boast,

And brave the answer of the Teuton host !"

* Gladshcim, Heaven ; Walhalla, (" the Hall of the Chosen,") did not exclude
brave foes who fell in battle.



208 KING ARTHUR.

xcir.

A paler hue shot o'er the hardy face

Of the great Earl, as thus the Elder spoke ;

But calm he answered, " Summon Odm's race ;
On me and mine the Teuton's wrath invoke 1

Let sliuddering fathers learn wdiat priests can dream,

And warriors judge if / their Gods blaspheme !

XCIII.

" But peace, and hearken. — To the king I speak : — ■
With mine own lithsmen, and such willing aid

As Harold's tromps arouse, — ^yon walls I seek ;
Be Cymri's throne the ransom of the maid.

On Carduel's wall, if Saxon standards wave,

Let Odin's arms the needless victim save !

xciv.

" Grant me till noon to prove wdiat men are worth,
Who serve the War God by the warlike Deed ;

Refuse me this. King Crida, and henceforth

Let chiefs more prized the Mercian armies lead ;

For I, blunt Harold, join no cause with those

Who, wolves for victims, are as hares to foes !"

xcv.
Scornful he ceased, and leaned upon his sword ;

Whispering the Priests, and silent Crida, stood.
A living Thor to that barbarian horde

Was the bold Thane, — and ev'n the men of blood
Felt Harold's loss amid the host's dismay
Would rend the clasp that link'd the wild array.



BOOK XII. 209

XCVI.

At length out spoke the priestly chief, "' The gods
Endure the boasts, to bow the pride, of men ;

The Well of Wisdom sinks in Ilelfs abode ;
The Laeca shines beside the bautasten,*

And Truth too oft illumes the eyes that scorned

In the death-flash from which in vain it warned.

XCVII.

" Be the delay the pride of man demands

Vouchsafed, the nothingness of man to show !

The gods unsoftened, march thy futile bands :
Till noon we spare the victim ; — seek the foe !

But when with equal shadows rests the sun —

The altar reddens^ or the walls are won !"

XCVIII.

" So be it," the Thane replied, and sternly smiled ;

Then towards the sister-twain, vrith pitying brow.
Whispering he came, — " Fair friend of ELarold's child,

Let our own gods at least be with thee now ;
Pray that the Asas bless the Teuton strife.
And guide the swords that strike for thy sweet hfe."

xcix.

" Alas !" cried Genevieve, " Christ came to save.
Not slay : He taught the weakest how to die ;

For me, for me, a nation ghit the grave !

That nation Christ's, and — No, the victim II

Not now for life, my father, see me kneel,

But one kind look, — and then, how blunt the steel !"

* The Scin Lseca, or shining corpse, tliat was seen before thebautaslen, or burial-
stone of a dead hero was supposed to possess prophetic powers, and to guard the
treasures of the grave.



210 KING ARTHUR.

C.

And Cricla moved not ! Moist were Harold's eyes ;

Bending, lie whisper'd in Genevra's ear,
^^ Thy presence is her safety ! Time denies

All words but these ; — hope in the brave ; revere
The gods they serve : — by acts our faith we test ;
The holiest gods are where the men are best."

CI.

With this he turned, '^ Ye 2:)riests/' he called aloud^
" On every head within these walls, I set

Dread weregeld for the compact ; blood for blood !"
Then o'er his brows he closed his bassinet,

Shook the black death-pomj:) of his shadowy plume^

And his arm'd stride was lost amidst the gloom. —

CII.

And still poor Genevieve with mournful eyes
Gazed on the father, whose averted brows

And more of darkness for her soul than lies
Under the lids of death. The murmurous

And lurid air buzzed with a si:hostlike sound

From patient murder's iron lip ; — and round

cm.

The delicate form which, like a Psyche, seemed
Beauty sublimed into the type of soul.

Fresh from such stars as ne'er on Paphos beamed,
When first on love the chastening vision stole, —

The sister virgin coil'd her clasp of woe ;

Ev'n as that Sorrow which the Soul must know



BOOK XII. 211

CIV.

Till Soul and Love meet never more to part.

At last, from under his wide mantle's fold,
The strain'd arms lock'd on his loud-beating heart,

(As if the anguish which the king controll'd,
The man could stifle,) — Crida toss'd on high; —
And nature conquer'd in the father's cry !

cv.

Over the kneeling form swept his gray hair ;

On the soft upturned eyes prest his wild kiss ;
And then recoiling with a livid stare,

He faced the priests, and muttered, " Dotage this !
Crida is old, — come — come," and from the ring
Beckoned their chief, and went forth tottering.

cvi.

Out of the fane, up where the stair of pine

Wound to the summit of the camp's rough tower.

King Crida passed. On moving armour shine
The healthful beams of the fresh morning hour;

He hears the barb's shrill neigh, — the clarion's swell.

And half his armies march to Carduel.

CVII.

Far in the van, like Odin's fatal bird

Wing'd for its feast, sails Harold's raven plume.

Now from the city's heart a shout is heard.

Wall, bastion, tower, their steel-clad life resume ;

Far shout ! faint forms ! yet seem they loud and clear

To that strain'd eyeball and that feverish ear.



212 KING ARTHUR.

CVIII.

But not on hosts that march bj Harold's side,

Gazed the stern priest, who stood with Crida there ;

On sullen gloomy groupes — discattered wide,
Grudging the conflict they refuse to share,

Or seated round rude tents and piled spears :

Circling the mutter of rebellious fears ;

CIX.

Or, near the temple fort, with folded arms

On their broad breasts, waiting the deed of blood :

On these he gazed — to gloat on the alarms
That made lihn monarch of that multitude !

Not one man there had pity in his eye.

And the priest smiled, — then turned to watch the sky.

ex.

And the sky deepen'd, and the time rush'd on.

And Cricla sees the ladders on the wall ;
And dust-clouds gather round his gonfanon ;

And thro' the dust-clouds glittering rise and fall
The meteor lights of helms, and shields, and glaives ;
Up o'er the rampires mount the labouring waves ;

cxi.

And joyous rings the Saxon's battle shout ;

And Cymri's angel cry wails like despair ;
And from the Dragon Keep a light shines out,

Calm as a single star in tortured air,
To whose high peace, aloof from storms, in vain
Looks a lost navy from the violent main.



BOOK XII. 213

CXII.

Now on the nearest wall the Pale Horse stands ;

Now from the wall the Pale Horse lightens down ;
And flash and vanish, file on file, the bands

Into the rent heart of the howling town ;
And the Priest paling frown'd upon the sun, —
Though the sky deepened and the time rush'd on.

CXIII.

When from the camp around the fane, there rose
Ineffable cries of wonder, wrath, and fear,

With some strange light that scares the sunshine, glows
O'er Sabra's waves the crimson'd atmosphere,

And dun from out the widening, widening glare,

Like Hela's serpents, smoke-reeks wind thro' air.

cxiv.
Forth look'd the king appall'd ! and where his masts

Soared from the verge of the far forest-land.
He hears the crackling, as when vernal blasts

Shiver Groninga's pines — " Lo, the same hand,"
Cried the fierce priest,"wliich sway'd the soothsayer's rod ,
Writes now the last runes of thine angry god !"

cxv.

And here and there, and wirbelling to and fro.

Confused, distraught, pale thousands spread the plain;

Some snatch their arms in haste, and yelling go

Where the fleets burn ; some creep around the fane

Like herds for shelter ; prone on earth lie some

Shrieking, '- The Twilight* of the Gods hath come !"

• The Twilight of the Gods (Ragnorok), viz., the Last Day, when the world
shall be destroyed in fire.



214 KING ARTHUR.

cxvi.

And the great glare hath reddened o'er the town.
And seems the strife it gildeth to appall ;

Flock back dim straggling Saxons, gazing down
The lurid vaUies from the jagged wall,

Still as on Cuthite towers Chaldean seers,

When some red portent flamed into the spheres.

ex VII.

And now from brake and copse — from combe and dell,
Gleams break ; — steel flashes ; — helms on helms arise ;

Faint heard at first, — now near, now thunderous, — swell
The Cj' mrian mingled with the Baltic cries ;

And, loud alike in each, — exulting came

War's noblest music — a Deliverer's name.

CXVIlf.

" Arthur ! — for Arthur ! — Arthur is at hand !

AYoe, Saxons, woe !" Then from the rampart height
Yanish'd each watcher ; while the rescue-band

Sweep the clear slopes ; and not a foe in sight !
And now the beacon on the Dragon Keep
Springs from pale lustre into hues blood-deep.

CXIX.

And on that tower stood forth a lonely man ;

Full on his form the beacon glory fell ;
And joy revived each sinking Cymrian ;

There, the still Prophet watched o'er Carduel !
Back o'er the walls, and back thro' gate and breach,
Now ebbs the war, like billows from the beach.



BOOK XII. 215

cxx.

Along the battlements swift crests arise,

Swift followed by avenging, smiting ])rands ;

And fear and flight are in the Saxon cries !
The Portals vomit bands on hurtling bands ;

And lo, wide streaming o'er the helms, — again

The Pale Horse flings on angry winds its mane !

cxxi.
And facing still the foe, but backward borne

By his own men, towers high one kingiiest chief;
Deep thro' the distance rolls his shout of scorn.

And the grand anguish of a hero's grief.
Bounded the Priest ! — " The Gods are heard at last ! —
Proud Harold flieth ; — and the noon is past !

CXXII.

'^ Come, Crida, come !" Up as from heavy sleep
The gray-hair'd giant raised his awful head \

As, after calmest w^aters, the swift leap
Of the strong torrent rushes to its bed, —

So the new passion seized and changed the form,

As if the rest had braced it for the storm.

CXXIII.

No grief was in the iron of that brow^ ;

Age cramp'd no sinew in that mighty arm ;
" Go," he said, sternly, " where it fits thee, thou :

Thy post with Odin — mine wdth Managarm 1*
Let priests avert the danger kings must dare ;
My shrine yon standard, and my children — there P'

* Manasrarm, the Monster Wolf (symbolically, war). *' He will be fill'd with
the blo.'d of men who draw near their end,'' &,c. (Pkose Euua.)



216 KING ARTHUR.

cxxiv.

So from the height he swept — as doth a cloud
That brings a tempest when it sinks below ;

Swift strides a chief amidst the ja^rring crowd ;
Swift in stern ranks the rent disorders grow ;

Swiftj as in sails becalm'd swells forth the wind,

The wide mass quickens with the one strong mind.

cxxv.

Meanwhile the victim to the Demon vow^'d,

Knelt ; every thought wing'd for the Angel goal,

And ev'n the terror which the form had bow'd

Search'd but new sweetness where it shook the soul.

Self was forgot, and to the Eternal Ear

Prayer but for others spoke the human fear.

CXXVI.

And when at moments from that rapt communion
With the Invisible Holy, those young arms

Clasp'd round her neck, to childhood's happy union


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Online LibraryEdward Bulwer Lytton LyttonKing Arthur → online text (page 23 of 25)