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~ Historical & Classical Poetry ~
A slimy eel Loke cut through the wave.
From the Thunderer’s vengeance his neck to save;
The peasants, for many a league, could see
How he glided and bent him so pliantly.
He pass’d thro’ the monsters and wealth of the deep,
Saw whales a-sporting, the kraken asleep;
He swam straight to Norway, to Lindesnæss,
There hid him awhile in the mud and the grass,
Then, resuming his form, he sate on a rock,
Like a peasant boy watching a porpus flock.
“So at Odin’s board my place I’ve lost,
Nor know if a Jotun
or Aser most:
Valhalla’s pleasures for me are at end,
My days with demons I now must spend:
Midst thick-skull’d giants, shut out from light,
Who doze like bears through their endless night,
Where no sun e’er warms, no stars are seen;
No spring e’er gladdens the earth with green;
No music sounds through the torch-lit hall,
Save the mournful splash of the waterfall.
There love ne’er enters, Trolds
know no joy
But the good to harass, the fair to destroy;
They dream but of treason, and strife, and blood,
For a blockhead, all know, may be warrior good.
“Ne’er again As-Bragi’s song shall I hear,
Nor scoff when his harp clangs false on mine ear,
Nor with Diser
talk, till their necks of snow
With blushes, like heaven at evening, glow;
Nor sneer at As-Odin’s silent state,
Till the Aser doubt if his wit be so great.
No more with gibes shall I tease As-Thor,
That the God gets wrath, and the hairs in a roar.
But by Farbaut, my sire, Thor has merit yet:
An he had but the tithe part of Loptur’s wit
Might laugh at Odin—he wearies me least,
Though he chafes sometimes at my biting jest.
When aloft in his car we cut through the air,
I forget all envy, and malice, and care:
thunder shook earth and sky,
I thought me as great as the God, well-nigh.
“How I loved with the Diser of nothings to talk,
Or with dove-eyed Fulla by moonlight to walk.
Poor Fulla—I fear that her soft heart’s gone;
But which of the Diser hath Loke not won.
I’ve lost, and the mead, and the beer,
And the tilting and sports of the Einheriar.
Those were jovial days, ’twere vain to deny:
The time fled quickly, the spirits were high;
Though an Aser but half, more wise than the rest,
I tasted all, knew all, and mock’d all that past.
“Their loss is greater than mine by half,
From Valhalla is banish’d the mirthful laugh.
The gods now yawn through the tedious day,
And regret, too late, that Loptur’s away:
They’ll soon discover how little worth
Is pomp unlightened by wit or mirth.
Who’d bear long to feed on th’ insipid dough,
Did none therein the sour leaven throw:
Did the rose-stock shoot smooth as stalk of com,
Twere a sorry rose with nor moss nor thorn!
What’s the mid-day splendour, or court’s parade,
Without humbler joys, without soothing shade!
“Let them sit with their closed hands their chins beneath,
Excitement ended, their rest is death.”
Loke thus gave vent to his fever’d thought,
And to hide his grief from himself e’en sought;
But he could not reason away the smart,
And he writhed as he spake like a wounded hart.
He thought: “Could I pardon of Thor obtain,
All hope of Asgard were yet not vain.”
Thus, racking his brain, he paced the rock,
When sudden, pausing, his brow he struck,
And cried—“Thor’s hammer! ’tis done—by my life,
To gain back Miblner he’d yield his wife.”
Then light as a falcon away he flew
To Jemvidi forest, nor once breath drew;
There he found King Thrymer,19
who sate on a hill,
A leathering his arrows with eagle’s quill;
By his side was a quiver of sea-calf’s skin,
And the moon-beam play’d on his bushy chin.
Thrym lift up his eyes and, of Loke aware,
Cried, “Valhal’s jester! what, thou come here!
Doth Loke the Aser thus condescend,
In his greatness, to think upon Giant-land!
Hast fallen in disgrace? have
the gods turn’d thee out?
Hard treatment this for their jester and scout!
What brings thee here like a skulking fox,
Do the Aser begrudge us our barren rocks?”
With a cringing boldness, Loke sate him down
By the Giant’s side, on a moss-grown stone:
“The joys of Asgard are dearly bought,
And were’t not thy good, more than mine I sought,
Its hated frontier, long since, I’d crost,
And a spy in the Aser’s camp you’d lost;
Who knows to cover his hate with smiles,
And to turn on his foes their rancorous wiles.
“That my friends suspect me, I deeply feel;
But offer myself for my kinsmen’s weal.
Long, much, I’ve suffered, in body and mind,
But in conscience clear my reward I find.”
Thus, weeping, the arch dissembler spoke:
Then Thrym loud laugh’d, and, with scoffing look,
He cried—“Wilt giants with tears ensnare,
As boys catch blackbirds with berries and hair?
Thou weep’st, like the monster of Egypt’s flood,
When he’s plotting murder and thirsts for blood:
What wilt thou here? weathercock, out with the lie,
Or, by Utgard, thou’lt rue thou cam’st hither to spy.”
“Ay! he well may threaten,” Loke fawning spake;
“At whose name e’en th’ Aser in Valhal quake.
Whilst Thor was sleeping, his hammer you’ve ta’en,
And hid it deep down in the ocean with Ran:
Though none but the Thunderer can Miölner wield,
’Tis a noble prize, and good ransom will yield.”
“What ransom?” cried Thrymer, with louring brow;
“Can Thor boast treasures like mine, I trow?
What need I of jewels, or gold or gear?
True; of Diser Freya much praise I hear:
Of her dark blue eyes, and her
Coral lips, and skin as the lily fair;
Her mouth like rose-bud, its silvery sound
The flute’s soft music; arms white and round:
Such ransom might tempt me—complexions brown,
And hair like the raven, I love not, I own,
Nor the swarthy beauties our mountains afford.
Bring hither the daughter of wealthy Njord,
And the self same day I’ll give back to Thor
His trusty Miölner, as Freya’s dower.
“Did not Freyr tall Gerda take to his bed?
Then why should not Thrym Freyr’s sister wed?
“With this my resolve to your master hie.
Twelve leagues ‘neath the ocean doth Miölner lie,
Nor ever shall Thor his hammer see,
Unless Njord’s daughter its ransom be.”
This said—he stamp’d, and there straight appeared
A short, thick dwarf, who on Loptur leer’d,
And closed with a loud laugh the mountain’s cleft,
That Loke in darkness alone was left.
Then Loke laugh’d too—that the mountains rang—
So laughs the hyaena, and whets his fang;
Huge owls fell down from the trees for fear,
And Ran look’d out o’er the deep to hear?
The serpent writhed, and the affrighted flood
High over the mountains in white foam stood:
The wolf bark’d hoarse, and his chain ’gan shake,
When, with ire concentred, thus Loptur spake:
“I hate ye all!—men, giants, and Gods!
I hate and defy ye! nor fear your odds.
Ye reject me, idiots! but soon shall leam
The power of him whom ye madly spurn.
I’ll find me a way to vengeance yet,
Though the world once more into chaos split.
And the time will come, ye
shall weep too late
The hour ye waken’d Loke’s deadly hate.
“But I know your power, proud spirits of air,
And the giants’ strength, and will act with care;
If but once my cunning great Thor can lead
To act like a Nidding—nought
else I need.”
But, spite of his hatred, Loke did not dare,
Unbidden, to Asgard at once to repair:
So he stole through the woods, to the beech-hill’s brow,
At even, as the boor drove homeward his plow;
’Twas where a spring, through the white sand prest,
Sprang, bubbling, from Hertha’s parent breast;
Near where Leira stood, and where since King Ro
Built a spacious palace, as legends show.21
There small elves and felines
were wont to play
Whilst the dew was felling, but fled the day.
Once a thorn pierced Freya, a drop from the wound
A small fay caught, ere it fell to ground,
And shed o’er the sward—ere the morning’s dawn
Thousand purple flowers breathed sweets o’er the lawn.
’Tis the elves paint the redbreast and goldfinch’s wing,
And teach the thrush, blackbird, and linnet to sing.
Erst the nightingale sang not, till once, in a freak,
The fairy queen caught it, and, kissing its beak,
E’er since with love-ditties it wearies the grove,
And melts maids to love who by moonlight rove.
Freya’s ringlets are wash’d with a perfume rare,
Her nymphs in Folkvangur’s bowers prepare:
Once a butter-cup full was stolen by a fay,
Who flew with the prize to the forest away,
And pour’d it by night on die violet.
But he found the fragrance for earth too great,
So he took fresh dew-drops, and mix’d them up
With the perfume was left in the buttercup,
And scented the wild-thyme and daffodil,
And cowslip, and woodbine and, loving the rill,
Forget me not, floweret which maids know well,
But ’twere vain all their frolics to seek to tell.
They pinch the dull shepherd, when wolves threat the flock,
And wake in the morning the farmer’s cock:
Hodge turns him round, with a lingering yawn,
And ere the morn breaks brushes dew from the lawn.
They whisper the youth where his true love’s gone,
And shew the green path which she haunts alone,
Or put on her form, in light dreams, the morn;
But from faithless lovers they turn with scorn.
They now danced merrily round the spring,
To the water-elf’s song, hand in hand, in a ring,
When Loke, in the form of a
From a hollow ash tree, where to hide him he’d crept:
On his black shaggy locks was a bramble crown.
And his tail ’neath his blood-red robe hung down.
In a trice they all vanish’d, for strife they flee,
And they thought that the black elves lay hid in the tree:
But when they discovered ’twas nought but Loke,
They leap’d for joy, and laugh’d loud at the joke:
All fairies love Loke for his tricks and his wiles,
They know not the malice that lurks ’neath his smiles.
They cried—“Welcome, Loptur, it long doth seem
Since together we danced in the full-moon’s beam.”
Quoth Loke—“Dear children, you know I love
To sport with you here in your leafy grove:
What hath kept me from you you soon shall learn,
But, first, on the greensward let’s dance a turn.”
Then merrily round in a circle they danced,
Whilst Loke’s tail, like a snake, through the long grass glanced.
The spring ceased to bubble, the small birds fled,
Bloated toads croak’d hoarse in their festering bed:
Thrice started the elves at the death-watch’s cry:
Still nought suspected of treachery.
When the youth at the feet of his true-love lies,
Whilst poisonous damps from earth’s bosom rise;
In each other wrapt, nought the danger they heed:
Then Loke, from a dark thicket, laughs at the deed,
And the pitying moon, who attests their vows,
Nor t’avert his devilish malice knows;
Its deadly fruits ere he wanes doth mourn,
A bier with white flowers to the cold grave borne.
Now, with dancing wearied, they press’d round Loke,
Who, stretch’d ’neath a huge beech, thus artful spoke:
“Last-born of Assgard, of gods beloved,
Whom Odin, at prayer of Freya
Of purest æther from Muspel made,
Much your friendship, now, might poor Loptur aid.
By passion blinded in evil hour,
Unmindful of all I to Odin’s power
And th’ Aser’s bounty, ungrateful, owe;
To my tongue’s keen venom I gave full flow.
With tears of blood I have wept my fault;
But ’twas Ægir’s liquor the madness wrought:
His mead is potent, his horns are deep,
When the cup quick passes the wit’s asleep;
Nor God nor Diser my gall would spare,
Nor fear’d e’en Alfadur himself to dare.
But if Odin, moved by your prayer, relent,
And Thor, with unfeign’d remorse content,
Once more admit me to Asgard’s reign,
I pledge me his hammer to bring again.
Dire Miölner, badge of the Thunderer’s power,
By dark Thrymer stolen in unguarded hour.”
The fairies promised all they could do,
And on gossamer wings to Valhalla flew:
There, with folded hands, and with eyes cast down,
Two by two they knelt before Odin’s throne.
Alfader must yield to their artless prayer,
Freyr smiled, Freya’s eye was dimm’d with a tear.
Then Loke from his covert all pale they led,
Who knelt, fawn’d, promised, and big tears shed,
And to kiss the dust from Thor’s feet was fain,
But th’ indignant god, fill’d with fierce disdain,
Struck the grov’ling suppliant with force to earth,
That the blood from his mouth in a stream gush’d forth.
“Hence, shame on thy dastard tears,” he cried:
“I can better thy crimes than thy sorrow abide.”
Loke raised him up with a vengeful scowl,
His heart was bursting with
The blow he thought shall be dearly paid,
But he hid his ire, and thus smiling said:
“Not hope of pardon, though great my fault
My footsteps hither alone have brought.
Herald I come of love and peace,
’Tis time the rancorous wars should cease,
Which gods and giants so long divide:
Thrymer the tall, dark Utgard’s pride,
For whom its maidens still sigh in vain,
In his turn hath felt the amorous pain.
Foul crimes and treasons he plots no more,
But sits alone on the bleak sea-shore,
a-watching the live-long night,
As o’er the murk waters it twinkles bright.
All her beauty know—and poor Thrymer trows,
Such symbol a thrifty housewife shows.
He’s heard too for Oddur she sorrowed long,
And thinks this of truth a presumption strong.
Who for spouse departed such love can feel,
Must believe that a spouse may love as well.
Else what the reward for a faith so rare,
And most in Freya so passing fair.
The nightingale coldly the thistle woos,
But with song of fire plies the blooming rose.”
Freya smiled, and said, “This at least is plain,
That Loke to himself e’er will true remain:
But your errand from Thrymer we fein would hear,
Your opinions on truth till a fitter time spare.”
Quoth Loke: “Fair goddess, not mine the praise,
’Tis your matchless beauty
Thrym’s soul can raise
From its native dulness, and wit inspire
Unwonted. He loves thee with manhood’s fire,
And Utgard’s king, by his ardour won,
Hath granted the prayer of his darling son;
He hath sent me the raven-god to greet,
And of Freya’s marriage at large to treat.
If to Thrym’s suit Odin an ear will lend,
’Twixt evil and good all distinctions will end,
All nature will blend in chaotic love:
The screech-owl will pair with the turtle-dove,
The cavern’s gloom with the great sun’s light,
Men will talk no longer of day nor night,
But a dusky twilight o’er all shall reign,
Mouldy damps the bright walls of Asgard stain:
Blue violets spring from the carcass foul,
Warriors wield distaffs—wives empires rule;
Spear-staves bear blossoms, white lilies thorns,
Men lack beards, soft maidens boast beards and horns.23
What a glorious chaos—the live-long day
In cavern, stuccoed with moistening clay,
Fair Freya shall sit on her
To solace her Thrym in his grandeur lone.
Then all love shall end—but what need of love
When no hate shall exist baneful passions to move!
All extremes then shall vanish—the red, yellow, blue,
Men no longer in Bifrost’s arch shall view,
But all hues shall blend in fraternal grey,
And the frog for the nightingale carol his lay.”
Then to Freya’s cheek rush’d the indignant blood,
And the big round tear in her blue eye stood,
Which flash’d on Loptur in fierce disdain,
Like a bright setting sun thro’ a summer-eve’s rain;
She turn’d tow’rds Odin a suppliant look,
But her heart was so full, that no word she spoke.
Then Odin rose and declared his will,
That a Thing straight should meet beneath Yggdrasill;
But Loke was not bidden, his tongue they fear’d,
So to Heimdall, on Bifrost, he quick repaired,
And looking around that no god was near,
Thus his counsel whisper’d in th’ Aser’s ear.
I complain not that Odin suspects my zeal,
But the affair touches nearly high Asgard’s weal:
You are wise—for myself I have nought at stake,
Tis for you of my hints the fit use to make;
But whatever is done must be done with speed,
Of decision the gods ne’er stood more in need.
White Heimdall who, seated
on Bifrost’s bow,
Knows all that passes its arch below,
And can hear the herb grow in the earth—each word
’Twixt Loptur and Thrym on the mount had heard;
He knew that for once the false god did not jest,
So thank’d him coldly and joined the rest,
’Neath the sacred Ash, where the gods in a ring
Were seated on stones round the raven-king.
Spake Heimdall: O, Aser, ’tis time to lower
These giants’ pride, which all bounds runs o’er;
Of our power no longer they stand in awe,
But presume e’en to Odin to dictate law.
Dark Thrymer burns with unhallowed fire,
And to Freya’s hand e’en presumes t’ aspire.
“True—Skada’s fervour Njord knows t’ assuage,
And of cruel Ran Ægir checks the rage.
Tall Gerda is gentle and loves As-Freyr,
And illumines the pole with her sparkling fire.
(From Gerda descend all dark-hair’d dames,
In whose bosoms a fiercer ardour flames).24
But follows it thence that our loveliest rose,
The pride of Valhalla, we tamely must lose!
If the apples of Ydun our vigour bestow,
’Tis from Freya love’s softest endearments flow:
O’er her small mouth of coral when plays the arch smile,
Its spell e’en the woe-stricken heart can beguile;
To behold it each Aser’s pulse thrills with delight,
Without her not Asgard’s blue arch would be bright.
And shall we then—(may Skulda avert the disgrace)
Thus poorly lesign her to
Shall that form which e’en but to look on is bliss,
Be polluted at will by a foul giant’s kiss;
Those eyes which with lore and expression late beara’d,
In despair coldly fix’d, or with bitter tears dimm’d!
“No—rather let radiant Bifrost’s bow
Into ocean sink or dissolve in dew;
And the od’rous summit of Yggdrasill,
With its leaves and blossoms dark Nastrond fill.
“On the utmost verge of Heaven I watch,
And but transient glimpse of her charms may catch,
As she’s daily wont o’er my bridge to pass,
All be-deck’d with flowers, earth’s sons to bless;
When she smiles, in transport I seize my horn,
And wind a strain that wakes up the morn.
At the sound thousand feather’d songsters spring
From their dewy lair, and on buoyant wing
Proclaim to the earth that the blue-eyed queen,
White Heimdall on Bifrost’s arch hath seen.”
All th’ Aser approved what the wise god said,
And Freya his speech with a look repaid,
Went straight to his heart, that the blood out-rush’d,
And his cheeks like an untaught youth’s were flush’d.
Continuing, the counsel of wily Loke
And Thrym’s demand in review he took:
“Thor’s hammer,” quoth he, “Ran ne’er will leave,
Unless by some wile we may Thrym deceive.
He seeks for a bride of a snowy hue,
With golden ringlets and eyes of blue.
Such beauties in Utgard ’tis hard to find,
But we still may send him a bride to his mind:
If only Thor to my plan will yield,
And to gain back Miölner, the distaff wield.
’Tis he shall be bride, one whose stern embrace
Shall make Thrym long for a
We’ll deck him out with the costliest gear,
A wimple and coif on his head he shall wear,
The polish’d keys from his belt shall pend,
And Freya t’ adorn him her jewels lend:
Great Odin a magic salve shall make,
Unseemly scars from his front to take,
His skin shall turn white, his beard disappear,
Nor loss of courage thence need he fear;
To Utgard with unshorn strength shall he wend,
And Loke to dull Thrym that he’s Freya pretend.
Two shields on his breast we will fasten well,
Which like Freya’s bosom twin globes shall swell.
We’ll hang fair Brysing25
around his neck,
Thus the Thunderer his hammer may get him back.
Loke shall serve the goddess as guard and guide,
And conduct to Thrymer his gentle bride.
“When the bridal cup passeth round the board,
And the dwarfs bring Miölner from Ran’s dark hoard;
When Thrymer with liquor and rapture drunk,
In an amorous stupor on Thor hath sunk:—
But why tell the Thunderer what part to choose,
He will scarce learn from Heimdall how Miölner to use.”
The Diser loud laugh’d, and the counsel applaud,
And clapp’d their white hands, and will dress out the god.
E’en Odin himself could not help but laugh,
To think of his son in a kirtle and coif.
Then a sighing was heard from out Urda’s well,
And thrice waved the summit of Yggdrasill.
Great Odin’s finger thrice Drupner26
And raised some doubts in the wise-one’s27
But intent on the Diser, their mirth and their smiles,
He forgat his wisdom and Loptur’s wiles;
Baldur, Miraer, and Forsete,28
all were away,
And Loke to his malice had now full play.
But Auka-Thor nought approved the joke,
The hardy warrior but ill could brook,
To a dark adventure to lend his name,
And risk a blot on his well-earn’d fame.
“What! Thor like a puling maiden drest!
Thor stoop to a paltry cheat at best!
I will hear no more of the dastard freak”—
But Freya drew near, and with dimpled cheek,
Her taper hand on his broad front placed,
“And is mighty Thor then so soon disgraced!
Earth’s sons who live in suspense and fear,
Each doubtful emprize should shun with care;
For envy and malice are still awake,
Foul vantage of each false step to take,
And with devilish rancour the brightest fame
To sully, and cover with endless shame.
But Thor is an Aser, his deeds of light
Not the tongue of slander herself could blight.
Twould scarce dim his glory to hear the prayer
Of an injured goddess he once thought fair.”
The prayer of beauty doth seldom fail,
And tears o’er reason will still prevail.
A robe of scarlet arch Fulla brought,
Which Odin by magic must widen
In a leathern boddice they laced him tight,
But nought could induce him his hauberk to quit.
Two shields of copper, well smoothed and round,
On the Aser’s bosom Hermodur bound,
Whilst the Valkyrs’
cheeks like a furnace burn’d
To see great Thor to a mummer turn’d.
Brysing, all sparkling with gems, hung down
On his tawny breast with black hair o’ergrown;
But Odin his skin with an ointment smear’d,
And white as a maiden’s it straight appear’d.
No fitting coif for the god could be found,
So his copper helmet, with wadmel bound,
With flaunting ribbons and plumes they deck,
But his gloves of steel Thor will with him take,
And his magic belt—last with blood of bear
And wild boar’s suet his cheeks they smear.
His dress now complete, Hnos a nosegay took
Of peony, sunflower, and hollyhock,
And stuck in his breast and said, Thor, farewell,
Such charms sure before ne’er graced Thrymer’s cell.
Then Tialf the gold shoes on the goats made fast,
Thor wound fhe reins round his lusty waist,
He long’d for his hammer—bade Loke ascend,
But no flames stream’d forth as the clouds they fend;
The seven maids
bow’d, Heimdall blew a blast,
As with Loptur and Tialf the giant-bane pass’d.
From Adam Gottlob Oehlenschläger
Short Biography of Adam Oehlenschläger
Translation by Grenville Pigott, in "A Manual of Scandinavian Mythology,
Popular Account of the Two Eddas and of the Religion of Odin" (London, 1839)