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~ Historical & Classical Poetry ~
The Descent of Frea
SCENE. — The Infernal Regions.
Thou land of horror! where unyielding frost
Piles high the mountain-ice, and dims the air
With ever-hiding fleet, where piercing blasts
Sweep on storm-laden wing o'er solid seas,
Must Balder here for ever moan unheard?
Or pour his sighs the scoff of shivering ghosts
Shrill-shrieking from their caves? Must Balder's soul
For ever shudder at the howl of wolves,
And shrink from scaly snakes that round him twine
Their clammy folds and point their quivering flings ?
Bright scenes of bliss! farewell!—ye glittering domes,
For ever echoing with the gladsome noise
Of revelry and song harmonious, feats
Of happy gods, where from the gold-tipt horn
They quaff the scented nectar of the bee,
And thrill with rapture, while the strains of mirth
Rush on sonorous wings their hall among—
No more shall Balder in your spacious courts
Catch with transported soul the social joy,
And mix exulting with celestial bands—
Groves of Valhalla ! haunts of kindred gods!
Oft have I wander'd in your flowery paths,
Cool'd by the stream of Mimer, oft I've sought
Your thickest shade, and catch'd with eager ear
The notes which softly stole from Braga's harp
Attun'd to love; and there the beauteous form
Of Frea blooming as the orient day
Would blushing meet her Balder's steps retir'd,
Enamour'd gaze upon my graceful limbs,
And drink the honied accents of my lips—
Then from her melting eyes the glance of love
Quick shot—dear scenes of fleeting joy, farewell!
What now avails the form that Frea lov'd?
What now avail the winning words that charm'd
Encircling gods ?—amid the giant-brood,
Amid the yelling ghosts of murderers
Forlorn I dwell—no silver-founding voice
Melodious warbles to my sorrowing soul,
The sooty raven sails around my head,
And harshly chants her hoarsest descant here;
Ah wretch ! no more the chearful light of heaven
Shall meet thy wandering eyes, for here no ray
Of morning plays with softest lustre round,
Nor here ambrosial eve with fragant hand
Scatters her sweets—
Thou flaming steed of day ! whose golden mane
Waves in the air and pours the flood of light;
Oft have I sprung upon thy glossy back
To trace the radiant path, then mounted high
The blue expanse of heaven, and girt with beams
Of dazzling glory wing'd my course rejoicing—
Alas! how chang'd! in midnight gloom enwrapt
The lord of splendour groans in Hela's halls,
Hurl'd, hurl'd forever from the blazing sky—
And hurl'd by whom ?—a much-lov'd brother's hand
Blasted my bliss, and dash'd me from the height
Of joy to misery—amid my pangs
A sigh shall rise for him—what poison'd darts
Of anguish rankle in his guiltless soul,
While flowly wandering from the thronged courts
He seeks the lonely vale, and loudly weeps
His hateful bloody deed.—Ye cruel maids,
When first ye 'gan to weave my woof of fate,
Ye dy'd it with the roseate hues of spring—
At length the raven croak'd—with joy ye snatch'd
The cords of woe, and dipp'd the unfinifh'd web
Deep in the pitchy water of despair.—
O thou ! who sitt'st upon thy shining throne
Array'd in splendour! Odin, Odin! hear
The sorrows of a son, and turn thine eye,
Moist with paternal grief, from scenes of glory,
Pierce through the thickest horrors which surround me,
Extend thy daring arm and drag thy child
From caves of darkness to thy beamy hall—
Father, I ask in vain—it is not thine
To break the harsh decrees of Fate unchanging,
But Balder, wretched Balder here must mourn
For endless years—What flickering ray of light
Shoots from on high? What wafted perfume scents
The dusky air? Some pitying god descends
To visit these sad scenes—'Tis she ! 'tis she!—
Where is the lovely god that Hoder tore
From Frea's fond embrace ?—Again I'm near him,
Again my tear-worn eyes behold my Balder,
Yes, son of Odin, from the starry realm
Above, I come to seek thy black abode,
The mourning gods stalk silent in their groves—
Without thee heaven itself is misery—
The fiery horse of Odin bore me hither,
Nine days his rapid feet unceasing scour'd
A measureless extent of vallies dark;
At length the foaming tide of Giall stopp'd him,
High o'er its waves a lofty bridge arose
On golden pedestals a steel-clad warrior
For ever guards its entrance.—Who art thou,
He cried aloud, thus hastening to the halls
Of gloomy death ? No livid paleness stains
The roses of thy cheeks, no deadly dimness
Damps the keen lustre of those eyes that flash
With living fire, thou art no child of Hela—
Away, I answered, 'tis a goddess hastes
To Hela's halls—I lash'd my snorting steed—
With thundering hoof he spurn'd the rocking pile,
Nor stopp'd till Hela's iron gates forbade
His eager steps; then, like a flaming star,
He shot aloft in air and bore me swift
Above the towering walls.—I tremble still.
Ah ! fear not Frea—
Had this arm the power
To force thee, upward from the cave of death,
Then would eternal joy reward my toil—
But Hela's iron chains no hand can break
Against her pleasure, and her haughty soul
Joys in the anguish of the tortur'd ghost.
And can that winning form entreat in vain?
Can Hela hear unmov'd thy suppliant voice?
No, Frea, no, upon thy rosy lips
Persuasion sits resistless—haste, accost her.
Come from thy murky cells,
Where midnight darkness dwells,
Thou dreadful maid;
Come from thy chilly halls.—
The weeping Frea calls,
And seeks thy saving aid.
HELA. (From within.)
Hence, hence, away;
No soothing charms
From Hela's arms
Shall snatch her prey.
By Allfather's sacred head,
Which bowing shakes the lofty sky,
And regions of the dead;
By the holy Ash which rears
Its waving honours high,
I charge thee, awful pow'r,
To quit thy gloomy bow'r
And yield to Frea's tears.
Hence to the fields of air
Hence, goddess, quick depart,
Nor think the lover's prayer
Will bend my iron heart.
Deep in thy misty caves my Balder lies;
Alas ! how wither'd by the touch of woe
Dim is the lustre of his fading eyes,
And sullen sadness marks his manly brow.
Quick through his frame divine chill langours shoot,
The boasted roses of his cheeks are pale,
The soothing tongue of eloquence is mute,
O let his tears, his frequent sighs avail.
Come, gentle Pity, come unwonted guest,
And speed thy hasty flight to Hela's cave,
Then smiling hover o'er her melting breast,
And teach her yielding heart to feel and save.
And can'st thou, Hela, see with ruthless look
The fairest form that wails along thy shore ?—
Tear the black leaf from Fate's unerring book,
The grief-worn Balder to my arms restore.
Together let us climb the burning arch,
Which darts aloft its many-colour'd light,
Together let us speed the rapid march,
And quit, for ever quit, the land of night.
Yield, Hela, yield; Valhalla's mournful courts
No longer echo with the jocund sound,
The joyless gods disdain their wonted sports
And sorrow casts her darkest shadows round.
Since Balder sunk untimely to the tomb,
Dim are the lingering beams of rising day,
The pale moon steeps her silver orb in gloom
And sickly nature doffs her bright arrays.
Frea, no more,
When all the gods of nature lave
With briny tears thy Balder's grave,
Then Balder I restore;
Yes, by Allfather's sacred head,
If all the gods of nature lave
With briny tears thy Balder's grave,
Again the courts of heaven shall echo to his tread.
Enough, enough, I mount with speed,
And lash my winged steed
To realms of day.
END OF ACT I.
From: "Poems, containing sketches of northern mythology,