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~ Historical & Classical Poetry ~

Tales of a Wayside Inn

The Musician's Tale: The Saga of King Olaf: V. The Skerry of Shrieks

Now from all King Olaf's farms
His men-at-arms
Gathered on the Eve of Easter;
To his house at Angvalds-ness
Fast they press,
Drinking with the royal feaster.

Loudly through the wide-flung door
Came the roar
Of the sea upon the Skerry;
And its thunder loud and near
Reached the ear,
Mingling with their voices merry.

"Hark!" said Olaf to his Scald,
Halfred the Bald,
"Listen to that song, and learn it!
Half my kingdom would I give,
As I live,
If by such songs you would earn it!"

"For of all the runes and rhymes
Of all times,
Best I like the ocean's dirges,
When the old harper heaves and rocks,
His hoary locks
Flowing and flashing in the surges!"

Halfred answered: "I am called
The Unappalled!
Nothing hinders me or daunts me.
Hearken to me, then, O King,
While I sing
The great Ocean Song that haunts me."

"I will hear your song sublime
Some other time,"
Says the drowsy monarch, yawning,
And retires; each laughing guest
Applauds the jest;
Then they sleep till day is dawning.

Facing up and down the yard,
King Olaf's guard
Saw the sea-mist slowly creeping
O'er the sands, and up the hill,
Gathering still
Round the house where they were sleeping.

It was not the fog he saw,
Nor misty flaw,
That above the landscape brooded;
It was Eyvind Kallda's crew
Of warlocks blue
With their caps of darkness hooded!

Round and round the house they go,
Weaving slow
Magic circles to encumber
And imprison in their ring
Olaf the King,
As he helpless lies in slumber.

Then athwart the vapors dun
The Easter sun
Streamed with one broad track of splendor!
in their real forms appeared
The warlocks weird,
Awful as the Witch of Endor.

Blinded by the light that glared,
They groped and stared
Round about with steps unsteady;
From his window Olaf gazed,
And, amazed,
"Who are these strange people?" said he.

"Eyvind Kallda and his men!"
Answered then
From the yard a sturdy farmer;
While the men-at-arms apace
Filled the place,
Busily buckling on their armor.

From the gates they sallied forth,
South and north,
Scoured the island coast around them,
Seizing all the warlock band,
Foot and hand
On the Skerry's rocks they bound them.

And at eve the king again
Called his train,
And, with all the candles burning,
Silent sat and heard once more
The sullen roar
Of the ocean tides returning.

Shrieks and cries of wild despair
Filled the air,
Growing fainter as they listened;
Then the bursting surge alone
Sounded on;--
Thus the sorcerers were christened!

"Sing, O Scald, your song sublime,
Your ocean-rhyme,"
Cried King Olaf: "it will cheer me!"
Said the Scald, with pallid cheeks,
"The Skerry of Shrieks
Sings too loud for you to hear me!"

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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