The Brown Dwarf Of Rugen

A poem by John Greenleaf Whittier

The pleasant isle of Rugen looks the Baltic water o'er,
To the silver-sanded beaches of the Pomeranian shore;

And in the town of Rambin a little boy and maid
Plucked the meadow-flowers together and in the sea-surf played.

Alike were they in beauty if not in their degree
He was the Amptman's first-born, the miller's child was she.

Now of old the isle of Rugen was full of Dwarfs and Trolls,
The brown-faced little Earth-men, the people without souls;

And for every man and woman in Rugen's island found
Walking in air and sunshine, a Troll was underground.

It chanced the little maiden, one morning, strolled away
Among the haunted Nine Hills, where the elves and goblins play.

That day, in barley-fields below, the harvesters had known
Of evil voices in the air, and heard the small horns blown.

She came not back; the search for her in field and wood was vain
They cried her east, they cried her west, but she came not again.

"She's down among the Brown Dwarfs," said the dream-wives wise and old,
And prayers were made, and masses said, and Rambin's church bell tolled.

Five years her father mourned her; and then John Deitrich said
"I will find my little playmate, be she alive or dead."

He watched among the Nine Hills, he heard the Brown Dwarfs sing,
And saw them dance by moonlight merrily in a ring.

And when their gay-robed leader tossed up his cap of red,
Young Deitrich caught it as it fell, and thrust it on his head.

The Troll came crouching at his feet and wept for lack of it.
"Oh, give me back my magic cap, for your great head unfit!"

"Nay," Deitrich said; "the Dwarf who throws his charmed cap away,
Must serve its finder at his will, and for his folly pay.

"You stole my pretty Lisbeth, and hid her in the earth;
And you shall ope the door of glass and let me lead her forth."

"She will not come; she's one of us; she's mine!" the Brown Dwarf said;
The day is set, the cake is baked, to-morrow we shall wed."

"The fell fiend fetch thee!" Deitrich cried, "and keep thy foul tongue still.
Quick! open, to thy evil world, the glass door of the hill!"

The Dwarf obeyed; and youth and Troll down, the long stair-way passed,
And saw in dim and sunless light a country strange and vast.

Weird, rich, and wonderful, he saw the elfin under-land,
Its palaces of precious stones, its streets of golden sand.

He came unto a banquet-hall with tables richly spread,
Where a young maiden served to him the red wine and the bread.

How fair she seemed among the Trolls so ugly and so wild!
Yet pale and very sorrowful, like one who never smiled!

Her low, sweet voice, her gold-brown hair, her tender blue eyes seemed
Like something he had seen elsewhere or something he had dreamed.

He looked; he clasped her in his arms; he knew the long-lost one;
"O Lisbeth! See thy playmate, I am the Amptman's son!"

She leaned her fair head on his breast, and through her sobs she spoke
"Oh, take me from this evil place, and from the elfin folk,

"And let me tread the grass-green fields and smell the flowers again,
And feel the soft wind on my cheek and hear the dropping rain!

"And oh, to hear the singing bird, the rustling of the tree,
The lowing cows, the bleat of sheep, the voices of the sea;

"And oh, upon my father's knee to sit beside the door,
And hear the bell of vespers ring in Rambin church once more!"

He kissed her cheek, he kissed her lips; the Brown Dwarf groaned to see,
And tore his tangled hair and ground his long teeth angrily.

But Deitrich said: "For five long years this tender Christian maid
Has served you in your evil world and well must she be paid!

"Haste! hither bring me precious gems, the richest in your store;
Then when we pass the gate of glass, you'll take your cap once more."

No choice was left the baffled Troll, and, murmuring, he obeyed,
And filled the pockets of the youth and apron of the maid.

They left the dreadful under-land and passed the gate of glass;
They felt the sunshine's warm caress, they trod the soft, green grass.

And when, beneath, they saw the Dwarf stretch up to them his brown
And crooked claw-like fingers, they tossed his red cap down.

Oh, never shone so bright a sun, was never sky so blue,
As hand in hand they homeward walked the pleasant meadows through!

And never sang the birds so sweet in Rambin's woods before,
And never washed the waves so soft along the Baltic shore;

And when beneath his door-yard trees the father met his child,
The bells rung out their merriest peal, the folks with joy ran wild

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