Jotunheim

A poem by Madison Julius Cawein

I


Beyond the Northern Lights, in regions haunted
Of twilight, where the world is glacier planted,
And pale as Loki in his cavern when
The serpent's slaver burns him to the bones,
I saw the phantasms of gigantic men,
The prototypes of vastness, quarrying stones;
Great blocks of winter, glittering with the morn's
And evening's colors,--wild prismatic tones
Of boreal beauty.--Like the three gray Norns,
Silence and solitude and terror loomed
Around them where they labored. Walls arose,
Vast as the Andes when creation boomed
Insurgent fire; and through the rushing snows
Enormous battlements of tremendous ice,
Bastioned and turreted, I saw arise.


II


But who can sing the workmanship gigantic
That reared within its coruscating dome
The roaring fountain, hurling an Atlantic
Of streaming ice that flashed with flame and foam?
An opal spirit, various and many formed,--
In whose clear heart reverberant fire stormed,--
Seemed its inhabitant; and through pale halls,
And deep diaphanous walls,
And corridors of whiteness.
Auroral colors swarmed,
As rosy-flickering stains,
Or lambent green, or gold, or crimson, warmed
The pulsing crystal of the spirit's veins
With ever-changing brightness.
And through the Arctic night there went a voice,
As if the ancient Earth cried out, "Rejoice!
My heart is full of lightness!"


III


Here well might Thor, the god of war,
Harness the whirlwinds to his car,
While, mailed in storm, his iron arm
Heaves high his hammer's lava-form,
And red and black his beard streams back,
Like some fierce torrent scoriac,
Whose earthquake light glares through the night
Around some dark volcanic height;
And through the skies Valkyrian cries
Trumpet, as battleward he flies,
Death in his hair and havoc in his eyes.


IV


Still in my dreams I hear that fountain flowing;
Beyond all seeing and beyond all knowing;
Still in my dreams I see those wild walls glowing
With hues, Aurora-kissed;
And through huge halls fantastic phantoms going.
Vast shapes of snow and mist,--
Sonorous clarions of the tempest blowing,--
That trail dark banners by,
Cloudlike, underneath the sky
Of the caverned dome on high,
Carbuncle and amethyst.--
Still I hear the ululation
Of their stormy exultation,
Multitudinous, and blending
In hoarse echoes, far, unending;
And, through halls of fog and frost,
Howling back, like madness lost
In the moonless mansion of
Its own demon-haunted love.


V


Still in my dreams I hear the mermaid singing;
The mermaid music at its portal ringing;
The mermaid song, that hinged with gold its door,
And, whispering evermore,
Hushed the ponderous hurl and roar
And vast ├Žolian thunder
Of the chained tempests under
The frozen cataracts that were its floor.--
And, blinding beautiful, I still behold
The mermaid there, combing her locks of gold,
While, at her feet, green as the Northern Seas,
Gambol her flocks of seals and walruses;
While, like a drift, her dog--a Polar bear--
Lies by her, glowering through his shaggy hair.


VI


O wondrous house, built by supernal hands
In vague and ultimate lands!
Thy architects were behemoth wind and cloud,
That, laboring loud,
Mountained thy world foundations and uplifted
Thy skyey bastions drifted
Of piled eternities of ice and snow;
Where storms, like ploughmen, go,
Ploughing the deeps with awful hurricane;
Where, spouting icy rain,
The huge whale wallows; and through furious hail
Th' explorer's tattered sail
Drives like the wing of some terrific bird,
Where wreck and famine herd.--
Home of the red Auroras and the gods!
He who profanes thy perilous threshold,--where
The ancient centuries lair,
And, glacier-throned, thy monarch, Winter, nods,--
Let him beware!
Lest, coming on that hoary presence there,
Whose pitiless hand,
Above that hungry land,
An iceberg wields as sceptre, and whose crown
The North Star is, set in a band of frost,
He, too, shall feel the bitterness of that frown,
And, turned to stone, forevermore be lost.

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