Balder Dead (An Episode)

A poem by Matthew Arnold

I

SENDING

So on the floor lay Balder dead; and round
Lay thickly strewn swords axes darts and spears
Which all the Gods in sport had idly thrown
At Balder, whom no weapon pierc’d or clove:
But in his breast stood fixt the fatal bough
Of mistletoe, which Lok the Accuser gave
To Hoder, and unwitting Hoder threw:
’Gainst that alone had Balder’s life no charm.
And all the Gods and all the Heroes came
And stood round Balder on the bloody floor
Weeping and wailing; and Valhalla rang
Up to its golden roof with sobs and cries:
And on the tables stood the untasted meats,
And in the horns and gold-rimm’d skulls the wine:
And now would Night have fall’n, and found them yet
Wailing; but otherwise was Odin’s will:
And thus the Father of the Ages spake:

‘Enough of tears, ye Gods, enough of wail!
Not to lament in was Valhalla made.
If any here might weep for Balder’s death
I most might weep, his Father; such a son
I lose today, so bright, so lov’d a God.
But he has met that doom which long ago
The Nornies, when his mother bare him, spun,
And Fate set seal, that so his end must be.
Balder has met his death, and ye survive:
Weep him an hour; but what can grief avail?
For you yourselves, ye Gods, shall meet your doom,
All ye who hear me, and inhabit Heaven,
And I too, Odin too, the Lord of all;
But ours we shall not meet, when that day comes,
With woman’s tears and weak complaining cries
Why should we meet another’s portion so?
Rather it fits you, having wept your hour,
With cold dry eyes, and hearts compos’d and stern,
To live, as erst, your daily life in Heaven:
By me shall vengeance on the murderer Lok,
The Foe, the Accuser, whom, though Gods, we hate,
Be strictly car’d for, in the appointed day.
Meanwhile, to-morrow, when the morning dawns,
Bring wood to the seashore to Balder’s ship,
And on the deck build high a funeral pile,
And on the top lay Balder’s corpse, and put
Fire to the wood, and send him out to sea
To burn; for that is what the dead desire.’

So having spoke, the King of Gods arose
And mounted his horse Sleipner, whom he rode,
And from the hall of Heaven he rode away
To Lidskialf, and sate upon his throne,
The Mount, from whence his eye surveys the world.
And far from Heaven he turn’d his shining orbs
To look on Midgard, and the earth, and men:
And on the conjuring Lapps he bent his gaze
Whom antler’d reindeer pull over the snow;
And on the Finns, the gentlest of mankind,
Fair men, who live in holes under the ground:
Nor did he look once more to Ida’s plain,
Nor towards Valhalla, and the sorrowing Gods;
For well he knew the Gods would heed his word,
And cease to mourn, and think of Balder’s pyre.

But in Valhalla all the Gods went back
From around Balder, all the Heroes went;
And left his body stretch’d upon the floor.
And on their golden chairs they sate again,
Beside the tables, in the hall of Heaven;
And before each the cooks who serv’d them plac’d
New messes of the boar Serimner’s flesh,
And the Valkyries crown’d their horns with mead.
So they, with pent-up hearts and tearless eyes,
Wailing no more, in silence ate and drank,
While Twilight fell, and sacred Night came on.

But the blind Hoder left the feasting Gods
In Odin’s hall, and went through Asgard streets,
And past the haven where the Gods have moor’d
Their ships, and through the gate, beyond the wall.
Though sightless, yet his own mind led the God.
Down to the margin of the roaring sea
He came, and sadly went along the sand
Between the waves and black o’erhanging cliffs
Where in and out the screaming seafowl fly;
Until he came to where a gully breaks
Through the cliff wall, and a fresh stream runs down
From the high moors behind, and meets the sea.
There in the glen Fensaler stands, the house
Of Frea, honour’d Mother of the Gods,
And shows its lighted windows to the main.
There he went up, and pass’d the open doors:
And in the hall he found those women old,
The Prophetesses, who by rite eterne
On Frea’s hearth feed high the sacred fire
Both night and day; and by the inner wall
Upon her golden chair the Mother sate,
With folded hands, revolving things to come:
To her drew Hoder near, and spake, and said:

‘Mother, a child of bale thou bar’st in me.
For, first, thou barest me with blinded eyes.
Sightless and helpless, wandering weak in Heaven;
And, after that, of ignorant witless mind
Thou barest me, and unforeseeing soul:
That I alone must take the branch from Lok,
The Foe, the Accuser, whom, though Gods, we hate,
And cast it at the dear-lov’d Balder’s breast
At whom the Gods in sport their weapons threw
’Gainst that alone had Balder’s life no charm.
Now therefore what to attempt, or whither fly?
For who will bear my hateful sight in Heaven?
Can I, O Mother, bring them Balder back
Or for thou know’st the Fates, and things allow’d
Can I with Hela’s power a compact strike,
And make exchange, and give my life for his?’

He spoke: the Mother of the Gods replied:
‘Hoder, ill-fated, child of bale, my son,
Sightless in soul and eye, what words are these?
That one, long portion’d with his doom of death,
Should change his lot, and fill another’s life,
And Hela yield to this, and let him go!
On Balder Death hath laid her hand, not thee;
Nor doth she count this life a price for that.
For many Gods in Heaven, not thou alone,
Would freely die to purchase Balder back,
And wend themselves to Hela’s gloomy realm.
For not so gladsome is that life in Heaven
Which Gods and Heroes lead, in feast and fray,
Waiting the darkness of the final times,
That one should grudge its loss for Balder’s sake,
Balder their joy, so bright, so lov’d a God.
But Fate withstands, and laws forbid this way.
Yet in my secret mind one way I know,
Nor do I judge if it shall win or fail:
But much must still be tried, which shall but fail.’

And the blind Hoder answer’d her, and said:
‘What way is this, O Mother, that thou show’st?
Is it a matter which a God might try?’

And straight the Mother of the Gods replied:
‘There is a way which leads to Hela’s realm,
Untrodden, lonely, far from light and Heaven.
Who goes that way must take no other horse
To ride, but Sleipner, Odin’s horse, alone.
Nor must he choose that common path of Gods
Which every day they come and go in Heaven,
O’er the bridge Bifrost, where is Heimdall’s watch,
Past Midgard Fortress, down to Earth and men;
But he must tread a dark untravell’d road
Which branches from the north of Heaven, and ride
Nine days, nine nights, towards the northern ice,
Through valleys deep-engulph’d, with roaring streams.
And he will reach on the tenth morn a bridge
Which spans with golden arches Giall’s stream,
Not Bifrost, but that bridge a Damsel keeps,
Who tells the passing troops of dead their way
To the low shore of ghosts, and Hela’s realm.
And she will bid him northward steer his course:
Then he will journey through no lighted land,
Nor see the sun arise, nor see it set;
But he must ever watch the northern Bear
Who from her frozen height with jealous eye
Confronts the Dog and Hunter in the south,
And is alone not dipt in Ocean’s stream.
And straight he will come down to Ocean’s strand;
Ocean, whose watery ring enfolds the world,
And on whose marge the ancient Giants dwell.
But he will reach its unknown northern shore,
Far, far beyond the outmost Giant’s home,
At the chink’d fields of ice, the waste of snow:
And he will fare across the dismal ice
Northward, until he meets a stretching wall
Barring his way, and in the wall a grate.
But then he must dismount, and on the ice
Tighten the girths of Sleipner, Odin’s horse,
And make him leap the grate, and come within.
And he will see stretch round him Hela’s realm,
The plains of Niflheim, where dwell the dead,
And hear the roaring of the streams of Hell.
And he will see the feeble shadowy tribes,
And Balder sitting crown’d, and Hela’s throne.
Then he must not regard the wailful ghosts
Who all will flit, like eddying leaves, around;
But he must straight accost their solemn Queen,
And pay her homage, and entreat with prayers,
Telling her all that grief they have in Heaven
For Balder, whom she holds by right below:
If haply he may melt her heart with words,
And make her yield, and give him Balder back.’

She spoke: but Hoder answer’d her and said:
‘Mother, a dreadful way is this thou show’st.
No journey for a sightless God to go.’

And straight the Mother of the Gods replied:
‘Therefore thyself thou shalt not go, my son.
But he whom first thou meetest when thou com’st
To Asgard, and declar’st this hidden way,
Shall go, and I will be his guide unseen.’

She spoke, and on her face let fall her veil,
And bow’d her head, and sate with folded hands.
But at the central hearth those Women old,
Who while the Mother spake had ceased their toil,
Began again to heap the sacred fire:
And Hoder turn’d, and left his mother’s house,
Fensaler, whose lit windows look to sea;
And came again down to the roaring waves,
And back along the beach to Asgard went,
Pondering on that which Frea said should be.

But Night came down, and darken’d Asgard streets.
Then from their loathed feast the Gods arose,
And lighted torches, and took up the corpse
Of Balder from the floor of Odin’s hall,
And laid it on a bier, and bare him home
Through the fast-darkening streets to his own house
Breidablik, on whose columns Balder grav’d
The enchantments, that recall the dead to life:
For wise he was, and many curious arts,
Postures of runes, and healing herbs he knew;
Unhappy: but that art he did not know
To keep his own life safe, and see the sun:
There to his hall the Gods brought Balder home,
And each bespake him as he laid him down:

‘Would that ourselves, O Balder, we were borne
Home to our halls, with torchlight, by our kin,
So thou might’st live, and still delight the Gods.’

They spake: and each went home to his own house.
But there was one, the first of all the Gods
For speed, and Hermod was his name in Heaven;
Most fleet he was, but now he went the last,
Heavy in heart for Balder, to his house
Which he in Asgard built him, there to dwell,
Against the harbour, by the city wall:
Him the blind Hoder met, as he came up
From the sea cityward, and knew his step;
Nor yet could Hermod see his brother’s face,
For it grew dark; but Hoder touch’d his arm:
And as a spray of honeysuckle flowers
Brushes across a tired traveller’s face
Who shuffles through the deep dew-moisten’d dust,
On a May evening, in the darken’d lanes,
And starts him, that he thinks a ghost went by
So Hoder brush’d by Hermod’s side, and said:

‘Take Sleipner, Hermod, and set forth with dawn
To Hela’s kingdom, to ask Balder back;
And they shall be thy guides, who have the power.’

He spake, and brush’d soft by, and disappear’d.
And Hermod gaz’d into the night, and said:

‘Who is it utters through the dark his hest
So quickly, and will wait for no reply?
The voice was like the unhappy Hoder’s voice.
Howbeit I will see, and do his hest;
For there rang note divine in that command.’

So speaking, the fleet-footed Hermod came
Home, and lay down to sleep in his own house,
And all the Gods lay down in their own homes.
And Hoder too came home, distraught with grief,
Loathing to meet, at dawn, the other Gods:
And he went in, and shut the door, and fixt
His sword upright, and fell on it, and died.

But from the hill of Lidskialf Odin rose,
The throne, from which his eye surveys the world;
And mounted Sleipner, and in darkness rode
To Asgard. And the stars came out in Heaven,
High over Asgard, to light home the King.
But fiercely Odin gallop’d, mov’d in heart;
And swift to Asgard, to the gate, he came
And terribly the hoofs of Sleipner rang
Along the flinty floor of Asgard streets;
And the Gods trembled on their golden beds
Hearing the wrathful Father coming home;
For dread, for like a whirlwind, Odin came:
And to Valhalla’s gate he rode, and left
Sleipner; and Sleipner went to his own stall:
And in Valhalla Odin laid him down.

But in Breidablik Nanna, Balder’s wife,
Came with the Goddesses who wrought her will,
And stood round Balder lying on his bier:
And at his head and feet she station’d Scalds
Who in their lives were famous for their song;
These o’er the corpse inton’d a plaintive strain,
A dirge; and Nanna and her train replied.
And far into the night they wail’d their dirge:
But when their souls were satisfied with wail,
They went, and laid them down, and Nanna went
Into an upper chamber, and lay down;
And Frea seal’d her tired lids with sleep.

And ’twas when Night is bordering hard on Dawn,
When air is chilliest, and the stars sunk low,
Then Balder’s spirit through the gloom drew near,
In garb, in form, in feature as he was
Alive, and still the rays were round his head
Which were his glorious mark in Heaven; he stood
Over against the curtain of the bed,
And gaz’d on Nanna as she slept, and spake:

‘Poor lamb, thou sleepest, and forgett’st thy woe.
Tears stand upon the lashes of thine eyes,
Tears wet the pillow by thy cheek; but thou,
Like a young child, hast cried thyself to sleep.
Sleep on: I watch thee, and am here to aid.
Alive I kept not far from thee, dear soul,
Neither do I neglect thee now, though dead.
For with to-morrow’s dawn the Gods prepare
To gather wood, and build a funeral pile
Upon my ship, and burn my corpse with fire,
That sad, sole honour of the dead; and thee
They think to burn, and all my choicest wealth,
With me, for thus ordains the common rite:
But it shall not be so: but mild, but swift,
But painless shall a stroke from Frea come,
To cut thy thread of life, and free thy soul,
And they shall burn thy corpse with mine, not thee.
And well I know that by no stroke of death,
Tardy or swift, wouldst thou be loath to die,
So it restor’d thee, Nanna, to my side,
Whom thou so well hast lov’d; but I can smooth
Thy way, and this at least my prayers avail.
Yes, and I fain would altogether ward
Death from thy head, and with the Gods in Heaven
Prolong thy life, though not by thee desir’d:
But Right bars this, not only thy desire.
Yet dreary, Nanna, is the life they lead
In that dim world, in Hela’s mouldering realm;
And doleful afire the ghosts, the troops of dead,
Whom Hela with austere control presides;
For of the race of Gods is no one there
Save me alone, and Hela, solemn Queen:
And all the nobler souls of mortal men
On battle-field have met their death, and now
Feast in Valhalla, in my Father’s hall;
Only the inglorious sort are there below,
The old, the cowards, and the weak are there,
Men spent by sickness, or obscure decay.
But even there, O Nanna, we might find
Some solace in each other’s look and speech,
Wandering together through that gloomy world.
And talking of the life we led in Heaven,
While we yet liv’d, among the other Gods.’

He spake, and straight his lineaments began
To fade: and Nanna in her sleep stretch’d out
Her arms towards him with a cry; but he
Mournfully shook his head, and disappear’d.
And as the woodman sees a little smoke
Hang in the air, afield, and disappear
So Balder faded in the night away.
And Nanna on her bed sunk back: but then
Frea, the Mother of the Gods, with stroke
Painless and swift, set free her airy soul,
Which took, on Balder’s track, the way below:
And instantly the sacred Morn appear’d.



II

JOURNEY TO THE DEAD

FORTH from the East, up the ascent of Heaven,
Day drove his courser with the Shining Mane;
And in Valhalla, from his gable perch,
The golden-crested Cock began to crow:
Hereafter, in the blackest dead of night,
With shrill and dismal cries that Bird shall crow,
Warning the Gods that foes draw nigh to Heaven;
But now he crew at dawn, a cheerful note,
To wake the Gods and Heroes to their tasks.
And all the Gods, and all the Heroes, woke.
And from their beds the Heroes rose, and donn’d
Their arms, and led their horses from the stall,
And mounted them, and in Valhalla’s court
Were rang’d; and then the daily fray began.
And all day long they there are hack’d and hewn
’Mid dust, and groans, and limbs lopp’d off, and blood;
But all at night return to Odin’s hall
Woundless and fresh: such lot is theirs in Heaven.
And the Valkyries on their steeds went forth
Toward Earth and fights of men; and at their side
Skulda, the youngest of the Nornies, rode:
And over Bifrost, where is Heimdall’s watch,
Past Midgard Fortress, down to Earth they came:
There through some battle-field, where men fall fast,
Their horses fetlock-deep in blood, they ride,
And pick the bravest warriors out for death,
Whom they bring back with them at night to Heaven,
To glad the Gods, and feast in Odin’s hall.

But the Gods went not now, as otherwhile,
Into the Tilt-Yard, where the Heroes fought,
To feast their eyes with looking on the fray:
Nor did they to their Judgement-Place repair
By the ash Igdrasil, in Ida’s plain,
Where they hold council, and give laws for men:
But they went, Odin first, the rest behind,
To the hall Gladheim, which is built of gold;
Where are in circle rang’d twelve golden chairs,
And in the midst one higher, Odin’s throne:
There all the Gods in silence sate them down;
And thus the Father of the Ages spake:

Go quickly, Gods, bring wood to the seashore,
With all, which it beseems the dead to have
And make a funeral pile on Balder’s ship.
On the twelfth day the Gods shall burn his corpse.
But Hermod, thou, take Sleipner, and ride down
To Hela’s kingdom, to ask Balder back.’

So said he; and the Gods arose, and took
Axes and ropes, and at their head came Thor,
Shouldering his Hammer, which the Giants know:
Forth wended they, and drove their steeds before:
And up the dewy mountain tracks they far’d
To the dark forests, in the early dawn;
And up and down and side and slant they roam’d:
And from the glens all day an echo came
Of crashing falls; for with his hammer Thor
Smote ’mid the rocks the lichen-bearded pines
And burst their roots; while to their tops the Gods
Made fast the woven ropes, and hal’d them down,
And lopp’d their boughs, and clove them on the sward,
And bound the logs behind their steeds to draw,
And drove them homeward; and the snorting steeds
Went straining through the crackling brushwood down,
And by the darkling forest paths the Gods
Follow’d, and on their shoulders carried boughs.
And they came out upon the plain, and pass’d
Asgard, and led their horses to the beach,
And loos’d them of their loads on the seashore,
And rang’d the wood in stacks by Balder’s ship;
And every God went home to his own house.

But when the Gods were to the forest gone
Hermod led Sleipner from Valhalla forth
And saddled him; before that, Sleipner brook’d
No meaner hand than Odin’s on his mane,
On his broad back no lesser rider bore:
Yet docile now he stood at Hermod’s side,
Arching his neck, and glad to be bestrode,
Knowing the God they went to seek, how dear.
But Hermod mounted him, and sadly far’d,
In silence, up the dark untravell’d road
Which branches from the north of Heaven, and went
All day; and Daylight wan’d, and Night came on.
And all that night he rode, and journey’d so,
Nine days, nine nights, towards the northern ice,
Through valleys deep-engulph’d, by roaring streams:
And on the tenth morn ho beheld the bridge
Which spans with golden arches Giall’s stream,
And on the bridge a Damsel watching arm’d,
In the strait passage, at the further end,
Where the road issues between walling rocks.
Scant space that Warder left for passers by;
But, as when cowherds in October drive
Their kine across a snowy mountain pass
To winter pasture on the southern side,
And on the ridge a wagon chokes the way,
Wedg’d in the snow; then painfully the hinds
With goad and shouting urge their cattle past,
Plunging through deep untrodden banks of snow
To right and left, and warm steam fills the air
So on the bridge that Damsel block’d the way,
And question’d Hermod as he came, and said:

‘Who art thou on thy black and fiery horse
Under whose hoofs the bridge o’er Giall’s stream
Rumbles and shakes? Tell me thy race and home.
But yestermorn five troops of dead pass’d by
Bound on their way below to Hela’s realm,
Nor shook the bridge so much as thou alone.
And thou hast flesh and colour on thy cheeks
Like men who live and draw the vital air;
Nor look’st thou pale and wan, like men deceas’d,
Souls bound below, my daily passers here.’

And the fleet-footed Hermod answer’d her:
‘O Damsel, Hermod am I call’d, the son
Of Odin; and my high-roof’d house is built
Far hence, in Asgard, in the City of Gods:
And Sleipner, Odin’s horse, is this I ride.
And I come, sent this road on Balder’s track:
Say then, if he hath cross’d thy bridge or no?’

He spake; the Warder of the bridge replied:
‘O Hermod, rarely do the feet of Gods
Or of the horses of the Gods resound
Upon my bridge; and, when they cross, I know.
Balder hath gone this way, and ta’en the road
Below there, to the north, toward Hela’s realm.
From here the cold white mist can be discern’d,
Not lit with sun, but through the darksome air
By the dim vapour-blotted light of stars,
Which hangs over the ice where lies the road.
For in that ice are lost those northern streams
Freezing and ridging in their onward flow,
Which from the fountain of Vergelmer run,
The spring that bubbles up by Hela’s throne.
There are the joyless seats, the haunt of ghosts,
Hela’s pale swarms; and there was Balder bound.
Ride on; pass free: but he by this is there.’

She spake, and stepp’d aside, and left him room.
And Hermod greeted her, and gallop’d by
Across the bridge; then she took post again.
But northward Hermod rode, the way below:
And o’er a darksome tract, which knows no sun,
But by the blotted light of stars, he far’d;
And he came down to Ocean’s northern strand
At the drear ice, beyond the Giants’ home:
Thence on he journey’d o’er the fields of ice
Still north, until he met a stretching wall
Barring his way, and in the wall a grate.
Then he dismounted, and drew tight the girths,
On the smooth ice, of Sleipner, Odin’s horse,
And made him leap the grate, and came within.
And he beheld spread round him Hela’s realm,
The plains of Niflheim, where dwell the dead,
And heard the thunder of the streams of Hell.
For near the wall the river of Roaring flows,
Outmost: the others near the centre run
The Storm, the Abyss, the Howling, and the Pain:
Those flow by Hela’s throne, and near their spring.
And from the dark flock’d up the shadowy tribes:
And as the swallows crowd the bulrush-beds
Of some clear river, issuing from a lake,
On autumn days, before they cross the sea;
And to each bulrush-crest a swallow hangs
Swinging, and others skim the river streams,
And their quick twittering fills the banks and shores
So around Hermod swarm’d the twittering ghosts.
Women, and infants, and young men who died
Too soon for fame, with white ungraven shields;
And old men, known to Glory, but their star
Betray’d them, and of wasting age they died,
Not wounds: yet, dying, they their armour wore,
And now have chief regard in Hela’s realm.
Behind flock’d wrangling up a piteous crew,
Greeted of none, disfeatur’d and forlorn
Cowards, who were in sloughs interr’d alive:
And round them still the wattled hurdles hung
Wherewith they stamp’d them down, and trod them deep,
To hide their shameful memory from men.
But all he pass’d unhail’d, and reach’d the throne
Of Hela, and saw, near it, Balder crown’d,
And Hela sat thereon, with countenance stern;
And thus bespake him first the solemn Queen:

‘Unhappy, how hast thou endur’d to leave
The light, and journey to the cheerless land
Where idly flit about the feeble shades
How didst thou cross the bridge o’er Giall’s stream,
Being alive, and come to Ocean’s shore?
Or how o’erleap the grate that bars the wall?’

She spake: but down off Sleipner Hermod sprang,
And fell before her feet, and clasp’d her knees;
And spake, and mild entreated her, and said:

‘O Hela, wherefore should the Gods declare
Their errands to each other, or the ways
They go? the errand and the way is known.
Thou know’st, thou know’st, what grief we have in Heaven
For Balder, whom thou hold’st by right below:
Restore him, for what part fulfils he here?
Shall he shed cheer over the cheerless seats,
And touch the apathetic ghosts with joy?
Not for such end, O Queen, thou hold’st thy realm.
For Heaven was Balder born, the City of Gods
And Heroes, where they live in light and joy:
Thither restore him, for his place is there.’

He spoke; and grave replied the solemn Queen:
‘Hermod, for he thou art, thou Son of Heaven!
A strange unlikely errand, sure, is thine.
Do the Gods send to me to make them blest?
Small bliss my race hath of the Gods obtain’d.
Three mighty children to my Father Lok
Did Angerbode, the Giantess, bring forth
Fenris the Wolf, the Serpent huge, and Me:
Of these the Serpent in the sea ye cast,
Who since in your despite hath wax’d amain,
And now with gleaming ring enfolds the world:
Me on this cheerless nether world ye threw
And gave me nine unlighted realms to rule:
While on his island in the lake, afar,
Made fast to the bor’d crag, by wile not strength
Subdu’d, with limber chains lives Fenris bound.
Lok still subsists in Heaven, our Father wise,
Your mate, though loath’d, and feasts in Odin’s hall;
But him too foes await, and netted snares,
And in a cave a bed of needle rocks,
And o’er his visage serpents dropping gall.
Yet he shall one day rise, and burst his bonds,
And with himself set us his offspring free,
When he guides Muspel’s children to their bourne.
Till then in peril or in pain we live,
Wrought by the Gods: and ask the Gods our aid?
Howbeit we abide our day: till then,
We do not as some feebler haters do,
Seek to afflict our foes with petty pangs,
Helpless to better us, or ruin them.
Come then; if Balder was so dear belov’d,
And this is true, and such a loss is Heaven’s
Hear, how to Heaven may Balder be restor’d.
Show me through all the world the signs of grief:
Fails but one thing to grieve, here Balder stops:
Let all that lives and moves upon the earth
Weep him, and all that is without life weep:
Let Gods, men, brutes, beweep him; plants and stones.
So shall I know the lost was dear indeed,
And bend my heart, and give him back to Heaven.’

She spake; and Hermod answer’d her, and said:
‘Hela, such as thou say’st, the terms shall be.
But come, declare me this, and truly tell:
May I, ere I depart, bid Balder hail
Or is it here withheld to greet the dead?’

He spake; and straightway Hela answer’d him:
‘Hermod, greet Balder if thou wilt, and hold
Converse: his speech remains, though he he dead.’

And straight to Balder Hermod turn’d, and spake:
‘Even in the abode of Death, O Balder, hail!
Thou hear’st, if hearing, like as speech, is thine,
The terms of thy releasement hence to Heaven:
Fear nothing but that all shall be fulfill’d.
For not unmindful of thee are the Gods
Who see the light, and blest in Asgard dwell;
Even here they seek thee out, in Hela’s realm.
And sure of all the happiest far art thou
Who ever have been known in Earth or Heaven:
Alive, thou wert of Gods the most belov’d:
And now thou sittest crown’d by Hela’s side,
Here, and hast honour among all the dead.’

He spake; and Balder utter’d him reply,
But feebly, as a voice far off; he said:

‘Hermod the nimble, gild me not my death.
Better to live a slave, a captur’d man,
Who scatters rushes in a master’s ball,
Than be a crown’d king here, and rule the dead.
And now I count not of these terms as safe
To be fulfill’d, nor my return as sure,
Though I be lov’d, and many mourn my death:
For double-minded ever was the seed
Of Lok, and double are the gifts they give.
Howbeit, report thy message; and therewith,
To Odin, to my Father, take this ring,
Memorial of me, whether sav’d or no:
And tell the Heaven-born Gods how thou hast seen
Me sitting here below by Hela s side,
Crown’d, having honour among all the dead.’

He spake, and rais’d his hand, and gave the ring.
And with inscrutable regard the Queen
Of Hell beheld them, and the ghosts stood dumb.
But Hermod took the ring, and yet once more
Kneel’d and did homage to the solemn Queen;
Then mounted Sleipner, and set forth to ride
Back, through the astonish’d tribes of dead, to Heaven.
And to the wall he came, and found the grate
Lifted, and issued on the fields of ice;
And o’er the ice he far’d to Ocean’s strand,
And up from thence, a wet and misty road,
To the arm’d Damsel’s bridge, and Giall’s stream.
Worse was that way to go than to return,
For him: for others all return is barr’d.
Nine days he took to go, two to return;
And on the twelfth morn saw the light of Heaven.
And as a traveller in the early dawn
To the steep edge of some great valley comes
Through which a river flows, and sees beneath
Clouds of white rolling vapours fill the vale,
But o’er them, on the farther slope, descries
Vineyards, and crofts, and pastures, bright with sun
So Hermod, o’er the fog between, saw Heaven.
And Sleipner snorted, for he smelt the air
Of Heaven: and mightily, as wing’d, he flew.
And Hermod saw the towers of Asgard rise:
And he drew near, and heard no living voice
In Asgard; and the golden halls were dumb.
Then Hermod knew what labour held the Gods:
And through the empty streets he rode, and pass’d
Under the gate-house to the sands, and found
The Gods on the seashore by Balder’s ship.



III

FUNERAL

THE GODS held talk together, group’d in knots,
Round Balder’s corpse, which they had thither borne;
And Hermod came down towards them from the gate.
And Lok, the Father of the Serpent, first
Beheld him come, and to his neighbour spake:

‘See, here is Hermod, who comes single back
From Hell; and shall I tell thee how he seems
Like as a farmer, who hath lost his dog,
Some morn, at market, in a crowded town
Through many streets the poor beast runs in vain,
And follows this man after that, for hours;
And, late at evening, spent and panting, falls
Before a stranger’s threshold, not his home,
With flanks a-tremble, and his slender tongue
Hangs quivering out between his dust-smear’d jaws,
And piteously he eyes the passers by:
But home his master comes to his own farm,
Far in the country, wondering where he is
So Hermod comes to-day unfollow’d home.’

And straight his neighbour, mov’d with wrath, replied:
‘Deceiver, fair in form, but false in heart,
Enemy, Mocker, whom, though Gods, we hate
Peace, lest our Father Odin hear thee gibe.
Would I might see him snatch thee in his hand,
And bind thy carcase, like a bale, with cords,
And hurl thee in a lake, to sink or swim.
If clear from plotting Balder’s death, to swim;
But deep, if thou devisedst it, to drown,
And perish, against fate, before thy day!’

So they two soft to one another spake.
But Odin look’d toward the land, and saw
His messenger; and he stood forth, and cried:
And Hermod came, and leapt from Sleipner down,
And in his Father’s hand put Sleipner’s rein,
And greeted Odin and the Gods, and said:

‘Odin, my Father, and ye, Gods of Heaven!
Lo, home, having perform’d your will, I come.
Into the joyless kingdom have I been,
Below, and look’d upon the shadowy tribes
Of ghosts, and commun’d with their solemn Queen;
And to your prayer she sends you this reply:
Show her through all the world the signs of grief:
Fails but one thing to grieve, there Balder stops.
Let Gods, men, brutes, beweep hint, plants and stones.
So shall she know your loss was dear indeed,
And bend her heart, and give you Balder back.’

He spoke; and all the Gods to Odin look’d:
And straight the Father of the Ages said:

‘Ye Gods, these terms may keep another day.

But now, put on your arms, and mount your steeds,
And in procession all come near, and weep
Balder; for that is what the dead desire.
When ye enough have wept, then build a pile
Of the heap’d wood, and burn his corpse with fire
Out of our sight; that we may turn from grief,
And lead, as erst, our daily life in Heaven.’

He spoke; and the Gods arm’d: and Odin donn’d
His dazzling corslet and his helm of gold,
And led the way on Sleipner: and the rest
Follow’d, in tears, their Father and their King.
And thrice in arms around the dead they rode,
Weeping; the sands were wetted, and their arms,
With their thick-falling tears: so good a friend
They mourn’d that day, so bright, so lov’d a God.
And Odin came, and laid his kingly hands
On Balder’s breast, and thus began the wail:

‘Farewell, O Balder, bright and lov’d, my Son!
In that great day, the Twilight of the Gods.
When Muspel’s children shall beleaguer Heaven,
Then we shall miss thy counsel and thy arm.’

Thou camest near the next, O Warrior Thor!
Shouldering thy Hammer, in thy chariot drawn,
Swaying the long-hair’d Goats with silver’d rein;
And over Balder’s corpse these words didst say:

‘Brother, thou dwellest in the darksome land,
And talkest with the feeble tribes of ghosts,
Now, and I know not how they prize thee there,
But here, I know, thou wilt be miss’d and mourn’d.
For haughty spirits and high wraths are rife
Among the Gods and Heroes here in Heaven,
As among those, whose joy and work is war:
And daily strifes arise, and angry words:
But from thy lips, O Balder, night or day,
Heard no one ever an injurious word
To God or Hero, but thou keptest back
The others, labouring to compose their brawls.
Be ye then kind, as Balder too was kind:
For we lose him, who smooth’d all strife in Heaven.’

He spake: and all the Gods assenting wail’d.
And Freya next came nigh, with golden tears:
The loveliest Goddess she in Heaven, by all
Most honour’d after Frea, Odin’s wife:
Her long ago the wandering Oder took
To mate, but left her to roam distant lands;
Since then she seeks him, and weeps tears of gold:
Names hath she many; Vanadis on earth
They call her; Freya is her name in Heaven:
She in her hands took Balder’s head, and spake:

‘Balder, my brother, thou art gone a road
Unknown and long, and haply on that way
My long-lost wandering Oder thou hast met,
For in the paths of Heaven he is not found.
Oh, if it be so, tell him what thou wert
To his neglected wife, and what he is,
And wring his heart with shame, to hear thy word.
For he, my husband, left me here to pine,
Not long a wife, when his unquiet heart
First drove him from me into distant lands.
Since then I vainly seek him through the world,
And weep from shore to shore my golden tears,
But neither god nor mortal heeds my pain.
Thou only, Balder, wert for ever kind,
To take my hand, and wipe my tears, and say:
Weep not, O Freya, weep no golden tears!
One day the wandering Oder will return,
Or thou wilt find him in thy faithful search
On some great road, or resting in an inn,
Or at a ford, or sleeping by a tree.
So Balder said; but Oder, well I know,
My truant Oder I shall see no more
To the world’s end; and Balder now is gone;
And I am left uncomforted in Heaven.’

She spake; and all the Goddesses bewail’d.
Last, from among the Heroes one came near,
No God, but of the Hero-troop the chief
Regner, who swept the northern sea with fleets,
And rul’d o’er Denmark and the heathy isles,
Living; but Ella captur’d him and slew:
A king, whose fame then fill’d the vast of Heaven,
Now time obscures it, and men’s later deeds:
He last approach’d the corpse, and spake, and said:

‘Balder, there yet are many Scalds in Heaven
Still left, and that chief Scald, thy brother Brage,
Whom we may bid to sing, though thou art gone:
And all these gladly, while we drink, we hear,
After the feast is done, in Odin’s hall:
But they harp ever on one string, and wake
Remembrance in our soul of wars alone,
Such as on earth we valiantly have wag’d,
And blood, and ringing blows, and violent death:
But when thou sangest, Balder, thou didst strike
Another note, and, like a bird in spring,
Thy voice of joyance minded us, and youth,
And wife, and children, and our ancient home.
Yes, and I too remember’d then no more
My dungeon, where the serpents stung me dead,
Nor Ella’s victory on the English coast;
But I heard Thora laugh in Gothland Isle;
And saw my shepherdess, Aslauga, tend
Her flock along the white Norwegian beach:
Tears started to mine eyes with yearning joy
Therefore with grateful heart I mourn thee dead.’

So Regner spake, and all the Heroes groan’d.
But now the sun had pass’d the height of Heaven,
And soon had all that day been spent in wail;
But then the Father of the Ages said:

‘Ye Gods, there well may be too much of wail.
Bring now the gather’d wood to Balder’s ship;
Heap on the deck the logs, and build the pyre.’

But when the Gods and Heroes heard, they brought
The wood to Balder’s ship, and built a pile,
Full the deck’s breadth, and lofty; then the corpse
Of Balder on the highest top they laid,
With Nanna on his right, and on his left
Hoder, his brother, whom his own hand slew.
And they set jars of wine and oil to lean
Against the bodies, and stuck torches near,
Splinters of pine-wood, soak’d with turpentine;
And brought his arms and gold, and all his stuff,
And slew the dogs which at his table fed,
And his horse, Balder’s horse, whom most he lov’d,
And threw them on the pyre, and Odin threw
A last choice gift thereon, his golden ring.
They fixt the mast, and hoisted up the sails,
Then they put fire to the wood; and Thor
Set his stout shoulder hard against the stern
To push the ship through the thick sand: sparks flew
From the deep trench she plough’d so strong a God
Furrow’d it and the water gurgled in.
And the Ship floated on the waves, and rock’d:
But in the hills a strong East-Wind arose,
And came down moaning to the sea; first squalls
Ran black o’er the sea’s face, then steady rush’d
The breeze, and fill’d the sails, and blew the fire.
And, wreath’d in smoke, the Ship stood out to sea.
Soon with a roaring rose the mighty fire,
And the pile crackled; and between the logs
Sharp quivering tongues of flame shot out, and leapt,
Curling and darting, higher, until they lick’d
The summit of the pile, the dead, the mast,
And ate the shrivelling sails; but still the Ship
Drove on, ablaze, above her hull, with fire.
And the Gods stood upon the beach, and gaz’d:
And, while they gaz’d, the Sun went lurid down
Into the smoke-wrapt sea, and Night came on.
Then the wind fell, with night, and there was calm.
But through the dark they watch’d the burning Ship
Still carried o’er the distant waters on
Farther and farther, like an Eye of Fire.
And as in the dark night a travelling man
Who bivouacs in a forest ’mid the hills,
Sees suddenly a spire of flame shoot up
Out of the black waste forest, far below,
Which woodcutters have lighted near their lodge
Against the wolves; and all night long it flares:
So flar’d, in the far darkness, Balder’s pyre.
But fainter, as the stars rose high, it burn’d;
The bodies were consum’d, ash chok’d the pile
And as in a decaying winter fire
A charr’d log, falling, makes a shower of sparks
So, with a shower of sparks, the pile fell in,
Reddening the sea around; and all was dark.

But the Gods went by starlight up the shore
To Asgard, and sate down in Odin’s hall
At table, and the funeral-feast began.
All night they ate the boar Serimner’s flesh,
And from their horns, with silver rimm’d, drank mead,
Silent, and waited for the sacred Morn.

And Morning over all the world was spread.
Then from their loathèd feast the Gods arose,
And took their horses, and set forth to ride
O’er the bridge Bifrost, where is Heimdall’s watch,
To the ash Igdrasil, and Ida’s plain:
Thor came on foot; the rest on horseback rode.
And they found Mimir sitting by his Fount
Of Wisdom, which beneath the ashtree springs;
And saw the Nornies watering the roots
Of that world-shadowing tree with Honey-dew:
There came the Gods, and sate them down on stones:
And thus the Father of the Ages said:

‘Ye Gods, the terms ye know, which Hermod brought.
Accept them or reject them; both have grounds.
Accept them, and they bind us, unfulfill’d,
To leave for ever Balder in the grave,
An unrecover’d prisoner, shade with shades.
But how, ye say, should the fulfilment fail?
Smooth sound the terms, and light to be fulfill’d;
For dear-belov’d was Balder while he liv’d
In Heaven and Earth, and who would grudge him tears?
But from the traitorous seed of Lok they come,
These terms, and I suspect some hidden fraud.
Bethink ye, Gods, is there no other way?
Speak, were not this a way, the way for Gods?
If I, if Odin, clad in radiant arms,
Mounted on Sleipner, with the Warrior Thor
Drawn in his car beside me, and my sons,
All the strong brood of Heaven, to swell my train,
Should make irruption into Hela’s realm,
And set the fields of gloom ablaze with light,
And bring in triumph Balder back to Heaven?’

He spake; and his fierce sons applauded loud.
But Frea, Mother of the Gods, arose,
Daughter and wife of Odin; thus she said:

‘Odin, thou Whirlwind, what a threat is this!
Thou threatenest what transcends thy might, even thine.
For of all powers the mightiest far art thou,
Lord over men on Earth, and Gods in Heaven;
Yet even from thee thyself hath been withheld
One thing; to undo what thou thyself hast rul’d.
For all which hath been fixt, was fixt by thee:
In the beginning, ere the Gods were born,
Before the Heavens were builded, thou didst slay
The Giant Ymir, whom the Abyss brought forth,
Thou and thy brethren fierce, the Sons of Bor,
And threw his trunk to choke the abysmal void:
But of his flesh and members thou didst build
The Earth and Ocean, and above them Heaven:
And from the flaming world, where Muspel reigns,
Thou sent’st and fetched’st fire, and madest lights,
Sun Moon and Stars, which thou hast hung in Heaven,
Dividing clear the paths of night and day:
And Asgard thou didst build, and Midgard Fort:
Then me thou mad’st; of us the Gods were born:
Then, walking by the sea, thou foundest spars
Of wood, and framed’st men, who till the earth,
Or on the sea, the field of pirates, sail:
And all the race of Ymir thou didst drown,
Save one, Bergelmer; he on shipboard fled
Thy deluge, and from him the Giants sprang;
But all that brood thou hast remov’d far off,
And set by Ocean’s utmost marge to dwell:
But Hela into Niflheim thou threw’st,
And gav’st her nine unlighted worlds to rule,
A Queen, and empire over all the dead.
That empire wilt thou now invade, light up
Her darkness, from her grasp a subject tear?
Try it; but I, for one, will not applaud.
Nor do I merit, Odin, thou should’st slight
Me and my words, though thou be first in Heaven
For I too am a Goddess, born of thee,
Thine eldest, and of me the Gods are sprung;
And all that is to come I know, but lock
In my own breast, and have to none reveal’d.
Come then; since Hela holds by right her prey,
But offers terms for his release to heaven,
Accept the chance; thou canst no more obtain.
Send through the world thy messengers: entreat
All living and unliving things to weep
For Balder; if thou haply thus may’st melt
Hela, and win the lov’d one back to Heaven.’

She spake, and on her face let fall her veil,
And bow’d her head, and sate with folded hands.
Nor did the all-ruling Odin slight her word;
Straightway he spake, and thus address’d the Gods:

‘Go quickly forth through all the world, and pray
All living and unliving things to weep
Balder, if haply he may thus be won.’

When the Gods heard, they straight arose, and took
Their horses, and rode forth through all the world.
North south east west they struck, and roam’d the world,
Entreating all things to weep Balder’s death:
And all that liv’d, and all without life, wept.
And as in winter, when the frost breaks up,
At winter’s end, before the spring begins,
And a warm west wind blows, and thaw sets in
After an hour a dripping sound is heard
In all the forests, and the soft-strewn snow
Under the trees is dibbled thick with holes.
And from the boughs the snowloads shuffle down;
And in fields sloping to the south dark plots
Of grass peep out amid surrounding snow,
And widen, and the peasant’s heart is glad
So through the world was heard a dripping noise
Of all things weeping to bring Balder back:
And there fell joy upon the Gods to hear.

But Hermod rode with Niord, whom he took
To show him spits and beaches of the sea
Far off, where some unwarn’d might fail to weep
Niord, the God of storms, whom fishers know
Not born in Heaven; he was in Vanheim rear’d,
With men, but lives a hostage with the Gods:
He knows each frith, and every rocky creek
Fring’d with dark pines, and sands where seafowl scream:
They two scour’d every coast, and all things wept.
And they rode home together, through the wood
Of Jarnvid, which to east of Midgard lies
Bordering the Giants, where the trees are iron;
There in the wood before a cave they came
Where sate, in the cave’s mouth, a skinny Hag,
Toothless and old; she gibes the passers by:
Thok is she call’d; but now Lok wore her shape:
She greeted them the first, and laugh’d, and said:

‘Ye Gods, good lack, is it so dull in Heaven.
That ye come pleasuring to Thok’s Iron Wood?
Lovers of change ye are, fastidious sprites.
Look, as in some boor’s yard a sweet-breath’d cow
Whose manger is stuff’d full of good fresh hay
Snuffs at it daintily, and stoops her head
To chew the straw, her litter, at her feet
So ye grow squeamish, Gods, and sniff at Heaven.’

She spake; but Hermod answer’d her and said:
‘Thok, not for gibes we come, we come for tears.
Balder is dead, and Hela holds her prey,
But will restore, if all things give him tears.
Begrudge not thine; to all was Balder dear.’

But, with a louder laugh, the Hag replied:
‘Is Balder dead? and do ye come for tears?
Thok with dry eyes will weep o’er Balder’s pyre.
Weep him all other things, if weep they will
I weep him not: let Hela keep her prey!’

She spake; and to the cavern’s depth she fled,
Mocking: and Hermod knew their toil was vain.
And as seafaring men, who long have wrought
In the great deep for gain, at last come home,
And towards evening see the headlands rise
Of their own country, and can clear descry
A fire of wither’d furze which boys have lit
Upon the cliffs, or smoke of burning weeds
Out of a till’d field inland; then the wind
Catches them, and drives out again to sea:
And they go long days tossing up and down
Over the grey sea ridges; and the glimpse
Of port they had makes bitterer far their toil
So the Gods’ cross was bitterer for their joy.

Then, sad at heart, to Niord Hermod spake:
‘It is the Accuser Lok, who flouts us all.
Ride back, and tell in Heaven this heavy news.
I must again below, to Hela’s realm.’

He spoke; and Niord set forth back to Heaven.
But northward Hermod rode, the way below;
Tho way he knew: and travers’d Giall’s stream,
And down to Ocean grop’d, and cross’d the ice,
And came beneath the wall, and found the grate
Still lifted; well was his return foreknown.
And once more Hermod saw around him spread
The joyless plains, and heard the streams of Hell.
But as he enter’d, on the extremest hound
Of Niflheim, he saw one Ghost come near,
Hovering, and stopping oft, as if afraid;
Hoder, the unhappy, whom his own hand slew:
And Hermod look’d, and knew his brother’s ghost,
And call’d him by his name, and sternly said:

‘Hoder, ill-fated, blind in heart and eyes!
Why tarriest thou to plunge thee in the gulph
Of the deep inner gloom, but flittest here,
In twilight, on the lonely verge of Hell,
Far from the other ghosts, and Hela’s throne?
Doubtless thou fearest to meet Balder’s voice,
Thy brother, whom through folly thou didst slay.’

He spoke; but Hoder answer’d him, and said:
‘Hermod the nimble, dost thou still pursue
The unhappy with reproach, even in the grave?
For this I died, and fled beneath the gloom,
Not daily to endure abhorring Gods,
Nor with a hateful presence cumber Heaven
And canst thou not, even here, pass pitying by?
No less than Balder have I lost the light
Of Heaven, and communion with my kin:
I too had once a wife, and once a child,
And substance, and a golden house in Heaven:
But all I left of my own act, and fled
Below, and dost thou hate me even here?
Balder upbraids me not, nor hates at all,
Though he has cause, have any cause; but he,
When that with downcast looks I hither came,
Stretch’d forth his hand, and, with benignant voice,
Welcome, he said, if there be welcome here,
Brother and fellow-sport of Lok with me.
And not to offend thee, Hermod, nor to force
My hated converse on thee, came I up
From the deep gloom, where I will now return;
But earnestly I long’d to hover near,
Not too far off, when that thou camest by,
To feel the presence of a brother God,
And hear the passage of a horse of Heaven,
For the last time: for here thou com’st no more.’

He spake, and turn’d to go to the inner gloom.
But Hermod stay’d him with mild words, and said:

‘Thou doest well to chide me, Hoder blind.
Truly thou say’st, the planning guilty mind
Was Lok’s; the unwitting hand alone was thine.
But Gods are like the sons of men in this
When they have woe, they blame the nearest cause.
Howbeit stay, and be appeas’d; and tell
Sits Balder still in pomp by Hela’s side,
Or is he mingled with the unnumber’d dead?’

And the blind Hoder answer’d him and spake:
‘His place of state remains by Hela’s side,
But empty: for his wife, for Nanna came
Lately below, and join’d him; and the Pair
Frequent the still recesses of the realm
Of Hela, and hold converse undisturb’d.
But they too doubtless, will have breath’d the balm
Which floats before a visitant from Heaven,
And have drawn upwards to this verge of Hell.’

He spake; and, as he ceas’d, a puff of wind
Roll’d heavily the leaden mist aside
Round where they stood, and they beheld Two Forms
Make towards them o’er the stretching cloudy plain.
And Hermod straight perceiv’d them, who they were,
Balder and Nanna; and to Balder said:

‘Balder, too truly thou foresaw’st a snare.
Lok triumphs still, and Hela keeps her prey.
No more to Asgard shalt thou come, nor lodge
In thy own house, Breidablik, nor enjoy
The love all bear towards thee, nor train up
Forset, thy son, to be belov’d like thee.
Here must thou lie, and wait an endless age.
Therefore for the last time, O Balder, hail!’

He spake; and Balder answer’d him and said:
‘Hail and farewell, for here thou com’st no more.
Yet mourn not for me, Hermod, when thou sitt’st
In Heaven, nor let the other Gods lament,
As wholly to be pitied, quite forlorn:
For Nanna hath rejoin’d me, who, of old,
In Heaven, was seldom parted from my side;
And still the acceptance follows me, which crowned
My former life, and cheers me even here.
The iron frown of Hela is relax’d
When I draw nigh, and the wan tribes of dead
Trust me, and gladly bring for my award
Their ineffectual feuds and feeble hates,
Shadows of hates, but they distress them still.’

And the fleet-footed Hermod made reply:
‘Thou hast then all the solace death allows,
Esteem and function: and so far is well.
Yet here thou liest, Balder, underground,
Rusting for ever: and the years roll on,
The generations pass, the ages grow,
And bring us nearer to the final day
When from the south shall march the Fiery Band
And cross the Bridge of Heaven, with Lok for guide,
And Fenris at his heel with broken chain:
While from the east the Giant Rymer steers
His ship, and the great Serpent makes to land;
And all are marshall’d in one flaming square
Against the Gods, upon the plains of Heaven.
I mourn thee, that thou canst not help us then.’

He spake; but Balder answer’d him and said:
‘Mourn not for me: Mourn, Hermod, for the Gods:
Mourn for the men on Earth, the Gods in Heaven,
Who live, and with their eyes shall see that day.
The day will come, when Asgard’s towers shall fall,
And Odin, and his Sons, the seed of Heaven:
But what were I, to save them in that hour?
If strength could save them, could not Odin save,
My Father, and his pride, the Warrior Thor,
Vidar the Silent, the Impetuous Tyr?
I, what were I, when these can naught avail?
Yet, doubtless. when the day of battle comes,
And the two Hosts are marshall’d, and in Heaven
The golden-crested Cock shall sound alarm,
And his black Brother, Bird from hence reply,
And bucklers clash, and spears begin to pour
Longing will stir within my breast, though vain.
But not to me so grievous, as, I know,
To other Gods it were, is my enforc’d
Absence from fields where I could nothing aid:
For I am long since weary of your storm
Of carnage, and find, Hermod, in your life
Something too much of war and broils, which make
Life one perpetual fight, a bath of blood.
Mine eyes are dizzy with the arrowy hail;
Mine ears are stunn’d with blows, and sick for calm.
Inactive therefore let me lie, in gloom,
Unarm’d, inglorious: I attend the course
Of ages, and my late return to light,
In times less alien to a spirit mild,
In new-recover’d seats, the happier day.’

He spake; and the fleet Hermod thus replied:
‘Brother, what seats are these, what happier day?
Tell me, that I may ponder it when gone.’

And the ray-crowned Balder answer’d him:
‘Far to the south, beyond The Blue, there spreads
Another Heaven, The Boundless: no one yet
Hath reach’d it: there hereafter shall arise
The second Asgard, with another name.
Thither, when o’er this present Earth and Heavens
The tempest of the latter days hath swept,
And they from sight have disappear’d, and sunk,
Shall a small remnant of the Gods repair:
Hoder and I shall join them from the grave.
There re-assembling we shall see emerge
From the bright Ocean at our feet an Earth
More fresh, more verdant than the last, with fruits
Self-springing, and a seed of man preserv’d,
Who then shall live in peace, as now in war.
But we in Heaven shall find again with joy
The ruin’d palaces of Odin, seats
Familiar, halls where we have supp’d of old;
Re-enter them with wonder, never fill
Our eyes with gazing, and rebuild with tears.
And we shall tread once more the well-known plain
Of Ida, and among the grass shall find
The golden dice with which we play’d of yore;
And that will bring to mind the former life
And pastime of the Gods, the wise discourse
Of Odin, the delights of other days.
O Hermod, pray that thou mayst join us then!
Such for the future is my hope: meanwhile,
I rest the thrall of Hela, and endure
Death, and the gloom which round me even now
Thickens, and to its inner gulph recalls.
Farewell, for longer speech is not allow’d.’

He spoke, and wav’d farewell, and gave his hand
To Nanna; and she gave their brother blind
Her hand, in turn, for guidance; and The Three
Departed o’er the cloudy plain, and soon
Faded from sight into the interior gloom.
But Hermod stood beside his drooping horse,
Mute, gazing after them in tears: and fain,
Fain had he follow’d their receding steps,
Though they to Death were bound, and he to Heaven,
Then; but a Power he could not break withheld.
And as a stork which idle boys have trapp’d,
And tied him in a yard, at autumn sees
Flocks of his kind pass flying o’er his head
To warmer lands, and coasts that keep the sun;
He strains to join their flight, and, from his shed,
Follows them with a long complaining cry
So Hermod gaz’d, and yearn’d to join his kin.

At last he sigh’d, and set forth back to Heaven

Reader Comments

Tell us what you think of 'Balder Dead (An Episode)' by Matthew Arnold

comments powered by Disqus

Home | Search | About this website | Contact | Privacy Policy