Poems by the Way, by William Morris

The King of Denmark’s Sons.

In Denmark gone is many a year,
So fair upriseth the rim of the sun,
Two sons of Gorm the King there were,
So grey is the sea when day is done.

Both these were gotten in lawful bed
Of Thyrre Denmark’s Surety-head.

Fair was Knut of face and limb
As the breast of the Queen that suckled him.

But Harald was hot of hand and heart
As lips of lovers ere they part.

Knut sat at home in all men’s love,
But over the seas must Harald rove.

And for every deed by Harald won,
Gorm laid more love on Knut alone.

On a high-tide spake the King in hall,
“Old I grow as the leaves that fall.

“Knut shall reign when I am dead,
So shall the land have peace and aid.

“But many a ship shall Harald have,
For I deem the sea well wrought for his grave.”

Then none spake save the King again,
“If Knut die all my days be vain.

“And whoso the tale of his death shall tell,
Hath spoken a word to gain him hell.

“Lo here a doom I will not break,”
So fair upriseth the rim of the sun.
“For life or death or any man’s sake,”
So grey is the sea when the day is done.

O merry days in the summer-tide!
So fair upriseth the rim of the sun.

When the ships sail fair and the young men ride.
So grey is the sea when day is done.

Now Harald has got him east away,
And each morrow of fight was a gainful day.

But Knut is to his fosterer gone
To deal in deeds of peace alone.

So wear the days, and well it is
Such lovely lords should dwell in bliss.

O merry in the winter-tide
When men to Yule-feast wend them wide.

And here lieth Knut in the Lima-firth
When the lift is low o’er the Danish earth.

“Tell me now, Shipmaster mine,
What are yon torches there that shine?”

“Lord, no torches may these be
But golden prows across the sea.

“For over there the sun shines now
And the gold worms gape from every prow.”

The sun and the wind came down o’er the sea,
“Tell them over how many they be!”

“Ten I tell with shield-hung sides.
Nought but a fool his death abides.”

“Ten thou tellest, and we be three,
Good need that we do manfully.

“Good fellows, grip the shield and spear,
For Harald my brother draweth near.

“Well breakfast we when night is done,
And Valhall’s cock crows up the sun.”

Up spoke Harald in wrathful case:
“I would have word with this waxen face!

“What wilt thou pay, thou hucksterer,
That I let thee live another year?

“For oath that thou wilt never reign
Will I let thee live a year or twain.”

“Kisses and love shalt thou have of me
If yet my liegeman thou wilt be.

“But stroke of sword, and dint of axe,
Or ere thou makest my face as wax.”

As thick the arrows fell around
As fall sere leaves on autumn ground.

In many a cheek the red did wane
No maid might ever kiss again.

“Lay me aboard,” Lord Harald said,
“The winter day will soon be dead!

“Lay me aboard the bastard’s ship,
And see to it lest your grapnels slip!”

Then some they knelt and some they drowned,
And some lay dead Lord Knut around.

“Look here at the wax-white corpse of him,
As fair as the Queen in face and limb!

“Make now for the shore, for the moon is bright,
And I would be home ere the end of night.

“Two sons last night had Thyrre the Queen,
So fair upriseth the rim of the sun.
And both she may lack ere the woods wax green,”
So grey is the sea when day is done.

A little before the morning tide,
So fair upriseth the rim of the sun,
Queen Thyrre looked out of her window-side,
So grey is the sea when day is done.

“O men-at-arms, what men be ye?”
“Harald thy son come over the sea.”

“Why is thy face so pale, my son?”
“It may be red or day is done.”

“O evil words of an evil hour!
Come, sweet son, to thy mother’s bower!”

None from the Queen’s bower went that day
Till dark night over the meadows lay.

None thenceforth heard wail or cry
Till the King’s feast was waxen high.

Then into the hall Lord Harald came
When the great wax lights were all aflame.

“What tidings, son, dost thou bear to me?
Speak out before I drink with thee.”

“Tidings small for a seafarer.
Two falcons in the sea-cliff’s were;

“And one was white and one was grey
And they fell to battle on a day;

“They fought in the sun, they fought in the wind,
No boot the white fowl’s wounds to bind.

“They fought in the wind, they fought in the sun,
And the white fowl died when the play was done.”

“Small tidings these to bear o’er the sea!
Good hap that nothing worser they be!

“Small tidings for a travelled man!
Drink with me, son, whiles yet ye can!

“Drink with me ere thy day and mine,
So fair upriseth the rim of the sun,
Be nought but a tale told over the wine.”
So grey is the sea when day is done.

Now fareth the King with his men to sleep,
So fair upriseth the rim of the sun,
And dim the maids from the Queen’s bower creep,
So grey is the sea when day is done.

And in the hall is little light,
And there standeth the Queen with cheeks full white.

And soft the feet of women fall
From end to end of the King’s great hall.

These bear the gold-wrought cloths away,
And in other wise the hall array;

Till all is black that hath been gold
So heavy a tale there must be told.

The morrow men looked on King Gorm and said
“Hath he dreamed a dream or beheld the dead?

“Why is he sad who should be gay?
Why are the old man’s lips so grey?”

Slow paced the King adown the hall,
Nor looked aside to either wall,

Till in high-seat there he sat him down,
And deadly old men deemed him grown.

“O Queen, what thrall’s hands durst do this,
To strip my hall of mirth and bliss?”

“No thrall’s hands in the hangings were,
No thrall’s hands made the tenters bare.

“King’s daughters’ hands have done the deed,
The hands of Denmark’s Surety-head.”

“Nought betters the deed thy word unsaid.
Tell me that Knut my son is dead!”

She said: “The doom on thee, O King!
For thine own lips have said the thing.”

Men looked to see the King arise,
The death of men within his eyes.

Men looked to see his bitter sword
That once cleared ships from board to board.

But in the hall no sword gleamed wide,
His hand fell down along his side.

No red there came into his cheek,
He fell aback as one made weak.

His wan cheek brushed the high-seat’s side,
And in the noon of day he died.

So lieth King Gorm beneath the grass,
But from mouth to mouth this tale did pass.

And Harald reigned and went his way,
So fair upriseth the rim of the sun.
And still is the story told to-day,
So grey is the sea when day is done.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/m/morris/william/m87pb/chapter20.html

Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 22:07