Fridthjof's Saga, by Esaias Tegnér


King Bele And Thorstein.

King Bele, sword-supported, in the palace stood;

And with him Thorstein, Viking’s son, the peasant good.

His ancient war companion, grown old in glory,

His brow was scarred like rune-stones, his hair was hoary.

They stood, as on the mountain two temples stand

To honored gods devoted, now half in sand;

And many words of wisdom the walls are saying,

And holy recollections through domes are straying.

“The evening steals upon me,” king Bele said,

“The helmet now is heavy, and stale the mead;

The fate of man grows darker, but all the clearer

High Valhal shines before me, as death draws nearer.

“My sons I here have summoned, and Thorstein’s son

For they should cling together, as we have done;

But I would give the eaglets some words of warning —

Words may in death be sleeping ere dawns the morning.”

Obedient to the mandate, the three advance —

First, Helge, dark and gloomy, with sullen glance;

He dwelt amid diviners; the hand he proffered

Was red with blood of victims, on altars offered.

The next who came was Halfdan, a light-haired swain:

His countenance was noble, but weak and vain;

He gaily bore a falchion, with which he gestured,

And seemed a youthful maiden, in armor vestured.

And after them came Fridthjof, in mantle blue;

He was stronger than the others, and taller, too;

He stood between the brothers, by contrast seeming

Like noon ‘twixt night and morning, in splendor beaming.

“Ye sons,” the king said gently, “my son goes down;

Together rule the kingdom and take the crown;

For unity is power, and no endeavor,

While lance with ring is circled, its stem can sever.

“Let power stand as sentry on every hand,

And freedom bloom protected throughout the land:

The sword is for protection, and not for plunder.

And shields are locks for peasants no foe can sunder.

“How foolish is the ruler his land to oppress,

For the people give the power which kings possess;

The crown of leafy verdure which decks the mountain

Will wither if the sunshine dries up the fountain.

“On four gigantic pillars is heaven’s throne —

The throne of nations resteth on law alone!

Destruction waits on judgment; if misdirected;

By right are men ennobled and kings perfected.

“In Disarsal, O Helge, the high gods dwell —

Not pinioned as the snail is within his shell;

As far as daylight flieth, or thought’s swift pinion,

Far as resound the echoes, is gods’ dominion.

The offered hawk gives tokens which oft deceive.

Not all runes monumental can we believe:

But an honest heart, O Helge, of pure endeavor,

With Odin’s runes is written, misleading never.

“Be not severe, king Helge, but firm and staid;

The sword that bites the sharpest has the limberest blade.

Kings are adorned by mercy, as shields by flowers,

And spring can more accomplish than winter’s powers.

“A man, however mighty, deprived of friends,

Like tree of bark denuded, how soon life ends!

But he by friends surrounded, like trees shall flourish,

Whose crowns, in groves protected, the brooklets nourish.

“Boast not ancestral wisdom; each man alone

A single bowstring uses, and that his own;

What matters it to any the worth that’s buried?

By its own waves the current o’er seas is carried.

“A joyous spirit, Halfdan, advantage brings,

But idle talk is needless, and most, to kings;

Of hops, as well as honey, is mead compounded,

Let sports on vigor, lances on steel, be founded.

“No man has too much wisdom, though learned he be,

And much too little, many less learned than he;

To fools, though high in station, no praise is meted,

The wise hy all are honored, though lowly seated.

“The steadfast friend, O Halfdan! of mingled blood,

Lives near indeed, though distant be his abode;

But to thy foeman’s dwelling the way is weary, —

Though standing by thy pathway, ’tis far and dreary.

“For friend choose not the first one that’s so disposed, —

An empty house stands open, a full one closed;

Choose one, the best, O Halfdan, nor seek another,

The world soon knows the secrets of three together.”

These words then Thorstein uttered in clearest tone:

“King Bele unto Odin goes not alone;

We’ve always stood together, whatever tried us,

And death, now drawing near, shall not divide us.

“Fridthjof, old age hath whispered in my rapt ear

Full many words of wisdom, which thou must hear.

Birds fly from graves to Odin, with wisdom freighted,

The words by old men spoken, should not be slighted.

“First, give the high gods honor; for good or ill,

Storms come as well as sunshine, by Heaven’s will.

The gods perceive the secrets in thy possession.

And years must make atonement for each transgression.

“Obey the king: most wisely rules one alone,

The eyes of night are many, day has but one.

The better are contented by best directed, —

The blade must have a handle to be perfected.

Great strength is heaven’s dower; but, Fridthjof, learn

That power devoid of wisdom, can little earn.

Strong bears by one are taken, — one man of reason;

Set shields to turn the sword stroke, let law stop treason.

“A few may fear the haughty, whom all despise,

And with the proud in spirit, destruction lies:

Those once flew high, who’re now on crutches creeping;

The winds rule fortune, weather, time of reaping.

“The day thou’lt rightly prize, whose sun has sunk,

Advice when it is followed, and ale when drunk.

The hopes of youth on shadows are often rested,

But strength of sword and friendship, by use are ‘tested.

“Trust not the snow of spring-time, nor night-old ice;

The serpent when he sleepeth, nor girl’s advice;

The mind of changeful woman not long abideth,

And fickleness of spirit, ‘neath flower-tints hideth.

“All men will surely perish with all they prize,

But one thing know I, Fridthjof, which never dies, —

And that is reputation’, therefore, ever

The noble action strive for, the good endeavor.”

So warned the aged chieftains in the palace hall.

As since the skald has chanted in Ha’vama’l,

So passed these sayings pithy through generations;

And still from graves they whisper ‘mid northern nations.

Then many words and heartfelt, these warriors found

To tell their lasting friendship, so wide renowned.

How friends till death, if fortune or frowned or slighted.

Like two hands clasped together they stood united.

“And back to back in battle we held the field,

And which way norns did threaten, they smote a shield;

Before you now to Valhal we old men hasten,

And may their fathers’ spirit our children’s chasten.”

The king said much concerning brave Fridthjof’s worth,

Heroic power surpassing all royal birth;

And much was said by Thorstein, how graces cluster

Round Northland’s honored monarchs, with Asa-lustre.

“But hold ye fast together, ye children three,

The Northland then your conqueror shall never see;

For royalty and power, when duly ordered,

Are like a bright shield golden, by blue steel bordered.

“Salute my daughter Ing’borg, the rosebud sweet,

In quiet was she nurtured, as seemed meet:

Protect her, lest the storm-king, with cruel power,

Should fasten in his helmet my tender flower.

“I lay on thee, king Helge, a father’s care,

Love Ing’borg as a daughter, the jewel rare!

Restraint galls noble spirits, but gentle manner

Will lead both man and woman to right and honor.

“But lay us now, ye children, in two mound-graves.

Close where the blue gulf tosses its ceaseless waves;

Our souls shall then forever enjoy the ringing

Of dirges which in breaking the waves are singing.

“When the moon’s pale beams the mountains and valleys fill,

And midnight’s dew is falling on grove and hill;

Then will we sit, O Thorstein, above our pillows,

And talk about the future, across the billows.

“And now, farewell, ye children, our work is done;

Unto the Allfather gladly we hasten on,

Like weary rivers longing for sea’s caressing;

On you be Thor’s and Odin’s and Frey’s rich blessing.”

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00