Fridthjof's Saga, by Esaias Tegnér


The Reconciliation.

Completed now was Balder’s temple. Not enclosed

As heretofore with fence of wood; of hammered steel,

With golden knobs upon each bar, was built the fence

Round Balder’s ground. Like steel-clad champions ranged for war,

With halberds and with golden helms, there stood it now

On guard around the sanctuary of the god.

Of giant stones alone the massive wall was built,

And joined with active skill, a noble giant work

For all eternity (as is Upsala’s shrine,)

Where Norseland saw its Valhal in an earthly mold.

It stood there in its grandeur on the mountain cliff,

And mirrored in the ocean wave its lofty brow,

While round about it, like a zone of beauteous flowers,

Far stretched the dale of Balder with its sighing groves.

Its song of birds, a home where peace might reign supreme.

High rose the copper-bolted portal, and within

Two colonnades supported on strong omoplates

The vaulted canopy, and beautiful it hung

Above the temple, like a concave shield of gold.

At farthest end stood Balder’s altar. It was hewn

From one huge block of northern granite: round it coiled

A graven serpent, covered o’er with written runes, —

Profoundest thoughts from Vala and from Ha’vama’l;

But in the wall above was left an open space, —

A dark blue ground all filled with golden stars; and there

A silver image sat — the pious god — as calm

And mild as sits the silver moon in heaven’s blue.

Thus seemed the finished shrine. In couples entered now

Twelve temple virgins, clad in robes of silver gauze,

With roses glowing on their cheeks, and roses in

Their guileless hearts. Before the image of the god,

Around the altar newly consecrate they danced,

As light spring winds above the flowing fountains flit,

As dance the forest elves amid the waving grass.

While yet the morning dew. like pearls, lies glittering there.

And while they danced they joyful sang a sacred song

Of pious Balder, and how dearly he was loved

By every being; how he fell ‘neath Hoder’s dart,

And earth and sea and heaven wept. Yet sounded not

The song as though ’twere uttered by a human voice,

But as a tone from Breidablik, from Balder’s home;

Or like the thought of lover to a lonely maid

When pipes the quail his deep notes in the hush of night,

And over northern birches falls the moonlight soft.

Enraptured Fridthjof stood; he leaned upon his sword,

And gazed upon the dance. Sweet childhood’s memories thronged

His vision by, — an innocent and pleasant folk,

With smiling eyes reflecting heaven’s blue, with heads

Surrounded hy a halo of bright locks, they waved

A kindly salutation to their childhood’s friend.

Then sank the bloody shadow of his viking life,

With all its conflicts, all its perilous exploits,

Down into night, and in his fancy stood he forth

A flower-crowned monument above their grave.

And ever, as the song increased, his spirit soared

From earthly dales below to Valaskjalf above;

Then melted human hate and human vengeance, too,

As melts the icy coat of mail from off the cliff,

When shines the sun in spring. A sea of quiet peace.

Of silent ecstasy, possessed his hero-soul;

It was as if he felt the heart of nature beat

Against his own; as if, deep moved, he fain would fold

Creation in his brotherly embrace, and be at peace

With every living creature seen of God.

Then came into the temple Balder’s priest most high,

Not young and beauteous as the god, but tall in form,

With heavenly mildness beaming in his noble face,

While down about his girdle flowed his silver beard.

An unused reverence possessed proud Fridthjof’s heart;

The eagle wings upon his helmet meekly drooped

Before the aged man, who thus spoke words of peace:

“Son Fridthjof, welcome hither I’ve expected thee;

The strong man gladly roves around the earth and sea,

A berserk-like, who pallid bites the shield’s hard edge,

But weary grown, and thoughtful, wanders home at last.

The powerful Thor went many times to Jotunheim, —

But spite his belt divine and gloves of finest steel,

Still sits the Utgard–Loke on his lofty throne;

For evil is itself a power, and will not yield, ——

And piety not joined with power is children’s play:

’Tis like the sunbeams on the breast of AEger thrown, —

An image faint, which falls and rises with the wave,

Foundationless and insecure, devoid of trust.

But power not joined with virtue eats itself away,

As rust the buried sword. ’Tis life’s unchecked carouse;

The heron of oblivion hovers o’er the cup,

And when the drinker wakes, he blushes for his deed.

All power is from the earth of Ymer’s body formed;

Wild waves and flowing waters are the veins therein,

From various metals are its tough strong sinews forged,

And yet ’tis empty, desolate, unfruitful, till

The sun its light and warmth, heaven’s piety, sends down.

Then spring the grass and flowers a web of many hues;

The tree lifts up its crown and knits its golden fruit, —

And man and beast are nourished at the mother’s breast.

’Tis thus with every child of Ask. Opposing weights

Has Odin laid within the scales of human life, —

And when they balance true, then even stands the beam;

And heavenly piety and earthly power they’re called.

The power of Thor is great whene’er about his loins,

Immovable, he girds the belt of strength and strikes.

Indeed is Odin wise, when Urd’s clear silver fount

He looketh down, and birds swift flying come to bring

The Asas’ father tidings from the world’s extreme:

Yet both turned pale, the radiance of their starry crowns

Was half extinguished when the pious Balder fell, —

The band was he of all the diadems of heaven.

Then withered on the tree of time its splendid crown,

And Nidhug gnawed upon its root; then were loosed

The powers of aged night. The Midgard serpent flung

Toward heaven its poison-swollen tail, and Fenris howled,

And Surt’s swift fire-sword flashing gleamed from Muspelheim.

Since then wherever thou mayest look the strife goes on,

A war throughout creation. In Valhal crows

The cock with goldcn comb. Upon and ‘neath the earth

The blood-red cock to battle calls. There once was peace

Not only where gods dwell, but also on the earth;

In man’s as in the high gods’ thoughts was peace.

Whate’er has happened here below has also chanced

In greater measure there; humanity is but

An image frail of heaven; it is as Valhal’s light

Reflected in the shield of Saga writ with runes.

Its Balder hath each heart. Remember’st thou the time

When dwelt within thy breast sweet peace a guest, and life

As joyful seemed, as heavenly calm, as song bird’s dream

When summer night-winds to and fro so gently wave

Each fragrant blossom sleeping in its bed of green?

Then holy Balder still abode in thy pure soul,

Thou asa-son, thou wandering image of high heaven.

For childhood Balder is not dead, and Hela gives

Again her prey us often as a child is born.

With Balder also groweth up in every soul

His brother Hoder, blind, the child of night; for blind

At birth is evil always, like the young of bears, and night

Its mantle, but the good of earth rejoice in light.

The tempter, busy Loke, always ready stands

To guide the blind one’s murderous hand. The missile oft

To Valhal’s love is sent, to Balder’s tender breast.

Then Hate awakes and Violence upon its prey

Springs forth; the hungry sword-wolf prowls o’er hill and dale.

And fiercest dragons wild swim o’er the bloody waves.

For this meek Piety a powerless shadow sits

One dead among the dead, and with him pallid Hel,

And in its ashes Baldur’s sanctuary lies.

So too the asa’s life on high prefigures that

Mere human life below, and both are but the thoughts,

The silent thoughts of Odin which can never change.

What hath been, what shall be, that the song profound

Of Vala knows, — Time’s lullaby, its drapa too.

Creation’s annals have a melody the sam.

And man may hear his own life’s history therein.

Dost comprehend or not? ’Tis Vala asketh thee.

Thou seek’st atonement; know’st thou what atonement is?

Oh, Fridthjof, look me in the eye and turn not pale!

Round earth a mediator goes, his name is Death.

A spark translucent, from eternity, is time:

All earthly life is but the refuse from Allfather’s throne;

Atonement is to there return all purified.

The lofty asas fall themselves, and Ragnarok

The day of their atonement is, a bloody day

On Vigrid’s hundred miles of plain; there will they fall,

But fall not unavenged, for there the evil die

Forever, but the fallen good arise again,

Refined, from out the flaming pyre to higher life.

’Tis true the star-crown, pale and withered, falleth down

From heaven’s temple; earth too, sinks beneath the sea,

But brighter is it born again, and joyous lifts

Its flower crowned head from out the seething waves, —

And new created stars pursue with god-like glance

Their silent pathway round about the new-born earth.

But on the green hill-slopes will Balder govern then

The new-born asas, and a human race renewed.

The golden tablets filled with runes, lost long ago,

In Time’s fresh morning, then are found amid the grass

On Ida’s plain, by Valhal’s children reconciled.

The fallen good in death are only tried by fire;

It is atonement made, a birth to higher life,

Which, purified, flies back to him from whom it came,

And plays a guileless child upon its father’s knee.

Alas! that all the best is found beyond the grave, —

That gate of green which Gimle opens; vile is all,

Contaminated all that dwells beneath the stars.

And yet there is atonement found in life itself, —

A humble prelude to the peace of heaven above.

’Tis like the broken chords the minstrel strikes upon

The harp, when he with skillful fingers wakes the song;

The tone attuning with a gentle hand, before

With firmer touch he grasps the golden strings, —

Grand memories of old alluring from their grave,

While Valhal’s splendor streameth on enraptured eyes.

For earth, indeed, is only heaven’s shadow, life

The grounds in front of Balder’s temple in the sky.

The people sacrifice unto the gods; the steed

Bedecked with gold and purple is an offering made.

A token this with meaning most profound, — for blood

Tints red the morning light of each atonement day.

But signs are not the substitute, they can not atone,

Thine own transgressions no one can amend for thee.

In Odin’s breast divine the dead are reconciled;

Atonement for the living lies in their own hearts.

One offering, I know, unto the gods more dear

Than smoke of victims. ’Tis the sacrifice of thine

Own vengeance, and thy heart’s untamed and bitter hate.

Canst thou not silence them, and canst thou not forgive,

O youth? What wilt thou then in Balder’s sacred house?

With what intent hast thou this holy temple reared?

With stones is Balder not appeased. Atonement dwells

Below, as up above, alone where dwelleth peace.

With all thy foes and with thyself be reconciled.

The light-haired god will then be reconciled with thee.

They have a Balder in the south — the virgin’s son,

Who by the Allfather wise was sent to explain the runes

Upon the norns’ black shield rand, — unexplained before.

His battle-cry was peace, his conquering sword was love;

And blameless sat the dove upon his silver helm.

He holy lived and taught, he died and he forgave, —

And under distant palms his grave in sunlight lies.

From dale to dale his followers wander, it is said.

And melting hardened hearts, and laying hand in hand

Establish peace upon the reconciled earth.

I do not know the doctrine well, but dimly have I

In my better moments guessed what it may mean, —

And every human heart at times divines as well.

I know the time will come when it will lightly wave

Its white dove-pinions over all our northern hills;

But that day come, the North will be no more to us;

The oaks will sigh above our long-forgotten graves.

Oh, fortunate and blessed race! Ye who shall drink

The sparkling beaker of that light, I bid you hail!

It will be well if it can drive away the cloud

Whose humid covering hitherto has veiled life’s sun.

But scorn not us, who, in sincerity, have sought

With unaverted gaze to find the light divine.

The Allfather is but one, though many herald him.

“Thou hatest Bele’s sons. And wherefore hatest thou?

Because to thee, a yeoman’s son, they did not choose

To give their sister, who belongs to Seming’s race. —

The noble son of all-wise Odin. Their descent extends

To Valhal’s throne, — and pride of birth is theirs.

Thou sayest that birth on fortune, not on worth, depends.

Of merit all his own, O youth, is no one proud, —

But only of his fortune; for the best of things

Are only God’s good gifts to man. Art thou not proud

Of thy heroic deeds, of thy superior strength?

Who gave thee thy great strength? Did Asa–Thor not knit

Thy sinewy arms as firm and close as oaken boughs?

And is it not God’s spirit high which joyous beats

Within the citadel of thine arched breast? Is not

The lightning God’s which flashes in thy fiery eyes?

Beside thine infant cradle sang the haughty norns

The prince-song of thy life; for that thy merit is

No whit the greater than the king’s son’s for his birth.

Lest thy pride be condemned another’s censure not.

King Helge now is fallen.”

Here broke Fridthjof in:

“King Helge fallen? When and where?”

“Thou canst but know

That while thou here wert building, he was on the march

Among the Finnish mountains. On a lonely crag

There stood an ancient shrine. To Jumala ’twas built

Abandoned long ago, — the door was now fast closed;

But just above the portal still there stood a strange

Old image of the god, now tottering to its fall.

But no one dare approach, for there a saying rife

Among the people went from age to age, that he

Who first the temple sought should Jumala behold.

This Helge heard, and, blinded by his furious wrath,

Went up the ruined steps against the hated god, —

Intent to cast the temple down. When there arrived

The gate was closed, — the key fast rusted in the lock.

Then grasping both the door-posts, hard and fierce he shook

The rotten pillars. All at once, with horrid crash,

Down fell the ponderous image, crushing in its fall

The Valhal-son. And thus he Jumala beheld.

A messenger last night arrived the tidings bore.

Now Halfdan sits alone on Bele’s throne. To him

Thy hand extend, to heaven thy vengeance sacrifice.

That offering Balder asks, and I, his priest, require

In token that the peaceful god thou mockest not.

If thou refuse, this temple then is built in vain,

And vainly have I spoken.”

Then stepped Halfdan in,

Across the copper threshold, and with doubtful look

He stood aloof from him he feared and silence kept.

Then Fridthjof loosed the breastplate-hater from his side,

Against the altar placed his shield’s bright golden orb,

And weaponless approached his silent waiting foe.

“In such a strife,” said Fridthjof, in a kindly voice,

“The noblest he who offers first his hand for peace.”

King Halfdan blushed, then off he drew his glove of steel,

And hands long separated met in friendly clasp, —

A hearty hand-shake, steadfast as the mountain’s base.

And then the aged priest revoked the ban which on

The outlawed temple-violater long had lain.

’Twas scarce dissolved ere entered Ingeborg, attired

In bridal robes and ermine mantle, with her maids, —

So glides the moon, whom stars attend, in heaven’s vault;

With tear-drops in her lovely eyes, she fell upon

Her brother’s neck; but he, with deep emotion, laid

His sister, grown more dear, on Fridthjof’s faithful breast;

And o’er the altar of the god she gave her hand

To him, her childhood’s early friend, her heart’s beloved.

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