A Tale From the Far North
This week’s poetry is a single longer poem, a tale from the Norse about the god Baldr. I have retold it briefly because it is a story that has long fascinated me. Those familiar with it will see that I have simplified the plot for the sake of this telling, as the ancient poets themselves always did, with this and other tales. The main content comes down to our time from the Prose Edda.
Additionally, I will note that this is an experimental work in its format. I have rhymed it in a simple AA,BB,CC… sequence, but not in the usual place in the lines! I can assure you, switching the rhyme location was a challenge!
This, along with the story’s provenance from the Norse, has resulted in some archaic syntax as I let the poem find its own flow.
Bright the beauty of the young god Baldr;
White and pure as snow upon the fir trees
Was his youthful grace; and the immortals
Pause and even now remember, weeping,
How the evil deed was wrought against him.
Now all hope has faded, only sorrow
Meets the memory of their beloved,
Cheats them of their joy and turns to mourning.
Gifted by all things, and gladly gifted,
Lifted hands for Frigg to swear her bidding,
They would never hurt her son, hurt Baldr,
Slay nor even harm him whom all cherished.
So she took an oath of each thing, earthling
Low or high, to cheat her dear son’s dreaming,
Lest the dreams should come to baneful waking;
Rest came better once the oaths were spoken.
Great the joy and merriment thus wakened;
Fate would be the weaker, could not touch him;
Meantime all the gods found sport in safety,
Weening not the mischief that might follow
Through their mirth, for each hurled boldly
(Due the honor of the oaths then taken)
Aught that came to hand at the young Baldr.
Naught would touch him but it first dropped harmless.
Spear of oak or tempered sword blade brazen,
Near they pressed him, but all things fell blameless;
Stone or flame alike would leave him scatheless,
Flown away were dart and arrow, lest they
Fall upon that brow, to each beloved.
All things dropped in honor of his presence,
Heightened by the oaths to Frigg, the goddess;
Lightened the gods’ days in simple jesting.
Here the hatred (how could it be other?)
Near to Loki’s heart, the mischief-maker,
Brought to birth an evil plot. In secret
Sought he then among the things that promised,
One, and only one, too young to swear yet—
Won from searching through the mountains, meadows—
Just the mistletoe, so callow still, it
Must not yet give oath to Frigg the goddess.
Cunning was the mischief-maker Loki,
Running, joined him in the games and laughter,
Seeking the blind warrior, Baldr’s brother
Shrieking with the laughter but unable
There to play the game to honor Baldr.
Where he stood, came Loki and embraced him,
Thrust into his willing hand a spearshaft,
Just to join the fest-games of the Aesir.
Of the mistletoe that spear was crafted;
Loved he not the chance, that cunning Loki?
Hated Baldr and deceived blind Hothr
Sated with inaction and too trusting
When the whisper reached his ear and promised
Then to guide the missile to its purpose:
Show the love that all things had to Baldr,
Know the faith all kept with Frigg, the goddess.
Woe the hand that cast the fatal missile!
Low the gods and goddesses have bent them,
Searching whether death might yet be thwarted,
Urging quest to Hel to find if ever
Might be respite from a doom so bitter.
Night descends on Baldr and the Aesir.
Journey brings the answer back to test them:
Sure that Baldr might return through weeping.
All things now are begged to weep for Baldr;
Call on each thing on the earth to mourn him;
So they did; each wept unto another;
No one grudged the mourning save one goddess
(She, they deem, was Loki in this guise there),
Free with hate and scorn and would not weep him.
Should the tears of all things else be gathered,
Could not open Hel and release Baldr.
Dark the days that open for the Aesir;
Mark you how the god was brought to ocean,
Place they him upon the bright Hringhorni,
Brace in vain against its weight to launch it,
Till the giantess thrust forth into the water.
Fill the sea with flames in earnest mourning;
Leave the pyre and leave the sodden ashes,
Grieve the loss, the son of Frigg and Odin.
Someday, say the wise, beyond the ending
Comes with joy the newly living Baldr,
Sits him at the feast with Thor and Hothr--
Writ this was for hope beyond the ages.
Now the days are dark with blood and vengeance;
How they look for light beyond all darkness,
Lest the loss of all be loss forever;
Blest the hope of Baldr’s late returning.