Old King Hake.

Born of the Sea on a rocky coast1
Was old King Hake2
Where inner fire and outer frost3
Brave virtue make !4
He was a hero in the old5
Blood-letting days ;6
An iron hero of Norse mould,7
And warring ways.8
He lived according to the light9
That lighted him ;10
Then strode into the eternal night,11
Resolved and grim.12
His grip was stern for free sword play,13
When men were mown ;14
His feet were roughshod for the day15
Of treading down,16
When angry, out the blood would start17
With old King Hake ;18
Not sneak in dark caves of the heart.19
Where curls the snake,20
And secret murder’s hiss is heard21
Ere the deed be done.22
He wove no web of wile and word ;23
He bore with none.24
When sharp within its sheath asleep25
Lay his good sword,26
He held it royal work to keep27
His kingly word.28
A man of valour, bloody and wild,29
In Viking need ;30
And yet of firelight feeling mild31
As honey-mead.32
Once in his youth, from farm to farm,33
Collecting scatt,34
He gathered gifts and welcomes warm ;35
And one night sat,36
With hearts all happy for his throne37
Wishing no higher38
Where peasant faces merrily shone39
Across the fire.40
Their Braga-bowl was handed round41
By one fair girl :42
The Sea-King looked and thought, “ I’ve found43
My hidden pearl.”44
Her wavy hair was golden fair,45
With sunbeams curled ;46
Her eyes clear blue as heaven, and there47
Lay his new world.48
He drank out of the mighty horn,49
Strong, stinging stuff ;50
Then wiped his manly mouth unshorn51
With hand as rough,52
And kissed her ; drew her to his side,53
With loving mien,54
Saying, “ If you will make her a Bride,55
I’ll make her a Queen.”56
And round her waist she felt an arm,57
For, in those days,58
A waist could feel : ’twas lithe and warm,59
And wore no stays.60
How many brave deeds have you done ?”61
She asked her wooer,62
Counting the arm’s gold rings : they won63
One victory more,64
The blood of joy looked rich and red65
Out of his face ;66
And to his smiling strength he wed67
Her maiden grace.68
’Twas thus King Hake struck royal root69
In homely ground ;70
And healthier buds with goodlier fruit71
His branches crowned.72
But Hake could never bind at home73
His spirit free ;74
It grew familiar with the foam75
Of many a sea ;76
A rare good blade whose way was rent77
In many a war,78
And wore no gem for ornament79
But notch and scar.80
In day of battle and hour of strife,81
Cried Old King Hake :82
Kings live for honour, not long life.”83
Then would he break84
Right through their circle of shields, to reach85
Some chief of a race86
That never yielded ground, but each87
Died in his place.88
There the old Norseman stood up tall89
Above the rest ;90
Mainmast of battle, head of all,91
They saw his crest92
Toss, where the war-wave reared, and rode93
O’er mounds of dead,94
And where the battle-dust was trod95
A miry red.96
For Odin, in the glad wide blue97
Of heaven, would laugh98
With sunrise, and the ruddy dew99
Of slaughter quaff.100
But, ’twas the grandest gallant show101
To see him sit,102
With his Long-Serpent all aglow,103
And steering it104
For the hot heart of fiercest fight.105
A grewsome shape !106
The dragon-head rose, glancing bright,107
And all agape ;108
Over the calm blue sea it came109
Writhingly on,110
As half in sea, and half in flame,111
It swam, and shone.112
The sunlit shields link scale to scale113
From stem to stern,114
Over the steersman’s head the tail115
Doth twist and burn.116
With oars all moved at once, it makes117
Low hoverings ;118
Half walks the water, and half takes119
The air with wings.120
The war-horns bid the fight begin121
With death-grip good :122
King Hake goes at the foremost, in123
His Bare-Sark mood.124
A twelvemonth’s taxes spent in spears125
Hurled in an hour !126
But in that host no spirit fears127
The hurtling shower.128
And long will many a mother and wife129
Wait, weary at home,130
Ere from that mortal murderous strife131
Their darlings come.132
Hake did not seek to softly die,133
With child and wife ;134
He bore his head in death as high135
As in his life.136
Glittering in eye, and grim in lip,137
He bade them make138
Ready for sailing his War-Ship,139
That he, King Hake,140
The many-wounded, grey, and old,141
His day being done,142
He, the Norse warrior, brave and bold,143
Might die like one.144
And chanting some old battle-song,145
Thrilling and weird,146
His soul vibrating, shook his long147
Majestic beard.148
The gilded battle-axe, still red,149
In his right hand ;150
With shield on arm, and helm on head,151
They help’d him stand,152
And girded him with his good sword ;153
And so attired,154
With his dead warriors all aboard,155
The ship he fired,156
And lay down with his heroes dead,157
On deck to die ;158
Still singing, drooped his grey old head,159
With face to sky.160
The wind blew seawards ; gloriously161
The death-pyre glowed !162
On his last Viking voyage he163
Triumphing rode :164
Floating afar between the Isles,165
To his last home,166
Where open-armed Valhalla smiles,167
And bids him come.168
There, as a sinking sunset dies169
Down in the west,170
The fire went out ; the rude heart lies171
At rest—at rest,172
And sleeping in its ocean bed,173
That burial-place174
Most royal for the kingly dead175
O’ the old sea-race !176
So the Norse noble of renown,177
With his stern pride,178
That flaming crown of death pulled down.179
And so he died.180