The Saga of King Hjörward’s Death.

Note.—The recent discovery of a Viking tomb of unusual size near
Sandefjord, in Norway, has made generally known the old Scandinavian
custom of burying great chieftains in their fully-appointed ships. A
certain number of these sepulchral ships have been disinterred, and there
probably remain many others still undisturbed. It was believed by the
Scandinavians that at the Last Day, or Twilight of the Gods, the warriors
whose souls had been admitted to Valhalla would arise to take part in the
eat battle which was to end in the destruction of Heaven (Asgard) and
Earth (Midgard). Asgard and Midgard, were connected by a rainbow-
bridge over which rode the gods and the ghosts of heroes.
The Norns decreed in their high home,1
Hjörward the King must die to-day ”—2
A mighty man, but old and gray,3
With housing long on the gray foam,4
And driving on their perilous way5
His hungry dragon-herd to seek6
Their fiery pasture, and to wreak7
On southern shrines with flame and sword8
The wrath of Asgard’s dreadful lord.9
Seven days King Hjörward then had kept10
His place in silence on his throne ;11
Seven nights had left him there alone,12
Watching while all the palace slept,13
Wan in the dawn and still as stone.14
But when they said, “ The King must die,”15
A shout such as in days gone by16
Shook the good ship when swords were swung,17
Broke from his heart and forth he sprung.18
Sword, sword and shield !” he cried, “ and thou,19
Haste, let the wingèd ship fly free.20
Yonder there shivers the pale sea,21
Impatient for the plunging prow,22
I hear the shrill wind call to me23
Hark, how it hastens from the east,24
Why tarriest thou ? ’ it cries, ‘ The feast25
To-night in Odin’s hall is spread,26
They wait thee there, the armed dead.’27
They wait me there—ho, sword and shield !28
What hero-faces throng the gate !29
Not long nor vainly shall ye wait.30
I too have not been weak to wield31
The heavy brand, I too am great ;32
Hjörward am I. No funeral car33
Slow rolling, but a ship of war,34
Swift on the wind and racing wave,35
Bears me to feast among the brave.36
Slaves, women, shall not sail with me,37
Nor broidered stuffs, nor hoarded gold,38
But men, my liegemen from of old,39
Strong men to ride the unbroken sea,40
And arms such as befit the bold.41
Arise, my steed, thou fierce and fleet,42
Once more thy flying hoofs shall beat43
The level way along the strand,44
The hard bright sea-forsaken sand.”’45
So the horse Halfi rose, and rose46
The hounds that wont to hunt with him,47
Shaggy of hide and lithe of limb ;48
And we too followed where repose49
The dragon-ships in order grim,50
Hastening together to let slip51
Svior, the dark shield-girdled ship,52
That like a live thing from the steep53
Fled eagerly into the deep.54
Fly fast to-day, proud ship, fly fast,55
Scatter the surge and drink the spray56
Hjörward is at thy helm to-day57
For the last time, and for the last58
Last time thou treadst the windy way.59
The oarsmen to the chiming oar60
Chant their hoarse song, and on the shore61
The folk are silent watching thee62
Speeding across the wide cold sea.63
The wind that rose with day’s decline64
Rent the dim curtain of the west,—65
Clear o’er the water’s furthest crest66
We saw a sudden splendour shine,67
A flying flame that smote the breast68
And high head of the mailed King,69
His hoary beard and glittering70
Great brand in famous fights renowned,71
And those grim chiefs that girt him round.72
The gate,” he muttered, “ lo ! the gate,”73
Staring upon the sky’s far gold.74
Yea, the wild clouds about it rolled75
Showed like the throned and awful state76
Of gods whose feet the waves enfold,77
Whose brows the voyaging tempests smite,78
Who wait, assembled at the bright79
Valhalla doors, the sail that brings80
This last and mightiest of kings.81
As swift before the wind we drave,82
We surely heard from far within83
Their shining battlements the din84
Of that proud sword-play of the brave ;85
And Hjörward cried, “ The games begin,86
The clang of shield on shield I hear.87
Wait, sons of Odin, wait your peer ”—88
And as that sudden splendour fled,89
With one great shout the King fell dead.90
Then as some falcon struck in flight91
Reels from her course, and dizzily92
Beats with loose pinions down the sky,93
So Svior reeled ’twixt height and height94
Of mounting waves, and heavily95
Plunged in the black trough of the sea,96
And o’er her helmless, full of glee,97
The roaring waters leapt and fell,98
Sweeping swift souls of men to Hell,99
We seized the helm and lowered the mast,100
And shorewards steered through night and wind101
We seemed like loiterers left behind102
By some bright pageant that had pass’d103
Within and left to us the blind104
Shut gates and twilight ways forlorn.105
And coldly rose the strange new morn,106
Ere to the watchers on the shore107
We cried, “ The King returns no more.”108
Return, ah ! once again return,109
Cross the frail bridge at close of day,110
And pale along the crimson way111
Of sunset when the first stars burn,112
Ride forth, thou king-born—look and say113
If on the wide earth stretched beneath114
Thou seest any house of death,115
High sepulchre where monarchs be,116
Like thine up-built beside the sea,117
Far have I journeyed from the moan118
Of northern waters, wandering119
By tombs of many a famous king ;120
There swathed in shrouds and sealed in stone121
They slumber where the tapers fling122
A dimness o’er them, and the drone123
Of praying priests they hear alone,124
Shut out from earth and bounteous sky,125
And all the royal life gone by.126
But Hjörward, clothed in shining mail,127
Holds kingly state e’en where he died,128
At Svior’s helm. On either side129
The hoary chiefs who loved to sail130
In youth with him sit full of pride,131
Leaned on their arms and painted shields132
Dim from a thousand battle-fields,133
Looking upon the King, and he134
Turns his helmed brows towards the sea.135
Across his knees his naked brand136
Is laid, and underneath his feet137
The Goth horse Halfi, and the fleet138
Great hounds he loved beneath his hand,139
And when the storms arise there beat140
Salt surges up against his grave ;141
He surely sometimes feels the brave142
Ship Svior quiver in her sleep,143
Dreaming she treads the windy deep.144
There overhead year after year145
The moorland turf and thyme shall grow,146
Above the horizon faint and low147
The same wild mountain summits peer,148
The same gray gleamy sea shall sow149
With foam the level leagues of sand,150
And peace be with that warrior band,151
Till dim below the bright abodes152
Gather the twilight of the gods.153