A chivalric tale in 69 irregular Spenserians of a one-off variety (aabbcbcC). The story is taken from the fourteen-volume history of Denmark (1782) by Peter Frederik Suhm (1728-98). William Herbert, a translator and scholar of northern mythology, presents the narrative in a manner that recalls Walter Scott's romances, though the fourth-century setting inevitably suggests Ossian. The peculiar eight-line stanza should perhaps be understood as a variation on that used in Thomas Gray's Hymn to Adversity, though with three rhymes rather than four. Like Scott, the clerical poet seems to revel in the theme of gothic superstition.
Monthly Review: "In this story, Mr. H. has returned to his earlier sources of poetical inspiration; and, though we hear no more sounds from the Hammer of Thor, yet is the heroine on the present occasion one whose 'name is found amongst the Valkyzier, or Maids of Slaughter.' Certainly, a very sufficient obscurity for all purposes of the sublime hangs over the Runic rhyme, speaks in the mysterious allusions of the Scalds, and indeed characterizes the muse of Scandinavia. Hedin inherits a portion of the family darkness; and therefore this is one of the few poems to which the notes should be consulted previously to a perusal of the text. Thus prepared, the reader will perceive many very spirited passages in the tale itself, and, moreover, will have a reasonable glimpse of their meaning" S2 94 (March 1821) 311-12.
The poem opens with a salute to Norway, of whose sons, "none unrival'd as young Hedin strode, | Bold in the battle's surge, and first in glory's road" p. 6. He attends the court of "Frode the Third, son of Dan, king of Denmark, [who] reigned over many tributary princes in the fourth century" 41n. Fearing dissension in his realm, Frode proposes that feuds be settled by single combat, and Harald issues a challenge to his son-in-law and former ally, Hedin, who had dishonored him by seducing his bride-to-be: "Freely I yielded the delightful boon, | But his dark treason cull'd the precious flower too soon" p. 12. Hedin denies the charge, and the lovely Hilda offers herself as a sacrifice: "Mine, mine alone, O princes! mine the guilt! | Thrice-honour'd father, let my life atone!" p. 16.
Her request is denied, and the lists are prepared for a contest in which alternate blows are to be given. Hedin is assigned by lot to receive the first blow, which he survives. Harald likewise survives his first blow, and then, moved by his former friendship, refuses to slay the now helmetless Hedin. But Hedin rejects the offer of peace, and in the ensuing combat both parties are mortally wounded. As they lie dying they are reconciled and Hedin begs Hilda that she bury them in the same tomb. The dead warriors are interred according to form and their deeds recorded by the scalds.
Distraught at the loss of her husband, Hilda repairs to the tomb by night and undertakes a forbidden rite: "Strange signs upon the tomb her hands did trace; | Then to strong spells she did herself address, | And in slow measure breathed that fatal strain, | Whose awful harmony can wake the slain" p. 33. Amid demonic laughter, Hedin appears from out the tomb: "His pallid cheek a mournful sadness wore, | And his long flowing locks were all defiled with gore" p. 35. As Hilda falls into his cold embrace, Harald too emerges from the tomb and the blows are renewed. The poem concludes mysteriously.
Author's note to stanza 69: "'There still each eve, as northern stories tell.' The following account is given in Professor Suhm's Hlistorie af Danmark. 'Hogni and Hedin were very celebrated in the reign of Frode the Third. Hedin, the son of Hiorvard, a Norwegian prince, came with 150 ships to King Frode. With 12 vessels he preceded the rest of his fleet, having placed a shield on his mast, as a token that his purpose was amicable: and friendly terms were speedily arranged. A tributary king in Jutland, named Hogni, had a daughter of exquisite beauty, called Hildur. She and Hedin, having been both prepossessed in favour of each other by previous report, met privately, and became exceedingly enamoured. Hedin and Hogni afterwards sailed together on maritime expeditions, the latter not being aware of Hedin's affection for his daughter. Hogni was a person of majestic carriage, and very imperious disposition; Hedin of inferior stature, but remarkably well made. Hogni offered his daughter in marriage to Hedin, and they pledged themselves by joint oaths to revenge the death of each other; after which they sailed against the Orkneys, which they subdued. After their return home, Hogni received information that Hedin had seduced his daughter before her marriage to him, which was looked upon as an heinous offence; and giving credit to the report, he attacked Hedin, who was at sea under the king's orders, but having an inferior force, took refuge in Jutland. When Frode heard this, he summoned them, and tried to bring about a reconciliation: but Hogni was inflexible, and demanded the restitution of his daughter; whereupon the king gave orders for a duel, in which Hedin received a severe wound; but Hogni took compassion on his youth and beauty, and spared him. But sometime after they met again on Hithin's island, near Rogaland, in Norway, and slew each other. It was rumoured in those superstitious times (A.D. 360), that Hildur so deeply regretted them, that by means of incantations she waked up the dead, who thereupon renewed their conflict; and that they would continue to do so every night till the end of the world. This story was the original cause of battle being called by the old Scalds the sport of Hilda.' — Suhrn, tom. i. p. 168. She has been called by modern writers the Goddess of War, or Bellona of the North, which was not exactly the case, though her name is found amongst the Valkyrier, or maids of slaughter" 44-45n.
Thy steeps yclad with fir-trees evergreen,
Thy torrents roaring the huge rocks between,
Thy broken glens and crags sublimely piled,
O Norway, beauteous Nature's rudest child,
Who can survey, and lash'd by stormy wind
Mark thy bleak coast, and climate nothing mild,
Nor deem such scenes by Freedom's power design'd
To steel her sons with strength, and brace the generous mind!
And hast thou rued the fell invader's sword!
Has the Franc eagle to thine eyrie soar'd!
Have Sweden's hateful banners, floating wide,
Mock'd thy gray hills and valleys' rugged side,
As thy free honours, once fair Norway's boast,
Stoop'd to a foreign yoke in vain defied;
While Want assail'd thy desolated coast,
And ghastly Famine scowl'd on thy beleaguer'd host!
Sons of the rock, in strife and tempest brave,
Thine offspring roam'd, like seamews, o'er the wave;
Yet faithful Love, by the pure-glowing light
Of thy bleak snows, with northern streamers bright,
And high-born Honour and chaste Truth abode.
Strong was thy race, and matchless in the fight,
But none unrival'd as young Hedin strode,
Bold in the battle's surge, and first in glory's road.
Gay laugh'd the sun on Danish Issefiord,
And fast in Leyra's port the fleet was moor'd:
And there were lists, as if for combat boon,
And in the midst twelve thrones; on every throne
A scepter'd prince, in gorgeous garb array'd.
They waited on the voice of Dan's great son;
His sovereign word twice fifty kings obey'd,
And many a lordly knight from Denmark's court outrade.
And there were two, in helm and hauberk clad,
On whom all looks were turn'd; the gaze was sad
And piteous, though they stood with bearing high,
Seeming the flower of that proud chivalry.
And there was one, a form of beauty rare,
By nuptial train attended; but her eye,
Fix'd in majestic sorrow, seem'd to wear
Less look of bridal joy, than of forlorn despair.
To them the monarch; "Princes of my realm,
Shall kindred strife this goodly state o'erwhelm?
Battle unauthorized and combat rude
Have shiver'd Denmark's peace with civil feud.
See the rash son defy the parent's brand!
With hopeless wrath stern vengeance is pursued;
Once blest in love, as now by hatred bann'd,
Sworn comrades e'en to death, the twain before you stand.
"Them judge ye, Peers; if combat be decreed,
Two chiefs are lost to Denmark; both must bleed.
If fault in either worthy death be found,
Let equal justice deal the deadly wound,
So one be saved: and see yon beauteous form,
Like a pale statue rooted to the ground,
Daughter and bride, with torn affections warm,
Plead for her spouse and sire, to 'scape this double storm!"
He ceased; through the deep crowd a murmur ran,
Then, silence made, stern Harald thus began.
"I call to combat Hedin, and reclaim
My daughter, his too fair, but guilty, dame.
Is my head soil'd with treason? is the hand
Of Harald recreant to its earliest fame?
So fall the axe on me! but if I stand
Pure and untouch'd, I ask the battle with my brand.
"I had one gem preserved with precious care,
My hope, my treasure. Who so fit to wear
That jewel as my friend? with partial voice
Him unsolicited I bade rejoice.
My heart's best pride, the darling of my sight,
Was freely profer'd by a parent's choice;
A form so perfect, and a mind so bright,
She seem'd a living beam of heaven's immortal light.
"Nor linger'd long the hours: his vessels bore
Hedin in tempest to his native shore.
Swift at the call his northern clansmen hied
To greet in Frode's halls the willing bride.
And ask ye now, high Peers, why I, who led
The virgin to those bonds in joyful pride,
Tear the sad matron from her nuptial bed,
And heap with bitter hate her lord's accursed head?
"I answer, he, who lives bold Harald's fere,
Must stand untouch'd, without reproach or fear;
She, who my blood inherits, may not rest,
Scorn of her kind, by a false traitor press'd.
Traitor and false I name thee, Hedin; curst
By who once hail'd thee to a brother's breast,
But deems that act of his pure life the worst,
Which knit those hallow'd bands that vengeful hate has burst.
"The living gods, that saw our mingled gore
The gods, dire witnesses of vows we swore,
(Link'd to one being, by one interest bound,
Since that dread moment on that hallow'd ground)
Bear witness to our strife! Insatiate hate,
Since love is rent, must deal its deadliest wound.
Hedin, we may not live; to me the weight
Of sharing thy disgrace is heavier than my fate.
"It boots not now, that where the northern tide
Roars round its rocks, we vanquish'd side by side.
I bore thee faint from Orkney's hostile plains,
When weak thy limbs, and bloodless were thy veins.
My daughter watch'd thee, skill'd to ease the smart
Of thy keen wounds, and soothe their throbbing pains.
The serpent, she had warm'd, with treacherous art
Writhed its pernicious coil around her guileless heart.
"By me unhallow'd, in her listening ears
His voice had pour'd deep vows and guilty prayers;
The man my choice deem'd true, sincere, and brave,
Had breathed corruption on the prize I gave.
By the lone taper or the conscious moon
He whisper'd love, foul love's dishonour'd slave;
Freely I yielded the delightful boon,
But his dark treason cull'd the precious flower too soon.
"The day was named; at Frode's board I sate,
Fearless of guile, improvident of hate.
Nigh Jutland's coast the spotless Hilda lay,
While he to bid his kindred braved the spray.
No beam was in my halls, save one lone light,
That pour'd from her chaste bower its trembling ray.
The traitor mark'd it in the silent night,
His anchor bit the sand, his footsteps shunn'd the sight.
"Now ask your hearts, why Harald redemands
The gift he trusted to a recreant's hands;
Why my stout ships reclaim'd the guilty wife,
Stunning the Baltic's wave with civil strife:
And (but he fled defeated, half subdued)
This arm ere now had quell'd the traitor's life.
In vain that tongue for mercy might have sued,
Which swore a guileful oath, and like a villain woo'd."
He ceased; with swelling wrath the youth replied—
"For peace or mercy never Hedin cried;
Nor fled I, save more stoutly to assail,
Spreading fresh canvas to the shivering gale
With force collected, sudden overta'en
By thy fell rage and unsuspected sail.
That arm, which seal'd our vows on Orkney's plain,
Nor shuns the strife of swords, nor ever smites in vain.
"I ask but justice from your voice, O Peers!
The fight proud Hedin neither seeks, nor fears.
If to have loved be guilt, that guilt I own.
Is virtue's breast unanimated stone?
Secret we grieved, and mournfully repined,
That love's fond wishes were so deeply sown;
But chaste desire was not to honour blind,
And Hilda's virgin fame was stainless as her mind.
"Now hate has done its worst, and death is nigh;
The dream of life has glided swiftly by.
Come the red danger of the deadly fight,
If Hedin falls, his friend must leave the light!
But glory shines unfaded and the same,
While love's best raptures yield us short delight;
And that dire trial, which redeems our fame,
Shall fire our souls again with friendship's purest flame."
This said, a deep and solemn pause ensued,
Like the dead calm upon the waveless flood.
Each eye is fix'd, each turn'd in pity, where
Stands that bright form of motionless despair,
Hilda, the loveliest; chaste as mountain snow,
Pure from her wedded couch; her flowing hair
From the white shoulder to the zone below
Hangs careless, and her eye seems tranced in settled woe.
A mien she wears of perfect majesty.
If the bright spirits of the glorious sky
E'er change for grief their heavenly garb of bliss,
Their shape of sorrow must be e'en like this,
So sad, yet so serene! How pale the hue
Of that sweet form, which scarce the winds dare kiss!
A vision fair, bewraying to the view
No glow of mortal love, but faith sublime and true!
Each look in wonder on that shape is bent;
To listen, if she breathes, each ear is lent;
When, with both arms outstretch'd, "My blood be spilt!
Mine, mine alone, O princes! mine the guilt!
Thrice-honour'd father, let my life atone!
Save for God's blessing never Hilda knelt;
Now proud I kneel before the justice-throne,
Not for thy life, or his; I sue for death alone.
"Unheard, unseen, in Jutland's calm retreat
My youthful breast had learn'd with love to beat,
And all that heaven on Hilda had bestow'd
Of love and faith from her fond bosom flow'd,
What time, as evening's balm bedew'd the shore,
The heart-rapt lover sought my lone abode:
A parent's blessing on his lips he bore,
And whisper'd dreams of joy, I wist not to explore.
"O pure endearments of that fatal eve!
Sweets, that now bid the shuddering bosom grieve!
I would not change in death's extreme distress
That first fond blush which then suffused my face.
For I have lived to be young Hedin's bride,
Known the long rapture of his chaste embrace,
Nor is there joy untasted, save the pride,
As we were one in bliss, to be in death allied.
"If kindred feuds require a forfeit life,
Let Hilda fall, sole cause of civil strife!
And thou, dread sire, if ever free from stain
I sooth'd thee, sang to thee in grief or pain,
Winning with virgin skill the sprite of woe,
Let thy proud daughter still small grace regain!
Grant her with joy to meet the murderous blow,
And o'er her cold cheek hear a parent's blessing flow."
She ceased; stillness ensued, as when the deep
Foretells a storm, and yet the whirlwinds sleep.
Like the sad beam of reason faintly spread
Round the lorn maniac on his dying bed;
Like the last radiance of the setting sun,
Ere night's wild tempest wraps the sky in dread;
A gleam, that show'd like hope, though hope was none;
A dream of life, when life's frail glass was nearly run.
There was no breeze upon the mountain's brow,
There was no ripple on the lake below,
E'en nature seem'd to pause: each living form
Seem'd fix'd by fearful presage of a storm
In mingled expectation and dismay:
Till the dread judgment broke the silent charm,
And loud and stern those lords in proud array
Decreed the deadly fight, and bade the trumpet bray.
It burst on Hilda like death's keenest throes,
Benumbing life: stately and slow she rose;
Her lovely bosom, passing mortal mould,
Seem'd like a shape of marble still and cold;
It throbb'd not, moved not, stiffen'd by despair,
And whiter than her vestment's snowy fold.
So calm, so pale, so exquisitely fair,
She seem'd like beauty's wraith, and scarce of life aware.
But long and loud the trumpet's deadly clang
Of strife the parricidal summons rang.
The lists are measured; for alternate blows
The dire swords bared, and the dark vizors close;
And, each in cumbrous mail and harness dight,
Father and son firm foot to foot oppose.
Harald draws first the lot, with vengeful might,
So heaven befriend his stroke, to end at once the fight.
High with both hands the gleaming blade he rear'd
O'er that young head that never shrank or fear'd;
And unresisted, like a bolt of hell,
On his strong casque the thundering falchion fell.
Far fly the helm's bright fragments; the dim eyes
In darkness swim, and the stunn'd senses reel.
Half bow'd to earth behold him prouder rise,
And yet he stands unharm'd, and yet his foe defies.
A mournful murmur through the admiring crowd
Wax'd faintly tremulous, more loud and loud.
Beauteous he smiled, and from his forehead bare
Smooth'd back the ringlets of his flowing hair.
"My weapon cleaves not," the old warrior cried;
"Strike now, strike firmly, Hedin, and beware!
Thy strength, thy prowess shall not twice be tried;
Ill may that youthful brow this blunted falchion hide."
Hedin each nerve with force collected strains,
The hot blood throbbing in his swollen veins;
And loud, "Since sire or son," he cries, "must bleed,
"Swift be the death, and worthy be the deed!"
He spoke, and instant the dire dint assay'd
Of his bright weapon with the lightning's speed;
But the slant helmet foil'd the impetuous blade;
From the left shoulder gush'd the blood-spring warm and red.
Now, fierce avenger, shall thy wrath be slow?
Serene thy victim waits the fatal blow.
Hear the faint moan, the doubtful voice of dread,
As thy keen glaive shines threatening o'er his head!
Stay the fierce deed, and yet, O yet delay!
Hear the low sounds of shuddering pity spread!
Down his bare neck the unbound ringlets stray,
Waving in glossy curls, and o'er his shoulders play.
Stern father, hast thou mark'd that eye of youth,
That beam of loveliness, that ray of truth?
Shall calm reflection milder thoughts inspire?
Gaze, daughter, gaze! behold thy vengeful sire!
Mark his dire port, his high uplifted hand,
The arm's strong sinews braced by ruthless ire!
It stops! — Shriek out for joy! — Upon the sand
His proud relenting arm casts down the stainless brand.
Mute had she view'd each stroke of deadliest hate
Wing'd with a husband's or a father's fate;
Joy burst on her stunn'd senses, as the flow
Of deafening waters on the waste below:
For she had stood past hope, past wish or pain,
The numb'd heart strain'd to meet the shock of woe.
Her pale cheek flush'd not; 'mid her bridal train
A cold and senseless weight she sank upon the plain.
Stout Hedin on the throng'd arena stood
Unmoved, as waiting still the work of blood.
And, "Lacks thine arm," he cries, "the nerve to smite?
O recreant to fame, as void of right!
Does mine eye quell thy soul? O nothing brave,
Hedin's bare forehead scares thee from the fight!
Hedin, who fled from thy victorious glaive,
Nor dared to bide thy prowess on the Baltic wave!
"O heartless, now it galls me to have led
A dastard's offspring to an honour'd bed,
Pure though she be as light, and fair as heaven,
Like the best gifts by gods to mortals given!
It grieves my spirit, ever wont to stand
Lord of the war, though life's best hope is riven,
It grieves my soul to perish by a hand
That unresisted shrinks and dreads to wield the brand."
To him brave Harald mildly sad replied:
"I would have spared thee, youth of fatal pride
O'er my stern heart the thoughts of other times
Came as a fairy dream of distant climes,
Stilling fierce passion, like the aerial strains
Of gentlest music breath'd to witching rhymes.
I thought of Orkney's desolated plains,
Where the red stream of blood flow'd jointly from our veins.
"Sweet memories of former friendship stole,
Like some dear vision, o'er my troubled soul.
Methought thine infant leap'd within the womb
Of my pale daughter leaning on thy tomb.
I would not that the child should tread the world
Friendless and fatherless in utter gloom,
Nor see the lance by his bold parent hurl'd,
Nor view his gallant barque with death's red flag unfurl'd.
"Enough! Thy pride rejects the life I gave.
Raise, Hilda, high thy lord's and parent's grave!
The die is cast; together, as we fall,
Receive us, Odin, in thy blissful hall!"
He said, and from his hoary locks unbound
The weighty helm that press'd his forehead tall;
And, smiling, cast it scornful on the ground,
Prepared to give and take at once the deadly wound.
No more; on rush they, prodigal of life,
Eager to die, and desperate in the strife.
'Tis done; in last convulsion, on the sand,
The parent grasps his comrade's dying hand;
"'Tis done!" he whispers, "from this bloody floor
We go to glory, in that joyous land,
Where never hate shall disunite us more,
Or fell suspicion bathe our hands in kindred gore."
On him pale Hedin raised his glassy eye,
And, "Hear me, sire," he murmur'd, "ere we die!
"I, fearful of denial, dared not sue,
But ne'er was Hedin to his friend untrue;
Save that the captived heart, unused to bow,
While the dear hope was ever in its view,
With lingering passion breath'd the secret vow,
And hid the burning love, it trembled to avow.
"Hate has been quick the harvest to destroy,
If it was guilt to reap that treacherous joy;
To bear the pang of unfulfill'd desire
In the soul's core, and nurse its hidden fire.
Cold is the hand that grasps thee, and in night
Float these dim eyes; but the proud spirit soars higher
To heaven's eternal realms, and that pure light
Whose glorious beams relume the warrior's dying sight.
"Friend, father, we have loved, as men whose blood
Sprang from one fount and mingled in one flood;
Together have we dared each deadliest form,
The battle's thunder, and the ocean's storm;
Like one proud tree we flourish'd, now uptorn
By hate's fell blast, as once by friendship warm.
Some cheering balm, by love's sweet influence borne,
Stole o'er my youthful thoughts, now ravish'd and forlorn.
"High souls, that kindle ardent in the fight,
Know most of bliss, drink deepest of delight:
To weaker spirits even joys belong,
Love's pangs are fiercest to the proud and strong.
Enough; thy course of full-earn'd fame is done;
My years have quickly waned, more bright than long.
We sink; we swim in darkness; but the sun
Of glory still shall light us, though our course be run.
"And thou, chaste partner of a life too brief,
To taste of half thy charms, or share thy grief,
Place in one tomb the husband and the sire!
The stern avenger of our fond desire,
And thine heart's lord, whose thoughts, though dying, strive
With thine in bliss united to expire;
In joy too rich, and yet too proud to live
Reft of the double charm that love and honour give."
Dead, gory, stiff they lie; and she who bless'd
Their sight, while living, breathes in transient rest.
Sleep on, thou fair one! for thy soul too soon
Must start to horror from that joyful swoon!
O to have seen the sire the husband spare!
To wake all glowing at the unlook'd-for boon!
With eyes that love and gratitude declare,
To smile, to seek, to view — the sire and husband — where?
There is a sense which words can ne'er express,
That blunts the sufferings of keen distress;
A rapture e'en of woe, that drags the mind
Beyond the sphere of ills it leaves behind;
Opes a new heaven with no dark clouds o'ercast,
Where the thought roams sublime and unconfined;
A pride of grief, when earthly hopes are past,
That mounts above the storm, and soars upon the blast.
She did not rend with one wild shriek the air,
Nor gave her soul to frantic vain despair;
Nor did her bosom heave one piteous sigh.
Say, was she faithless to love's hallow'd tie?
Was her heart pangless? or her feelings light?
Could woman's cheek in such an hour be dry?
Or the keen anguish of that deadly sight
Pass like a summer dream, and yield to new delight?
O never yet was sire more fondly loved!
Nor ever heaven's all-judging eye approved
A pair more closely link'd by nuptial band,
Than he, whose cold grasp holds his comrade's hand
In death united, and that beauteous fair,
Whose placid calmness does her soul command,
Still as the lake unmoved by breath of air,
And stately as the swan that sails unruffled there.
On her cheek glow'd love's bloom and living fire;
But, not unworthy of her valiant sire,
There was a proud endurance in her eye,
And in her veins heroic blood throbb'd high.
Honour's pure beam adorn'd each gentler grace,
Patience to bear, and fortitude to die.
Had the keen sabre smote her lovely face,
She ne'er had shrunk or wink'd unworthy of her race.
Her gallant spirit, fearless of the smart,
Had met the death-stroke with a warrior's heart,
In anguish smiling like a joyful bride.
But deem not ye the feelings lightly tried,
Though the tear swell not, or the bosom sigh!
In stillest calm the deepest thoughts abide;
The pang suppress'd may never reach the eye,
But the fond soul within feels all its agony.
As the mild lustre of the glowing heaven,
When the calm hours draw on the silent even;
When shade is on the earth, but light on high,
Spread like a mantle o'er the cloudless sky:
So, though the heart is wrapp'd in deepest gloom,
Streams yet unchanged the lustre of the eye;
The patient soul obeys its heavy doom,
While glory shines above, and points beyond the tomb.
Pass we the gorgeous rites that graced the slain,
Pass we the hoary minstrel's funeral strain!
O'er them fair glory's deathless flower shall bloom,
Nursed by sweet song, and breathe forth fresh perfume.
They shall not lack soft beauty's pitying tear,
Alike their valour, and alike their doom!
Long, long shall Denmark's sons their mound revere,
And scalds shall deck their grave with laurel never sere.
The night was calm and murky; the soft gale
Seem'd to diffuse fair peace o'er hill and vale;
But Hilda slept not, whom the strong desire
Of her lost Hedin gnaw'd with secret fire.
To the still grave she bent her fearless way,
While her dark thoughts with nature's gloom conspire;
Awhile she seem'd in anguish to survey
The monumental pile that wrapp'd his mouldering clay.
But not to mourn she sought that mansion lone,
Or weep unseen upon the dreary stone,
And in her sorrow there was nothing meek;
Gloomy her eye, and lowering seem'd to speak
A soul by deep and struggling cares distraught;
And the bright hectic flush upon her cheek
Told the mind's fever, and the darkling thought
With haughty high designs and stedfast passion fraught.
Strange signs upon the tomb her hands did trace;
Then to strong spells she did herself address,
And in slow measure breathed that fatal strain,
Whose awful harmony can wake the slain,
Rive the cold grave, and work the charmer's will.
Thrice, as she call'd on Hedin, rang the plain;
Thrice echo'd the dread name from hill to hill;
Thrice the dark wold sent back the sound, and all was still.
Then shook the ground as by an earthquake rent,
And the deep bowels of the tomb upsent
A voice, a shriek, a terror; sounds that seem'd
Like those wild fancies by a sinner dream'd;
A clang of deadly weapons, and a shout:
With living strength the heaving granite teem'd,
Inward convulsion, and a fearful rout,
As if fiends fought with fiends, and hell was bursting out.
And then strange mirth broke frantic on her ear,
As if the evil one was lurking near;
While spectres wan, with visage pale and stark,
Peep'd ghastly through the curtain of the dark,
With such dire laugh as Phrensy doth bewray.
It needs a gifted hand, with skill to mark
Hilda's proud features, which no dread betray,
Calm amid lonesome deeds and visions of dismay.
On her pale forehead stream'd an eyrie light
From that low mansion of infernal night,
Displaying her fair shape's majestic mould
In beauteous stillness; but an eye that told
More sense of inward rapture than of woe,
Thoughts of forbidden joy, and yearnings bold.
On the lone summits of eternal snow
So shines 'midst nature's calm the pure sky's azure glow.
Speechless she gazed, as from the yawning tomb
Rose Hedin, clad as when he met his doom.
Dark was his brow, his armour little bright,
And dim the lustre of his joyless sight;
His habergeon with blood all sprinkled o'er,
Portentous traces of that deadly fight.
His pallid cheek a mournful sadness wore,
And his long flowing locks were all defiled with gore.
There have been those, who, longing for the dead,
Have gazed on vacancy till reason fled;
And some dark vision of the wandering mind
Had ta'en the airy shape of human kind,
Giving strange voice to echoes of the night,
And warning sounds by heaven's high will design'd:
But this was bodily which met her sight,
And palpable as once in days of young delight.
High throbb'd her heart; the pulse of youth swell'd high;
Love's ardent lightning kindled in her eye;
And she has sprung into the arms of death,
Clasp'd his cold limbs, in kisses drunk his breath;
In one wild trance of rapturous passion blest,
And reckless of the hell that yawn'd beneath.
On his dire corslet beats her heaving breast,
And by her burning mouth his icy lips are press'd.
Stop, fearless beauty! hope not that the grave
Will yield its wealth, which frantic passion gave!
Though spells accursed may rend the solid earth,
Hell's phantoms never wake for joy or mirth!
Hope not that love with death's cold hand can wed,
Or draw night's spirits to a second birth!
Mark the dire vision of the mound with dread,
Gaze on thy horrid work, and tremble for the dead!
All arm'd, behold her vengeful father rise,
And loud, "forbear, dishonour'd bride!" he cries.
With starting sinews from her grasp has sprung
The cold wan form, round which her arms were flung;
Again in panoply of warlike steel
They wake those echoes, to which Leyra rung;
Fierce and more fierce each blow they seem to deal,
And smite with ruthless blade the limbs that nothing feel.
Darkling she stands beside the silent grave,
And sees them wield the visionary glaive.
What charm has life for her, that can compare
With the deep thrill of that renew'd despair?
To raise the fatal ban, and gaze unseen,
As once in hope, on all her fondest care!
In death's own field life's trembling joys to glean,
And draw love's keen delight from that abhorred scene!
The paths of bliss are joyous, and the breast
Of thoughtless youth is easy to be blest.
There is a charm in the loved maiden's sigh;
There is sweet pleasure in the calm blue sky,
When nature smiles around; the mild control
Of buoyant fancy bids the pulse throb high;
But when strong passion has engross'd the soul,
All other joys are dead; that passion is its whole.
The beaming sun may wake the dewy spring,
The flowers may smile, and the blithe greenwood ring;
Soft music's touch may pour love's sweetest lay,
And young hearts kindle in their hour of May:
But not for Hilda shall life's visions glow;
One dark deep thought must on her bosom prey.
Her joys lie buried in the tomb below,
And from night's phantoms pale her deadly bliss must flow.
There still each eve, as northern stories tell,
By that lone mound her spirit wakes the spell;
Whereat those warriors, charmed by the lay,
Renew, as if in sport, the deadly fray:
Till, when as paler grows the gloom of night,
And faintly 'gins to peer the morning's ray,
The spectre pageant fadeth from the sight,
And vanisheth each form before the eye of light.