Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Frithiof at the Court of Angantyr - Esaias Tegnér

’Tis time to tell how Angantyr,
  The earl, was seated then
High in his hall of stately fir,
  Carousing with his men.
Thence he surveyed, in merry mood,
  The day-car as it rolled;
Now cleaving through the purple flood,
  All like a swan of gold.

The window near, a trusty swain,
  Old Halvar, kept good heed;
One eye upon the foamy main,
  One on the frothy mead.
Oft as the veteran’s dole came round,
  He quaffed till all was drawn;
Then straight, with gravity profound,
  Replaced the exhausted horn.

Now hurled, it bounded on the floor,
  Whilst loud the warder cried,
“The billows, laboring toward the shore,
  I see a vessel ride.
Wrestling with death, pale rowers strain,
  And now they touch the land;
And ghastly forms, by giants twain,
  Are strewed along the strand.”

The chieftain o’er the glassy vale
  Looked from his hall on high:
“Yon pennon is Ellida’s sail;
  Frithiof, I ween, is nigh.
That noble port, that lofty brow,
  Old Thorsten’s son declares;
Such cognizance, brave youth, as thou,
  No gallant Northman bears.”

Swift from the bench, with maddening air,
  The Berserk Atlè flew;
O’er whose gaunt visage, gore-stained hair
  A sable horror threw.
“I haste,” he roared, “intent to brave
  This sword-subduer’s spell,
Who peace or truce ne’er deigned to crave,
  As vaunting rumors tell.”

Then twice six followers from the board
  Rushed forth with fierce delight;
They whirled the club, they waved the sword,
  Impatient for the fight.
Thus storming, to the beach they hied,
  Where Frithiof on the sand
Seated, by spent Ellida’s side,
  Cheered his disheartened band.

“Conquest,” he ’gan, with thundering voice,
  “Were feat of light emprise,
Yet generous Atlè grants a choice,
  Ere luckless Frithiof dies.
For proffered peace deign once to sue,
  Else all unwont to plead,
Thy steps, myself, as comrade true,
  To yonder keep will lead.”

“Though worn with conflict fell and long,”
  In ire, the Bold replied,
“Ere Frithiof wear a suppliant tongue,
  Be the fresh battle tried.”
Then from each sunburnt warrior’s steel
  The lightning flashes came,
And Angurvadel’s runes reveal
  Dark fate, in signs of flame.

Now on their bucklers, showered like hail,
  The clattering death-strokes beat;
Till, cleft at once, each shield’s bossed mail
  Falls clanging at their feet.
Yet, proof alike ’gainst fear and ruth,
  They played the desperate stake;
But keen was Angurvadel’s tooth,
  And Atlè’s falchion brake.

Said Frithiof, “Swordless foeman’s life
  Ne’er dyed this gallant blade:
So, list thee to prolong the strife,
  Be equal war essayed.”
Like billows driven by autumn’s blast,
  The champions met and closed;
In mutual clutch locked firm and fast,
  Their steel-clad breasts opposed.

They hugged like bears, that, wandering free,
  Meet on their cliff of snow;
Grappled like eagles o’er the sea,
  That frets its waves below.
Such force had well-nigh torn the rock,
  Deep-rooted, from its bed;
And, shaken less, the iron oak
  Had bowed its leafy head.

Big from their brows the heat-drops roll,
  Cold heaves each laboring chest,
Touched by their tread, stone, bush, and knoll
  Start from their ancient rest.
Trembling, their sturdy followers wait
  The issue of the fray;
And oft shall Northern lips relate
  The wrestling of that day.

’T is o’er; for Frithiof’s matchless strength
  Has felled his ponderous size;
And ’neath that knee, a giant length,
  Supine the Viking lies.
“But fails my sword, thou Berserk swart!”
  The voice rang far and wide,
“Its point should pierce thy inmost heart,
  Its hilt should drink the tide.”

“Be free to lift the weaponed hand,”
  Undaunted Atlè spoke,
“Hence, fearless quest thy distant brand!
  Thus I abide the stroke:
To track Valhalla’s path of light,
  In arms immortal shine,—
My destiny, perchance, this night,
  To-morrow may be thine!”

Nor Frithiof long delayed; intent
  To close the dread debate,
His blade redeemed ’gainst Atlè bent,
  And aimed the expected fate.
But reckless courage holds a charm
  Can kindred wrath surcease;
This quelled his ire, this checked his arm,
  Outstretched the hand of peace.

The warder growled, and eyed the cheer,
  Waving his staff of white:
“But little boots our banquet here,
  That Hildur’s cates invite;
For you must stand the savory meat
  Untouched in reeking row,
For you these lips be parched with heat,
  Halvar his horn forego.”

Now, brothers sworn, the former foes
  Have passed the spacious gate,
Whose valves to Frithiof’s view disclose
  Wonders of wealth and state.
For planks, his walls’ rude vest, scant aid
  To exclude the piercing cold,
Rich skins with glittering flowers o’erlaid,
  Berries of pendent gold.

No central balefire in the hall
  With stifling splendor shone;
But glowed within the caverned wall
  A hearth of polished stone.
No sooty clouds the roof defaced,
  The polished plank distained;
Glass neatly squared the windows graced;
  The door a lock restrained.

For torch of pine, whose crackling blaze
  Diffused a flickering gleam,
From branching silver shed, bright rays
  Rivalled the solar beam.
He saw the table’s ample sweep
  A larded hart adorn,
With gold-hoof raised for menaced leap,
  And leaf in grove of horn.

Behind the seated chief, serene,
  Appeared a virgin-form;
So locks the star of beauty’s queen,
  Soft, o’er a sky of storm.
There nut-brown ringlets circling flowed;
  There sparkled eyes of blue;
And, as a flower ’midst runes, there glowed
  Small lips of roseate hue.

High on a throne of ore-clad elm
  Sat Angantyr sedate;
Bright as the sun his burnished helm,
  As bright his gilded plate.
His mantle, rich with many a gem,
  Strewed the bespangled ground;
Along whose border’s purple hem
  The spotless ermine wound.

He strode three paces from the dais,
  His gallant guest to greet,
And led, with many a gracious phrase,
  To honor’s nearest seat.
“What place a comrade’s cherished name
  Might ask for Thorsten’s son
Is thine, brave youth; the due of fame,
  By peerless valor won.”

Now flagons from Sicilia’s store
  Their treasured nectar gave;
Not Etna’s fire could sparkle more,
  More froth Charybdis’ wave.
“Come, pledge the memory of my friend,
  Be welcome pledged,” he said,
“And let the brimming goblet blend
  The living and the dead.”

*        *        *        *        *
Whilst jest and social joys engage,
  Swift the night-watches fled;
Freighted with mirth, not fraught with rage,
  The golden goblet sped;
A health to Angantyr they shout,
  At the close of each regale:
And Frithiof wears the winter out,
  Ere swells Ellida’s sail.

Esaias Tegnér (1782–1846)
From the Frithiof Saga Canto XI.
Translated by William Strong
Source: The World’s Best Poetry, ed. by Bliss Carman, et al. Philadelphia: John D. Morris & Co., 1904

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