Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

(27 February 1807 – 24 March 1882 / Portland, Maine)

Tales Of A Wayside Inn : Part 1. The Musician's Tale; The Saga of King Olaf XII. -- King Olaf's Christmas


At Drontheim, Olaf the King
Heard the bells of Yule-tide ring,
As he sat in his banquet-hall,
Drinking the nut-brown ale,
With his bearded Berserks hale
And tall.

Three days his Yule-tide feasts
He held with Bishops and Priests,
And his horn filled up to the brim;
But the ale was never too strong,
Nor the Saga-man's tale too long,
For him.

O'er his drinking-horn, the sign
He made of the cross divine,
As he drank, and muttered his prayers;
But the Berserks evermore
Made the sign of the Hammer of Thor
Over theirs.

The gleams of the fire-light dance
Upon helmet and hauberk and lance,
And laugh in the eyes of the King;
And he cries to Halfred the Scald,
Gray-bearded, wrinkled, and bald,
'Sing!'

'Sing me a song divine,
With a sword in every line,
And this shall be thy reward.'
And he loosened the belt at his waist,
And in front of the singer placed
His sword.

'Quern-biter of Hakon the Good,
Wherewith at a stroke he hewed
The millstone through and through,
And Foot-breadth of Thoralf the Strong,
Were neither so broad nor so long,
Nor so true.'

Then the Scald took his harp and sang,
And loud through the music rang
The sound of that shining word;
And the harp-strings a clangor made,
As if they were struck with the blade
Of a sword.

And the Berserks round about
Broke forth into a shout
That made the rafters ring:
They smote with their fists on the board,
And shouted, 'Long live the Sword,
And the King!'

But the King said, 'O my son,
I miss the bright word in one
Of thy measures and thy rhymes.'
And Halfred the Scald replied,
'In another 't was multiplied
Three times.'

Then King Olaf raised the hilt
Of iron, cross-shaped and gilt,
And said, 'Do not refuse;
Count well the gain and the loss,
Thor's hammer or Christ's cross:
Choose!'

And Halfred the Scald said, 'This
In the name of the Lord I kiss,
Who on it was crucified!'
And a shout went round the board,
'In the name of Christ the Lord,
Who died!'

Then over the waste of snows
The noonday sun uprose,
Through the driving mists revealed,
Like the lifting of the Host,
By incense-clouds almost
Concealed.

On the shining wall a vast
And shadowy cross was cast
From the hilt of the lifted sword,
And in foaming cups of ale
The Berserks drank 'Was-hael!
To the Lord!'

Submitted: Tuesday, March 30, 2010

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