Felicia Dorothea Hemans

(25 September 1793 – 16 May 1835 / Liverpool, England)

The Sword Of The Tomb : A Northern Legend


'Voice of the gifted elder time!
Voice of the charm and the Runic rhyme!
Speak! from the shades and the depths disclose,
How Sigurd may vanquish his mortal foes;
Voice of the buried past!

'Voice of the grave! 'tis the mighty hour,
When night with her stars and dreams hath power,
And my step hath been soundless on the snows,
And the spell I have sung hath laid repose
On the billow and the blast.'

Then the torrents of the North,
And the forest pines were still,
While a hollow chant came forth
From the dark sepulchral hill.

'There shines no sun 'midst the hidden dead,
But where the day looks not the brave may tread;
There is heard no song, and no mead is pour'd,
But the warrior may come to the silent board
In the shadow of the night.

'There is laid a sword in thy father's tomb,
And its edge is fraught with thy foeman's doom;
But soft be thy step through the silence deep,
And move not the urn in the house of sleep,
For the viewless have fearful might!'

Then died the solemn lay,
As a trumpet's music dies,
By the night-wind borne away
Through the wild and stormy skies.

The fir-trees rock'd to the wailing blast,
As on through the forest the warrior pass'd,-
Through the forest of Odin, the dim and old,
The dark place of visions and legends, told
By the fires of Northern pine.

The fir-trees rock'd, and the frozen ground
Gave back to his footstep a hollow sound;
And it seem'd that the depths of those awful shades,
From the dreary gloom of their long arcades,
Gave warning, with voice and sign.

But the wind strange magic knows
To call wild shape and tone
From the grey wood's tossing boughs
When night is on her throne.

The pines clos'd o'er him with deeper gloom,
As he took the path to the monarch's tomb;
The pole-star shone, and the heavens were bright
With the arrowy streams of the northern light,
But his road through dimness lay!

He pass'd, in the heart of that ancient wood,
The dark shrine stain'd with the victim's blood:
Nor paus'd, till the rock where a vaulted bed
Had been hewn of old for the kingly dead,
Arose on his midnight way.

Then first a moment's chill
Went shuddering through his breast,
And the steel-clad man stood still
Before that place of rest.

But he cross'd at length, with a deep-drawn breath,
The threshold-floor of the hall of Death,
And look'd on the pale mysterious fire
Which gleam'd from the urn of his warrior-sire,
With a strange and solemn light.

Then darkly the words of the boding strain
Like an omen rose on his soul again,
-'Soft be thy step through the silence deep,
And move not the urn in the house of sleep,
For the viewless have fearful might!'

But the gleaming sword and shield
Of many a battle-day
Hung o'er that urn, reveal'd
By the tomb-fire's waveless ray.

With a faded wreath of oak-leaves bound,
They hung o'er the dust of the far-renown'd,
Whom the bright Valkyriur's warning voice
Had call'd to the banquet where gods rejoice,
And the rich mead flows in light.

With a beating heart his son drew near,
And still rang the verse in his thrilling ear,
-'Soft be thy step through the silence deep,
And move not the urn in the house of sleep,
For the viewless have fearful might!'

And many a Saga's rhyme,
And legend of the grave,
That shadowy scene and time
Call'd back, to daunt the brave.

But he rais'd his arm-and the flame grew dim,
And the sword in its light seem'd to wave and swim,
And his faltering hand could not grasp it well-
From the pale oak-wreath, with a clash it fell
Through the chamber of the dead!

The deep tomb rang with the heavy sound,
And the urn lay shiver'd in fragments round;
And a rush, as of tempests, quench'd the fire,
And the scatter'd dust of his warlike sire
Was strewn on the Champion's head.

One moment-and all was still
In the slumberer's ancient hall,
When the rock had ceas'd to thrill
With the mighty weapon's fall.

The stars were just fading, one by one,
The clouds were just ting'd by the early sun,
When there stream'd through the cavern a torch's flame,
And the brother of Sigurd the valiant came
To seek him in the tomb.

Stretch'd on his shield, like the steel-girt slain
By moonlight seen on the battle-plain,
In a speechless trance lay the warrior there,
But he wildly woke when the torch's glare
Burst on him through the gloom.

'The morning wind blows free,
And the hour of chase is near:
Come forth, come forth, with me!
What dost thou, Sigurd, here?'

'I have put out the holy sepulchral fire,
I have scatter'd the dust of my warrior-sire!
It burns on my head, and it weighs down my heart;
But the winds shall not wander without their part
To strew o'er the restless deep!

'In the mantle of death he was here with me now,-
There was wrath in his eye, there was gloom on his brow;
And his cold still glance on my spirit fell
With an icy ray and a withering spell-
Oh! chill is the house of sleep!'

'The morning wind blows free,
And the reddening sun shines clear;
Come forth come forth, with me!
It is dark and fearful here!'

'He is there, he is there, with his shadowy frown!
But gone from his head is the kingly crown,
The crown from his head, and the spear from his hand,-
They have chas'd him far from the glorious land
Where the feast of the gods is spread!

'He must go forth alone on his phantom steed;
He must ride o'er the grave-hills with stormy speed;
His place is no longer at Odin's board,
He is driven from Valhalla without his sword!
But the slayer shall avenge the dead!'

That sword its fame had won
By the fall of many a crest,
But its fiercest work was done
In the tomb on Sigurd's breast!

Submitted: Thursday, April 08, 2010

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