William Bell Scott

(1811-1890 / Scotland)

Thorolf And Gudrun - Poem by William Bell Scott

Would you be free of a salt-sea grave,
Drink from your palm of the high tenth wave,
Eat of the yew the topmost leaf,
And the midmost cornhead out of the sheaf,
Bind a rune around each arm;
Then you need fear no salt-sea harm.
Thorolf, stark and large of bone,
Must whet his sword, his casque must don,
And leave long-haired Gudrun alone:
Thorolf did all these and more,
He threw the live brand from the door,
They clasped hands through the thorough stone,
Three kisses kissed, and he was gone.

Gudrun ascends to her own bower,
The highest chamber in the tower:
She opens the small shot-window
That she may see the great ships go,
Far away and far below:

Now they come, the wide wings set
That all the southern gale be met;
The first was large, the sails were red,
With the black raven on them spread,
In that the first, so proud, so fair,
My love and all his men must fare;
Another, more grand still, comes on,
My lover's sure must be that one—
But a larger dragon still
Quits the shadow of the hill;
Oh, I must learn each name to call,
And make charmed runes for each and all.

Round by Lessoe's broken strand,
Out by Elsinore's white sand,
They ride the dark-green ocean free,
Straight westward to the English sea,
With heavy brand and grasping hand
They swoop down on nord-Humber land.
And now the green cloth, red cloth rare,
He wins Gudrun to shape and wear,
A golden tire for her light hair

When the bower-maidens braid it tight,
After the marriage day and night;
Many a gift to hang in hall,
And great carved chest to hold them all.
On they pass from shore to shore,
But runners fleet have fled before;
Mascled breast, mailed hand and knee,
Gather within the high mole's lee.
Ah, wide-winged Hugin now flies past
To Valhall's high wall bound so fast:
Were I a true skald, I could see
The fate-dealing Damsels, three by three,
Fold up their sleeves, beneath each heart
Tighten their girdles, and depart.

Gudrun, Gudrun, look out again,
Look over that far stormy main,
Dost thou see them three by three,
Flying towards the Scottish sea?
Second sight is not for thee,

But dost thou see
These ships returning to our bay,
And every man who went away,
Proud with the spoils of his sword-play,
Leaping from their prows this day?
Nay, far away,
With rolled-up sleeves these Doomsters grey,
Fly over heads of struggling men.
Men struggling in the deadly fray,
And again and yet again,
Like hungry eagles, birds of prey,
They stoop
And mark the heads that death shall coop.
Gudrun, to-day
The arrows fly and some must die,
The spears' thrust levelled to the heart,
No sword can waive their deadly smart.
Will Thorolf safe that deck regain,
Or is he coiled among the slain?
Gudrun, Gudrun, look out again—
But now the thick white smoke is blown
From those high ships where men are mown:
The mist comes over heart and brain.

Bleach, oh bleach, my white linen,
Bleach, oh bleach, my grey,
I too am bleaching white and thin,
It is a year, a year to-day,—
Why doth Thorolf stay away?
Why doth Thorolf stay?

That and this were for my bed,
Yon was on the board to lay,
This to make my bower glad,
And that was for embroidery.
Bleach, oh bleach, my white linen,
Bleach, oh bleach, my grey,
I too am bleaching white and thin,
Why doth Thorolf stay?

Summer went and autumn rose,
Autumn passed with moaning gale,
Long winter followed with its close
Of wandering tempest, icy hail.
Bleach, oh bleach, my white linen,
Bleach, oh bleach, my grey,
I too am bleaching white and thin,
Why doth my Thorolf stay?

Now spring, long waited for, at last
Alone thou comest back to me,
My empty arms abroad I cast
As I sit on this bleaching lea:
My eyes are failing, I scarce see
The linen lying on the lea.
But what's my linen now to me?
Few yards can wind a wasted May,
It is a year, a year to-day,
Why doth Thorolf stay away?
Why doth Thorolf stay?

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Poem Submitted: Thursday, April 22, 2010

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