The Fleshly School Controversy
Buchanan and the Press
Buchanan and the Law

The Critical Response
Harriett Jay

Site Diary
Site Search

{Balder The Beautiful 1877}






O WHAT is this cry in our burning ears,
     And what is this light on our eyes, dear love?
The cry is the cry of the rolling years,
     As they break on the sun-rock, far above;
And the light is the light of that rock of gold
     As it burneth bright in a starry sea;
And the cry is clearer a hundredfold,
     And the light more bright, when I gaze on thee.
My weak eyes dazzle beneath that gleam,
     My sad ears deafen to hear that cry:
I was born in a dream, and I dwell in a dream,
     And I go in a dream to die!

O whose is this hand on my forehead bare,
     And whose are these eyes that look in mine?
The hand is the Earth’s soft hand of air,
     The eyes are the Earth’s—thro’ tears they shine;
And the touch of the hand is so soft, so light,
     As the ray of the blind orbs blesseth me;
But the touch is softest, the eyes most bright,                                        x
     When I sit and smile by the side of thee.
For the mortal Mother’s blind eyes beam
     With the long-lost love of a life gone by,
On her breast I woke in a beauteous dream,
     And I go in a dream to die!

O what are the voices around my way,
     And what are these shadows that stir below?                                 [3:2]
The voices of waifs in a world astray,
     The shadows of souls that come and go.
And I hear and see, and I wonder more,
     For their features are fair and strange as mine,
But most I wonder when most I pore
     On the passionate peace of this face of thine.
We walk in silence by wood and stream,
     Our gaze upturned to the same blue sky:
We move in a dream, and we love in a dream,
     And we go in our dream to die!

O what is this music of merry bells,
     And what is this laughter across the wold?
’Tis the mirth of a market that buys and sells,
     ’Tis the laughter of men that are counting gold.
I walk thro’ Cities of silent stone,
     And the public places alive I see;
The wicked flourish, the weary groan,
     And I think it real, till I turn to thee!
And I smile to answer thine eyes’ bright beam,                                     xi
     For I know all’s vision that darkens by:                                        [4:10]
That they buy in a dream, and they sell in a dream,
     And they go in a dream to die.

O what are these shapes on their thrones of gold,
     And what are those clouds around their feet?
The shapes are kings with their hearts clay-cold,
     The clouds are armies that ever meet;
I see the flame of the crimson fire,
     I hear the murdered who moan “Ah me!”—
My bosom aches with its bitter ire,
     And I think it real, till I turn to thee!
And I hear thee whisper, “These shapes but seem—
     They are but visions that flash and fly,
While we move in a dream, and love in a dream,
     And go in our dream to die!”

O what are these Spirits that o’er us creep,
     And touch our eyelids and drink our breath?
The first, with a flower in his hand, is Sleep;
     The next, with a star on his brow, is Death.
We fade before them whene’er they come,
     (And never single those spirits be!)
A little season my lips are dumb,
     But I waken ever,—and look for thee.
Yea, ever each night when the pale stars gleam                                   xii
     And the mystical Brethren pass me by,
This cloud of a trance comes across my dream,
     As I seem in my dream to die!

O what is this grass beneath our feet,
     And what are these beautiful under-blooms?
The grass is the grass of the churchyard, Sweet,
     The flowers are flowers on the quiet tombs.
I pluck them softly, and bless the dead,
     Silently o’er them I bend the knee,
But my tenderest blessing is surely said,
     Tho’ my tears fall fast, when I turn to thee.
For our lips are tuned to the same sad theme,
     We think of the loveless dead, and sigh;
Dark is the shadow across our dream,
     For we go in that dream to die!

O what is this moaning so faint and low,
     And what is this crying from night to morn?
The moaning is that of the souls that go,
     The crying is that of the souls new-born.
The life-sea gathers with stormy calls,
     The wind blows shrilly, the foam flies free.
The great wave rises, the great wave falls,
     I swim to its height by the side of thee!
With arms outstretching and throats that scream,                                 xiii
     With faces that flash into foam and fly,
Our beings break in the light of a dream,
     As the great waves gather and die!

O what is this Spirit with silvern feet,
     His bright head wrapt in a saffron veil?
Around his raiment our wild arms beat,
     We cling unto them, but faint and fail.                                             [9:4]
’Tis the Spirit that sits on the twilight star,
     And soft to the sound of the waves sings he,                                  [9:6]
He leads the chaunt from his crystal car,
     And I join in the mystical chaunt with thee,
And our beings burn with the heavenly theme,
     For he sings of wonders beyond the sky,
Of a god-like dream, and of gods in a dream,
     Of a dream that cannot die!

O closer creep to this breast of mine;
     We rise, we mingle, we break, dear love!
A space on the crest of the wave we shine,
     With light and music and mirth we move;
Before and behind us (fear not, sweet!)
     Blackens the trough of the surging sea—
A little moment our mouths may meet,
     A little moment I cling to thee;
Onward the wonderful waters stream,                                                xiv
     ’Tis vain to struggle, ’tis vain to cry—
We wake in a dream, and we ache in a dream,
     And we break in a dream, and die!

But who is this other with hair of flame,
     The naked feet, and the robe of white?
A Spirit, too, with a sweeter name,
     A softer smile, a serener light.
He wraps us both in a golden cloud,
     He thrills our frames with a fire divine,
Our souls are mingled, our hearts beat loud,
     My breath and being are blent with thine:
And the sun-rock flames with a flash supreme,
     And the starry waves have a stranger cry—
We climb to the crest of our golden dream,
     For we dream that we cannot die!

Aye! the cry rings loud in our burning ears,
     And the light flames bright on our eyes, dear love,
And we know the cry of the rolling years
     As they break on the sun-rock far above;
And we know the light of the rock of gold,
     As it burneth bright in a starry sea,
And the glory deepens a thousandfold
     As I name the immortal gods and thee!
We shrink together beneath that gleam,                                               xv
     We cling together before that cry;
We were made in a dream, and we fade in a dream,
     And if death be a dream, we die!


Alterations in the 1882 Selected Poems:
v. 3, l. 2:  And what are these shadows that haunt me so?
v. 4, l. 10: For I know all’s vision that blackens by:
v. 9, l. 4: We cling unto it, but faint and fail.
v. 9, l. 6: And soft to the sound of the surge sings he; ]




The gods are brethren. Wheresoe’er
They set their shrines of love or fear,
In Grecian woods, by banks of Nile,
Where cold snows sleep or roses smile,
The gods are brethren. Zeus the Sire
Was fashion’d of the self-same fire
As Odin; He whom Ind brought forth
Hath his pale kinsmen east and north;
And more than one since life began
Hath known Christ’s agony for Man.
The gods are brethren. Kin by fate,
In gentleness as well as hate,
’Mid heights that only Thought may climb
     They come, they go; they are, or seem;
Each, rainbow’d from the rack of Time,
     Casts broken lights across God’s Dream.













THERE blent with his growing
     The leaf and the flower,
The wind lightly blowing
         Its balm from afar,
The smile of the sunshine,
     The sob of the shower,
The beam of the moonshine,
         The gleam of the star.
’Mid shining of faces
     And waving of wings,
With gifts from all places
     Came beautiful things;
The blush from the blossom,                                                      4
     The bloom from the corn,
Blent into his bosom,
     Ere Balder was born.

As a rainbow in heaven
     Was woven the rune,
The colours were seven
         Most dim and divine;
Thro’ regions of thunder
     Serene swam the moon,
With white rays of wonder
         Completing the sign.
The snow-star was gleaming
     Cold, silent, and clear,
Its bright image beaming
     Deep down in the mere;
The night grew profounder,
     The earth slept forlorn,
With the drift wrapt around her
     Ere Balder was born.

Beside a waste water                                                               5
     Lay Frea alone,
In Asgard they sought her,
         To earth she had crept;
The Father was sitting
     Snow-white on his throne,
The night-clouds were flitting,
         The wind-harps were swept.
No eyes divine found her—
     She lay as one dead—
Vast forests around her,
     Black vapours o’erhead,—
She saw not,—she heard not,—
     But weary and worn,
Snow-shrouded, she stirred not,
     Ere Balder was born.

There, hid from the Father,
     She brooded below,
In realms where pines gather
         Ice-robed and ice-crown’d,
And the great trees were drooping,                                           6
     Struck down by the snow,
With chilly arms stooping
         To touch the white ground.
While whirlwinds were weaving
     Their raiment of cloud,
She sat there conceiving,
     Dark, brooding, and bow’d;
But where the boughs thicken’d
     A bird sang one morn,—
And she kindled and quicken’d,
     Ere Balder was born.

Then by that great water,
     Within the dark woods,
The dawn broke, and brought her
         A glimmer of Spring!
The gray geese came crying
     Far over the floods,
The black crane pass’d, flying
         With slow waft of wing.
And when the moon’s silver                                                       7
     Was shed on the mere,
The cry of the culver
     Was heard far and near,
And the owls to each other
     Made answers forlorn,—
And she smiled, the sad Mother,
     Ere Balder was born.

Then the peace and the splendour
     Of powers of the night,
And the strength that grows tender
         Where dusk rivers run,
The beam of the moonshine,
     The soft starry light,
And the first smile of sunshine,
         Were woven in one.
And they mingled within her
     With motions of earth
To strengthen and win her
     To mystical birth;—
By the pangs of a woman                                                          8
     The goddess was torn,
Ere, with heart of the human,
     God Balder was born.

The wind-gods were blowing
     Their trumpets of might,
The skies were still snowing,
         And dark was the wold,—
With a rock for her pillow
     Lay Frea that night,
Beneath a great willow
         All leafless and cold—
But the earth to strange motion
     Was stirring around,
And the ice of the ocean
     Had split with shrill sound;—
When coldly upspringing
     Arose the red morn,
To a sound as of singing
     Bright Balder was born!

His hair was as golden                                                               9
     As lily-hearts be,
When, softly unfolden,
         From black tarns they rise,—
The lights of the azure,
     The shades of the sea,
Blent into the pleasure
         Of beautiful eyes;
Like the aspen that lingers
     Where waters run fleet
Was the touch of his fingers,
     The thrill of his feet;
White, white as the blossom
     That blows on the thorn,
On Frea’s fair bosom
     Bright Balder was born.

While soften’d and sadden’d
     With love shone her face,
Uplooking he gladden’d
         And clung to her breast,
For a light as of summer                                                           10
     Swept over the place,
When the shining new-comer
         Awoke from his rest!
And the willow and alder
     Thrill’d out unto bloom,
And the lilac brought Balder
     Its light and perfume,
While the merle sable-suited
     Sang merry by morn,
And with bill of gold fluted
     That Balder was born!

At the notes of the singer
     The sun glimmer’d gay,
And touch’d with bright finger
         The child as he stirred!
For the snow from the mountains
     Was melting away,
And the sound of the fountains
         Upleaping was heard;
And the black soil was broken                                                  11
     To radiance of flowers,
While the Bow for a token
     Gleam’d down thro’ the showers;
Deep under the fallow
     Now sprouted the corn,
And swift flash’d the swallow,
     For Balder was born!

Yea, again up in heaven
     Was rainbow’d the rune,
And the colours were seven
         Most dim and divine:
Sweet creatures work’d under
     The sun and the moon,
Completing the wonder
         With whisper and sign.
With eyes brightly gleaming
     The squirrel came near,
In flocks swam the lemming
     Across the great mere,
And the gold-speckled spider                                                   12
     Found Frea that morn,
And was busy beside her
     When Balder was born.

And with him came waking
     The leaf and the flower,
The wind lightly shaking
         Its balm from afar,
The smile of the sunshine,
     The sob of the shower,
The beam of the moonshine,
         The gleam of the star.
’Mid shining of faces
     And waving of wings,
With gifts from all places
     Came beautiful things;
By night-time and day-time
     No life was forlorn,
’Twas leaf-time, ’twas May-time,
     And Balder was born.

Yet the spell had been woven                                                   13
     Long ages ago,
That the clouds should be cloven,
         The Father undone,
When the light of the sunshine,
     The white of the snow,
And the starshine and moonshine,
         Were mingled in one;
When the wind and the water,
     The star and the flower,
Found a goddess, and brought her
     Their strength for a dower;
Yea, in runes it was written,
     With letters forlorn,
That the gods should be smitten
     When Balder was born.

Then roar’d the mad thunder
     From regions afar,
And the world darken’d under
         That wrath of the skies.
But the new-born, upleaping                                                      14
     As bright as a star,
Awoke from his sleeping
         With love in his eyes;—                                                  [14:8]
And the dark rain ceased falling,
     With slow silvern thrills,
And the cuckoo came, calling
     Aloud on the hills,
And the glad Earth uplifted
     Her face to the morn,
And past the storm drifted,
     For Balder was born.

. . . In the sedge of the river
     The swan makes its nest;
In the mere, with no quiver,
         Stands shadow’d the crane;
Earth happy and still is,
     Peace dwells in her breast,
And the lips of her lilies
         Drink balm from the rain;
The lamb in the meadow                                                           15
     Upsprings with no care,
Deep in the wood’s shadow
     Is born the young bear;
The ash and the alder,
     The flowers and the corn,
All waited for Balder,—
     And Balder is born!


Alterations in the 1884 edition of The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan:
v. 14, l. 8: With love in his ears;— ]






LOVELY as light and blossoms are,
     And gentle as the dew,
A white god stainless as a star,
     Deep-hidden, Balder grew.

For in the time when violets grow,
     And birds sing thro’ the showers,
Pale Frea left her child below,                                                  [2:3]
     Upon a bank of flowers.

And heavenward now on weary feet
     The mighty goddess flies,
And kneeleth at the Father’s seat,
     And gazeth in his eyes.

Around her in those shadowy halls
     The great gods darkly tread.
“Where is thy child?” each cold voice calls;                               17
     Calmly she answereth, “Dead.

“The arrows of the gods are keen,
     An infant’s heart is mild;
Buried within the forest green,
     Now slumbereth my child.

“The robin strew’d him o’er with leaves,
     And closed his eyes of blue,
And overhead the spider weaves
     Her rune of silk and dew.”

Pale at the mighty banquet board
     The Mother sat in pain:
The great gods smiling, with no word,
     Drank deep, and breathed again . . .

But down within the forest dim
     The child divine lies quick!
The slanted sunlight comes to him
     Thro’ branches woven thick.

He drinks no nurture of the breast,                                            18
     No mother’s kiss he knows;
Warm as a song bird in its nest
     He feels the light, and grows.

Around him flock all gentle things
     Which range the forest free:
Each shape that blooms, each shape that sings,
     Looks on him silently.

The light is melted on his lips
     And on his eyes of blue,
And from the shining leaves he sips
     The sweetness of the dew.

And slowly like an earthborn child
     He learns to walk and run—
A forest form, with laughter wild,
     He wanders in the sun.

And now he knows the great brown bear,
     And sitteth with its young,
And of their honey takes his share,                                            19
     Sucking with thirsty tongue.

Around him as he comes and goes
     There clings a golden mist,
And in his bright hair blooms a rose,
     And a bird sings on his wrist!

And wheresoe’er he sets his feet
     Fair ferns and flowers spring,
And honeysuckles scented sweet
     Grow where his fingers cling.

He calls, and wood-doves at the cry
     Come down to be caress’d;
Curl’d in his arms the lynx will lie,
     Its lips against his breast.

O look into his happy eyes,
     As lustrous as the dew!
A light like running water lies
     Within their depths of blue;

And there the white cloud’s shadow dim                                   20
     Stirs, mirror’d soft and gray,
And far within the dream-dews swim
     With melancholy ray.

Ev’n thus in beauteous shape he grows,
     Unknown, unseen, unheard,
And night by night he takes repose
     Like any flower or bird.

He drinks the balmy breath of Earth,
     He feels the light and rain,
Till, like a thing of mortal birth,
     He shares her peace or pain.

A wild white shape with wondering eyes
     He walks by wood and stream,
And softly on his spirit lies
     The burthen of a dream.

His hair is like the midnight sun’s,
     All golden-red and bright;
But radiance as of moonrise runs                                               21
     Upon his limbs of white.

And now the wood without a sound
     Hushes its leaves in dread:
Beauty and mystery surround
     The silence of his tread.

Quietly as a moonbeam creeps
     He moves from place to place;
Soft steals the starlight, as he sleeps,
     To breathe upon his face.

The ground grows green beneath his feet,
     While, trembling on the stem,
The pale flowers drink again, full sweet,
     The breath he draws from them.

Now brightly gleams the soft green sod,
     The golden seeds are sown;
O pale white lily of a god,
     Thou standest now full blown!


Alterations in the 1884 edition of ‘The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan’:
v.2, l. 3: Pale Frea left the child below, ]













BLUE night. Along the lonely forest way
The goddess, mighty-limb’d and marble white,
Tall in the shadow of the pines that waved
Their black arms in the moonrise overhead,
Stole silent-footed. Round her naked feet
The dews were luminous, and the breath of flowers
Rose from the scented path of grass and fern,
And all was stiller than a maiden’s dream.

From grove to grove she went, like one that knew
Each shadow of that silent forest old,
And ever as she went the tangled light
That trembled on her thro’ the woven boughs
Grew deeper and more dewy, until at last
She knew by chilly gleams upon the grass                                           26
That dawn was come. Still did that umbrage deep
Remain in dimness, tho’ afar away
The hills were kindling with dull blood-red fires;
But when the trumpet of the day was blown
From the great golden gateways of the sun,
When leaf by leaf the crimson rose o’ the east
Open’d, and leaf by leaf illumed in turn
Glitter’d the snowy lily of the north,
She left the shelter of those woods, and stood
Under the shining canopy of heaven.

Before her lay a vast and tranquil lake,
And wading in its shallows silently
Great storks of golden white and light green cranes
Stood sentinel, while far as eye could see,
Swam the wild water-lily’s oilëd leaves.
Still was that place as sleep, yet evermore
A stir amid its stillness; for behold,
At every breath of the warm summer wind
Blown on the beating bosom of the lake,
The white swarms of the new-born lily-flowers,
A pinch of gold-dust in the heart of each,                                             27
Rose from the bubbling depths, and open’d up,
And floated luminous with cups of snow.
Across that water came so sweet an air,
It fell upon the immortal mother’s brow
Like coolest morning dew, and tho’ she stood
Beneath the open arch of heaven, the light
Stole thro’ the gauze of a soft summer mist
Most gentle and subdued. Then while she paused
Close to the rippling shallows sown with reeds,
Those cranes and storks arose above her head
In one vast cloud of flying green and gold;
And from the under-heaven innumerable
The lilies upward to the surface snow’d,
Till all the waters glitter’d gold and white;
And lo! the sun swept shining up the east,
And thro’ the cloud of birds, and on the lake,
Shot sudden rays of light miraculous,—
Until the goddess veil’d her dazzled eyes,
And with the heaving whiteness at her feet
Her bosom heaved, till of that tremulous life
She seem’d a throbbing part!

                                             Tall by the marge                                   28
The goddess tower’d, and her immortal face
Was shining as anointed; then she cried,
“Balder!” and like the faint cry of a bird
That passeth overhead, the sound was borne
Between the burning ether and the earth.
Then once again she called, outstretching arms,
“Balder!” Upon her face the summer light
Trembled in benediction, while the voice
Was lifted up and echoed till it died
Far off amid the forest silences.

A space she paused, smiling and listening,
Gazing upon the lilies as they rose
Large, luminously fair, and new-baptized;
And once again she would have call’d aloud,
When far across the waters suddenly
There shone a light as of the morning star;
Which coming nearer seem’d as some bright bird
Floating amid the lilies and their leaves,
And presently, approaching closer still,
Assumed the likeness of a shining shape,                                             29
Who, with white shoulders from the waters reaching,
And sunlight burning on his golden hair,
Swam like a swan. Upon his naked arms
The amber light was melted, while they clove
The crystal depths and softly swept aside
The glittering lilies and their clustering leaves;
And on the forehead of him burnt serene
A light as of a pearl more wonderful
Than ever from the crimson seas of Ind
Was snatch’d by human hand; for pearl it seem’d,
Tho’ blood-red, and as lustrous as a star.
Him Frea breathless watch’d, for all the air
Was golden with his glory as he came;
And o’er his head the bird-cloud hover’d bright
With murmurs deep; and thro’ the lake he swam
With arm-sweeps swift, till in the shallows bright,
Still dripping from the kisses of the waves,
He rose erect in loveliness divine.
The lustre from his ivory arms and limbs
Stream’d as he stood, and from his yellow hair
A glory rain’d upon his neck and breast,
While burning unextinguish’d on his brow                                           30
Shone that strange star.

                                     Then as he shining rose,
And on her form the new effulgence fell,
The goddess, with her face beatified,
Yet gentle as a mortal mother’s, cried
“Balder! my Balder!”—and while from all the woods,
And from the waters wide, and from the air
Still rainbow’d with the flashing flight of birds,
Innumerable echoes answer’d, “Balder!”—
Clad in his gentle godhead Balder stood,
Bright, beautiful, and palpably divine.






“MOTHER!” he said, and on that mother’s face
Fixing the brightness of his starry eyes,
He kiss’d her, smiling. E’en as sunlight falls
Upon the whiteness of some western cloud,
Irradiating and illuming it,
His beauty smote her sadness: silently
She trembled; and her large immortal orbs
Were raised to heaven. For a space she stood
O’er-master’d by that splendour, but at last,
While softly from her forehead and her cheeks
The loving rapture ebb’d, and once again
Her face grew alabaster calm and cold,
Her soul found speech.

                             “O Balder! best beloved!
God of the sunlight and the summer stars,
White Shepherd of the gentle beasts and birds,
Benign-eyed watcher of all beauteous things,                                       32
Thou know’st me! thou rememberest! thou art here,
Supreme, a god, my Son!—Within thine eyes
Immortal innocence and mortal peace
Are blent to love and gentleness divine;
And tho’ I left thee in these woods a babe,
Fair and unconscious as a fallen flower,
And tho’ I have not watch’d thy beauty grow,
I come again to seek thee, and behold
Thou know’st me—thou rememberest! thou art here,
Supreme, a god, my Son! Blest be those powers
To whose lone keeping I committed thee!
The heavens have shone upon thee, and the boughs
Have curtain’d thee for slumber, and the rain
Hath smooth’d thy soft limbs with its silvern fingers,
And gently ministrant to thee have been
The starlight and the moonlight and the dew,
And in their seasons all the forest flowers;
And from the crimson of divine deep dawns
And from the flush of setting suns, thy cheeks
Have gather’d such a splendour as appals
The vision, even mine. Balder! beloved!
Speak to me! tell me how thy soul hath fared                                       33
Alone so long in these green solitudes.”

She ceased, and Balder smiled again, and took
Her hand and held it as he answer’d her;
And ne’er was sound of falling summer showers
On boughs with lilac laden and with rose,
Or cuckoo-cries o’er emerald uplands heard,
Or musical murmurs of dark summer dawns,
More sweet than Balder’s voice. “O Mother, Mother,”
It answer’d, “when I saw thee from afar,
Silent, stone-still, with shadow at thy feet,
I knew thee well, for nightly evermore
I have seen thy shape in sleep.” And while the face
Of the great goddess kindled once again
With its maternal love ineffable,
He added, “Thou shalt read me all my dream!
For in a dream here have I grown and thriven,
With such dim rapture as those lilies feel
Awakening and uprising mystically
From darkness to the brightness of the air;
And growing in a dream I have beheld                                                 34
All things grow gladder with me, sun and star,
Strange fronds, and all the wonders of the wood;
Till round me, with me, soul and part of me,
This world hath kindled like an opening rose.
And happy had I been as any bird
Singing full-throated in the summer light,
But for some dark and broken images
Which come to me in sleep—yea come each night
When from the starlight and the silvern moon
I fade with closëd eyes. But thou art here,
And in the love of thy celestial looks
I read the answer to the mystery
Of my dim earthly being.”

                                       As he spake,
Across the goddess’ face and thro’ her frame
There pass’d the wind of an old prophecy,
Bending her downward as a storm-swept bough.
“In sleep! what shapes have come to thee in sleep?”
She cried, and Balder answer’d, “It were long
To tell thee all, my Mother! but meseems
I have dream’d nightly of mysterious forms                                         35
White-brow’d like thee and very beautiful—
Strange spirits, each more bright than is a star,
In robes of linen and of whitest wool,
And some all raimentless as leaf or flower,
And in their nakedness the more divine.”
Then Frea smiled and answer’d, “That is well—
These, Balder, are thy sisters and my kin,
Less beautiful than thou, yet very fair.”
And Balder said, “Ofttimes mine eyes have seen
Great shapes caparison’d in burning gold,
Tall as the tallest pine within these woods,
Who flash’d red brands together, or upheld
Bright cups of ruby, gazing on each other!”
And Frea smiled and said, “That too is well—
Those, Balder, are thy brethren and thy peers,
Great gods, yet less than thou.” Then Balder’s voice
Sank lower, saying, “Three times in my sleep
I have seen my Father!”

                               Frea’s cheek was blanch’d,
And pressing one white hand upon her heart,
“How seem’d he in thy sleep?” the goddess sigh’d,                              36
“Frown’d he or smiled he? speak!” And Balder said,
In solemn whispers, sinking ever lower,
“My soul perceived a darkness and a sound
Of many voices wailing, and I seem’d
As one that drifts upon a sunless water,
Amid the washing of a weary rain—
Wet were my locks and dripping, and my limbs
Hung heavily as lead—while wave by wave
I floated to some vapour-shrouded shore.
At last, wash’d in upon the slippery weeds,
I saw before me on a mountain top
One brooding like a cloud; and as a cloud
At first he seem’d, yet ever as I look’d
Grew shapen to an image terrible,
With eyes eternal gazing down at mine.
And as I rose a voice came from the cloud
Like far-off muffled thunder, crying, ‘Balder!
Come hither, my son Balder!’—when in fear
I scream’d and woke, and saw the daylight dance
Golden upon the forests and the meres.”

He ceased; and utter pity fill’d his soul                                                37
To see across his beauteous Mother’s face
The scorching of unutterable pain;
Then thrice the troubled goddess raised her eyes
And gazed up northward where the rose-red shafts
Of dawn were trembling on the cloud-capt towers
Of Asgard; thrice the sorrow master’d her;
But soon her strong soul conquer’d, and she forced
A strange sad look of calm. “If that be all,
Take courage—and I do conjure thee now,
Fear not thy Father. If that Father ever
Hath cherish’d dread of thee, the loveliness
Of thy completed godhead shall disarm
His wrath,—yea, win his love.” Her gentle hand
Clasp’d his with more than mortal tenderness,
And in his eyes she gazed again and drank
The solace of his beauty while the dawn
Encrimson’d both and all the heavens and air,
But Balder trembled shrinking to her side,
And cried, with quick eyes glancing all around,
“Mother, that is not all!”

                                     “O speak no more,”                                     38
The goddess said, “if aught else terrible
Thine eyes have vision’d or thy sense hath dream’d,
Speak, speak, no more!” but Balder answer’d, “Mother!
A weight is on my heart, and I must speak.
Last night I dream’d the strangest dream of dreams!
Methought I in the summer woodland walk’d
And pluck’d white daffodils and pansies blue,
And as I went I sang such songs as sing
The spirits of the forest and the stream;
And presently the golden light went in,
But balmy darkness follow’d, for the rain
Patter’d with diamond dews innumerable
On the green roof of umbrage overhead.
I stood and waited, listening. Then methought
I heard a voice from far away—thy voice
It seem’d, my Mother—murmur three times ‘Balder!’
And as it ceased, there pierced the wood’s green heart
A shriek so sharp and shrill that all my blood
Turn’d cold to listen! Suddenly I felt
My brow was damp with chilly drops of rain,
And looking up I saw that every leaf                                                   39
Had wither’d from the branches overhead,
Leaving them black against a sunless heaven
Of dark and dreary gray. Again I heard
Thy voice moan ‘Balder,’ and methought the boughs
Toss’d their wild arms above and echoed ‘Balder,’
When lo, the black and miserable rain
Came slower and slower, wavering through the dark,
Till every drop was as a flake of white
Falling upon the ground as light as wool!
And terror seized me, and I felt my heart
Cold as a stone, and from my hands the flowers
Dropt, wither’d, with that whiteness on the ground.
I tried to stir, and could not stir; I sought
To shake the chilly flakes from off my neck,
But could not; and each time I sought to cry,
My cries were frozen in my throat. Now mark!
O mark, my mother, for these things are strange!
As thus I stood, mine eyes were ’ware of ONE,
A Shape with shadowy arms outspread like wings,
Which, hovering o’er me even as a hawk,
Fix’d on my face its fatal luminous eyes.                                              40
O Mother, that wan shape! The forest holds,
In form of beast or bird or glittering snake,
No likeness of its awful lineaments!
For ever as its features seem’d to take
Clearness and semblance, they did fade away
Into a swooning dimness; and it seem’d
Now shapen and now shapeless, blowing amid
The wonder of that wan and sunless shower.
Yet ever as I gazed it gazed again,
And ever circling nearer seem’d in act
To swoop upon me with cold claws and clutch
The heart that flutter’d wildly in my breast.
At last that look became too much to bear:
Answering at last thy scream, I scream’d aloud;
And as I scream’d, I woke—and saw again
The sunlight on the forests and the meres.”

Now ev’n as Balder spake the goddess’ face
Was like a shrouded woman’s; once again
She gazed at heaven, and her eyes were glazed
With agony and despair, for now she knew                                         41
That shape which Balder had beheld in dream
Was he whom mortal men have christen’d Death.
At last she spake, and all her proud soul flash’d,
Rebuking its own terror. “Unto all,
Yea even unto gods upon their thrones,
Such shadows come in sleep; thy Father even
Hath had his visions, and I too have mine;
But be of comfort since thou art my Son,
For he who hover’d o’er thee in thy dream
Is impotent against the strength of gods.
Haunter is he of this sad nether sphere,
And on the little life of bird and beast,
And on the life of flowers and falling leaves,
His breath comes chill, but to the Shapes divine
He is as wind that bloweth afar below
The silence of the peaks.”

                               Ev’n as she spake,
On her bright Balder gazed not, but with eyes
Fix’d as in fascination, cried aloud
“Look! look!”—and pointed.

                               Close to that bright spot                                      42
Whereon they stood in the full flame of day,
The forest open’d, flashing green and gold,
Sparkling with quick and rapturous thrill of leaves
And rainbow-flush of flowers. Upon a bough
That reach’d its heavy-laden emerald arm
Into the summer light beyond the shade,
There clung, with panting breast and fluttering wings,
A trembling ringdove whose soft iris’d eyes
Were fix’d like Balder’s on some shape of dread
Just visible in the shadow, lying low
Under the scented umbrage of the wood.
A Form, yet indistinct as the green sheen;
A Face, yet featureless; a head with eyes
Now faint as drops of dew, now strangely bright
As lustrous gems. Crouch’d on the under-grass,
It watch’d in serpent fashion every thrill
Of that bright bird; while all around, the air
Was mad and merry with the summer song
Of choirs that sat alive on leafy boughs,
Singing aloud!

                       Then came a hush, wherein                                           43
Every faint pulse of life in those great woods
Was heard to beat; and then the fated bird
Cooing and quivering fluttered from the bough,
And ’mid the summer sheen beyond the shade,
With one last dying tremor of the wings,
Lay stricken still. . . . Among the darkening leaves
There was a stir, as creeping thro’ the gloom,
Scarce visible, fixing eyes on that dead dove,
Forth from his lair the form began to crawl.
And Balder sicken’d, and his sense grew cold.
But with a queenly gesture Frea rose,
And pointed with her white imperious hand
Into the forest. Suddenly the shape
Was ’ware of that pale goddess and her son
More beauteous and insufferably bright.
A moment in the dimness of his lair
He paused, uprearing, as in act to spring,
A head half human, with a serpent’s eyes;
Then, conscious of some presence that he feared,
All swift and silent, like a startled snake,
He faded back into the shadowy woods.



Balder The Beautiful continued

or back to Balder The Beautiful - Contents








The Fleshly School Controversy
Buchanan and the Press
Buchanan and the Law


The Critical Response
Harriett Jay


Site Diary
Site Search