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{Balder The Beautiful 1877}






O WHITHER are they wending side by side
           Thro’ that green forest wide?
Down the deep dingles, amid ferns and flowers,
           They wander hours and hours.
Bright-lock’d, with limbs of alabaster white,
           Now gleaming in the light,
Now ’mong the dusky umbrage of the glade
           Deep’ning to amber shade,
Their eyes on one another, whither away
           Do these Immortals stray?

She murmurs, “Thou shalt mark all things that be;
           The rivers and the sea,
The mountains that for ever crimson’d lie
           Against the arctic sky,
The meteors that across the pale pole flit,                                            45
           Strangely illuming it;
And thou shalt look on gods, thy kin and mine,
           Since thou too art divine.”
Divine!—The forest glimmers where he goes
           To crimson and to rose!
And wheresoe’er he comes no creature fears;
           Each lingers, sees, and hears.
The boughs bend down to touch his yellow hair;
           Around his white feet bare
The grass waves amorous; on his shoulder white
           The singing birds alight,
Singing the sweeter; and in spaces clear
           The brown-eyed dappled deer
With tremulous ear and tail around him stand,
           Licking his outstretch’d hand
With warm rough tongues. He sings—all things around
           Are husht to hear the sound!
He smiles—all things are smiling—wood and stream
           With some new glory gleam,
Dark branches blossom, and the greensward nigh
           Is sunnier than the sky!

She murmurs, “They have cherish’d thee indeed,                                 46
           In answer to thy need.
Ere thou wast born, into thy veins they grew,
           Earth, sunlight, air, and dew,
The flower, the leaf, star’s glimmer and bird’s song;
           And these have made thee strong
With other strength than ours; for ne’er till now,
           On any immortal brow
Have I beheld such living splendour shine
           As lies this hour on thine.
O sunbeam of the gods! O fairer far
           Than ev’n Immortals are!
Divinest, gentlest, by the glad Earth given
           To be a lamp in heaven!”
Divine!—The boughs shook down their shafts of green
           And gleam’d to golden sheen;
The silvern snake stole from the dark tree-root
           And twined round Balder’s foot
With happy eyes; the tiger-moth and bee
           About him hover’d free;
With yellow aureole his head was crown’d,
           And his bright body around
There swam a robe of sunshine scented sweet,                                   47
           Clothing him head to feet.

She crieth, “Could the Father see thee there,
           While on thy silken hair
The soft light trembles like a shining hand!
           Couldst thou before him stand,
Flowers round thy feet, a dove upon thy wrist,
           Earth-blest and heaven-kist,
Would he not smile? would he not scorn full soon
           The wearily woven rune
Which said that sorrow should be born when thou
           Didst break with orient brow
The night-cloud of the Earth? O Son! my Son!
           The crimson thread is spun,
The snow-white bud is blown, and now, behold!
           The branch with fruit of gold
Hath grown full straight and swings i’ the summer shine
           Ineffably divine.”

He questions, “Whither go we?” She replies,                                      48
           “To that dim Land which lies
Ev’n as a cloud around the Father’s feet!”
           He smiles, his pulses beat
With brighter rapture. “Shall mine eyes then see
           My Father?” crieth he;
“Where dwells he? and my brethren, where dwell they?”
           She answereth, “Far away!”
Then, her face darken’d by some dreamy dread,
           She moves with sadder tread.

The shadows grow around them as they stray
           From glade to glade; their way
Winds still ’mong flowers and leaves, where day and night,
           Both sleepless and both bright,
One golden and one silvern, come and go.
           Nor, when dark twilights sow
Their asphodels in the broad fields of blue,
           And a cold summer dew
Gleams on the grass, and moths with fiery eyes                                   49
           Flit, and the night-jar cries,
Doth Balder glimmer less divine. Ah, nay!
           Dim things that know not day
Find him and love him; drinking his pure breath
           The white owl hovereth;
About his footprints in the faint moon-ray
           Wild lynxes leap and play;
The ringdoves on the branches brood; meek hares
           Creep from their grassy lairs
To look upon him. So he goeth by
           Of all things that descry
Beloved, and missed; around him like a veil
           The moonbeams cluster pale,
And all the eyes of heaven with soft dews swim,
           As they gaze down on him.

But now they leave the mighty woods, and pass
           Thro’ valleys of deep grass,
Sprinkled with saxifrage and tormentil;
           And many a mountain rill
Leaps by them, singing. Far away, on high,                                         50
           They mark against the sky
Blue-shadow’d mountains crown’d with sparkling snow;
           And thitherward they go.

Thro’ lonely mountain valleys in whose breast
           The white grouse makes its nest,
And where in circles wheel the goshawk keen
           And fleet-wing’d peregrine;
Past torrents gashing the dark heathery height
           With gleams of hoary white,
Their shining feet now fall, and where they fare
           Faint rainbows fill the air
And span the streams; with sound of rippling rain
           The cataracts leap amain,
The deer cry from the heights, and all around
           Is full of summer sound.

Silent, upon the topmost peak they come,
           By precipices dumb
And melancholy rocks girt round; and so                                            51
           They reach the realms of snow.
Far o’er their heads a hooded eagle wings
           In ever-widening rings,
Till in the blinding glory of the day
           A speck he fades away.
Then Balder’s eyes gaze down. Stretch’d far beneath,
           Forest and field and heath,
Netted with silvern threads of springs and streams,
           Shine in the summer beams—
And valley after valley farther on
           Fades dim into the sun.

He crieth, “Far away methinks I mark
           A mighty Forest dark,
Crown’d by a crimson mist; yonder it lies,
           Stretching into the skies,
And farther than its darkness nought I see.”
           And softly answereth she,
“O Balder! ’tis the Ocean. Vast and strange,
           It changeth without change,
Washing with weary waves for evermore                                            52
           The dark Earth’s silent shore.”
And Balder spake not, but he gazed again
           Thro’ the soft mist of rain
Which curtain’d that new wonder from his sight.

                     At last, when day and night
Have passed, they cross a purple cape and stand
           On shores of golden sand,
And pausing silent, see beneath the sky
           The mighty Ocean lie.






CALMLY it lieth, limitless and deep,
           In windless summer sleep,
And from its fringe, cream-white and set with shells,
           A drowsy murmur swells,
While in its shallows, on its yellow sands,
           Smiling, uplifting hands,
Moves Balder, beckoning with bright looks and words
           The snow-white ocean-birds.
He smiles—the heavens smile answer! All the sea
           Is glistering glassily.
Far out, blue-black amid the waters dim,
           Leviathan doth swim,
Spouts fountain-wise, roars loud, then sinking slow,
           Seeks the green depths below.
All silent. All things sleeping in the light,
           And all most calmly bright!

He walks the weed-strewn strand, and where the waves                     54
           Creep into granite caves,
Green-paven, silver-fretted, roof’d with rose,
           He like a sunbeam goes,
And ocean-creatures know him. The black seal
           Out of the darkness steal
With gentle bleat, or with their lambs arise,
           Their dark and dewy eyes
Uplooking into his; the cormorants green,
           Which ranged in black rows preen
Their dusky plumage, at his footstep’s sound
           Turn snake-like necks around,
But rise not; o’er his head the white terns fly
           With shrill unceasing cry;
And out of caverns come the rock-doves fleet,
           Alighting at his feet!
Across the waters darts a shaft supreme
           Of strange and heavenly gleam,
That doth his consecrated form enfold
           Like to a robe of gold,—
While all the Ocean gladdeneth anew,
           Stretch’d bright beneath the blue.

But what is this he findeth on his way,                                                  55
           Here, where the golden ray
Falleth on sands ’neath crimson crags that rise
           Dark ’gainst the great blue skies?
What is this shape that, breathing soft and deep,
           Lies on its side asleep,
Here on the strand where drifted sea-weeds cling?
           Is it some ocean-thing,
Crept from the emerald darkness of the brine
           To bask i’ the summer shine?
Is it some gentle monster whose green home
           Lies far below the foam?
Softly he sleeps, while on his closëd eyes
           The summer sunlight lies;
Around his face, that seemeth wildly fair,
           Hang tawny locks of hair,
On dusky shoulders falling loosely down;
           And lo, his cheeks are brown
With kisses of the sun, and round his limbs
           A light like amber swims
Divinely clear; and by his side is thrown
           A spear of walruss-bone,
A bear-skin blanket, and a seal-hide thong;                                        56
           So sleeps he, brown and strong;
And nought that lieth upon land or sea
           Seemeth more strange than he,
Like some wild birth of ocean wash’d to land,
           And cast upon the sand
With many a drifting weed and waif beside.

           “O Mother!” Balder cried,
Suddenly falling on his bended knee,
           “What shape is this I see?
It sleeps—it breathes—it lives!” And Frea said,
           Scarce turning her proud head,
“It is a mortal man not worth thy care!
           Ev’n as the birds of the air
They are born, they gladden, and they come and go.”
           But Balder, stooping low,
Passing soft fingers o’er the sleeper’s side,
           And smiling sweetly, cried,
“Awake, awake!” and gently from the strand
           He raised one strong brown hand.
“Hush!” said the pallid goddess, sighing deep,                                     57
           “Lest he awake from sleep,
And touch him not, lest from his mortal breath
           Thou know’st the taint of Death.”
“Death!” Balder echoed with a quick sharp pain;
           And Frea spake again,
“Nought on this nether sphere which foster’d thee,
           But drinks mortality;
Fade not the leaf, the lily, and the rose?
           Yea, and the oak-tree knows
Only its season;—in their seasons all
           Are fashion’d, fade, and fall—
Birds on the boughs, and beasts within the brake,
           Yea, ev’n the hawk and snake,
Are born to perish; and this creature shares
           An earthly lot like theirs.”
She paused; for suddenly in the bright sun-ray
           God Balder’s cheeks grew gray
And sunken—his eyes dim;—a moment’s space
           Across his troubled face
Pass’d darkness. Frea quail’d. A moment more,                                  58
           And that strange shade pass’d o’er,
And Balder’s looks again grew beautiful.

           O’erhead, as white as wool,
The calm clouds melted in the burning blue;
           Beneath, the great seas grew
Stiller and calmer, while the immortal one
           Stood dreaming in the sun,
On that dark sleeper fixing eyes grown bright
           With heavenly love and light.

“O come!” the goddess cried, and took his hand.
           Along the shining strand
They pass’d, but evermore god Balder’s face
           Turn’d backward to the place
Where he had left the weary wight asleep.

           Then, as beside the Deep
They wander’d slowly onward, Frea told
           Strange tales and legends old
Of living men, and how they came to be,                                            59
           And how they bend the knee
To gods they know not, till beneath the sun
           They die, and all is done.

And ever her finger pointed as she spoke
           To wreaths of light-blue smoke
Upcurling heavenward o’er the sleeping seas
           From fishing villages.
Love in his heart and wonder on his brow,
           Bright Balder hearken’d now
In silence. “Far beyond those lonely woods
           And these sea-solitudes,
Peopling the dark Earth, living forms like these
           Gather as thick as bees:—
Shapen like gods, yet perishable; born
           For ever night and morn,
And night and morn for ever vanishing.
           An old dark doom doth cling
Around them and all kindred things that bloom
           Out of the green world’s womb.
Heed them not thou! To gods they are no more                                  60
           Than singing birds that soar
A little flight, and fall. Tho’ for a space,
           Rear’d in a lowly place,
Thou hast known, as mortals know, Earth’s shade and shine,
           Another lot is thine!—
To sit among the gods, on heights supreme,
           Beyond Man’s guess or dream!”













THERE is a valley by the northern sea,
O’er-shadow’d softly by eternal hills
And canopied by the ethereal blue.
Above it silently for ever gleam
Cold peaks of ice and snow, and over these
The wind goes, and the shadows of the wind;
While far below, the hollows of the vale
Are strewn most deep with heather and with thyme,
And weeping willows hang their silken hair
O’er dusky tarns with summer lilies sown;
And from these tarns smooth tracts of greensward slope
Until they blend with silvern sands that kiss
The foam-white lips of the still sleeping sea.

Into that valley by a secret way,                                                          64
The goddess guided her immortal son.
Long had they wander’d, o’er the realms of snow,
Thro’ forests vast, down desolate ravines;
And still, where’er they stept, before their feet
A wind of brightness like a river ran,
And rippled softly into grass and flowers,—
So that they walk’d on rainbows with no rain,
And under heaven made heaven beneath their feet.
At last their path wound upward, while again
They trod the white snows of the topmost peaks,
And saw beneath them, faint and far away,
The secret valley: purple woods of pine,
Crags of wild umbrage lit by flashing falls,
Smooth emerald lawns; and beyond all, the sea.

And lo! as Balder gazed, that valley fair
Grew fairer—on its sleep his brightness fell
As benediction—and in saffron light
It swam below him like a sunset cloud.
Down from the lonely heights whereon he stood
A snow-white cataract, like a naked god
With plumes of silver plunging from a peak                                           65
Into a purple ocean, headlong flash’d;
Then, lost among the dark green pine-tree tops,
Sounded unseen, mingling its far-off voice
With the deep murmur of the wind-swept boughs.
From rocky shelf to shelf, with golden moss
Enwrought and fringëd with dwarf willow trees,
They now descended in the torrent’s track,
And plunging swiftly downward found a path
Thro’ the cool darkness of the shadowy woods;
But as they went the dusky forest way
Grew brighter, ever flash’d to softer green
The green leaves, and the sward to sunnier hues,
Till from the leafy umbrage they emerged,
And Balder saw a vision fairer far
Than ever poet fabled in a dream.

     Beside those waters, on those emerald lawns
Basking in one eternal summer day,
Lay goddesses divine with half-closed eyes
Gazing out seaward on the crimson isles
Sown in the soft haze of the summer deep.
And there they wove white runes to win the hearts                                66
Of gods and men, while o’er their happy heads
Eternity hung steadfast as a star.
Some stretch’d upon the scented greensward lay
Moveless and wonderfully robed in white;
Some sitting silent by the dusky tarns
Look’d upward, with their faces dim as dream;
Some musing stood, their eyes upon the sea,
Their thoughts afar; and many up and down
Along the quiet greensward paced and mused.
There was no laughter as of maiden voices,
No sound like human singing: all was still—
Still as a heartbeat, silent as a sleep.

But when from the green shadow of the woods
Immortal Balder in his beauty came,
And stood irresolute in light divine
Gazing upon that wonder of white life,
There was a cry of startled handmaidens
Flocking round goddesses most marble pale.
All to their feet had risen, and one supreme
Tall shape with mailëd plates upon her breast,                                     67
A skirt blood-red, and in her hand a spear,
Stood, while pale virgins crouch’d around her feet,
Confronting Balder with black eyes of fire.
Lithe was she as a serpent, lithe and tall,
Her dark skin glimmering bronzëd in the sun,
Her eyebrows black drawn down, and as the beam
Of Balder’s beauty struck upon her frame,
She raised her spear, and seem’d in act to strike;
But Frea, coming stately from the shade,
Cried, “Hold!” and Rota (for ’twas she whose soul
Delights in sowing strife ’mong weary men)
Paused frowning, and the virgins at her feet
Look’d up amazed.

                       “Whom bring’st thou here?” she cried—
“What shape is this, with pale blue human eyes,
Yet more than human brightness, venturing
Where never foot of earthborn thing hath fared?”
And Frea answer’d gently, “Harm him not!
Nor give him chilly greeting, sister mine—
Kin is he to immortal gods and thee—
’Tis Balder! my son Balder!” At the word                                           68
The wind of that old prophecy arose
And for a moment like a fever’d breath
Faded across those lawns and sleeping pools;
And blown from group to group of white-robed forms,
From goddess on to goddess, echoed low
The name of “Balder,” till it reached the sands,
And on the far-off foam did die away
In low sad echoes of the mighty main.

Then Balder with a heavenly look advancing
Shone on the place, and Rota dropt her spear,
Still darkening, as in wonder and in scorn
She gazed upon him, crying, “Then he lives!
Woe to the race of Asa since he lives!
Why comes he here?” And Balder, with a voice
As sweet as fountains falling, made reply,
“I seek my sisters and my kin divine,
And thou art of them!” and he reach’d out hands,
                 As Rota stood irresolute,                                                  69
Half-angry, half-disarm’d by his sweet eyes,
Another shape most fair and wonderful
In snow-white robe array’d thro’ which her limbs
Shone with a rosy and celestial ray,
Cried “Balder!” in a voice so strange and deep
It fell upon the fountains of his heart
Like sudden light; and two serene large eyes
Shone clear as clearest stars before his sight.
“Who speaketh?” Balder cried, and the deep voice
Made answer, “O thou foster-child of earth,
With eyes like tender harebells, and with flesh
Bright as the body of a mortal man,
Dost thou not know me?—I am Gefion,
Whose touch could make thee fruitful as a tree
That drops ripe fruit at every kiss o’ the wind.”

And Balder would have answer’d eagerly,
But Frea now uplifting a white hand
With queenly gesture, raised her voice and said,
“O sisters! goddesses! O lilies fair
Blown in the still pools of eternity!
Be silent for a space, and for a space                                                   70
Gaze on my son whom to your bowers I bring
For benediction; now, behold, he lives,
Immortal as yourselves and beautiful
As any star that in the heaven of heavens
Hangs luminous, a lamp for mortal eyes.
Him in the secret furrows of the Earth
I cast like seed, while far away the storm
Flash’d to a portent, and I wove my rune:
That neither wind nor snow nor any touch
Of god or goddess might disturb his growth
From season unto season, while he rose
Ev’n as a flower from the sweet-soilëd earth.
There came unto his making leaf and flower,
The soft rain and the shadow of the rain,
The sundew and the moondew, and the gleam
Of starlight, and the glowlight on the grass.
To secret things my hands committed him,
And strangely he hath thriven since that hour,
Ev’n as a leaf is fashion’d, ev’n as the hair
Of the long grass is woven, wondrously!
And thus, his brow bright with the balms of Earth,
He stands complete, his Father’s child, my son.                                  71
O look upon him! See his happy eyes!
And tell me that ye love him, and in turn
Will bless him, shielding him upon your breasts
If ever evil hour to him should come.
Oh, that sad rune we fear’d of old is false!
For gentle is he as the gentle things
Which foster’d him, too blest and beautiful
To be a terror or a grief to gods.”

She ceased; and Gefion thro’ her loosen’d hair
Smiled, and stern Rota’s look grew tenderer.
Then, stretch’d her listless length upon the grass,
Her dark face glowing brightly in the sun,
Upon one elbow leaning, sun-tanned Eir
Raised with quick wicked laugh her root and knife,
Saying, “O Frea, had I found him there
Fall’n like a flower in the dark arms of Earth,
This knife had made an end; but since he stands
Full-grown and fair, immortal, and thy son,
I bid him welcome!”—As she spake, the eyes
Of Balder fell upon the root and knife,
And lo, the knife gleam’d as a brand of gold,                                      72
While the black root, moist with the dews of earth,
Trembled, and blossom’d into light green leaves!
Then trembling, Eir arose, and stood her height,
While gazing full into her troubled eyes,
Bright Balder moved to embrace her silently.

But as he gently came there interposed
A wonder of new brightness,—such a shape,
So perfect in divine white loveliness,
As never mortal yet beheld and lived.
And Balder trembled, and his bosom heaved
With an exceeding sweetness strange and new,
While close to his there came a shining face,
Still as a sunbeam, dimmer than a dream.
And Freya, for ’twas she whose touch is life
To happy lovers and to loveless men
Is sickness and despair, said, breathing warm,
While on her alabaster arms love’s light
Was flushing faint as thro’ a rose’s leaves,
“Let all my sisters greet thee as they will,
I love thee, Balder! since of lovely things
Thou art the brightest and the loveliest!”                                             73
And lo! ere he was ware of her intent,
Unto his cheek she prest a warm red mouth
Kings of great empires would have swoon’d to touch,
And poets heavenly-dower’d would have died
To dream of kissing. Then thro’ Balder ran
A new miraculous rapture such as feels
The dark Earth when the scented Summer leaps
Full-blossom’d as a bridegroom to her arms;
Such as musk-roses know when blown apart
By sunbeams in mid-June; and Balder’s sense
Swoon’d, and he seem’d strewn o’er with fruit and flowers,
And on his lids were touches like warm rain,
And on his nostrils and his parted lips
Delicious balm and spicy odours fell,
And all his soul was like a young maid’s frame
Bathed in the warmth of love’s first virgin dream.

Then, as he trembled thro’ and thro’ his form
With the last flush of that celestial fire,
The goddesses around him flocking came,
All giving welcome. Some into his eyes                                               74
Gazed in such awe as pallid virgins feel
For some mysterious splendour masculine
They seek yet fear and shrink from as they touch.
For Balder’s loveliness in that bright place
Was as the soft sheen of the summer moon
Arising silvern in the cloudless west
Above the sunset seas of orange gold;
And there was trouble in his human eyes
Most melancholy sweet,—trouble like tears,
Of starlight, or the tremor of the dew.






THEY led him to a bank with moss inlaid,
Close to the tranquil mirror of the sea,
And thither came pale ocean handmaidens
Singing to lutes of amber and of pearl,
While “Love him, love him,” cried the goddesses,
“O love him, love him, he is beautiful!”
But Frea lifted up her hand, and cried,
“Love is not all—swear against all things ill
To watch him and protect him;”—and they cried,
“We swear! we swear!” Then bending over him
With bright black eyeballs burning into his,
Pale Rota touched his forehead with her spear,
Crying “Live on! No touch of time shall cause
One wrinkle on thy smooth unruffled brow!”
And Eir, low-laughing, held with tender teeth,
Not bruising the fair skin, his naked arm,
And murmur’d, “Strength and subtle force be thine,
Drunk from my breath into thy deepest veins.”                                    76
And Gefion, with her large, sad, heavenly eyes
Upgazing in his face, and one white hand
Laid softly on his side, cried, “As a tree
Be fruitful! Wheresoe’er thou wanderest,
Fruitage go with thee and a thousand flowers!”
But Freya kiss’d him calmly on the brow,
And whisper’d to him lower than the rest,
“O Balder! my soul’s gift is best of all—
They bring thee life, but I have given thee love.”

And Balder sank into a dream. Much joy
Made his sense drowsy, and with happy eyes
He saw that mist of light and loveliness
Enclose him, while he seem’d as one who swims
Among the shallows of an orient sea.
A voice like music woke him, and he saw
Standing before him in light azure robes
A shape that ’midst those others seem’d as dim
And unsubstantial as a summer shade.
Tall was she, and her wondrous sheen of hair
Rain’d downward like the silvern willow’s leaves,                                77
And on her mystic raiment blue as heaven
There glimmer’d dewy drops like shining stars.
Pale was she, with the pallor of wan waters
That wash for evermore the cold white feet
Of spectral polar moons; and when she spake,
’Twas low as sea-wash on the starlit sands
And strange and far-away as sounds in sleep.
“Balder!” she sigh’d; and like a man who hears,
Upstarting on his bed, some wondrous cry,
Balder upstarted wildly listening.
“Balder! O brother Balder, whose fair face,
Ere yet I gazed upon it shining here,
I knew thro’ dark eternities of dream,
See what I give thee! see what gentle gift
Thy sister Ydun brings thee; more divine
Than life’s sweet breath, or the fair flame of love.”

So saying, from her veilëd breast she drew
Mystical apples like to diamond seeds,
So small to seeming that a score might lie
In the pink hollow of an infant’s hand.                                                78
Each shone complete and pure as mother-o’-pearl
Touch’d with prismatic gleams of wondrous light,
And unto each on the scarce visible stem
There clung two perfect little leaves of gold.
This secret fruit the gods and goddesses
For ever feed on, evermore renewed;
And in a garden desolate and dim
Wash’d by the wild green sea of human graves,
Pale Ydun plucks it, and none other may.
“Eat!” Ydun murmur’d—“Balder, eat and live—
This fruit shall slay the lingering taint of Earth
Within thee, and preserve thee all divine.”

     Then Balder reaching out his open’d hand
Did take the fruit, and eating of the same,
Which melted on his tongue like flakes of snow,
He felt thro’ all his limbs the rapturous thrill
Of some supreme and unfamiliar life.
So leaving all those luminous shapes behind,
He took the hand of Ydun, kissing her
As moonlight kisses dew; and side by side                                          79
They wended down across the yellow sands,—
And many hours they wander’d whispering low
Close to the bright edge of that sleeping Sea.






SO Balder knew what mystical delights,
What slumberous idleness and peace supreme
Belong to the immortal goddesses;
And not a goddess in those golden walks
But loved the human light in Balder’s face.
At last there came a day (if day might come
Where suns sank never in the crystal sea)
When mighty Frea said, “The time is nigh
To say farewell—much yet remains to do,
A weary path to follow, ere thy seat
Among immortal creatures is secure.”
And Balder smiled, for of those shining groves
His soul was weary tho’ he knew it not;—
Ev’n Freya’s kiss was chiller on his cheek,
And Gefion’s face seem’d less serenely fair,
And only Ydun still had power to soothe
His spirit with her weirdly-woven runes.
And Balder said, “O Mother, sweet it is                                              81
To dwell among the immortals in these bowers,
But to fare on is better, and I seem
Ev’n as a cloud whose feet may never rest,
But still must wander, and it knows not whither.”

And so from that fair valley silently
They pass’d, and up the mountain sides, and down
Thro’ other prospects less divinely fair.

And from the valley they had left the face
Of Balder slowly faded like a star,
Forgotten, dwindled from the drowsy dream
Of those great slumberous-lidded goddesses.
From that bright realm’s serene eternity
All forms that are not present fade away
Like shadows stealing o’er a summer stream.
Yea even Freya did forget his eyes,
And gazed straight out at the unchanging sea
Smiling all calm as if he had not been;
And only Ydun did remember him,
Writing his name upon the yellow sands
And weaving it all round with subtle runes.

 . . . But far away beyond those secret realms,                                    82
Still northward, thro’ the wastes where nothing lives,
The goddess guided Balder, till at last
Into their faces flash’d the polar fires;
So that the streams were purpled and the heights
Took deeper crimson gleams, and overhead
The stars were quench’d in amethyst and gold.
Then Frea pointed with her hand, and cried,
“Behold the CITY OF THE GODS!”

                                           They stood
Upon the verge of a vast Sea of Ice,
So rough, so sown with berg and drift, it seem’d
An ocean frozen in the midst of storm
Before the surge could break, the waves could fall.
Still was it ’neath the gleaming lights of heaven,
Silent and awful, sleeping with no stir,
In one vast gleam of crimson bright as blood
Cast on it from afar. For lo! beyond,
Rose Asgard, the great City of the Gods,
For ever burnt to ashes night by night
And dawn by dawn for evermore renew’d.
And mortals when they see from out their caves                                 83
The City crumbling with a thousand fires
Cry, “Lo, the Sunset!”—and when evermore
They mark it springing up miraculous
From its own ashes strewn beside the sea,
Cry, “Lo, the Sunrise!” There, within its walls
The great gods strive in thickening fumes of fight,
Gathering together bloody ghosts of men;
And when the great towers tremble and the spires
Shoot earthward and the fiery ashes smoke,
The gods exult a little space, and wave
Their brands for all the vales of earth to see;
But when the ashes blacken, and the moon
Shines on the City’s embers, silently
They creep into their starry tents and sleep,—
Till like a rose unfolding leaf by leaf,
The immortal City rises!

                                       And behold!
There, far across the silent frozen Deep,
They saw the glimmer of the topmost towers,
Fading and changing in the lurid light
Of their own terrible consuming flame;                                                 84
And shadows to and fro amid the gleam
Pass’d, smiting shadows, and from out the heavens
There came a far-off sound as of a sea.

Still onward, walking now with wearier feet
The ice of that great Ocean, they pursued
Their solitary way, and as they went,
With shadows ever lengthening to the south,
The City sank consuming, till its towers
Just touch’d with gold the red horizon fringe;
And in the darkening ether over it
A star sprang like a spirit clad in mail,
And sat without a sound upon its throne,
Down-gazing; and the empty heavens and air
Were troubled still with melancholy light,
Wherein the opening lamps of night were swung
Pure golden, twinkling without beams.

                                                 At last,
When of that City little more remain’d
Than splendour from its ashes fading slow,
They reach’d one mighty gateway crumbling down                               85
Ev’n as a cloud that clings upon a crag,
And passing in they found the golden streets
All chill and desolate and strewn with shade;
For no quick foot of any living thing,
Mortal or god, trod there; but all around
Grew silence, and the luminous eyes of stars.

Then Frea said, “Call now upon the Father!”

And Balder, standing bright and beautiful
Like to a marble column wrought with gold,
All kindled with the shadows of the fire,
Rose on the ashes of the City and cried,
“Father!” when glory grew about his brow,
And on his breast and arms the light was shed,
Staining their alabaster. So he stood,
Tall-statured, luminous, supremely fair,
Watch’d by the closing eyes of all the world.
And suddenly, in answer to his cry,
A fierce aurora of pale faces flash’d
Out of the night of the extremest north.

And Frea cried aloud, “Almighty gods!                                              86
Behold your brother Balder! Father in Heaven,
Behold thy Son!”

                           From out the north there came
A murmur, and across the skies there swept
A trouble as of wildly waving hands.

Then Frea cried to Balder, “Call again!”

And Balder, shining still most beautiful,
And stretching out his arms to the black north,
Cried “Father!”

                       Suddenly the stars were quench’d,
And heavy as a curtain fell the night.






THEN Frea said, “O Balder, best beloved,
My heart fails, and my weary spirit swoons.
Fare on alone, and enter unafraid
The presence of the Father.”

                                             As she spake,
Her face he saw not, but he felt her hands
Clinging around him, while his own fair face,
Amid that sudden darkness, shone serene,
Fearless and gentle, and his beauteous limbs
Gleam’d with the lustre of celestial life.
“Mother,” he answer’d, “why is all so dark?
And where is he thou namest, that mine eyes
May look upon him?”
                                     From the blacken’d ground
Her voice sobbed answer, saying, “Even now
His shadow is upon us. Pass thou on,
Glide silent thro’ the phantom groves of gods,                                     88
And stand in thine immortal loveliness,
With eyes divine on his, before the throne.
Here will I linger, praying close to the earth,
Till thou returnest.”

                               Shining like a star,
Spake Balder, “All is dim, and I discern
No pathway and no bourne;” but with clear voice
Uplifted like a swan’s that flies thro’ storm,
He call’d, “Where art thou, Father? It is I,
Balder thy Son!”

                             As when the great seas roar
Suck’d in thro’ weedy rocks and under-caves
With surging sorrow drearily prolong’d
In hoarse and billowy breaths of solemn sound,
Ev’n so that darkness murmur’d and a voice
Came thund’rous out of heaven with no words.
And Frea cried, “Thou hearest! Hark, he calls—
Follow that murmur out into the dark,
And it shall guide thee to the Father’s feet.”

Silently, softly smiling, with no fear,                                                    89
Balder pass’d on; and as one gropes his way
Occanward guided by the ocean’s voice,
He faded slowly forth into the night.






THERE close to the earth she waited, crouching down
’Mid the cold ashes of the sunken City,
While closing round her like to prison walls
The deep impenetrable darkness grew.
And soon it shed a heavy, weary rain,
That clung upon her, chilling soul and sense,
Cold as a corpse’s lips; and all the while,
As a bird listens from its folded wings,
She listen’d!

                       But the only sound she heard
Was the low murmur of that weary rain,
Which spread wet fingers o’er the shuddering heavens,
And drearily drew down the rainy lids
Over the gentle eyes of all the stars.

Silent she lay and hearken’d, till her soul
Had lost all count of time and faded back                                            91
Into its own sad, dumb eternity. . . .

At last she stirred like one that wakes from sleep.
The rain had ceased, the darkness to the north
Had lifted, and her eyes beheld afar,
Beneath the glimmer of the northern night,
The brightness of the god’s returning feet.

Slowly, like one whose heart is heavy; slowly,
Like one that muses sadly as he moves;
Slowly, with darkness brooding at his back,
Came Balder, and his coming far away
Was ev’n as moonlight when the moon is sad
On misty nights of March; and when again
He pass’d across the ashes of the City,
And she who bare him could behold his face,
’Twas spectral white, and in his heavenly eyes
There dwelt a shadowy pain. Ev’n as a man
Who passing thro’ the barrows of the slain
Hath seen the corpses sit at dead of night
Gazing in silence from their own green graves;
Or as a maiden who hath seen a wraith                                                92
And knoweth that her shroud is being woven,
Came Balder out of heaven: still divine,
And beautiful, but ah! how sorrowful;
Still bright, but with a light as sadly fair,
Compared to that first splendour of the dawn,
As moonshine is to sunshine; on his brow
The shade of some new sorrow, in his eyes
The birth of some new pity; as a god,
Yet ghost-like, with deep glamour in his gaze,
Slowly, with faltering footsteps, Balder came.

Then Frea rose in silence, very pale,
For on her soul beholding Balder’s face
Some desolate anticipation fell,
And turn’d her eyes on his, stretching her hands
To hold him and to embrace him, keen to hear
His message; but he spake not when her arms
Were wound about him and upon his brow
Her soft kiss fell; vacant his sad eyes seem’d,
As if they gazed on something far away.
Then Frea sobbed in agony of heart,
“Son, hast thou seen thy brethren?” and again,                                     93
“Son, hast thou seen thy Father?” Yet a space
His lips were silent, and his eyes were blank,
But when again and yet again her tongue
Had framed the same fond question, Balder said,
In a low voice and a weary, “I have seen
My brethren and my Father!” Like a man
Smit thro’ and thro’ with sudden sense of cold,
He shiver’d.

                       Then the goddess, mad to see
The light of agony on that well-loved face,
Clung to him wailing, “Balder! my Son Balder!
Why is thy look so sick, thy soul so weary?
What hast thou done and seen? what sight of heaven
Hath made thee sad?”—and Balder answer’d low,
“O Mother! I have dream’d another dream—
I have seen my brethren in a dream—have seen
My brethren and my Father; and it seems
From that strange trance I have not waken’d yet,
But that I still am darkling in my dream,
The breath of gods about me, and the eyes
Of gods upon me! Patience—question not—                                      94
The light is coming, and my soul is waking—
My dream grows clear, and I shall soon remember
All that mine eyes have seen, mine ears have heard.”

Then on that City’s ashes side by side
Sat son and mother, two colossal shapes,
Silent, in shadow; but the eyes of heaven
Were opening above, and to the south
They saw the white seas flash with glittering bergs
In fitful glimmers to the windy night.
And when a little space had pass’d away
The god spake softly, saying, “All is clear,
My sorrow and my dream; and Mother, now
I know those things which seem’d so sad and dark.
Ah! woe is me that I was ever born
To be a terror and a grief to gods!”

Then Frea cried, “O Balder, unto whom
Can all the promise of thy beauty bring
Terror or grief? Nay, ’twas with looks serene
To win the heart of heaven, that its wrath
Might never turn against thee, and to mock                                         95
With glory of thy human gentleness
The prophecy of that ancestral rune,
I bade thee go up beauteous and alone
Before the darkness of the Father’s face.
Yet thou returnest barren of such joy
As thou a god shouldst snatch from gods thy kin,
First in thy plenitude beholding them;
And on thy brow is sadness, not such peace
As comes from consecration of a kiss
Given by a Father to a son beloved
In whom he is well pleased!”

                                           Then once again
Like a man smitten to the bone with cold,
Bright Balder shiver’d, and his beautiful face
Grew gray as any mortal’s fix’d in death;
And suddenly he cried, “O come away!
Come back to those green woods where I was born.
The ways of heaven are dreary, and the winds
Of heaven blow chilly, and I fain would find
A refuge and a home!”

                                       But Frea moan’d,                                        96
Turning her fair face northward in quick wrath,
“Ay me thy dream—I read it, from mine own
Most bitterly awaking. Woe to them!
Woe to the Father and the gods thy kin!
Out of thy mansion have they cast thee forth,
Denying thee thy birthright and thy seat
Up yonder at thy heavenly Father’s side!”
But Balder, in a feeble voice and low,
Said, “They denied me nought, those Shapes I saw
Strangely as in a sleep; nay, but meseem’d
They pointed at me with their spectral hands
And waved me back, some with their raiment hems
Hiding their faces; in their eyes I saw
Not love but protestation absolute;
And when I rose and named my Father’s name,
It seem’d creation rock’d beneath my feet
And all the cloudy void above my head
Trembled; and when I named my name, a voice
Shriek’d ‘Balder!’ and the naked vaults of heaven
Prolong’d in desolation and despair
The echoes of the word till it became
As thunder! Then meseem’d I saw a hand,                                          97
Gripping the fiery lightning suddenly,
Strike at my head as if to smite me down;
But tho’ my frame was wrapt about with fire,
I stood unscathed; and as I paused I saw,
Confused as stormy shadows in the sea,
Thrones gleaming, faces fading, starry shapes
Coming and going darkly; and each time
I call’d upon my Father, that great hand
Flash’d down the fierce darts of the crimson levin,
And from that darkness which I knew was he
A voice came, and a cry that seem’d a curse,
Until my soul was sicken’d and afraid.
Then, for my heart was heavy, yearning still
To look upon him and to feel at last
The welcome of his consecrating kiss,
I fell upon my knees, folded my hands
Together, and I blest him;—when methought
The voice wail’d, and the cry that seem’d a curse
Re-echoed. Then came blackness more intense;
And for a space my sense and sight seem’d lost,
And when I woke I stood beside thee here,                                        98
Holding thy hand and looking in thine eyes.”

Then Frea wail’d, “’Tis o’er! my hope is o’er!
Thy Father loves thee not, but casts thee forth—
Where wilt thou find a place to rest thy feet?”
But Balder answer’d, “Where the cushat builds
Her nest amid green leaves, and where wild roses
Hang lamps to light the dewy feet of dawn,
And where the starlight and the moonlight slumber,
Ev’n there, upon the balmy lap of Earth,
Shall I not sleep again? O Mother, Mother!
Pray to my Father that his soul may learn
To love me in due season, while again
Earthward we fare; and Mother, bless thou me,
Me whom my heavenly Father blesseth not,
With ministering hands before we go!”

Then Frea cried, blessing and kissing Balder,
“Go thou,—the green Earth loves thee, and thy face
Is as a lamp to all the gentle things                                                        99
Which mingled in thy making—Go thou down,
But I will journey upward till I find
The footstool of the Father. Night and day
With prayers, with intercession of deep tears,
With ministering murmurs, I will plead,
Low-lying like a cloud around his feet,
Thy cause, and the green Earth’s which foster’d thee:
That in a later season love may come
In answer, and the Father fear no more
To seat thee ’mong Immortals at his side.
Go down, my child, my sunbeam, my best-born,
My Balder, who art still deem’d beautiful
Save only in the heavenly Father’s sight!
And when all things have blest thee; when all forms
Have gladden’d in thy glory; when all voices,
The mountains and the rivers and the seas,
The white clouds and the stars upon their thrones,
Have known thy face and syllabled thy name;
Come back again under the arch of heaven,
Not as a suppliant but a conqueror,
And take thy throne!”

                                 The darkness far away                                      100
Groan’d: and the great void answer’d; overhead
Cluster’d the countless spheres of night, like eyes
Downgazing; but beneath the goddess’ feet
Shot up dim gleams of dawn.

                                     Then bright as day
Grew Balder, while his face, composed to peace,
Turn’d earthward; and he stretch’d out eager arms
To that belovëd land where he was born.
“Farewell!” he said, and softly kiss’d the mother;
Then, while the goddess glided like a cloud
Up heavenward, down to the dim Earth he pass’d
Slowly, with luminous feet.

                                   . . . And when he came
To that cold realm which belts the Frozen Sea,
Behind his back the trumpets of the light
Were faintly blown; a sudden sheen was thrown
Behind him and around him, wondrously;
Bright shone the lonely waste of plain and berg;
And reaching that great cape of porphyry
Which points with shadowy finger at the pole,                                      101
He turn’d his shining face once more, and watch’d;
While far away in the remotest north
Bright Asgard, mystic City of the Gods,
Was rising from its ashes till its spires
Burnt golden in the rose-red arch of heaven.



Balder The Beautiful continued

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


The Critical Response
Harriett Jay


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