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{Balder The Beautiful 1877}













O WHO cometh sweetly
     With singing of showers?—
The wild wind runs fleetly
         Before his soft tread,
The sward stirs asunder
     To radiance of flowers,
While o’er him and under
         A glory is spread—
A white cloud above him
     Moves on thro the blue,
And all things that love him
     Are dim with its dew:
The lark is upspringing,
     The merle whistles clear,
There is sunlight and singing,                                                     106
     For Balder is here!

He walks on the mountains,
     He treads on the snows;
He loosens the fountains
         And quickens the wells;
He is filling the chalice
     Of lily and rose,
He is down in the valleys
         And deep in the dells—
He smiles, and buds spring to him.
     The bright and the dark;
He speaks, and birds sing to him,
     The finch and the lark,—
He is down by the river,
     He is up by the mere,
Woods gladden, leaves quiver,
     For Balder is here.

There is some divine trouble
     On earth and in air—
Trees tremble, brooks bubble,                                                  107
         Ants loosen the sod;
Warm footfalls awaken
     Whatever is fair;
Sweet rain-dews are shaken
         To quicken each clod.
The wild rainbows o’er him
     Are melted and fade,
The grass runs before him
     Thro’ meadow and glade;
Green branches close round him,
     The leaves whisper near—
“He is ours—we have found him—
     Bright Balder is here!”

The forest glows golden
     Where’er he is seen,
New flowers are unfolden,
         New voices arise;
Flames flash at his passing
     From boughs that grow green,
Dark runlets gleam, glassing                                                       108
         The stars of his eyes.
The Earth wears her brightest
     Wherever he goes,
The hawthorn its whitest,
     Its reddest the rose;
The days now are sunny,
     The white storks appear,
And the bee gathers honey,
     For Balder is here.

He is here on the heather,
     And here by the brook,
And here where together
         The lilac boughs cling;
He is coming and going
     With love in his look,
His white hand is sowing
         Warm seeds, and they spring!
He has touch’d with new silver
     The lips of the stream,
And the eyes of the culver                                                         109
     Are bright from his beam,
He has lit the great lilies
     Like lamps on the mere;
All happy and still is,
     For Balder is here.

Still southward with sunlight
     He wanders away—
The true light, the one light,
         The new light, is he!
With music and singing
     The mountains are gay,
And the peace he is bringing
         Spreads over the sea.
All night, while stars twinkling
     Gleam down on the glade,
His white hands are sprinkling
     With harebells the shade;
And when day hath broken,
     All things that dwell near
Will know, by that token,                                                          110
     That Balder is here.

In the dark deep dominions
     Of pine and of fir,
Where the dove with soft pinions
         Sits still on her nest,
He sees her, and by her
     The young doves astir,
And smiling sits nigh her,
         His hand on her breast;
The father-dove lingers
     With love in its eyes,
Alights on his fingers,
     And utters soft cries,
And the sweet colours seven
     Of the rainbow appear
On its neck, as in heaven,
     Now Balder is here.

He sits by a fountain
     Far up near the snow,
And high on the mountain                                                           111
         The wild reindeer stand;
On crimson moss near to him
     They feed walking slow,
Or come with no fear to him,
     And eat from his hand.
He sees the ice turning
     To columns of gold.
He sees the clouds burning
         On crags that were cold;
The great snows are drifting
     To cataracts clear,
All shining and shifting,
     For Balder is here.

O who sitteth singing,
     Where sunset is red,
And wild ducks are winging
         Against the dark gleam?
It is he, it is Balder,
     He hangeth his head
Where willow and alder                                                             112
         Droop over the stream;
And the purple moths find him
     And hover around,
And from marshes behind him
     He hears a low sound:
The frogs croak their greeting
     From swamp and from mere,
And their faint hearts are beating,
     For Balder is here.

The round moon is peeping
     Above the low hill;
Her white light, upcreeping
         Against the sun’s glow,
On the black shallow river
     Falls silvern and chill,
Where bulrushes quiver
         And wan lilies grow.
The black bats are flitting,
     Owls pass on soft wings,
Yet silently sitting                                                                       113
     He lingers and sings—
He sings of the Maytime,
     Its sunlight and cheer,
And the night like the daytime
     Knows Balder is here.

He is here with the moonlight,
     With night as with day,
The true light, the one light,
         The new light, is he;
The moon-bows above him
     Are melted away,
And the things of night love him,
         And hearken and see.
He sits and he ponders,
     He walks and he broods,
Or singing he wanders
     ’Neath star-frosted woods;
And the spheres from afar, light
     His face shining clear:
Yea, the moonlight and starlight                                                 114
     Feel Balder is here.

He is here, he is moving
     On mountain and dale,
And all things grow loving,
         And all things grow bright:
Buds bloom in the meadows,
     Milk foams in the pail,
There is scent in the shadows,
         And sound in the light:
O listen! he passes
     Thro’ valleys of flowers,
With springing of grasses
     And singing of showers.
Earth wakes—he has called her,
     Whose voice she holds dear;
She was waiting for Balder,
     And Balder is here!





’MID mountains white by rainbows spanned,
     Upon his knees he sank,
And melted in his hollow’d hand
     The stainless snows, and drank.

And far beneath in mists of heat
     Great purple valleys slept,
And flashing bright beneath his feet
     The loosen’d cataracts leapt.

Down to those happy vales he drew
     Where men and women dwell,
And white snow melted, green grass grew,
     Where’er his footprints fell.

Then night by night and day by day
     His deepest joy was found
In watching happy things of clay                                               116
     And hearing human sound.

All human eyes to him were sweet,
     He loved the touch of hands,
He kissed the print of human feet
     Upon the soft sea-sands.

Most silently he went and came,
     With mild and blissful mien,
Bright as a beam his face would flame
     Amid the forests green.

To timid mortals passing by
     He seemed a vision fair,
But little children oft drew night,
     And let him smooth their hair;

And witless men would come to him
     With wild and eldritch cries,
And lying in the moonbeams dim
     Would gaze into his eyes!

His voice was in the lonely wood,                                              117
     And by the nameless stream,—
He shed in silent solitude
     The peaceful rays of dream.

From vale to vale he went, and blest
     The wild beast and the bird,—
While deep within the glad Earth’s breast
     The founts of being stirred. . . .

He sat down in a lonely land
     Of mountain, moor, and mere,
And watch’d, with chin upon his hand,
     Dark maids that milk’d the deer.

And while the sun set in the skies,
     And stars shone in the blue,
They sang sweet songs, till Balder’s eyes
     Were sad with kindred dew.

He passed along the hamlets dim
     With twilight’s breath of balm,
And whatsoe’er was touch’d by him                                          118
     Grew beautiful and calm.

The old man sitting on the grass
     Look’d up ’neath hoary hair,
And felt some heavenly presence pass
     And gladden’d unaware!

He came unto a hut forlorn
     As evening shadows fell,
And saw the man among the corn,
     The woman at the well.

And entering the darken’d place,
     He found the cradled child;
Stooping he lookt into its face,
     Until it woke and smiled!

Then Balder passed into the night
     With soft and shining tread,
The cataract called upon the height,
     The stars gleam’d overhead.

He raised his eyes to those cold skies                                       119
     Which he had left behind,—
And saw the banners of the gods
     Blown back upon the wind.

He watch’d them as they came and fled,
     Then his divine eyes fell.
“I love the green Earth best,” he said,
     “And I on Earth will dwell!”






SO when his happy feet had wander’d far,
When all the birds had brighten’d and his hand
Had linger’d on the brows of all the beasts,
He came among the valleys where abode
Mortals that walk erect upon the ground.
First, southward passing, he beheld those men
Who, where the snow for ever lieth, dwell
In caverns of the ground and swathe their limbs
In skins of beasts: these felt his glory pass,
But knew it not, because their eyes were dim
With many nights of darkness. Round their doors
Sorrel blood-red he cast and saxifrage,
And singing passed away! Then roam’d he on,
Past porphyry and greenstone crags that line
Limitless oceans of unmelting ice,
Until he enter’d valleys kindlier
That redden’d into ruby as he came;                                                  121
And in among the countless deer he stole,
Marking their horns with golden moss, and singing
A strange soft song their souls could understand.

Then as the Earth grew fairer, presently
He came beneath the shade of forest leaves,—
And deep among the emerald depths he found
Those mortal men who dwell in woods and build
Their dwellings of the scented boughs of trees.
And often, with his cheek upon his hand,
Balder would sit and watch the smoke of fire
Upcurling thro’ the branches heavenward,
While to and fro in sunshine passed the shapes
Of men and women. Most he loved to mark
Those forms which gods made fairest, and to hear
Those voices gods made sweetest; but his hand,
Falling unseen, was gentlest on the hair
Of children and of hoary aged men.

Then Balder said, “The Earth is fair, and fair,
Yea fairer than the stormy lives of gods,
The lives of gentle dwellers on the Earth;                                             122
For shapen are they in the likenesses
Of goddesses and gods, and on their limbs
Sunlight and moonlight mingle, and they lie
Happy and calm in one another’s arms
O’er-canopied with greenness; and their hands
Have fashion’d fire that springeth beautiful
Straight as a silvern lily from the ground,
Wondrously blowing; and they measure out
Glad seasons by the pulses of the stars.
O Spirit whom I know not, tho’ I fear
Thy shadow on my soul where’er I go,
Almighty Father, tho’ thou lov’st me not,
I love thy children! I could sit all hours,
Just looking into their still heavenly eyes,
Holding their hands! Most dear they are to me,
Because they are my brethren;—beautiful,
My brethren and thy children!”

                                         O’er his head
The blue sky darken’d, and a thund’rous voice
Murmur’d afar off,—and in great black drops
Came out of heaven the blind and desolate rain.                                  123
But Balder gazing upward reach’d out arms
And bless’d it as it fell; and lo, it grew
Silvern and lovely as an old man’s hair!
And scents came out of the rich-soilëd earth,
And all the boughs were glad and jewel-hung,
Till very softly, very silently,
The shower ceased, with kisses tremulous
On Balder’s lifted hands!

                                 Even so he turn’d
The saddest things to beauty. With his face
Came calm and consecration; and the Earth
Uplifting sightless eyes in a new joy,
Answer’d the steadfast smile of the still heavens
With one long look of peace. In those strange days
The wild wind was his playmate,—yea, the blast
New-loosen’d by the very hands of gods
Leapt to him like a lamb, and at his smile~
Fell at his feet, and slept. Then out of heaven
Came lightnings, from whose terror every face
Of humankind was hidden,—meteors, flames,                                      124
Forms of the fiery levin, such as wait
For ever at the angry beck of gods.
But Balder stood upon a promontory,
And saw them shining o’er the open sea,
And on the fields of ether crimson’d red;
And lo, he lifted up a voice and cried,
“O beautiful wild children of the fire,
Whence come ye? whither go ye? Be at peace,
Come hither!” and like soft white stingless snakes
That crawl on grass, the fiery meteors came,
Licking his feet in silence, looking up
With luminous eyes!

                           Ev’n as he conquer’d these,
Heaven’s fiery messengers, he tamed the hearts
Of human things, and in the sun they sat
Weaving green boughs, or wooing in the shade,
Or leading home the white and virgin bride.
For as the holy hunger and desire
Came quickening in the hearts of birds and beasts,
Ev’n so woke love within the hearts of men;                                      125
And out of love came children; and the Earth
Was merry with new creatures thronging forth
Like ants that quicken on the sun-kist sod.






AND Balder bends above them, glory-crown’d,
Marking them as they creep upon the ground,
Busy as ants that toil without a sound,
     With only gods to mark.

But list! O list! what is that cry of pain,
Faint as the far-off murmur of the main?
Stoop low and hearken, Balder! List again!
     “Lo! Death makes all things dark!”

Ay me, it is the earthborn souls that sigh,
Coming and going underneath the sky;
They move, they gather, clearer grows their cry—
     O Balder, bend, and hark!

The skies are still and calm, the seas asleep,
In happy light the mortal millions creep,
Yet listen, Balder!—still they murmur deep,                                        127
     “Lo! Death makes all things dark.”

[Oh, listen! listen!] “Blessed is the light,
We love the golden day, the silvern night,
The cataracts leap, the woods and streams are bright,
     We gladden as we mark.

“Crying we come, but soon our cheeks are dried—
We wander for a season happy-eyed,
And we forget how our gray sires have sigh’d,
     ‘Lo! Death makes all things dark.’

“For is the sun not merry and full of cheer?
Is it not sweet to live and feel no fear?
To see the young lambs leaping, and to hear
     The cuckoo and the lark?

“Is toil not blest, is it not blest to be?
To climb the snows, to sail the surging sea,
To build our saeters where our flocks roam free?
     But Death makes all things dark.

“Is love not blest, is it not brave and gay                                              128
With strong right hand to bear one’s bride away,
To woo her in the night time and the day
     With no strange eyes to mark?

“And blest are children, springing fair of face
Like gentle blossoms in the dwelling-place;
We clasp them close, forgetting for a space
     Death makes the world so dark.

“And yet though life is glad and love divine,
This Shape we fear is here i’ the summer shine,—
He blights the fruit we pluck, the wreath we twine,
     And soon he leaves us stark.

“He hunts us fleetly on the snowy steep,                                             [12:1]
He finds us as we sow and as we reap,
He creepeth in to slay us as we sleep,—
     Ah! Death makes all things dark!

“Yea, when afar over our nets hang we,
He walks unto us even on the sea;
The wind blows in his hair, the foam flies free                                      129
     O’er many a sinking bark!

“Pity us, gods, and take this god away,
Pity us, gods, who made us out of clay,
Pity us, gods, that our sad souls may say,
     ‘Bright is the world, which Death a space made dark.’”


Alterations in the 1884 edition of The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan:
v. 12, l. 1: “He haunts us fleetly on the snowy steep, ]






Now all his peace was poison’d and he found
No solace in the shining eyes of day,
Starlight and moonlight now seem’d sorrowful,
And in his soul there grew the sense of tears.
For wheresoe’er he wander’d, whatsoe’er
He gazed on, whether in the light or dark,
Was troubled by a portent.

Listening to nature’s sad unceasing moan,
Balder remember’d that pale haunting Shape
Which he had seen in those primæval woods
Where he was foster’d by the happy Earth;
And those sad tales the mother-goddess told
Of mortal men, and how they waste and wane,
Came back upon his life with fearful gleams.
Yea, Balder’s heart was heavy. All in vain                                           131
He wove wild runes around the flowers and trees,
And round the necks of beasts and gentle birds;
For evermore the cold hand found them out,
And evermore they darkly droop’d and died.
This direful thing was on the helpless Earth,
Unprison’d, unconfined. Before his face
It faded, and before his eager touch
Melted and changed, but evermore again
It gather’d into dreadful lineaments,
And passed with arms outreaching on its way.

Then Balder lifted up his trembling hands
To heaven, crying, “FATHER!” and no sound
Came from the frozen void; and once again,
“O Mother, Mother!” but pale Frea lay
Stone-still in anguish at the Father’s feet,
And dared not answer; and he cried once more,
“Gods, gods, immortal gods!” when suddenly
He saw across the open arctic heaven
The hosts of Asgard, ev’n as sunset clouds
That drift confusedly in masses bright,
Trooping, with blood-red rays upon their heads,                                  132
To fight against the meteor snakes that flash
Far northward in the white untrodden wastes.
They passed, they saw not, but he heard their feet
Afar as muffled thunder, and he cried,
“O Slayers of the snake, immortal gods,
Come hither and slay the slayer, that the world
May rest in peace!”

                                   If ever his faint cry
Reach’d to their ears, the dark gods only smiled,
With smiles like sullen lightning on the lips
Of tempest; and he found no comfort there.
Nor from the mouths of flower, or bird, or tree,
Sea-fern, or sighing shell upon the shore,
Came any answer when he question’d low,
“What is this thing ye fear? who sent it hither,
This shape which moaning mortals christen Death?”
But from the darkness of his own heart’s pity,
And from all things in unison—the gloom
Of midnight, and the trouble of the clouds,
From sunless waters, solitary woods,
There came a murmur, “None can answer thee,                                  133
Save him thou followest with weary feet!”

Wherefore he wander’d on, and still in vain
Sought Death the slayer. Into burial-places,
Heapen with stones and seal’d with slime of grass,
He track’d him, found him sitting lonely there
Like one that dreams, his dreadful pitiless eyes
Fix’d on the sunset star. Or oftentimes
Beheld him running swiftly like a wolf
Who scents some stricken prey along the ground.
Or saw him into empty huts crawl slow,
And while the man and woman toiled i’ the field,
Gaze down with stony orbs a little space
Upon the sickly babe, which open’d eyes,
And laugh’d, and spread its little faded hands
In elfin play. Nay, oft in Balder’s sight
The form seem’d gentle, and the fatal face
Grew beautiful and very strangely fair.
Yet evermore while his swift feet pursued,
Darkling it fled away, and evermore
Most pitiful rose cries of beasts and birds,
Most desolate rose moans of stricken men,                                          134
Till Balder wept for sorrow’s sake, and cried,
“Help me, my Father!”

                                       Even as he spake,
A gray cloud wept upon the Earth, which wore
A gentle darkness; and the wastes and woods,
The mountains trembling in their hoary hair,
The mighty continents and streams and seas,
Uplifted a low voice of mystery
And protestation. Then a wingëd wind
Caught up the sound and bore it suddenly
To the great gates of Asgard, so that all
Within the shadowy City heard; and He
Who sitteth far beyond upon his throne,
Immortal, terrible, and desolate,
Heard, but was silent; and no answer came,
No help or answer, from the lips of heaven.







ART thou a god? thy brow is shining so!
O thou art beautiful! What is thy name?






             Now let me look into thy face.






               How I love thee!



                             And thy name?



That is my mother standing at the door,
Shading her face and gazing up the hill.
I keep my mother’s reindeer, and each night
Milk them, and drive them to their pasturage.
How clear thine eyes are! They are like that star
Up yonder, twinkling on the snow!



                                                     Come hither!
Thou hast bright hair like mine, and starry eyes,
Snow-blossom, and a voice like falling water;
Thy flesh is like the red snow and the white
Mingled together softly, and thy breath
Is scented like the fragrant thyme in flower.
Mine eyes have look’d on many shapes like thine—
Yet thou art fairest.



                               I am call’d Snow-blossom
Because I am not brown like other maids,                                           137
And when a little child I was so white!






                     They are calling—I must go—
Come down with me, and by our saeter’s fire
Slumber this night, and ere thou liest down
I’ll sing to thee the strange old songs I know
Of Death, and of the battle-fields of gods,
And of the wondrous City where they dwell
Yonder afar away!



                                 What knowest thou
Of Death or gods?



                                 Only last winter tide
I saw my father die: he drew one breath,
Then went to sleep; but when we touch’d his hands
They had no warmth, and his twain eyes were glazed,                          138
Gazing at something that we saw not. Then
We wrapt him warm in skins and in his hands
We set his seal-spear and his seal-hide thong,
And placed him sitting in the sunless earth,
Crouch’d resting on the ground with knees drawn up
As many a night he sat beside the fire.
And that the fierce white bear might find him not,
We wall’d him up with earth and mighty stones,
Seal’d tight with snow and water: then we said
A prayer to the good gods, and left him there
Where they might find him.



                                   Hast thou seen that Death
Which smote thy father?



                                     Nay!—no mortal thing
Sees him and lives. He walks about the Earth
At his good will, and smites whate’er he lists,
Both young and old. There is no spirit at all                                        139
More strong than he!



                           Is he a god?



                                             I know not.



And will thy father waken?



                                         When the gods
Find out his grave, and open up the stones,
Then he will waken, and will join the hosts
Of Hermod and of Thor; for he was brave,
My father: he could keep his own, and ere
He took my mother, with his spear he slew
Her father and her brother, who were wroth
Because they hated him; and evermore
When he shed blood, he made his offering
To Hermod and the rest.



                                     And thou, Snow-blossom,
Thou in thy turn wilt wed a mighty man,
And bear strong children?



                                       Yes!—a man of strength,
Fair like my father. I would have him fierce
As bears are, bearded, a seal-strangler, swift,
And a great hunter with a boat and dogs.
But I would have him very cunning too,
Knowing old songs and wise at weaving runes,
That in the season when the sun is fled
We might be merry thro’ the long cold nights
Waiting for summer!






                                               It is my mother
Calling again! Wilt thou not come?



                                                     Go thou!
I shall fare further o’er the summer hills.
Snow-blossom! Let me kiss thee ere thou goest!






           Now farewell! . . .

                                       How lightly down the height
She leapeth with the leaping cataract,
And now she turns and waves her little hand,
And plunging down she fades. And in the world
Dwell countless thousands beautiful as she,
Happy and virgin, drinking with no pain
The vital air of heaven! O pink flesh
Over the warm nest of a singing heart
Heap’d soft as blossoms! O strange starry eyes
Of mortals, beautiful as mine! O flame
Out of soft nostrils trembling, like the light
From lips of flowers! O wonder of Earth’s life,
Why is it that the great gods chase thee down?                                   142
Why is it that thou fallest evermore
When thou art fairest? Up and down the world
Each creature walks, and o’er each red mouth hangs
Breath like a little cloud, faint smoke of breath
Blown from the burning of the fire within.
Great gods, if as they say ye fashion’d them,
Why do ye suffer this wild wind of doom
To wither what ye made so wonderful?

The vale is dark, the snow-fields on the height
Are purpled with the midnight. . . . . Steadfastly
One lamp shines in the valley, and above
The still star shines an answer. Slumber well,
Snow-blossom! May no shadow of the gods
Come near to trouble thee in thy repose!
Sleep like immortal raiment wrap thee round,
To charm away the rayless eyes of Death!






BRIGHT Balder cried, “Curst be this thing
     Which will not let man rest,
Slaying with swift and cruel sting
     The very babe at breast!

“On man and beast, on flower and bird,
     He creepeth evermore;
Unseen he haunts the Earth; unheard
     He crawls from door to door.

“I will not pause in any land,
     Nor sleep beneath the skies,
Till I have held him by the hand
     And gazed into his eyes!”












HE sought him on the mountains bleak and bare
         And on the windy moors;
He found his secret footprints everywhere,
         Yea, ev’n by human doors.

All round the deerfold on the shrouded height
         The starlight glimmer’d clear;
Therein sat Death, wrapt round with vapours white
         Touching the dove-eyed deer.

And thither Balder silent-footed flew,
         But found the phantom not;
The rain-wash’d moon had risen cold and blue
         Above that lonely spot.

Then as he stood and listen’d, gazing round                                        148
         In the pale silvern glow,
He heard a wailing and a weeping sound
         From the wild huts below.

He mark’d the sudden flashing of the lights,
         He heard cry answering cry—
And lo! he saw upon the silent heights
         A shadowy form pass by.

Wan was the face, the eyeballs pale and wild,
         The robes like rain wind-blown,
And as it fled it clasp’d a naked child
         Unto its cold breast-bone.

And Balder clutch’d its robe with fingers weak
         To stay it as it flew—
A breath of ice blew chill upon his cheek,
         Blinding his eyes of blue.

’Twas Death! ’twas gone!—All night the shepherds sped,
         Searching the hills in fear;
At dawn they found their lost one lying dead                                       149
         Up by the lone black mere;

And lo! they saw the fatal finger-mark,
         Which reacheth young and old,
Seal’d, livid still, upon its eyelids dark
         And round its nipples cold.

Then Balder moan’d aloud and smote his breast,
         “O drinker of sweet breath,
Curst be thy cruel lips! I shall not rest
         Until I clasp thee, Death!”

He track’d the footprints in the morning gray
         From rocky haunt to haunt.
Far up the heights a wolf had crost Death’s way;
         It lay there, lean and gaunt.

He reach’d the highest snows and found them strewn
         With bleaching bones of deer. . . .
Night came again,—he listen’d ’neath the moon
         Shining most cold and clear.

Beneath him stretch’d vast valleys green and fair,                                 150
         Still in the twilight shine,
With great waste tarns and cataracts hung in air,
         And woods of fir and pine;

And on the tarns lay dim red dreams of day
         The midnight sun cast there,—
Sunlight and moonlight blending in one ray
         Of mother-o’-pearl most fair.

He wander’d down thro’ woods that fringed the snows,
         Down cliffs with ivy crown’d,
He passed by lonely tarns whence duskly rose
         Great cranes, and hover’d round.

He paused upon a crimson crag, and lo!
         Deep down at the crag’s foot,
The Shape he sought, in shadow, far below,
         With folded wings, sat mute!

Ev’n as a vulture of the east it seem’d
         Brooding on something dead;
Dark was the form on which its cold eyes gleam’d,                              151
         And still and heavy as lead.

Then Balder swung himself from tree to tree,
         And reach’d the fatal place! . . .
The phantom fled as silent wild things flee,
         But a white human face

Gleam’d from the ground; and Balder’s glory shone
         On a wild cowherd’s hair!
Too late—his cheeks were chill—his breath was gone—
         His bosom torn and bare.

The Shape unseen had cast him o’er the steep,
         Down, down, the abysses dim,—
Then, as an eagle followeth a sheep,
         Had flutter’d after him!

His bearskin dress was bloody; in his grip
         He clutch’d a cowherd’s horn;
His eyes were glazed, and on his stainëd lip
         Death’s kisses lay forlorn.

But Balder touch’d him and his face grew fair,                                     152
         Shining beneath the skies,
Yea, Balder crost his hands, and smooth’d his hair,
         And closed his piteous eyes. . . .

Not resting yet, the bright god wander’d soon
         Down by the torrent’s track;
And lo! a sudden glory hid the moon,
         And dawn rose at his back.





DAWN purple on the peaks, and pouring in floods
         Into the valleys fair,
Encrimsoning the lakes and streams and woods,
         Illuming heaven and air.

And every creature gladden’d, and the Earth
         Turn’d on her side and woke:
There came sweet music; sunny gleams of mirth
         Across the landscape broke.

And when a thousand eyes of happy things
         Had open’d all around,
And when each form that blooms, each form that sings,
         Saw Balder glory-crown’d,

Standing like marble bathed in liquid flame,
         Perfect of face and limb,
Infinite voices syllabled his name,                                                        154
         And Earth smiled up at him!

All shapes that knew him (and all shapes that be
         Knew Balder’s face that hour)
Grew glorified—the torrent and the tree,
         The white cloud and the flower.

The meres flash’d golden mirrors for his face;
         The forests saw and heard;
The cataracts brighten’d; in its secret place
         The sunless runlet stirred.

A light of green grass ran before his feet,
         His brow was bright with dew,
Where’er he trod there sprang a flower full sweet,
         Rose, crimson, yellow, or blue.

But Balder’s face was pale, altho’ his frame
         Its natal splendour wore;
Altho’ the green Earth gladden’d as he came,
         God Balder’s soul was sore.

“O happy Earth! O happy beams of day!                                            155
         O gentle things of breath!
Blest were ye, if some hand divine might slay
         The slayer, even Death!”

He spake, and he was answer’d. By his side
         A crimson river ran,
Out of the cloven mountains spreading wide
         It water’d vales for man.

Amid its shallows flowers and sedge did twine,
         But in the midst ’twas deep,
And on its sides fed flocks of goats and kine
         O’er meadows soft as sleep.

Suddenly, while upon its marge he stood,
         His heart grew cold as clay,—
For lo! the phantom! sailing down the flood,
         Dim in the dawn of day! . . .

’Mid drifted foxglove-bells and leaves of green
         Uptorn and floating light,
There came, with face upturn’d, now hid, now seen,                           156
         A maiden dark as night—

Her raven hair was loosen’d, her soft breath
         Had fled and left no stir,
Her eyes were open, looking up at Death,
         Who drifted down with her.

Beside her, tangled ’mid the foxglove-bells,
         A shepherd’s crook was cast,
While softly on the waters silvern swells
         Her form was floating past.

And lo! with eyes of feverish fatal light
         Fix’d on her face in dream,
Death clung unto her ’mid the eddies bright
         Upon the shining stream.

And Balder wail’d; and wafted down that way,
         Death saw his shape and knew,—
Then, like a falcon startled from its prey,
         Rose, vanishing from view!






NOW Balder came across the great sea-shore,
And saw far out upon the windless waves
A fight of water-dragons fierce as fire,
Wingëd and wild and wrought about with gold.
And dragon unto dragon clash’d and clung,
And each shriek’d loud, and teeth in teeth were set,
Until the sea was crimson’d, and one sank
In its own blood. So like to living things
They seem’d, but ships they were within whose wombs
Throbbed many savage hearts. And suddenly,
Amid that clangour of sharp steel and shriek
Of living voices, ’mid the thick o’ the fight,
When in the stainëd waters all around
Men to the brain were cloven as they swam,
Balder saw dimly, hovering on wings,
Ev’n as the kestrel hovers poised and still                                            158
With glittering eyes searching the nether ground,
The Shape he sought. As the bright dragons rush’d
This way and that with rapid sweep of oars,
And as the tumult passed from wave to wave,
It follow’d, as the falcon followeth
Some fearful quarry creeping on the ground.
And when the sunset came, and the great din
Was hush’d, and torn apart from one another
The dragons darken’d on a fiery sea,
The Shape, illumined with a crimson gleam,
Still linger’d o’er them very quietly,
Scenting the slain that drifted like to weeds
On the red waters, shoreward.

                                               Then aloud
Cried Balder, “FATHER!” uttering from his heart
A bitter moan, and as he spake he saw,
All congregating on the brazen walls
Of sunset, with their wild eyes looking down,
Feeding upon the carnage of the fight,
The gods his kin; and like to evening clouds,
Crimson and golden in the sunset flame,                                              159
They would perchance have seem’d to human eyes,
But his perceived them clearly and discern’d
The rapture in their faces as they gazed.
Yet ne’ertheless he cried, “Come down, ye gods,
And help me, that upon this fatal thing
I lay my hand!” They laugh’d reply, and lo!
He saw their banners raised i’ the wind, their brands
Flashing and moving.


                                                     No reply;

But quiet as a curtain fell the night,
Solemn, without a star.

                                   Then by the sea
Silent walk’d Balder, and all sounds were still
Beyond him on the bosom of the deep.
And where he went along the moonless sands
He made a brightness such as ocean shells
Keep in their iris’d ears; and the soft sea
Came singing round his silvern feet; and doves
Came out of caves and lit upon his hands.                                          160
Then Balder thought, “He answer’d, and has sent
The darkness as a token!” and ev’n then
He blest his father.

                     . . . . What is this that flames,
Lurid and awful, out upon the sea?
What dusky radiance, tho’ the world is dark,
Shoots like a comet yonder upon the sky?
Seized in the fangs of fire, a dragon-ship
Consumes and shrieks, and as it burns illumes
The water under and the thunderous rack
Blackening above; and Balder as he stands
Pallid upon a headland, on his face
Catches the red reflection of the ray;
Ocean and sky are crimson’d, and he sees
Black shapes that hither and thither, waving arms,
Dart ’midst the flame on the consuming decks
And plunge with shrill scream down into the sea.

What care to call on the Immortals now?
He looks, one hand prest hard in agony
Upon his aching heart, and he discerns,
Brooding above that brightness, poised i’ the air,                                 161
Down gazing, half illumed, half lost in light,
The Phantom! As the ship consumes and fades,
And as the last cry rises on the air,
The Shape sinks lower with no waft of wing.
And when in dumb and passionate despair,
Balder looks northward once again, he sees
The cloud-rack parted, the cold north on fire,
And all the gods, with cruel cheeks aflame
And bright eyes glittering like cluster’d stars,
Thronging against the blacken’d bars of Heaven.






THEN Balder lifted up his voice and cried,
“Curst be this thing and you who sent it hither,
Tho’ ye be gods, immortal, and my kin;
For now I loathe you, deeming lovelier far
The black hawk, and the fox upon the ground,
Who slay sweet lives not knowing what they do;
But ye, O gods, are wise, yet Death’s sick scent
Is pleasant to your nostrils.” Loudly afar
A laugh of thunder answer’d, and the shapes
Still congregated in the glistening north
Flash’d like the pale aurora one white gleam
Of earthward-looking eyes, and in the midst
A hoary Face like to a moonlit cloud,
Silent, and staring down with orbs of stone.
And on this last did Balder gaze, and lo!
He shiver’d cold, his cheek divine was blanch’d,
And with no further word he turn’d away.

. . . So walk’d he by the Ocean, till that gleam                                     163
Far out upon the crimson waters died;
Till night grew deeper and all sounds were still’d.

And all that night his human heart was turn’d
Against the gods his kin, against the god
His father; for he thought, “He made this thing,
He sent it hither to the happy Earth;
And when it slays they gladden in the halls
Of Asgard, and no pity fills their hearts
For gentle stricken men.” Long hours he paced
The cold sands of the still black sea; and where
His foot fell moonlight lay and live sea-snails
Crept glimmering with pink horns; and close to shore
He saw the legions of the herring flash,
Swift, phosphorescent, on the surface shining
Like bright sheet-lightning as they came and went.
At intervals, from the abyss beyond,
Came the deep roar of whales.

                                               Betimes he stood
Silent, alone, upon a promontory
And now about him like white rain there fell                                         164
The splendour of the moonlight. All around
The calm sea rolled upon the rocks or drew
Dark surges from the caverns, issuing thence
Troubled and churn’d to boiling pools of foam.
Erect he stood, uplifting his white hands;
For round him on the slippery weed-hung reefs,
Outcreeping from the blackness of the sea,
In legions came the flocks of gentle seals
And gray sea lions with their lionesses.
And o’er the rocks they clomb till all the place
Was blacken’d, and the rest upon the sea,
Their liquid eyeballs in the moonlight burning,
Swam round and round with necks outstretch’d to gaze;
And those beneath him touch’d his shining feet,
And when he raised his hand and blest them all,
Uplifted heads like happy flocks of sheep
Bleating their joy!

                               Ev’n then he heard a voice
Cry “Balder!” thrice, and turning he beheld
Standing above him on the promontory
A spirit he remember’d; for her hair                                                   165
Swept downward like the silvern willow’s leaves,
And on her mystic raiment blue as heaven
There glimmer’d dewy drops like heavenly stars.
And as he turn’d unto her he perceived
Her deathlike pallor, and he straightway knew
He look’d on Ydun, who had given to him
Those mystic apples which immortal forms
For ever feed on evermore renew’d.

And Ydun said, “O Balder, I could hear
Thy lone cry yonder in the silent realms
Where, gathering golden asphodels in meads
Of starlight under the dark Tree, I stray’d;
And all my heart was troubled for thy sake,
My brother, and I came across the worlds
To seek thee, bringing in my veilëd breast
More fruits to heal thee and to make thee strong
Despite the gods who love thee not, thy kin;
For I who bring them love thee, knowing well
There stands no shape in the celestial halls
So beautiful as thou!”

                                     And as she spake                                          166
She drew the apples forth and proffer’d them
To Balder’s lips; but on those lips there lay
An ashen tinge as of mortality.
And taking not the gift he answer’d low,
“O Ydun, let me give thy gift to men,
That they may eat and live!”

                                               But Ydun said,
While on his cheek he felt her breath come cold
As frosty moonlight,—“Name them not, but eat—
Eat thou, and live. O Balder, men were born
To gather earthly fruit a little space,
And then, grown old with sudden lapse of years,
To wither up and die; and fruit like this
Could never light on any human lip
The flame-like breath of immortality.
Flesh are they, and must fall; spirits are we,
And fed with life diviner, we endure.”

Then Balder said, “Dost thou not weep for them?
Poor mortals with their shadows on the ground,
Yet kin to thee and me! He made them fair                                        167
As we are, tho’ they sicken and are slain;
Yea, by a god accurst that haunts the world
Their hearts are set asunder, and their teeth
Devour each other. Lo! the beautiful Earth
Is desolate of children, strewn with dead,
Sick with a ceaseless moan of stricken things
For ever coming and for ever going,—
Like wild waves darkly driven on a sea
Eternally distress’d.”

                                     Coldly replied
The goddess, “Take no heed for things of clay,—
For ’twere as well to weep for stricken birds,
Or flowers that in their season fade and fall,
Or beasts that mortals slay for food or cast
Upon thy Father’s shrines for sacrifice,
As mourn for that dark dust beneath thy feet
Which thou call’st men. O Balder, take no heed—
Be wise—such pity ill beseems a god!”

But Balder wrung his hands and wail’d aloud
In a sad human voice, “Not pity those?                                              168
Hath a bird fallen in my sight and fail’d
To win some meed of tears? Doth a beast die,
I would not wind in my immortal arms,
And kiss into a new and lovelier life?
And on the dead leaves shed i’ the weary woods
Do I not strew my tears divine, like dew?
O Ydun, listen, for thou know’st me not.
The taint of clay is on me and I lack
The large cold marble heart befitting gods.
I drank strange mercy from the dark Earth’s breast
When she my foster-mother suckled me
Close to her leafy heart; I am not wise,
Ay me, I am not wise, if not to love
The happy forms below me, and the faces
That love my voice and gladden in my smile,
Be wisdom; I am of them; I have learn’d
The pathos of the setting sun, the awe
Of moonlight and of starlight; nay, I dream
That shape which sets its icy hand on all
Will find me in my season like the rest.
They are my brethren, wanderers in the world,
Yet fatherless and outcast like myself,                                                169
And exiled from their home!”

                                             But Ydun said,
“That shape which sets its icy hand on all
Need never trouble thee, if thou wilt eat,
Eat as I bid, and live;—nay, Death himself,
Tame as a hound some little child may lead,
Hath fed from out my hand and from my fruits
Drank immortality; and lo, he walks
Immortal among mortals, on Earth’s ways
Shedding the sad leaves of humanity.
For this is written, they must die; and those
Who die in battle or with bloody hands
The gods redeem and snatch to deathless days
Of terror in Valhalla; but the rest,
Weak maiden-hearted men and women pale,
And children, dying bloodless, find below
A nameless and an everlasting sleep.”

“O Ydun,” Balder cried, “I have search’d the Earth,
And have not found him, tho’ my spirit pants
To look into his face and question him,                                                170
That Death of whom you speak, that fantasy,
Immortal, and a god; but evermore
His form eludes me in the light and dark,
And evermore beneath my feet I find
Only some gentle shape that he hath slain.”

Then Ydun smiled as pallid starlight smiles
On marble, and she answer’d, “Eat then, eat!                                     [14:2]
And by the gods of Asgard I will swear
To lead thee to him and to read a rune
Which whisper’d in his ear shall make him meek
And weak as any lamb to do thy will;”
And as she spake she held the apples forth
And proffer’d them again to Balder’s lips.

Then hungry for her promise Balder ate,
And in his mouth the mingled red and white
Melted as snow, and suddenly he seem’d
Grown into perfect glory like the moon
Springing all silvern from a summer cloud.


Alterations in the 1884 edition of The Poetical Works of Robert Buchanan:
v. 14, l. 2: On marble, and she answer’d, “Eat, then eat! ]



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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