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{Balder The Beautiful 1877}













“LOOK!” Ydun said; and pointed.
                                           Far in the night
She had led Balder,—o’er the darken’d dales,
And by the silence of black mountain tarns,
And thro’ the slumber of primćval woods,—
Till she had come unto an open plain
Cover’d with ragged heath and strewn with stones
As with the broken fragments of some world
Upheaven, rent by earthquake. And the waste
All round was lonely and illimitable,
A tract of stone and heath without a tree,
Save where against the blood-red northern sky
A mountain like the great white hand of Earth
Pointed at highest heaven. Far out beyond                                          174
The shadow of the snowy mountain, rose
Columns gigantic of red granite rock
Scarr’d with the tempest, hung with slimy moss,
And looming in the cold and spectral light
Like living shapes of gods; and some by storm
Were cast upon the ground and lay full length
Like giants slain, but most stood poised on end,
Not tottering, with their shadows wildly cast
Southward, along the sward. High in the midst
Stones fashion’d as an altar were upraised,
And on the altar was a coffin’d space
Wherein a man full-grown might lie his length
And with his pleading eyes upon the stars
Make ready for the sacrificial knife.

“Look!” Ydun said; and Balder look’d; and saw,
Crouching upon the altar, one that loom’d
Like to a living shape. And Ydun said,
“That is thy Father’s altar, and thereon
Blood-offering brighter than the life of lambs
Is scatter’d by his priests; at sunset here
A virgin died, and all the desert air                                                      175
Is sweeter for her breath; and those black birds
That hover o’er the altar moaning low
Are hungry to come near her and to feed,—
But he who lieth yonder hath not fed
His own immortal hunger. There he broods
Still as a star above her, with one hand
Placed on her lifeless breast!”

                                             Then Balder felt
His godhead shrink within him like a flame
A cold wind bloweth, and for pity’s sake
His eyes divine were dim; but, creeping close,
Within the shadow of a shatter’d column,
He gazed and gazed. And lo, the sight he saw
Was full of sorrow only eyes divine
Could see and bear. Upon the altar-stone
Lay stretchëd naked and most marble white
That gentle virgin, with the slayer’s mark
Across her throat, her red mouth open wide,
And two great sightless orbs upraised to heaven,
And he who clung unto her, like a hawk
With wings outstretch’d, and dim dilated eyes                                      176
Feeding upon the sorrow of her face,
Was he whom Balder o’er the world had sought
And had not found. Ne’er yet, by sea or shore,
Not ev’n within the silence of the woods
When his sad eyes beheld him first of old,
Had Balder to that spirit terrible
E’er crept so nigh or seen its shape so well.
Shadow it seem’d, and yet corporeal,
But thro’ the filmy substance of its frame
The blood-red light of midnight penetrated;
And dreadfully with dreadful loveliness
The features changed their shining lineaments,
Now lamb-like, wolf-like now, now like a maid’s
Scarce blossom’d, now deep-wrinkled like a man’s,
Now beautiful and awful like a god’s,—
But never true to each similitude
Longer than one quick heart-beat.

                                                     Thus it hung,
So fascinated by the form it watch’d,
It saw not, heard not, stirr’d not, though the birds
Shriek’d wildly overhead. Ev’n as one cast                                         177
Into a trance mesmeric, it prolong’d
The famine of its gaze until its face
Was fixëd as a star. Then Ydun crept
Close unto Balder, whispering, “Remember
That rune I read thee! touch him in his trance,
And name him by his mystic human name,
And as I live his lips shall answer thee
In human speech!” So speaking, Ydun smiled
And vanish’d, leaving Balder all alone
To look and watch and wait. . . .

                                     . . . Then on his soul,
Beholding that great trance of Death, there came
Most fatal fascination. For a space
He could not stir. Upon the sacred grove
Lay darkness; only on the altar stone
The naked victim glimmer’d beautiful,
And terrible above her linger’d Death;—
When suddenly beyond the snow-white peak
Rose round and luminous and yellow as gold
The full-orb’d moon; by slow degrees its beams
Stole down the shrouded mountains, till they fell                                  178
Prone on the altar, turning all things there
To brightness:—so that Death himself was changed
From purple into silvern;—that dead maid
To silvern too from marble;—the great grove,
With all the columns looming black therein,
New-lit with lunar dawn. Then as the light
Touch’d and illumed him, for a moment Death
Stirr’d, ev’n as one that stirreth from a sleep,
And trembled, looking upward; and behold!
His face grew beautiful thro’ golden hair,
His eyes dim heavenly blue, and all his looks
Strange and divinely young! . . .

                               . . . Then, ere that trance
Was wholly shaken from him, Balder rose,
And crept unto the altar with no sound;
And ere the shape could stir or utter cry,
He clutch’d him with one quick and eager hand;
And tho’ his hand was frozen as it touch’d,
Ere Death could fly he gazed into his eyes
And named him by his mystic human name.
. . . And Death gazed back with looks so terrible,                               179
They would have wither’d any living man;
But Balder only smiled and wove his rune,—
And in a little space the shape was charm’d,
Looking and listening in a nameless fear.






“O DEATH, pale Death, thro’ many a lonely land
         My feet have follow’d thee;
Sisters and brothers stricken by thy hand
         Oft have I stoop’d to see:

“To kiss the little children on their biers
         So innocent and sweet,
To bless the old men wearied out with years
         Wrapt in thy winding-sheet.

“To look into thine eyes, to drink thy breath,
         I have cried with a weary cry:
Prayers I have said to the great gods, O Death,
         While thou hast darken’d by.

“Thy mark is on the flower and on the tree,
         And on the beast and the bird,
Thy shade is on the mountains, even the sea
         By thy sad foot is stirred.

“Slayer thou art of all my soul deems fair,                                            181
         Thou saddenest the sun,—
Of all things on the earth and in the air,
         O Death, thou sparest none.

“And therefore have I sought with prayers and sighs
         To speak with thee a space!”
Bright Balder in the hollow rayless eyes
         Look’d with a fearless face.

The phantom darken’d ’neath the clay-cold moon
         And seem’d to shrink in woe,
But Balder named his name and wove the rune,
         And would not let him go.

“O Death! pale Death! thou hast a lovelier name,
         Who gave that name to thee?
By the high gods, by that from which they came,
         Thy mouth must answer me!”

Death answer’d not, but mystically bright
         His shadowy features grew,
And on his brow the chilly lamps of night                                            182
         Sprinkled their glistening dew;

And Balder wonder’d, for those lights above
         Seem’d shining down on him,
And death’s pale face grew as the face of Love,
         Yet more divinely dim.

“O Death, pale Death!
         Who gave thee that sweet name,
Yet sent thee down to slay poor things of breath,
         And turn men’s hearts to flame?

“Who gave thee life and cast thy lot below
         With those sad slaying eyes?”
Death pointed with a hand as white as snow
         Up to the moonlit skies.

“Who sent thee here where men and beasts have birth?”
         Death trembled and was still.
“What drew thee down on my beloved Earth,
         To wither up and kill?”

Death answer’d not, but pointed once again                                       183
         Up thro’ the starry shine;
And Balder question’d with a quick new pain,
         “My kin? the gods divine?”

Death answer’d not, but gazed on Balder now
         With strange and questioning gleam—
His eyes were soft in sorrow and his brow
         Was wonderful with dream.

“Speak to me, brother, if thou art not dumb;
         Speak to my soul, O Death!”
The thin lips flutter, but no answer hath come,
         No sigh, no sound, no breath.

Yet on the brow of Death there lives a light
         Like starlight shed on snow,
The fatal face grows beautiful and bright
         With some celestial woe.

And round the shadowy cheeks there softly swim
         Thin threads of silken hair,
And Balder sees the form world-worn and dim                                  184
         Hath once been young and fair.

And as they sit together in the night,
         Hand in hand, mingling breath,
The fingers white of the cold starry light
         Smooth the sad hair of Death.






“O DEATH! pale Death!
         Thy hair is golden, not gray—
In the dark mirrors of thine eyes, O Death,
         Lie glimmering dreams of day.

“O gentle Death!
         Thy hand is warm, not chill,—
Thy touch is soft and living, and thy breath
         Sweet, with no power to kill.

“I love thee, Death, for that great heavenly brow
         Still dark from love’s eclipse—
And lo! a hundredfold I hunger now
         To hear thy living lips.

“O gentle Death!
         Speak, that mine ears may hear.”
Then like a fountain rose the voice of Death,
         Low, sweet, and clear!






“I KNOW not whence my feet have come,
         Nor whither they must go—
Lonely I wander, dark and dumb,
         In summer and in snow.

“For on mine eyes there falls a gleam,
         That keeps them dim and blind,
Of strange eternities of dream
         Before me and behind;

“And ever, ever as I pace
         Along my lonely track,
The light retires before my face,
         Advancing at my back;

“But ever, ever if I turn
         And would my steps retrace,
Close to my back that light doth burn,                                                 187
         But flies before my face.

“I close mine eyes, I fain would sleep,
         I rest with folded wing,
Or on my weary way I creep
         Like any harmless thing.

“Yet day by day, from land to land,
         From gentle fold to fold,
I pass, and lo, my cruel hand
         Leaves all things calm and cold.

“Man marketh with his bitterest moan
         My shadow sad and dim;
Of all things hateful, I alone
         Am hatefullest to him!

“Ay me, a brand is on my brow,
         A fire is in my breast,—
Ever my bitter breath doth bow
         Those flowers I love the best.

“I crouch beside the cradled child,                                                      188
         I look into its eyes,
I love to watch its slumber mild
         As quietly it lies.

“I dare not touch it with my hand,
         Or creep too close to see,
Yet for a little space I stand
         And mark it, silently,

“Ah, little dream pale human things,
         At rest beneath the skies,
How, as they sleep, with gentle wings
         I shade their cheeks and eyes!

“The maiden with her merry laugh,
         The babe with its faint cry,
The old man leaning on his staff,
         Are mine, and these must die.

“I touch them softly with my hand,
         They turn as still as stone,
Then looking in their eyes I stand                                                         189
         Until their light hath flown.

“I set faint gleams around their lips,
         I smooth their brows and hair,
I place within their clay-cold grips
         The lilies of despair.

“And verily when they bear them forth
         I follow with the rest;
But when their bones are in the earth
         My gentle task is best.

“For there I sit with head bent low
         For many a dreamy day,
And watch the grass and flowers grow
         Out of the changing clay.

“O think of this and blame not me,
         Thou with the eyes divine—
A Shadow creeps from sea to sea,
         Stranger than thine or mine.

“Who made the white bear and the seal?                                             190
         The eagle and the lamb?
As these am I—I live and feel—
         ONE made me, and I am.”





THEN Balder lifted up his voice and cried,
Placing his fingers on Death’s heavenly hair,
“Lo, I absolve thee!” and the Spirit crouch’d
In silence, looking up with wondering gaze
At that immortal brightness blessing him
With holy imposition of white hands.
For beautiful beyond all dream, and bright
Beyond all splendour of the summer Earth,
Divine, with aureole around his head,
God-like, yet fairer far than any god,
Stood Balder, like a thing that could not die!
Upon his face the countless eyes of heaven
Gazed, with their own exceeding lustre dim;
And moonlight hung around him like a veil
Through which his glory trembled paramount;
And dim sheen showering from a thousand worlds,
Mingling with moisture of the nether-air,
Touch’d his soft body with baptismal dews.

Then far away in the remotest north,                                                   192
Cloud-like and dark and scarce distinguishable,
The clustering faces of the gods look’d down.
And Balder cried, “Lo, I have ranged the Earth,
And found it good; yea, hills and vales and streams,
Forests and seas, all good and beautiful;
And I have gazed in eyes of birds and beasts,
And in the gentle orbs of mortal men,
And seen in all the light of that dim dream
Which grew within my soul when I was born.
Only this thing is bitter, O ye gods,
Most dark and bitter: that eternal Death
Sits by his sad and silent sea of graves,
Singing a song that slays the hopes of men.
Yet lo, I gaze into the eyes of Death,
And they are troubled with that self-same dream.

“O gods, on you I cry not, but I cry
On him, the Father, who has fashion’d Death
To be the sorrow of created things,
And set this ceaseless hunger in his heart
To wither up and kill. Oh, I have wept
Till all my heart is weary, and no voice                                                 193
Makes answer. By thy servant Death, O God,
By him whom I have sought and found in pain,
Listen!—Uplift this shadow from the Earth,
And gladly will I die as sacrifice,
And all the gentle things I love shall live.”

Far, far away in the remotest north
A white face in the darkness of a cloud
Gleam’d. Thither, crouching low at Balder’s feet,
Death pointed with his skeleton finger fix’d,
Silent. Then, even as a snow-white lamb
That on the altar cometh with no fear
But looks around with eager innocent eyes,
God Balder on the stone of sacrifice
Leapt, reaching arms up heavenward!

                                         . . . And he pray’d.






“FATHER in heaven, my dream is over,
     Father in heaven, my day is dark,—
I sat in the sun and I sang like a lover
     Who sings sweet songs for a maid to mark;
And the light was golden upon my hair,
And the heavens were blue and the Earth was fair,
And I knew no touch of a human care,
     And I bless’d thy name, my Father!
I sang, and the clarion winds blew clear,
And the lilies rose like lamps on the mere,
And all the night in the balmy light
I lifted up my hands snow-white,
     And the stars began to gather!

“Father, Father, which art in heaven,
     Lord of men and master of Earth.
The rune was woven of colours seven,                                               195
     And out of thy being I had birth;
As a snowdrop wakes on the naked ground,
And opens its eye without a sound
While the winds are murmuring around,
     I woke on the green Earth’s bosom;
And I heard a cry, as the storks went by
Sailing northward under the sky,
And a cry from the mountains answer’d loud,
And the cataract leapt like a corpse from its shroud,
     And the sward began to blossom.

“White clouds passed over with low sweet thunder,
     Shaking downward the silvern dew,
The soft sods trembled and fell asunder,
     And the emerald flame of the grass gleam’d thro’,
And the fire of the young boughs overhead
Ran green and amber, golden and red,
And the flashing lamps of the leaves were fed
     At the torch of the flaming sunshine:
Beautiful, wrapt in a blissful dream,
Lay mere and mountain, meadow and stream;
And beautiful, when the light was low,                                                 196
Creeping white through the after-glow,
     The starshine and the moonshine!

“Father, Father, hearken unto me,
     Then work thy will on the world and me—
I walk’d the world, and the glad world knew me,
     And my feet were kissed by thy slave the Sea.
And ever with every happy hour,
My love grew deeper for tree and flower,
For the beast in the brake, for the bird in the bower,
     And the deer on the white high places.
But ere my golden dream was done,
I saw thy Shadow across the sun,
I saw thy Shadow that all men see,
On beast and bird, on flower and tree,
     And the flower-sweet human faces!

“The flower-sweet faces of mortal races
     Blossoming sadly under the sky!
I saw my dream on those fading faces,
     I heard my voice in their failing cry.
Out of the soil and into the sun                                                           197
Their souls were stirring as mine had done,
Their dooms were written, their threads were spun,
     By the hands of the immortals;
They rose in a dream and they lookt around,
They saw their shadows upon the ground,
And wherever they went beneath the blue
The darker Shadow thy Spirit threw
     From the great sun’s shining portals.

“Thou hadst taken clay and hadst made it human,
     Blown in its nostrils and lent it breath,
Thou hadst kindled the beauty of man and woman,
     To hunt them down with thy bloodhound, Death.
They did not crave to be born or be,
Yet thou gavest them eyes that their souls might see,
And thou hatest them as thou hatest me
     And the Earth thy godhead bearing.
They shrink and tremble before thy hand,
They ask and they do not understand,
They bid thee pity who pitiest none,
And they name thy name, as I, thy Son,
     Now name it, still despairing.

“Father, Father, which art in heaven,                                                  198
     Why hast thou fashion’d my brethren so?
Form’d of fire, with the dust for leaven,
     As thou hast made them, they come and go.
Yet ever thy hand is on their hair
To seize and to slay them unaware,
And ever their faces are pale with prayer
     As round thy fanes they gather. . . .
Thou askest blood and they give thee life
With sweep of the sacrificial knife;
Thou seekest praise and they give thee pain,
And their altars smoke with the crimson rain
     Thou lovest, O my Father!

“Father, Father, ’tis sad to falter
     Out of the light and into the dark,
Like a wreath of smoke from a burning altar
     To fade and vanish where none may mark.
But O my Father, ’tis blest to be
A part of the joy of the land and sea,
To upleap like a lamb, to be glad and free
     As the stream of a running river.
Could’st thou not spare them a longer space                                      199
With sweeter meed of a surer grace?
Could’st thou not love the light that lies
On happy fields and in human eyes,
     And let it shine for ever?

“I hear thy voice from the void of heaven,
     It thunders back and it answers ‘Nay’—
The rune was woven of colours seven
     For me, thy Son, and for things of clay.
Then mark me now as I rise and swear,
By the beasts in the brake, by the birds in the air,
By Earth, by all those forces fair
     Which mingled in my making,
By men and women who stand supreme
Proud and pale with mine own soul’s dream,
I will drink the cup their lips partake!
I will share their lot, while their sad hearts break
     As mine, thy Son’s, is breaking!

“Father in heaven, my heart is human,
     I cast a shade like a human thing,
Grant me the doom of man and woman;                                              200
     From the Earth I came, to the Earth I cling.
Behold who standeth at my side!
Even Death, thy servant heavenly eyed—
I will die, as the children of men have died,
     To the sound of his sad singing.
Behold, I look in the face of Death,
I look in his eyes and I drink his breath;
The chill light brightens upon his brow,
He creepeth close and he smileth now,
     His cold arms round me flinging.

“Father, Father, bend down and hearken,
     And place thy hand upon my hair;
Ere yet I wither, ere yet I darken,
     Hear me murmur a last low prayer.
As the blood of a sacrifice is shed,
Let me die in my brethren’s stead—
Let me die; but when I am dead,
     Call back thy Death to heaven!
Ay me, my Father, if this may be,
I will go with a prayer for him and thee,
I will pass away without a cry,                                                            201
Blessing and praising thee under the sky,
     Forgiving and forgiven.

“ . . . Father, Father, my dream is over—
     He folds me close, and I cannot see;
Yet I shall sleep like a quiet lover
     If my boon is granted and this may be.
O sweet it is if I may rest
Asleep on my foster-mother’s breast,
If over my grave the flowers blow best
     And happy mortals gather.
Yet Father, tho’ darkness shrouds my face,
Remember me for a little space,
Remember, remember, and forgive
Thy Son who dies that men may live. . . .
     Accept me, O my Father!”






HE ceased; no voice replied; but round his frame
Cold arms were woven, and his golden head
Droop’d like a lily on the breast of Death. . . .
Then suddenly a darkness like a veil
Was drawn across the silent void of Heaven,
Starlight and moonlight faded mystically,
And save for Balder’s face, that as a star
Still flash’d in pallor on the face of Death,
There was no light at all. . . .

                                           Then Balder cried,
“Lo, he hath answer’d; I am thine, O Death;
Now let me look into thy loving eyes,
And ere I rest, sing low to me again.”
Shivering he spake, and sank upon the ground;
But Death stoop’d down above him as he lay,
And took the shining head into his lap,
And smooth’d with fingers cold the silken hair,                                    203
And murmur’d Balder’s name with singing lips
Soft as the whisper of a wind in June.
“O Death, white Death, all is so cold and dark,
I cannot see the shining of thy face!”
Then touching Balder’s lips, Death answer’d low,
“Thy day is ended—thou wilt see no more—
Sleep, sleep!” . . .

             . . . But what is this that wavers slowly
Out of that purple blackness overhead?
Is it a blossom from the silvern boughs
O’ershadowing the azure pools of heaven?
Or feather from the plume of some sweet star
That ever moveth magically on
From mansion unto mansion of the sky?
Soft as a bloom from the white hawthorn spray
It wavers earthward thro’ the starless dark,
Unseen, unfelt, until it gains the light
Which Balder breathes around him as he lies.
There, as a white moth hovers in the moon,
It floats and gleams, then sinking softly down,
Falls as a seal on Balder’s shining brow                                               204
And melts away.

               “ . . . O Death, upon mine eyes,
And on my brow, I feel a touch like dew,
Like cold dew shaken from a morning cloud.
Look heavenward—seest thou aught of the great gods,
Or God my Father?” But the form replied,
“On heaven and in the air ’tis night, deep night;
No shape is seen, no star, nor any light.
Sleep, Balder, sleep!”

                             Then bending low he kissed
The lips of Balder, yea with kisses calm
He drew sweet Balder’s breath, and lo! he shone
Brighter and brighter with the life he drank.
But Balder darken’d ever and grew cold.
“O Death, I feel thee smiling in a dream
Serene and still and very beautiful—
But ah, thy lips are chill!” and Death moan’d low,
Winding his thin arms tight round Balder’s frame,
“Sleep, sleep!”

           . . . O what are these that waver slowly                                   205
Out of the purple blackness overhead?
Soft as that first white blossom blown from heaven,
Faltering downward thro’ the rayless dark,
They come, they gather, falling flake on flake
With silvern lapse and silent interchange,
Hovering in soft descent as if they lived.
Upon the drooping head of Death they fall
Like lightly shaken leaves, and looking up
He sees the black air troubled into life
Of multitudinous waifs that wander down.
There is no sound—only the solemn hush
Of mystic motions and invisible wings;
There is no lamp, no star; but lo! the air
Is glimmering dimly with the faint wan light
Shed from the blossoms as they melt and fade.

“Under green boughs, under green boughs, O Death,
Thou hast borne me, and I see not, but I hear
The tremor of the soft trees overhead,
A sound like fountains flowing, and a touch
Like cool leaves shaken on mine eyes and hair!”
And Balder stirred his gentle head and smiled—                                 206
Then drew one last long breath, and sank to sleep.

’Tis over now—the gods may gaze in peace—
Balder is dead!

                             Ay me, the light hath passed
From that once glorious head: still as a stone
It lies, not shining, in the lap of Death;
The hair is white, the eyes are glazed and dim,
There is no red upon the loving lips,
And in its cage the singing heart lies cold.
Ah, Death, pale Death, thy kisses come in vain.
Close thou his lids, and by his side stretch down
The cold white marble arms, and at his head
Watch like a mourner, for a little space.

Death sits and gazes on; but lo, his looks
Are pale as Balder’s. . . . All the light he wore
Hath faded, and his orbs are rayless now.
Lifeless he looms in vigil while his eyes
Turn upward and his thin cold hand still lies
Ev’n as a frozen stone on Balder’s heart.                                            207
Thicker and thicker from the folds of heaven
The floating blooms are shaken; lo, the waste
Is with a glittering whiteness carpeted,—
While still o’erhead in ever-gathering clouds,
Drifting from out the vapours of the dark,
The white flakes fall.

                                   O wonder of the snow!
The world’s round ball is wrapt in crystal now,
And out of heaven there comes a freezing breath;
And nothing stirs or lives; and in his shroud
Woven by frost’s swift fingers, Balder lies,
And that fair face which made creation glad
Is fixëd as a rayless mask of ice.

Crouch at his head, O Death! and hour by hour
Watch the still flakes of heaven wavering down,
Till thou, and that which lieth at thy feet,
And all the world, are clad in wondrous white!












HOW long he lay in that strange trance of night
     Might Balder never know;
Silently fell the waifs of stainless white,
     And deeper grew the snow.

While out of heaven the falling flakes were shed,
     The dark hours grew to days;
And round and round a red moon overhead
     Went circling without rays.

There were no stars, only that cheerless thing
     Treading the wintry round;
There was no light, save snow-flowers glimmering
     Without a sound.

Darkness of doom is shed on Balder’s eyes,                                       212
     But whiteness shrouds the wold;
And still at Balder’s head the phantom lies
     Silent and calm and cold.

And chill is Balder as some naked man
     Made marble by the frost:
His veins are ice; upon his bosom wan
     His two thin hands are crost.

But as within some clammy wall of stone
     The death-watch keeps its chime,—
The cold heart in that crouching skeleton
     Ticks out the time.

All round, a world of snow, and snows that fall,
     Flake upon flake, so white;
An empty heaven fluttering like a pall,
     Lit by that one red light.

All round, the solemn slumber of the snow,
     No sigh, no stir, no breath,—
But in the midst, scarce audible, slow, low,
     The throbbing pulse of Death. . . .

The hours creep on, the dreary days are shed,                                    213
     Measured by that slow beat;
And all the while god Balder lieth dead,
     Wrapt in his winding-sheet.






O DEATH, Death, press thy hand so lean and bare
     Upon thy beating heart!
O Death, raise up thy head and scent the air
     With nostrils cold apart!

Awaken from thy trance, O Death, and rise,
     And hearken with thine ears! . . .
Death stirs, and like a snake with glistening eyes
     His luminous head uprears. . . .

Awaken! listen! Far across the night,
     And down the drifts of snow,
There stirs a lonely light,—a blood-red light
     That moveth to and fro.

Small as a drop of dew, most dim to sight,
     It glimmereth afar. . . .
O Death, it cometh hither,—growing bright                                          215
     And luminous as a star.

O Death, pale Death,
     What do thine eyes behold?
What lonely star flasheth afar
     Across the wintry wold?

The world is folded in its shroud of white;
     The skies are smother’d deep;
There is no lamp at all in heaven, to light
     Dead Balder’s sleep.

There is no lamp at Balder’s head, no star
     Outlooking from the cloud;
White is the snow-drift woven near and far,
     And white is Balder’s shroud.

O death, pale Death, across the lone white land
     No heavenly rays are shed,—
Yet still thou-gazest, clutching Balder’s hand,
     At yonder gleam blood-red. . . .

It crawleth as a snail along the ground,                                               216
     Still far and faint to see,
O Death, it creepeth surely, with no sound,
     Across the night, to thee.

O gentle Death,
     Why dost thou crouch so low?
A star it seems, a star that travelleth
     From snow to snow.

Nearer it cometh, and across the night
     Its beams fall crimson red,
The drifts beneath it glimmer and grow bright
     Like cheeks lamp-lit and dead.

O gentle Death,
     Hither it cometh slow;—
A Shadow creepeth with the same, O Death,
     From snow to snow.






NEARER and nearer o’er the waste of white
     It steals, and doth not fade:
A light, and in the glimmer of the light
     A form that casts a shade.

Nearer and nearer, till Death’s eyes behold
     A semblance strange and gray,
A silent shape that stoopeth and doth hold
     The lamp to light its way.

Bent is he as a weary snow-clad bough,
     Gaunt as a leafless tree,
But glamour of moonlight lies upon his brow,
     Most strange to see!

And in one hand a silvern lanthorn swings
     Fill’d with a crimson light,
And round his frame wind-blown and shivering clings                          218
     A robe of starry white. . . .

O Death, pale Death,
     Well may thy cold heart beat!
The form that comes hath piercëd hands, O Death,
     And bloody piercëd feet.

Slowly he crawleth under the cold skies,
     His limbs trail heavy as lead,
Pale fixëd blue his eyes are, like the eyes
     Of one that sleeps stone-dead.

Ay me, for never thro’ so wan a wold
     Walk’d one so sadly fair—
The wild snows drift, the wind blows shrill and cold,
     And those soft feet are bare. . . .

O who is this that walketh the wintry night,
     With naked hands and feet!
O who is this that beareth a blood-red light,
     And weareth a winding-sheet!

The night is still, no living thing makes moan;                                        219
     Silent the cold skies loom;—
But hark! what voice is this, so faintly blown
     Across the gloom?

“Balder! Balder!”
     Hush! that cry!
The form stands white i’ the chilly night,
     Holding its lamp on high.

“Balder! Balder!
     Where art thou?”
The snow smooths still with fingers chill
     Dead Balder’s brow.

O gentle Death,
     What voice is this that cries?
What sad shape stands with lifted hands
     Alone under the skies?

“Balder! O Balder!
     Answer me!”
He stands and softly sighs,                                                                  220
And vacant are his eyes
     As if they cannot see!

Yet in the weary gloom full faint they glow,
     And fix themselves at last—
He sees dead Balder sleeping in the snow,
     And thither he fleeteth fast!

He comes now swifter than a bark
     Which bitter tempests blow,—
Dreadful he flashes down the dark,
     With black prints on the snow!

“Wake, Balder! wake!”
     His voice calls now—
The shrill cry circles like a snake
     Round Balder’s brow!

Oh, who is this that walketh the wintry night
     With naked hands and feet?
O who is this that beareth a blood-red light
     And weareth a winding-sheet?

There is a gleam upon his brow and hair                                              221
     Ev’n as of luminous hands,
Swiftly he comes to Balder’s side, and there
     He stands!

And Death crawls moaning from his snowy seat
     To grasp his raiment hem,
And toucheth with his mouth the piercëd feet,
     Yea, softly kisseth them.

O Death! pale Death!
     He gazeth down on thee—
His smile is like no smile of thing of breath,
     Yet is it sweet to see.

He lifts the lamp—and lo! its red rays glance
     On Balder’s sleeping eyes—
“Balder! O Balder! from thy trance
     Arise!” . . . .

Strange flash’d the wondrous ray
     Aslant the silent snows;
Death wail’d—and slowly, gaunt and gray,
     Dead Balder rose!



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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