Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, BALDUR THE BEAUTIFUL: RAGNAROK, by GRACE DENIO LITCHFIELD



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BALDUR THE BEAUTIFUL: RAGNAROK, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: No fleeter follows echo on the sound
Last Line: "baldur the beautiful! Alas! Alas!"
Subject(s): Goddesses & Gods; Mythology; Mythology - Greek


No fleeter follows echo on the sound,
Than sprang the gods at Odin's summons forth,
Obedience and love conjoined, in speed
Outvying each his jealous brother god.
Comets a-race with comets, suns with suns,
Less swift had traversed space, and in a breath
Throughout the universe their word was told.

Grief hath been in the world since time began,
Life's first and latest birthright; every soul
Hides somewhere its unplumbed abyss of pain.
But never yet was lamentation known
Like this for Baldur, nor through time to come
In sorrow's annals shall again be writ.
No eye withheld the desired sign of dole.
Not Dante did so weep for Beatrice;
Not Niobe bedewed her marble feet
With bitterer tears for all her children slain;
Nor did forsaken Dido on her pyre
More plentiful a show of sorrow make.
Neither were hearts of human mould alone
Moved to complaint. Even the merciless beasts,
Missing their moons, most piteous mourned. The birds
Re-tuned their chants to brooding threnodies
Sad as were his who wept Eurydice.
Yea, ev'n the careless blundering things that creep,
Or whir, or swim, forgot their fretting wants
Before that greater want of all the worlds.
No farthest sun but shed a glittering tear,
Bedewing arid space with grief. The sky
Was all a sprinkle of wet stars. Bifröst
Pellucid gleamed through veil of jewelled spray.
The heavy-hearted clouds trailed low, and wept
In dreary monotone of melancholy;
Deucalion from Parnassus' sacred peak
Saw not so sad a flow. The drooping night
Shook moisture from her plumes. Each dew-tipped leaf
Quivered beneath its load, and every flower
Treasured within its heart a fragrant tear.
No grass-blade but uphung the crystal sign.
No trembling tree but somewhere pricked its veins
And bled an amber drop. The rivers ran
Hoarse with long sobbing. The disquiet winds
Wailed out their heartache through the sighing pines.
The pale mists wavering pressed from bole to bole
Like the dim exhalation of a prayer.
The seas upon the shingles crashed and broke,
Thundering out their woe. The shivering sands
Whispered their sorrow o'er and o'er again
In ceaseless repetition through slow hours.
The heavy breeze crept, damply odorous,
Along the sodden ground. The very earth—
The very rocks—sweated and groaned with grief,
And everywhere uprose the breathless cry—
"Baldur the Beautiful—the Good—return!"

As now the Æsir, satisfied and sure,
Their mission well completed, rode at ease
Their frothing chargers o'er the Bridge Bifröst
Toward Asgard bent, Bragi the Silver-Mouthed,
Wand'ring apart with heedless rein, his lips
Outbreathing Baldur's name unwittingly
As when a slumbering bird dreams out a song
Softer than memoried music, chanced upon
A quarried cell bewrayed by noisome stench
From rotting vines and oozing carrion heaps.
There, 'mid the dizzy shadows and the drip
Of mouldy walls where moist misshapen things
Or crawled, or lurked in foul black-crusted webs,
Squatted inert upon a loathsome mat
Of woven snakes sat Thaukt, her lurid eyes
Twin torches lighting up the purple gloom
With baleful fire that withered aught it touched.

Bragi, amazed, in haste unhorsed himself,
And bending his bright head, unhelmeted,
To match the meaner compass of the vault,
Found way within, and so contrived his tale
As best should wing it past a careless ear
To the heart's full conception. Thaukt, the hag—
She who sat, squalid, on the pulsing mat—
Unmoved transfixed him with her cold bright eye.
"Naught, quick or dead, gain I by gift of tear
For Baldur slain," churlish she answered him.
"Let Hela hold what's hers."
"Boundless thy gain,"
Bragi avowed, "regaining Baldur's soul—
Light for thy murk, beauty and joy and good
For this thy misery and gracelessness."

"To mole or bat the night is fair as noon,"
Sneered Thaukt. "That which by choice is mine, as good
And beautiful already me beseems.
I crave not Baldur back. Till Ragnarök
Let Hela hold what's hers."
"Nay," Bragi urged;
And as the wind, with age-long griefs endued,
Falters and breaks and fails and grieves again,
So shook his voice, freighted with sympathy.
"If not for thine own need, grant but a tear
In pity for the need of all the worlds."

"What is 't to me," she flung athwart his speech
With snarling tongue, "though craven dogs night-long
Bay hopeless at the moon? Pities the sea
The shore its white lips suck? Pities the storm
The wheat its sickle slays? Pities the flame
The thing it feeds upon? Pities the gale
The leaf, the frost the flower, the worm the fruit?
Then wherefore I the grief that is not mine?"

"Not thine?" he challenged. "Sure mine ear mistook!
Is not one spirit father of the worlds,
Through heritage of whose informing breath
All are akin? As rivers seek the main,
Merged evermore in its immensity,
Quickening currents of a common heart,
So soul seeks soul, blending in brotherhood,
Eternally interfused, eternally one—
A single pulse, athrob through myriad veins.
How then shall not another's woe be thine,
His pain thy pain, his need thine inmost own?"

"Not so," she said. "My life alone is mine.
Leave me unvext."
Then he, incredulous
That thing so weak held power to uncreate
A scheme so potent, bared of patience, cried:
"No life is his alone that lives it! Each
Imports to all, and all import to each,
Bound by the self-same law of fellowship
That links the suns each to his neighbour star.
Who art thou that deniest brotherhood?
How hast so unlearnt love, forgot compassion,
Severed the time-old chain 'twixt thee and thine?
Who art thou?"
"By thy showing, Hate am I,
And Misery my chosen dwelling-place,"
Gibing she answered from the hissing snakes.
"Curse thee, begone! Room is not in my breast
For love, nor pity, nor desire of good."

"Now by my sword that leaps within its sheath,
Here will I slay thee in thy monster blood!"
Swore Bragi, fiercely gripped with sudden wrath.
Then calmer spake, minded her yet to win.
"I err. Forgive. Hate slain were not love shown.
Naught boots thy death. Flawless and perfect love
Alone may ransom Baldur's perfect soul.
How win thee to that love? How pity teach
For need thou hast not known?"
Lo, as he ceased,
And silence fell between them for a space,
From Midgard rose the sorrowing peoples' cry,
A low sad plaint bewailed from star to star,
And lost upon the void in shattered sounds.

THE CRY OF THE PEOPLES

Splendour of all the worlds, O Light
The brightest suns transcending,
Vast as thy glory is our night
Unstarlit and unending.
Like wandering souls a-craze with thirst
From waste savannas crying,
By phantom oases accurst,
Who dream they drink while dying,
So we, blind-eyed and terror-bound,
Groping through gloom supernal,
Dream that our faltering feet have found
Source of thy springs eternal.

Splendour of all the unsunned spheres,
Shine down these desert spaces!
Strike from our souls the numbing fears—
The horror from our faces.
Darkness entombs us as in stone,
Heart sealed from heart for ever.
Each wind-breath bears a smothered moan.
Hope lifts her beacon never.
Oh, though all else the Norns deny,
Allow our last petition!
Light! Light! Give light, or grant we die!
Death—or immortal vision!

"Didst heed?" asked Bragi. "Needs there aught beside?
Canst still withhold the succour of thy tears?"

"Avaunt!" she said, and spat upon the ground.
"Thou weariest me." And through grim lowering lids
Her fiery eyes burned knowledge in on him.

"Loki!" appalled he cried. "Loki! Loki!
For all thy strange misshapement, it is thou!
Loki! O Cruelty incorporate!
Oh, blacker than the blasted Elves of Dark!
Accurst! Accurst!"
"That which I am, I am
Immortally. Hela shall keep her own,"
Said Thaukt, and malice glittered in her face.
And now not Thaukt, but Loki, towered there,
His beauteous form upon the coiling snakes
Mounted as on a throne, his evil eyes
Lit with the inextinguishable fire
Of hate triumphant, his god's shape distort
With joy ungodly, power malignant, grace
Ungraced, beauty for aye undeified.
And Bragi knew—the certitude proclaimed
As by a searing bolt—Baldur the Good
For ever lost to Asgard. Thereupon,
Voicing an unendurable despair,
From his racked breast broke cry so piercing shrill
That all the homeward-wending Æsir heard.
Dismayed, quick scenting sorrow and defeat,
They flung their chargers round, and straight and swift,
As shredded clouds that fly before the gale,
Sought out the sound, and at the cavern's mouth
Formed crescent-wise, a glistening company
Of shining shields, their lifted lances like
A silver palisade, each splendid brow
In miserable suspicion sternly set.

There, at their hands, justly unmerciful,
Loki, as once Prometheus, met his doom—
To three torn crags bound trebly fast with thongs
From out his agonising vitals wrought,
While close suspended o'er his shuddering flesh,
A serpent drop by drop spilled down its gall.
And as the isles shook when Enceladus
'Neath Ætna stirred, so quaked the palsied world
At every throb of his tormented frame.

O Ragnarök! O Twilight of the gods!
O Day of Odin feared! Till Ragnarök
Shall Loki's doom endure. Till Ragnarök
Shall Hel hold Baldur. Odin, Odin alone,
The great All-Father, in his prescient heart
Foresees its boded terrors. Bitter woe
Shall herald that late dawning; horror and crime
Shall walk the highway bare and unashamed,
Kinship forgotten in fierce greed of gain.
Then seasons of unconquerable cold shall be
Such as no land e'er wintered—glacial frosts,
Tumultuous sword-edged winds, unhallowed skies,
And snows from all four corners of the world,
With flakes as linted clouds. Then prodigies
Vast and calamitous shall follow swift—
Fenrir, the giant wolf, swallow the sun,
Hati devour the moon, and Jörmungard
Vomit envenomed floods, stars drop like rain,
Midgard scatter its hills as dust, its seas
Toss out as bursting bubbles. In that hour,
After uncounted ages still to dawn,
Shall Heaven itself be cleft in twain, and through
The immeasurable breach, from Muspell, Land of Light,
Shall all her sons come, Surtur at their head,
Surtur the Mighty, helmed and shod with flame,
His sword the sun outshining. And beneath
The tread of that indomitable host,
Bifröst, the Rainbow Bridge, like shivered glass
Shall crack and splinter.
Then shall Heimdall seize
The Gjallar Horn, and blow a hideous blast—
The cry of ultimate fear, whose note of doom,
Beating from frightened world to world, shall die
In utter wastes beyond. Even Yggdrasil
Shall tremble through its branched and rooted length.
In that dread day of Ragnarök shall naught
Be unpossessed of terror.
Nathless, led
By Odin the All-Father, king of gods,
Arrayed for death in timeless majesty,
The Æsir, with Valhalla's warriors,
Shall range them on the bewildering battlefield,
Vigrid, the field of blood. There shall attend
Muspell's refulgent band, apart and still,
Proof-clad in brightness unapproachable.
And there shall gather all Hel's followers,
With Loki and his fearful progeny
Freed from their mammoth chains—Fenrir, the wolf,
The stretch of whose vast jaws encloses Heaven,
And Jörmungard, the serpent, he whose tail
The round of Earth encircles in its coil,
And Garm, the dog, worst monster of the three.

Then dazzled, blinded, frenzied, shall the gods
Rush on their doom, foe leaping upon foe
In such a conflict of inordinate strengths
As since Titanic times, when thunderbolts
Were arrows, hills were slingstones, hath not yet
Been known to story. Odin with the wolf
Shall furiously engage, nor bear himself
Less resolute than did Olympian Jove
Contending with Typhœus for his throne.
But skill nor valour shall advantage him.
For as relentless Night upon the Day
Creeps step by step, beats back the radiant shafts
With huge black bulk opposed, stretches agape
Stupendous red-rimmed jaws and inch by inch
O'ertakes and swallows up its glory, so,
With one last straight-armed thrust of flashing spear,
Shall Odin die.
Then tenfold multiplied
Shall fury animate the warring hosts.
Fenrir, sore wounded, shall in Vidar's grip
Yield his foul breath. Thor, magic-gauntleted,
Shall slaughter Jörmungard, and ere his foot
Hath pressed nine paces onward, shall lie prone,
Stifled with its black gall. Heimdall shall leap
On Loki, and they twain, fire blent with fire,
A blazing one, as one shall fail and sink—
An extinguished flame. Ev'n thus intrepid Tyr,
With Garm in combat, shall lie dead beside
His strangled foe. So each shall seek his mate,
Inexorably armed with equal rage.
So each shall fall, victor by victim slain—
One triumph, one reward, one death for all.
Alone the sons of Muspell, radiant
With lustre insupportable, shall still
Aloof and silent stand, their dazzling breath
Outblown upon the wind like fiery flowers
That blossom as they perish.
Then, ah, then
Surtur the Mighty shall unfold the gates
Of the far South! Swift from the luminous land,
Muspell, shall pour an incandescent flood
In mass and brilliance comparable to naught
The mind hath power to image, that shall sweep
From end to end of the wide universe,
Worlds, with their moons, for fuel piled on worlds;
Suns tossed on suns; systems on systems heaped;
Meteors for sparks, comets for kindling straws;
And at the last, to the minutest ash,
Extinction absolute; space cleansed and bare.

So shall the imperfect order of the old
Be done away, as Odin, king of gods,
Anguished foreknows; and from the Land of Light,
From the bright bosom of its burning seas,
Shall rise amain a new fair firmament
Star-filled: a new sun in the highest Heaven
More glorious than all the suns that were,
And a new Earth, lovely and verdurous,
Whose day shall end not, nor whose summer fade.
And lo! a new Asgard shall be again,
With nobler halls, where greater gods shall keep
A more exalted state. And in their midst,
Won back from Hel, sceptred and crowned with light,
Baldur the Beautiful shall live for aye,
And Night, and Hate, and Woe shall be no more.

This Odin's vast omniscient eye foresees,
Piercing futurity with wisdom bought
From Mimir's limpid well, and evermore
The knowledge like a wanton weed o'erruns
The garden of his thoughts. But in his soul
He shuts the vision close, and dwells apart,
Disjoined by wisdom, from the multitude.

Thus still he sits, majestic and remote,
Upon his disillusioned, darkened throne,
Watching the moving worlds, aye and anon
Catching the gleam, intolerably bright,
From far Muspell; then bows his august head,
And murmurs: "Ragnarök!"

And still doth Heimdall blow the Gjallar Horn;
And still the Æsir their white horses ride
Across the Rainbow Bridge with idle shield
And lowered lance; still meet in Asgard's Halls,
And under mighty Yggdrasil discourse
Of great deeds done and greater yet to do—
Thor with his mallet, Tyr with handless wrist—
Reck not of Fenrir, nor of Jörmungard,
Safe fettered both, with Garm, the monster dog;
Laugh when Earth trembles under Loki's throes;
Taste of Idun's well-guarded golden fruit,
And, young again, forget dread Ragnarök—
Somewhat, as swift the centuries slip by,
Forget ev'n Baldur.
But, from Fensalir
Where Frigga sits, who listens close may note
Day following day, year following year, a sigh
Upon the fainting breeze float softly past,
May see a tear drop with the dew, may catch
A distant cry of love unutterable—
"Baldur! alas! Baldur, my son, my son!
Baldur the Beautiful! Alas! Alas!"





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