Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE TRAGEDY OF ASGARD: MIMIR'S WELL, by VICTOR GUSTAVE PLARR



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THE TRAGEDY OF ASGARD: MIMIR'S WELL, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Then heimdal, the white god, in darkness rose
Last Line: Darkling rode back to his benighted heaven.
Subject(s): Mythology - Norse


Then Heimdal, the white god, in darkness rose,
And left his cup of hydromel, and blew
The Horn of Giöll. Virgins nine him bore
To be the janitor of Heaven and guard
The Bridge of Bifröst from the giant men
Within the mountains and those vast retreats,
The Realm of Frost contains, who, but for him,
Incessantly to Asgard would ascend
Across that trembling passage. So sublime
His sense, so pure, he hears the wool-fell grow
On the sheep's back: his ears record the sound
Of the grass budding, and his eyes, not dark,
Though the two Wolves had eaten Sun and Moon,
Can see a hundred miles, and now beheld
In the far mirk of night untoward things.
Less sleep has he than even a timorous bird,
That trembles on its bough and all night long
Fears the snake's visit. Exquisitely clear
Rang the Giallahorn, that mystic trump!
Through all the homes of Heaven it rang and woke
Aesir and heroes, warning them to arm
For the Last Battle. Then tall Odin set
His hat upon his head, whereof the brim
Is made of clouds, athwart his shoulders drew
The mantle of the stars, and in his stall
Sought the horse Sleipnir. Gloriously the barb
Neighed to behold his master, pricked his ears
And turned his gaze, tenderly yet with pride,
To Odin's hand. Him mounting, Odin rode,
Easily pacing with untightened rein,
To Mimir's Well, which lies below that Tree
Hight the Ash of Yggdrasil. Around the world
It grows, for Asgard and the Realms are held
Within its branches wide, and even the sea
That girdles Midgard is involved in them,
And Jormundgandir, the long Midgard snake
Is but enclasped within that tree's wide arms
Though she herself writhes round the base of earth.
Now, in an ancient Edda, it is taught
That the Ash of Yggdrasil is holiest
Of all the meeting-places of the gods.
Thither each day along the Trembling Bridge
Of Bifröst they rode out, in the elder time,
To sit in judgment. Ah, that Yggdrasil
Is necessarily the first of trees
And greatest, for its boughs their umbrage fling
Over the dwellings of the world and soar
Above high heaven itself. Upon three roots
It stands upheld, that reach to utter space.
One lies beneath the streets of Asgard old,
Of Heaven itself, and there is Urdur's Fount,
Where the Divinities in judgment sit.
And one below the Giants of the Frost,
Rimethurses called or Jotuns, Utgard's race,
Obscurely writhes where spreads that solitude,
Which once was called 'The Gaping of the Jaws'—
Ginnunga-Gap,—that void whence came the world.
Between the North and Muspel's breath of flame,
Muspel the fiery furnace of the South,
Yawns the dim gulf, the void. 'Twas there long since
That Imir, earliest semblance of a man,
Father of all the crooked little dwarfs
Whose far-struck hammers on the miner's ear
Clang weird and tuneful in deep galleries,
Was formed from drops of ice, and brought to view,
And nourished by the Cow, Aud-humla called,
Which like the Snake from Aryan India comes,
Coeval with all life. And the third root
Is under Nifelheim, the Place of Mists,
Ay, under Hel, that deeper dark resort,
And underneath this root Hver-Gelmir roars,
The Fount of Clamour, and 'tis gnawed for aye
By Nid-högg, the fierce dragon of the pit,
Companioned by innumerable worms.
But underneath the root that twines immense
Below the Giants, the Rimethurses named,
Forevermore comes bubbling purely forth
The clear delightful wave of Mimir's Well,
Wherein is all the Wisdom of the World.
This Ash of Yggdrasil has many boughs,
Inhabited by four mysterious stags,
That feed on them, and errant to and fro
Find secure passage, and upon its top,
Perched solitary on its loftiest bough,
Lärad, which overshadows the proud home
Of heroes, called Valhalla, where they feast,
An eagle fierce of aspect sits sublime,
Of infinite lore possessed. 'Nay, know you it?
But what?' as, in the Song of Wala, speaks
The Prophetess in darkling, questioning rune,
Now being to be fulfilled. Between his eyes
A goshawk hangs, Terror of Tempests called.
And up and down the whole height of the Tree,
Chattering incessantly, the Rat's Compeer,
The Squirrel Rataköstr, without cease,
Skips, bearing to and fro the words of hate,
As any little village-gossip would,
Exchanged between the Dragon far beneath
And the Eagle in the clouds. But the Rat's Mate
Changes no phrase in any embassage,
And so nips deeplier with well-told truth,
For truth is often satire that can spoil
Ev'n the serenity of glorious gods.
O Verity two-edged! Incessantly
The Stag Eikthyrnir and old Nid-högg fret
Leaf-bud and bark of Time's immortal Tree.
Long since it would have withered but for drops
Poured on it daily from the Living Flood
In Urdur's sacred fountain, that turns white,
Ev'n as is the inner coating of an egg,
All things that bathe therein. Long, long ago,
Enveloped in thick dark as with a veil,
Out of the far-away unknown arrived,
With aspect as of goddesses, three Shapes
To water that vast Ash of Yggdrasil,
And keep it full of freshness and bright leaves.
The Norns men call them, and mayhap they are
Destiny visible, for Absolute Fate
Although he rule inevitably o'er
Both gods and men, sometimes his power restrains
And looms as Regin—Law, not Orlog—Chance,
And Regin may be bodied by the Norns.
Sisters are they. Men surname the eldest Urd,
Who sits with eyes that brood perpetually
Upon the Past : Verdandi is the next,
Who muses on the Present, that poor span
Ageing within the twinkle of an eye
Despite men's foolish worship; and the last
Glooms ever into far Futurity:
Skalda her name. Regin's decrees eterne
They promulgate, dispensing hope or tears,
Dark tears that blind the windows of the soul;
Bright'ning the poor man's brow or making dim
Houses of kings; here snipping some life's thread
And deathward sending some old honest man,
There weaving a new skein and setting forth
A naked soul upon the shore of life,
For good or ill.
And now that Odin rode,
Easily pacing with untightened rein,
To Mimir's Well, they sat beside its flow,
Silent, their heads close-covered by their veils.
So shall you see old mountain widows sit,
Among the dark-haired Celts, by ruined byres
And low-browed doors, whence goodman or sole son
Was carried coffined forth a se'nnight since.
Unspeakable grey thoughts in caverned eyes
By tattered tartan veiled! Oh, who shall guess,
Render articulate, set down in writ
Old meditations sombrely withdrawn
Among throng'd instincts in a mind unplumbed—
A peasant's, or a yogi's, or a god's?
And now, through rising storm as Odin rode,
A mighty rustling noise assailed his ears,
A trembling of unnumbered swaying boughs;
And in the wind the leaves of Yggdrasil
Swirled dropping round his head. The World-Ash rocked
And tugged against its roots, by dragons frayed,
As a ship tugs its ropes in a great storm
And hurls its high poop to the hidden stars.
It seemed the tortured roots would snap or tear,
And all be chaos o'er All-Father's head.
But softly Odin leapt from Sleipnir's back,
And past the moveless, voiceless sisters came
To Mimir's Well, where whispering he addressed
Great Mimir's Head, that like the Teraphim
Shone over the mid-fountain's darkest calm,
Wherein is all the Wisdom of the World.
Daily the wise man Mimir drank the wave,
And Odin's self was not too high to ask
His counsel, for he knew him very wise.
But Mimir said: 'Nothing can I unfold,
O King of Gods, except thou leave thine eye
In pawn with me. 'Now Odin long had lost
His other in some mystic contest dark,
In Sagas sung. Yet plucked he his eye forth
Incontinently with a desperate gest,
And gave it to the Head. What cryptic words
Proud Odin spake or what were told in turn
No ear hath heard, nor any skald essayed
Since to divine; but, after counsel ta'en,
Slowly the god arose, paced slowly back,
And slowly laid a desultory hand
On Sleipnir's shoulder, and as one in dream,
Vexed inwardly by some abasing doubt,
Vaulted into his seat, and with bowed head
Darkling rode back to his benighted heaven.





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