THE MANY-MANSIONED HOUSE
AND OTHER POEMS


By
EDWARD WILLIAM THOMSON




 

KING VOLSUNG AND THE SKALD



HE sang on the Heath of the Volsungs,
Mid Volsung common men,
Shepherds, chafferers, delvers,
And the fowlers of the fen,
The beaters of the anvil,

5

Wights who mined the ore,
Tamers of the horsekind,
And fishers from the shore.

Tall through the press strode Sigmund,
Lord-warden of the Peace,

10

While, shrilling fierce, the blood song
Rang to the throng’s increase,
And some lips smiled the pleasure
Of Lynxes scenting prey,
And some brows frowned the anger

15

That holds the wolf at bay.

“Be dumb, O Skald!” spoke Sigmund,
“Thou singst a troublous song,—
The King of the kindly Volsungs
Shall judge thee right or wrong.”

20

Then slow to the Hall of The Mighty,
And silently under its roof,
Flowed the host of the mid-world people
To hear the thing at proof.

On the High-seat shone King Volsung,

25

His Champions gleamed anear,
And the voice of lordly Sigmund
Came welcome to his ear:—
“Father, King and Judger,
Now tell me what to do.

30

This Skald divides thy people—
Is praise or death his due?” [Page 29]

“Son Sigmund, tell thy story,
And whence the stranger came”.—
“I found him chanting on the Heath,

35

And no man knows his name.
Some think him even as Baldur
Come back to bless the Earth,
And some hear in his blood song
The Dwarf-kind’s cruel mirth.”

40


Then softly laughed King Volsung,
Yet pierced so keen his eyes
Men deemed he saw the stranger
As naked from disguise.
“O Skald!” he spoke, “fear nothing;

45

Though thou be Dwarf or Elf
Come back to trouble mankind,
Sing up, and be thyself.”

The stranger eyed the Father
As one who works a spell,

50

And from the board his fingers
Seized a sounding shell;
His touches thrilled its edges,
He sang, to words all changed,
A strain the brown seafarers

55

Oft chanted where they ranged.

Then round about the High-seat,
And through the huge-built Hall,
Did all men deem they listened
To waves whelm up and fall;

60

They heard the clash and clatter
Of shield-hung longships’ sides,
Straining sails gale-bellied,
The snarl of racing tides,

While, foul in seamen’s nostrils

65

Wallowing bilges stank [Page 30]
Of ale and meal long sea-borne,
Musty, wormy, rank;
Yet, half a-rot with scurvy,
They toppled up once more

70

To hail the enchanted looming
Of some unheard-of shore.

Out spoke the gracious Volsung,—
“The chant is good to me
That draws my shoremen closer

75

To their brothers of the sea.
And now, O Skald, I charge thee
To voice what song most brings
Joy to the hearts of heroes,
And men of worth and Kings.”

80


The stranger pondered, staring
So long on Volsung’s Pride
That soft-hand chafferers clamored:—
“Sing what thou sangst outside—
The song that stirred our pulses

85

As if through war-horn blown,
Thy chant of swords and corpses,
And blood on grass bestrown.
Hearing, we felt as Champions,
Our foes seemed beaten sore,

90

And fierce in exultation
We saw them free no more.”

Then, nearing close to Volsung,
The singer whispered, “King,
Thou knowst how wild the feeble

95

Relish a deathful thing;
Here came I hungry, seeking
The means for rest and meat—
They love to dream them heroes,
And praise to Skalds is sweet.

100

But now, O Volsung Father, [Page 31]
I read thy kingly heart,
And I know the battle-mighty
From war-lust dwell apart.”

Frowned dark the lordly Volsung,—

105

“Shame drowneth as a flood
The fame of every singer
Who urgeth men to blood.
The scorn of sworded heroes
Is on the swordless wight

110

Who stirs the weak to clamor
That sends the strong to fight;
Behold, all blades of battle
Around my shield-hung wall
Are hid in sheath, lest baleful

115

Their deadly gleams should fall;
And yet thy plea shall save thee
If now thou singst what brings
Most joy to hearts of heroes,
And men of worth, and Kings.”

120


Then beamed so kind the stranger,
It seemed that Baldur there
Had rose from Niflheim’s torpor
To bless the shining air;
He grasped an iron hammer,

125

He tinkled on the steel,
And he sang the ancient stithy
Laboring mankind’s weal.

Spike and chain and crowbar,
Axes, bolts, and ploughs,

130

Mallet, wedge, and hammer,
Bonds to stiffen prows,
Every shape of iron
Listeners saw anew,
For the splendor of the labor

135

Rang the song-craft through. [Page 32]

So changed the tinkled measure
That looms rocked in the Hall,
Spindles twirled, and shuttles
Flew ’twixt wall and wall,—

140

Cloth for street and temple,
Cloth for sea and wold,
And the weavers’ patient pleasure
Wove in every fold.

Through all Man’s craft and labor

145

The runic rhythm changed,
As Valorous Endeavor
All useful works it ranged;
And the Idler was the Dastard,
And the Pleasure-seeker’s joy

150

More weak, and far more witless
Than the pastime of a boy.

“O Skald,” spoke gladdened Volsung,
“Thou sangst the truest song!
It endeth and amendeth

155

Labor’s ancient wrong;
Its glory none had chanted,
Its pride no ear had heard,
For the toiling held the toiler
From the finding of the Word.

160

Yet none, save to that throbbing
My harp hath in its strings,
Can sing what most joys heroes,
And men of worth, and Kings.”

He took the harp of Volsung,

165

His fingers lingered slow,
He sang of Love commingled
With Work, and Joy, and Woe,—
The lover’s love for lover,
The bridegroom and the bride,

170

The father love for children, [Page 33]
The wifely true-heart’s pride,
Brother’s love for brother,
Love of friend for friend,
The yearning, patient mother love

175

That hath no stint nor end;
And, even as all World-things
Forth from the World-tree start,
He sang all love forever flows
Back to All-father’s heart.

180


King Volsung and his heroes,
All people round the Hall,
Yearned and flushed and joyed and wept
As if one soul swayed all.
None saw the singer vanish,

185

So blinding was his spell;—
And was he of the Gods, or Dwarfs,
King Volsung would not tell. [Page 34]