Saturday, February 03, 2007

Harold the Dauntless

“Harold,” he said, “what rage is thine,
To quit the worship of thy line,
To leave thy Warrior God?—
With me is glory or disgrace,
Mine is the onset and the chase,
Embattled hosts before my face
Are wither’d by a nod.
Wilt thou then forfeit that high seat
Deserved by many a dauntless feat,
Among the heroes of thy line,
Eric and fiery Thorarine?—
Thou wilt not. Only can I give
The joys for which the valiant live,
Victory and vengeance—only I
Can give the joys for which they die,
The immortal tilt—the banquet full,
The brimming draught from foeman’s skull.
Mine art thou, witness this thy glove,
The faithful pledge of vassal’s love.”

“Tempter,” said Harold, firm of heart,
“I charge thee, hence! whate’er thou art,
I do defy thee – and resist
The kindling frenzy of my breast,
Waked by thy words; and of my mail,
Nor glove, nor buckler, splent, nor nail,
Shall rest with thee—that youth release,
And God, or demon, part in peace.”—
“Eivir,” the Shape replied, “is mine,
Mark’d in the birth-hour with my sign.
Think’st thou that priest with drops of spray
Could wash that blood-red mark away?
Or that a borrow’d sex and name
Can abrogate a Godhead’s claim?”Thrill’d this strange speech thro’ Harold’s brain,
He clenched his teeth in high disdain,
For not his new-born faith subdued
Some tokens of his ancient mood:—
“Now, by the hope so lately given
Of better trust and purer heaven,
I will assail thee, fiend!” –Then rose
His mace, and with a storm of blows
The mortal and the Demon close.

Smoke roll’d above, fire flash’d around,
Darken’d the sky and shook the ground;
But not the artillery of hell,
The bickering lightning, nor the rock
Of turrets to the earthquake’s shock,
Could Harold’s courage quell.
Sternly the Dane his purpose kept,
And blows on blows resistless heap’d,
Till quail’d that Demon Form,
And—for his power to hurt or kill
Was bounded by a higher will—
Evanish’d in the storm.
Nor paused the Champion of the North,
But raised and bore his Eivir forth,
From that wild scene of fiendish strife,
To light, to liberty, and life!

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