The Earthly Paradise, (September-November), by William Morris, , at sacred-texts.com
Bodli brings Tidings to Bathstead.
NOW so it chanced, on a late summer day,
Unto the west would Oswif take his way
With all his sons, and Gudrun listlessly
Stood by the door their going forth to see,
Until the hill's brow hid them; then she turned,
And long she gazed, the while her full heart yearned
Toward Herdholt and the south.
"Late grows the year,"
She said, "and winter cometh with its fear
And dreams of dying hopes. Ah me, I change,
And my heart hardens! Will he think me strange
When he beholds this face of mine at last,
Or shall our love make nought of long days past,
Burn up the sights that we apart have seen,
And make them all as though they had not been?
Ah, the hard world! I, who in hope so sure
Have waited, scarcely may the days endure.
How has it been with those who needs must wait
With dying hope and lingering love, till hate,
The seed of ill lies, told and hearkened to,
The knot of loving memories shall undo,
Break the last bonds of love, and cast them forth
With nothing left to them of joy or worth?
"O love, come back, come back, delay no more
To ease thine aching heart that yearneth sore
For me, as mine for thee! Leave wealth and praise p. 407
For those to win who know no happy days.
Come, though so true thou art, thou fearest not
Yet to delay! Come, my heart waxes hot
For all thy lonely days to comfort thee."
So spake she, and awhile stood quietly,
Still looking toward the south, her wide grey eyes
Made tenderer with those thronging memories,
Until upon the wind she seemed to hear
The sound of horse-hoofs, and twixt hope and fear
She trembled, as more clear the far sounds grew,
And thitherward it seemed from Herdholt drew;
So now at last to meet that sound she went,
Until her eyes, on the hill's brow intent,
Beheld a spear rising against the sky
Oer the grey road, and therewith presently
A gilded helm rose up beneath the spear,
And then her trembling limbs no more might bear
Her body forward; scarce alive she stood,
And saw a man in raiment red as blood
Rise oer the hill's brow, who when he did gain
The highest part of the grey road, drew rein
To gaze on Bathstead spreading neath him there,
Its bright vanes glittering in the morning air.,
She stared upon him panting, and belike
He saw her now, for he his spurs did strike
Into his horse, and, while her quivering face
Grew hard and stern, rode swiftly to the place
Whereas she stood, and clattering leapt adown p. 408
Unto the earth, and met her troubled frown
And pale face, with the sad imploring eyes
Of Bodli Thorleikson.
Then did there rise
A dreadful fear within her heart, for she
No look like that in him was wont to see;
Scarce had she strength to say:
"How goes it then,
With himthy kinsman, mid the Eastland men?"
Then, writhen as with some great sudden sting
Of pain, he spake; "Fear not, Gudrun, I bring
Fair news of his well-doinghe is well."
"Speak out," she said, "what more there is to tell!
Is he at Herdholt? will he come to-day?"
And with that word she turned her face away,
Shamed with the bitter-sweet of yearning pain,
And to her lips the red blood came again;
But he a moment made as he would reach
His hand to hers, his sad eyes did beseech
Some look from hers, so blind to him, so blind!
And scarce his story might he call to mind,
Until he deemed he saw her shoulders heave
As with a sob.
Then said he, "We did leave
Kiartan in Norway, praised of all men there;
He bade me tell thee that his life was fair
And full of hopeand that he looked to see p. 409
Thy face again.So God be good to me,
These were the words he spake!"
For now she turned
Tearless upon him, and great anger burned
Within her eyes: "O trusty messenger,
No doubt through thee his very voice I hear!
Sure but light thought and stammering voice he had
To waste on one, who used to make him glad!
Thou art a true friend! Ah, I know thee, then,
A follower on the footsteps of great men,
To reap where they have sowed. Alive and well!
And doing deeds whereof the skalds shall tell!
Ah, what fair days he heapeth up for me!
Come now, unless thine envy stayeth thee,
Speak more of him, and make me glad at heart!"
Then Bodli said, "Nay, I have done my part,
Let others tell the rest "and turned to go,
Yet lingered, and she cried aloud:
Friend of my lover! if ill words I spake
Yet pardon me! for sore my heart doth ache
With pent-up love."
She reached her hand to him,
He turned and took it, and his eyes did swim
With tears for him and her; a while it seemed,
As though the dream so many a sweet night dreamed,
Waked from with anguish on so many a morn,
Were come to pass, that he afresh was born p. 410
To happy life, with heavens and earth made new;
But slowly from his grasp her hand she drew,
And stepped aback, and said:
"Speak, I fear not,
Because so true a heart my love hath got
That nought can change it; speak, when cometh he?
Tell me the sweet words that he spake of me,
Did he not tell me in the days agone,
That oft he spake of me to thee alone?
Nay, tell me of his doings, for indeed
Of words twixt him and me is little need."
Then Bodli gan in troubled voice to tell
True tidings of the things that there befell,
Saving of Ingibiorg, and Gudrun stood
And hearkened, trembling:
"Good, yea, very good,"
She said, when he had done, "and yet I deem
All this thou sayst as if we dreamed a dream
Nor camst thou here to say but this to me
Why tarrieth Kiartan yet beyond the sea?"
Bodli flushed red, and, trembling sorely, spake:
"O Gudrun, must thou die for one man's sake,
So heavenly as thou art? What shall I say?
Thou mayst live long, yet never see the day
That bringeth Kiartan back unto this land."
He looked at her, but moveless did she stand,
Nor spake a word, nor yet did any pain p. 411
Writhe her fair face, grown deadly pale again.
Then Bodli stretched his hand forth;
"Yet they lie,
Who say I did the thing, who say that I,
Een in my inmost heart, have wished for it.
But thouO, hearken, Gudrunhe doth sit
By Ingibiorg's side ever; day by day,
Sadder his eyes grow when she goes away
What! know I not the eyes of lovers then?
Why should I tell thee of the talk of men,
Babbling of how he weds her, is made king,
How he and Olaf shall have might to bring
Denmark and England both beneath their rule.
Ah, woe, woe, woe, that I, a bitter fool,
Upon one heart all happy life should stake;
Woe is me, Gudrun, for thy beauty's sake!
Ah, for my fool's eyes and my greedy heart
Must all rest henceforth from my soul depart?"
He reached his hand to her, she put it by,
And gathered up her gown-skirts hurriedly,
And in a voice, like a low wailing wind,
Unto the wind she cried:
"Still may he find
A woman worthy of his loveliness;
Still may it be that she his days will bless,
As I had done, had we been wed at last!"
Therewith by Bodli's trembling hands she passed, p. 412
Nor gave one look on him; but he gazed still,
Een when her gown fluttered far down the hill,
With staring eyes upon the empty place
Where last he saw the horror of her face
Changed by consuming anguish; when he turned,
Blind with the fire that in his worn heart burned,
Empty the hill-side was of anyone,
And as a man who some great crime hath done
He gat into his saddle, and scarce knew
Whither he went, until his rein he drew
By Herdholt porch, as in the other days,
When Kiartan by his side his love would praise.
Three days at Herdholt in most black despair
Did Bodli sit, till folk gan whisper there
That the faith-changer on the earth was dead,
Although he seemed to live; with mighty dread
They watched his going out and coming in;
On the fourth day somewhat did hope begin
To deal, as its wont is, with agony;
And he, who truly at the first could see
What dreadful things his coming days did wait,
Now, blinded by the hand of mocking fate,
Deeming that good from evil yet might rise,
Once more to pleasure lifted up his eyes.
And now, to nurse his hope, there came that day
A messenger from Gudrun, who did pray
That he would straightly come and see her there.
At whose mazed face a long while did he stare p. 413
As one who heard not, and the man must speak
His message thrice, before a smile gan break
Over his wan face; neither did he say
A word in answer, but straight took his way
Oer rough and smooth to Bathstead, knowing not
What ground his horse beneath his hoofs had got.
Ah, did he look for pleasure, when he saw
Her long slim figure down the dusk hall draw
Unto his beating heart, as nobly clad
As in the days when all the three were glad?
Did he perchance deem that he might forget
The man across the sea? His eyes were wet
For pity of that heart so made forlorn,
But on his lips a smile, of pleasure born,
Played, that I deem perchance he knew not of,
As he reached out his hand to touch his love
Long ere she drew anigh. But now, when she
Was close to him, and therewith eagerly,
Trembling and wild-eyed, he beheld the face
He deemed een then would gladden all the place,
Blank grew his heart, and all hope failed in him,
And een the anguish of his love grew dim,
And poor it seemed, a thing of little price,
Before the gathered sorrow of her eyes.
But while, still trembling there, the poor wretch stood,
She spoke in a low voice that chilled his blood,
So worn and far away it seemed; "See now, p. 414
I sent for thee, who of all men dost know
The heart of him who once swore troth to me:
Kiartan, I mean, the son of Olaf, he
Who oer the sea wins great fame as thou sayst
That thou mayst tell again, why he doth waste
The tale of happy days that we shall have;
For death comes quickly on us, and the grave
Is a dim land whereof I know not aught."
As a grey dove, within the meshes caught,
Flutters a little, then lies still again
Ere wildly beat its wings with its last pain,
So once or twice her passion, as she spake,
Rose to her throat, and yet might not outbreak
Till that last word was spoken; then as stung
By pain on pain, her arms abroad she flung,
And wailed aloud; but dry-eyed Bodli stood
Pale as a corpse, and in such haggard mood,
Such helpless, hopeless misery, as one
Who first in hell meets her he hath undone.
Yet sank her wailing in a little while,
Through dreadful sobs to silence, and a smile,
A feeble memory of the courteous ways,
For which in days agone she won such praise,
Rose to her pale lips, and she spake once more
As if the passionate words, cast forth before,
Were clean forgotten, with that bitter wail:
"O, Bodli Thorleikson, of good avail p. 415
Thou ever art to me, and now hast come
Swiftly indeed unto a troubled home:
For ill at ease I am, and fain would hear
From thee who knowst him, why this looked-for year
Lacks Kiartan still."
He knew not what to say,
But she reached out her hand in the old way
And coldly palm met palm: then him she led
Unto a seat, and sat by him, and said:
"Yea, fain am I to hear the tale once more,
The shame and grief, although it hurt me sore;
Yea, from thee, Bodli; though it well may be
That he I trusted, too much trusted thee."
So great a burden on his spirit lay
He heeded not the last words she did say,
But in low measured speech began again
The story of the honour and the gain
That Kiartan had, and how his days went now;
She sat beside him, with her head bent low,
Hearkening, or hearkening not; but now when all
Was done, and he sat staring at the wall
Silent, and full of misery, then she said:
"How know I yet but thou the tale hast made,
Since many a moment do I think of now
In the old time before ye went, when thou
Wouldst look on me, as on him I should gaze p. 416
If he were here, false to the happy days?"
"A small thing," said he, "shall I strive with fate
In vain, or vainly pray against thy hate?
Would God I were a liar! that his keel
Een now the sands of White-river did feel.
O Gudrun, Gudrun, thou shalt find it true!
Ah, God, what thing is left for me to do?"
Therewith he rose, and towards the hall-door went,
Nor heard her voice behind him, as she bent
Oer the tear-wetted rushes of the floor.
Sick-hearted was he when he passed the door,
Weary of all things, weary of his love,
And muttering to himself hard things thereof;
But when he reached the Herdholt porch again,
A heaven long left seemed that morn's bitter pain,
And one desire alone he had, that he
Once more anigh unto his love might be;
Honour and shame, truth, lies, and weal and woe,
Seemed idle words whose meaning none might know;
What was the world to him with all its ways,
If he once more into her eyes might gaze?
Again he saw her, not alone this tide,
But in the hall, her father by her side,
And many folk around: if like a dream
All things except her loveliness did seem,
Yet doubt ye not that evil shades they were;
A dream most horrible for him to bear, p. 417
That all his strength was fallen to weakness now,
That he the sweet repose might never know
Of being with her from all the world apart,
Eyes watching eyes, heart beating unto heart.
Cold was her face, not pensive as before,
And like a very queen herself she bore
Among the guests, and courteous was to all,
But no kind look on Bodli's face did fall,
Though he had died to gain it.
So time wore,
And still he went to Bathstead more and more,
And whiles alone, and whiles in company,
With raging heart her sad face did he see,
And still the time he spent in hall and bower
Beside her did he call the evillest hour
Of all the day, the while it dured; but when
He was away, came hope's ghost back again
And fanned his miserable longing, till
He said within himself that nought was ill
Save that most hideous load of loneliness.
Howso the time went, never rest did bless
His heart a moment; nought seemed good to him,
Not een the rest of death, unknown and dim.
And Kiartan came not, and what news came out
From Norway was a gravestone on such doubt
As yet might linger in the hearts of men,
That he perchance might see that land again.
And no more now spake Gudrun any word p. 418
Of Kiartan, until folk with one accord
Began to say, how that no little thing
It was, those two great strains of men to bring
Into alliance: "Pity though!" they said,
"That she to such a strange man should be wed
As Bodli Thorleikson of late hath grown!"
So sprung the evil crop by evil sown.