The Earthly Paradise, (September-November), by William Morris, , at sacred-texts.com
Tidings brought to Bathstead of Kiartan's coming back.
Yes, there the hills stood, there Lax-river ran
Down to the sea; still thrall and serving-man
Came home from fold and hayfield to the hall,
And still did Olaf's cheery deep voice call
Over the mead horns; danced the fiddle-bow,
And twanged the harp-strings, and still sweet enow
Were measured words, as someone skilled in song
Told olden tales of war, and love, and wrong.
And Bodli's face from hall and board was gone,
And Gudrun's arms were round him, as alone
They lay, all unrebuked that hour, unless
The dawn, that glimmered on the wretchedness
Of Kiartan's lone and sleepless night, should creep
Cold-footed oer their well-contented sleep,
And whisper, 'Sleep on, lapse of time is here
Death's brother, and the very Death is near!'
Such thoughts might haunt the poor deserted man,
When through the sky dawn's hopeless shiver ran,
And bitterness grew in him, as the day,
Cleared of fantastic half-dreams, cold and grey,
Was bared before him. Yet I deem, indeed,
That they no less of pity had good need.
Yea, had his eyes beheld that past high-tide
At Bathstead, where sat Gudrun as a bride p. 432
By Bodli Thorleikson! Her face of yore,
So swift to change, as changing thoughts passed oer
Her eager heart, set now into a smile
That scarce the fools of mankind might beguile
To deeming her as happy: his, once calm
With dreamy happiness, that would embalm
Into sweet memory things of yesterday,
And show him pictures of things far away,
Now drawn, and fierce, and anxious, still prepared
It seemed, to meet the worst his worn heart feared.
A dismal wedding! every ear at strain
Some sign of things that were to be to gain;
A guard on every tongue lest some old name
Should set the poisoned smouldering pile aflame.
Silent the fierce dull sons of Oswif drank,
And Olaf back into his high seat shrank,
And seemed aged wearily, the while his sons
Glanced doubtfully at Bodli; more than once
Did one of them begin some word to speak,
And catch his father's eye, and then must break
His speech off with a smile not good or kind;
And in meanwhile the wise would fain be blind
To all these things, or cover boisterously
The seeds of ill they could not fail to see.
But if neath all folk's eyes things went een so,
How would it be then with the hapless two
The morrow of that feast? This know I well,
That upon Bodli the last gate of hell p. 433
Seemed shut at last, and no more like a star
Far off perchance, yet bright however far,
Shone hope of better days; yet he lived on,
And soon indeed, the worst of all being won,
And gleams of frantic pleasure therewithal,
A certain quiet on his soul did fall,
As though he saw the end and waited it.
But over Gudrun changes wild would flit,
And sometimes stony would she seem to be;
And sometimes would she give short ecstasy
To Bodli with a fit of seeming love;
And sometimes, as repenting sore thereof,
Silent the live-long day would sit and stare,
As though she knew some ghost were drawing near,
And ere it carne with all the world must break,
That she might lose no word it chanced to speak.
So slowly led the changed and weary days
Unto the gateway of the silent place,
Where either rest or utter change shall be;
But on an eve, when summer peacefully
Yielded to autumn, as men sat in hall
Two wandering churles old Oswif forth did call
Into the porch, and asked for shelter there.
And since unheeded none might make such prayer,
Soon mid the boisterous house-carles were they set,
The ugly turns of fortune to forget
In mirth and ease, and still with coarse rude jest
They pleased the folk, and laughed out with the best. p. 434
But while the lower hall of mirth was full
More than their wont the great folk there were dull;
Oswif was sunk in thought of other days,
And Gudrun's tongue idly some tale did praise
Her brother Ospak told, the while her heart
Midst vain recurring hopes was set apart;
And Bodli looked as though he still did bide
The coming fate it skilled no more to hide
From his sore wearied heart: no more there were
Upon the dais that eve; but when the cheer
Was over now, old Oswif went his ways,
But Ospak sat awhile within his place
Staring at Bodli with a look of scorn;
For much he grew to hate that face forlorn,
Bowed down with cares he might not understand.
At last midst Gudrun's talk, with either hand
Stretched out did Ospak yawn, and cried aloud
Unto the lower table's merry crowd:
"Well fare ye, fellows! ye are glad to-night;
What thing is it that brings you such delight?
We be not merry here."
Then one stepped forth,
And said: "Sooth, Ospak, but of little worth
Our talk was; yet these wandering churles are full
Of meat and drink, and need no rope to pull
Wild words and gleesome from them."
"Bring them here,"
Said Ospak, "they may mend our doleful cheer." p. 435
So from the lower end they came, ill clad,
Houseless, unwashen, yet with faces glad,
If for a while; yet somewhat timorous, too,
With such great men as these to have to do,
Although to fear was drink a noble shield.
"Well, fellows, what fair tidings are afield?"
Said Ospak, "and whence come ye?"
The first man
Turned leering eyes on Bodli's visage wan,
And oer his face there spread a cunning grin.
But just as he his first word would begin,
The other, drunker, and a thought more wise
Maybe for that, said, screwing up his eyes,
"Say-all-you-know shall go with clouted head."
"Say-nought-at-all is beaten," Ospak said,
"If, with his belly full of great men's meat
He has no care to make his speeches sweet."
"Be not wrath, son of Oswif," said the first;
"Now I am full I care not for the worst
That haps to-night; yet Mistress Gudrun there"
"Tush!" said the second, "thou art full of care
For a man full of drink. Come, let her say
That as we came so shall we go away,
And all is soon told."
Ospak laughed thereat, p. 436
As sprawling oer the laden board he sat,
His cheek close to his cup; but Gudrun turned
Unto him, pale, although her vexed heart burned
With fresh desire, and a great agony
Of hope strove in her.
"Tell thy tale to me
And have a gift therefor," she said: "behold!
My finger is no better for this gold!
Draw it off swiftly!"
Then she reached her hand
Out to the man, who wondering there did stand
Beholding it, half sobered by her face;
Nor durst he touch the ring.
"Unto this place
From Burgfirth did we come," he said, "and there,
Around a new-beached ship folk held a fair
Kálf Asgeirson, men said, the skipper was
But others to and fro did I see pass."
Still Ospak chuckled, lolling oer his drink,
Nor any whit hereat did Gudrun shrink,
But Bodli rose up, and the hall gan pace,
As on the last time when in that same place
Kiartan and he and she together were;
And on this day of anguish and of fear,
Well-nigh his weary heart began to deem
That that past day did but begin a dream
From which he needs must wake up presently,
Those lovers in each other's arms to see, p. 437
To feel himself heart-whole and innocent;
"Yea, yea, a many people came and went
About the ship," he heard the first guest say;
"Gudmund and Thurid did I see that day,
And Asgeir and his daughter, and they stood
About a man, whose kirtle, red as blood,
Was fine as a king's raiment."
Put up his left hand slowly to his ear,
As one who hearkens, smiling therewithal,
And now there fell a silence on the hall,
As the man said:
"I had not seen before
This fair tall man, who in his sword-belt bore
A wondrous weapon, gemmed, and wrought with gold;
Too mean a man I was to be so bold
As in that place to ask about his name.
Yet certes, mistress, to my mind it came,
That, if tales lied not, this was even he
Men said should wed a bride across the sea
And be a kingeen Kiartan Olafson."
He looked about him when his speech was done
As one who feareth somewhat, but the word
He last had said, nought new belike had stirred
In those three hearts; Bodli still paced the floor
With downcast eyes, that sometimes to the door
Were lifted; Ospak beat upon the board
A swift tune with his hand; without a word p. 438
The gold ring from her finger Gudrun drew
And gave it to the man; and Ospak knew
A gift of Bodli Thorleikson therein,
Given when first her promise he did win.
Yet little wisdom seemed it to those men
About the dais to abide as then,
Though one turned oer his shoulder as he went,
And saw how Ospak unto Gudrun leant
And nodded head at Bodli, and meanwhile
Thrust his forefinger with a mocking smile
At his own breast; but Gudrun saw him not,
Though their eyes met, nay, rather scarce had got
A thought of Bodli in her heart, for still
'Kiartan come back again,' her soul did fill,
'And I shall see him soon, with what changed eyes!'
And now did night oer the world's miseries
Draw her dark veil, yet men with stolen light
Must win from restless day a restless night;
Then Gudrun gan bestir her, with a smile
Talking of common things a little while,
For Bodli to his seat had come again
And sat him down, though labour spent in vain
It was to speak to him; dull the night went,
And there the most of men were well content
When bed-time came at last. Then one by one
They left the hall till Bodli sat alone
Within the high-seat. No thought then he had
Clear to himself, except that all was bad p. 439
That henceforth was to come to him; the night
Went through its changes, light waned after light,
Until but one was left far down the hall
Casting a feeble circle on the wall,
Making the well-known things as strange as death;
Then through the windows came the night's last breath,
And gainst the yellow glimmer they showed blue
As the late summer dawn oer Iceland drew;
And still he sat there, noting nought at all
Till at his back he heard a light footfall,
And fell a-trembling, yet he knew not why;
Nor durst he turn to look, till presently
He knew a figure was beside him, white
In the half dusk of the departing night,
For the last light had died; therewith he strove
To cry aloud, and might not, his tongue clove
Unto his mouth, no power he had to stand
Upon his feet, he might not bring his hand,
How much soeer he tried, to his sword's hilt;
It seemed to him his sorrow and his guilt
Stood there in bodily form before his eyes,
Yet, when a dreadful voice did now arise
He knew that Gudrun spake:
"I came again
Because I lay awake, and thought how men
Have told of traitors, and I needs must see
How such an one to-night would look to me.
Night hides thee not, O Bodli Thorleikson,
Nor shall death hide from thee what thou hast done. p. 440
What!thou art grown afraid, thou tremblest then
Because I name death, seed of fearless men?
Fear not, I bear no sword, Kiartan is kind,
He will not slay thee because he was blind
And took thee for a true man time a-gone.
My curse upon thee! Knowst thou how alone
Thy deed hath made me? Dreamest thou what pain
Burns in me now when he has come again?
Now, when the longed-for sun has risen at last
To light an empty world whence all has passed
Of joy and hopegreat is thy gain herein I
A bitter broken thing to seem to win,
A soul the fruit of lies shall yet make vile;
A body for thy base lust to defile,
If thou durst come anigh me any more,
Now I have curst thee, that thy mother bore
So base a wretch among good men to dwell,
That thou mightst build me up this hot-walled hell.
I curse thee now, while good and evil strive
Within me, but if longer I shall live
What shall my curse be then? myself so curst,
That nought shall then be left me but the worst,
That God shall mock himself for making me."
Breathless she stopped, but Bodli helplessly
Put forth his hands till he gained speech, and said
In a low voice, "Would God that I were dead!
And yet a word from him I hope to have
Kinder than this before I reach the grave!" p. 441
"Yea, he is kind, yea, he is kind!" she cried,
"He loveth all, and casts his kindness wide
Even as God; nor loves me more than God
Loves one among us crawlers oer earth's sod.
And who knows how I love him? how I hate
Each face on which he looks compassionate!
God help me! I am talking of my love
To thee! and such a traitor I may prove
As thou hast, ere the tale is fully done."
She turned from him therewith to get her gone,
But lingered yet, as waiting till he spake.
Day dawned apace, the sparrows gan to wake
Within the eaves; the trumpet of the swan
Sounded from far; the morn's cold wind, that ran
Oer the hall's hangings, reached her unbound hair,
And drave the night-gear round her body fair,
And stirred the rushes by her naked feet:
Most fair she wastheir eyes a while did meet,
In a strange look, he rose with haggard face
And trembling lips, that body to embrace,
For which all peace for ever he had lost,
But wildly oer her head her arms she tossed,
And with one dreadful look she fled away
And left him twixt the dark night and the day,
Twixt good and ill, twixt love and struggling hate,
The coming hours of restless pain to wait. p. 442
The Yule feast at Bathstead.
NOW the days wore, and nowise Kiartan stirred,
Or seemed as he would stir, and no man heard
Speech from him of the twain, for good or ill;
Yet was his father Olaf anxious still,
And doubted that the smouldering fire might blaze,
For drearily did Kiartan pass his days
After a while, and ever silently
Would sit and watch the weary sun go by,
Feeling as though the heart in him were dead.
Kálf Asgeirson came to the Peacock's stead
With Refna, more than once that autumn-tide;
And at the last folk gan to whisper wide
That she was meet for him, if anyone
Might now mate Kiartan, since Gudrun was gone.
If Kiartan heard this rumour I know not,
But Refna heard it and her heart waxed hot
With foolish hopes; for one of those she was
Who seem across the weary earth to pass,
That they may show what burden folk may bear
Of unrequited love, nor drawing near
The goal they aim at, die amidst the noise
Of clashing lusts with scarce-complaining voice.
God wot that Kiartan in his bitter need
To her kind eyes could pay but little heed;
Yet did he note that she looked kind on him, p. 443
Nor yet had all his kindness grown so dim
That he might pass her by all utterly,
And thereof came full many a biting lie.
Now as the time drew on toward Yule once more,
Did Oswif send, as his wont was of yore,
To bid the men of Herdholt to the feast;
And howso things had changed, both most and least
Gan make them ready, all but Kiartan, who
That morn went wandering aimless to and fro
Amid the bustling groups, and spake no word.
To whom came Olaf when thereof he heard,
And spake with anxious face: "O noble son,
Wilt thou still harbour wrath for what is done?
Nay, let the past be past; young art thou yet,
And many another honour mayst thou get,
And many another love."
Kiartan turned round,
And said, "Yea, good sooth, love doth much abound
In this kind world! Lo! one more loved my love
Than I had deemed ofthus it oft shall prove!"
So spake he sneering and high-voiced, then said,
As he beheld his father's grizzled head
And puckered brow: "What wouldst thou, father? see
Here in thy house do I sit quietly,
And let all folk live even suchlike life
As they love best; and wilt thou wake up strife?"
"Nay, nay, son; but thou knowest that thy mood, p. 444
So lonely here, shall bring thee little good;
Thy grief grows greater as thou nursest it,
Nor neath thy burden ever shalt thou sit
As it increases on thee; then shall come
A dreadful tale on this once happy home.
Come rather, show all men thou wilt have peace
By meeting them, and it shall bring thee ease,
That sight once over, to think how thou art
A brave man still, not sitting with crushed heart
Amid the stirring world."
Then Kiartan gazed
Long on his father, as a man amazed,
But said at last: "Ah, thou must have thy will!
God wot I looked that the long days would kill
This bitter longing, if unfed it were
By sights and sounds. Now let the long days bear
Their fated burden! I will go with thee."
So like a dreaming man did Kiartan see
That place which once seemed holy in his eyes;
No cry of fury to his lips did rise
When oer the threshold first he went, and saw
Bodli the son of Thorleik towards him draw,
Blood-red for shame at first, then pale for shame,
As from his lips the old kind speeches came,
And hand met hand. Coldly he spake, and said:
"Be merry, Bodli; thou art nobly wed! p. 445
Thou hadst the toil, and now the due reward
Is fallen to thee."
Then, like a cutting sword,
A sharp pain pierced him, as he saw far off
Gudrun's grey eyes turn, with a spoken scoff,
To meet his own; and there the two men stood,
Each knowing somewhat of the other's mood,
Yet scarce the master-key thereto; still stared
Kiartan at Gudrun; and his heart grew hard
With his despair: but toward him Bodli yearned,
As one who well that bitter task had learned;
And now he reached once more to him his hand,
But moveless for a while did Kiartan stand,
And had in heart to get him back again:
Yet with strong will he put aback his pain,
And passed by Bodli, noting him no whit,
And coldly at the feast that day did sit,
In outward seeming; and Gudrun no less
Sat in her place in perfect loveliness,
Untouched by passion: Bodli in meanwhile
From Kiartan's grave brow unto Gudrun's smile
Kept glancing, and in feverish eager wise
Strove to pierce through the mask of bitter lies
That hid the bitter truth; and still must fear,
Lest from the feast's noise he a shriek should hear,
When the thin dream-veil, torn across, should show
That in the very hell he lay alow.
Men say that when the guests must leave the place, p. 446
Bodli with good gifts many a man did grace,
And at the last bade bring up to the door
Three goodly horses such as neer before
Had Iceland seen, and turned his mournful eyes
To Kiartan's face, stern with the memories
Of many a past departing, bitter-sweet,
"O cousin, O my friend, unmeet
Is aught that here I have, for thy great fame,
Yet if it please thee still to be the same
As thou hast been to us, take these of me."
But as men crowded round about to see
The goodly steeds, spake Kiartan in low voice:
"Strive not with fate, for thou hast made thy choice;
Thy gifts, thy love, may scarce now heal my heart
Look not so kindGod keep us well apart!"
No more they spake as then, but straightway rode
The Herdholt men unto their fair abode;
And so it fell that on the homeward way
Gan Olaf to his well-loved son to say:
"Kiartan, howeer the heart in thee did burn,
Unto no evil did this meeting turn;
Yet would that thou hadst taken gifts from him!
Now thou wilt go again?"
"My eyes are dim,
Belike, O father, with my bitter pain;
Yet doubt thou not but I shall go again, p. 447
Een as I doubt not that fresh misery
I there shall gather as the days pass by.
Would I could tell thee all I think, and how
I deem thy wise hand dreadful seed doth sow!"