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The Earthly Paradise, (September-November), by William Morris, [1870], at

Kiartan weds Refna.

I THINK that Gudrun on the morrow morn
Deemed herself yet more wretched and forlorn
Than e’er before; I deem that Kiartan woke
And found it harder yet to bear the yoke
Than in past days—their eyes had met at last,
No look of anger from them had been cast
Sweet words might take away; no look of woe
A touch might turn to pleasure, none can know
But those who know the torturer Love, the bliss
That heals the stripes those bear who still are his.
Who knows what tale had been to tell, if she
Had met his first proud look all tearfully,
With weak imploring looks? Ah, sore she yearned
To cry aloud the things that in her burned,
To cast aside all fear and shame, and kneel
Before his feet, so she his lips might feel
Once more as in the old days; but, alas!
A wall of shame and wrong betwixt them was,
Nor could the past deeds ever be undone.
   Sometimes it might be when they were alone
In quiet times—in evening twilight, when p. 448
Far off and softened came the voice of men;
Or, better yet, the murmur of the sea
Smote on the hearts of either peacefully,
Each to each kind would seem; until there came
The backward rush of pain and bitter blame
Unanswerable, cold, blighting, as the sea,
Let in o’er flowers—'Why didst thou so to me,
To me of all the world? while others strove
We looked to hold the sweetness of our love.
Yea, if earth failed beneath our feet—and now
How is the sweet turned bitter!—yea, and thou
Art just so nigh to me, that still thou art
A restless anguish to my craving heart.'

   Take note too midst all this, that Gudrun heard
Rumoured about this added bitter word,
That Refna, Asgeir's daughter, looked to wear
The coif the Norway queen had meant for her,
When Kiartan left that broken heart behind;
For that tale too her hungry ears must find.
Then would she clean forget all other woe,
In thinking how she dreamed the days would go,
That while she waited doubting nought of him;
Then would the past and future wax all dim
In brooding o’er that unaccomplished bliss,
In moaning to herself, ’twixt kiss and kiss
The things she would have said, in picturing,
As in the hopeful time, how arms would cling
About her, and sweet eyes, unsatisfied p. 449
E’en with the fullness of all bliss, would hide
No love from her—and she forgot those eyes
What they were now, all dulled with miseries;
And she forgot the sorrow of the heart
That fate and time from hers had thrust apart.
Still wrong bred wrong within her, day by day
Some little speck of kindness fell away,
Till in her heart naked desire alone
Was left, the one thing not to be undone.
Then would the jealous flame in such wise burn
Within her, that to Bodli would she turn,
And madden him with fond caressing touch
And tender word; and he, worn overmuch
With useless striving, still his heart would blind,
Unto the dread awaking he should find.

   Doubt not, that of this too had Kiartan heard,
If nought but idle babbling men had stirred,
But more there was; for the fierce-hearted fools,
The sons of Oswif, made these twain their tools
To satisfy their envious hate; for they
Waxed eviller-hearted as day followed day,
Grudging the Peacock's house its luck and fame;
And when into their household Bodli came,
In such wise as ye know, with hate and scorn,
Which still they had, of his grave face and worn,
A joy began to mingle presently,
A thought that they through him might get to see
Herdholt beneath their feet in grief and shame;p. 450
So cunningly they turned them to the game
As such men will, and scattered wide the seeds,
Lies, and words half-true, of the bitterest deeds.
For doubt not, kindly-natured though he were,
That Kiartan too was changing: who would hear
Such things as once he heard, from one who went
’Twixt the two houses, with no ill intent,
But blabbing and a fool, well stuffed with lies,
At Ospak's hands—for in most loving wise
The new-wed folk lived now, he said; soon too
He deemed would Bodli draw to him a crew,
And take ship for the southlands: "Nought at all
Was talked of last night in the Bathstead hall,
But about England and King Ethelred."

   "Well, and was Gudrun merry?" Haldor said,
Yet stammered saying it, ’neath Kiartan's frown,
Who cleared his brow though, nor e’en looked adown
As the man answered, smiling, pleased to show
That he somewhat of great folk's minds did know:

   "Yea, many, was she merry. Good cause why,
For she will go with Bodli certainly,
And win such fame as women love to do;
Ye well may wot he saith no nay thereto,
If she but ask him; they sat hand in hand
As if no folk were left in all the land
Except themselves."
                       He stayed his talk hereat, p. 451
For men looked strangely on him as he sat
Smiling and careless, casting words that bit
Like poisoned darts: no less did Kiartan sit
With unchanged face, nor rose to go away,
Yea, even strove within himself to say:
'Good luck go with them! mine she cannot be,
May she be happy, here, or over sea!
Why should I wish aught ill on them to fall.'

   And yet, indeed, a flood of bitterest gall
Swept o’er his heart; despite himself he thought:
'So now, to lonely ways behold me brought,
She will not miss me more—so change the days,
And Bodli's loving looks and Bodli's praise
Shall be enough for her. I am alone,
And ne’er shall be aught else—would I were gone
From where none need me now—belike my fame
Shall be forgotten, wrapped in Bodli's name,
E’en as my kisses on the lips, that once
Trembled with longing through the change of suns—
Those years in Norway shall be blotted out
From song and story—yea, or men shall doubt
If I or Bodli there that praise did win—
What say I, for I deem that men begin
To doubt if e’er I loved my love at all!'

   So thought he, mid the clamour of the hall,
Where few men knew his heart, but rather thought
That he began now somewhat to be brought p. 452
From out his gloom; withal, time wore away,
And certainly as day comes after day,
So change comes after change in minds of men;
So otherwise he ’gan to be, than when
In early days his pain, nigh cherished, clung
Unto his wounded heart; belike it stung
Bitterer at whiles, now that he knew his life,
And hardened him to meet the lingering strife
’Gainst the cold world that would not think of him
Too much. The kindness of old days waxed dim
Within his heart; he hearkened when men spake
Hard things about his love, for whose dear sake
Had fame once seemed so light a thing to win.
A blacker deed now seemed his fellow's sin
When lesser seemed the prize that it did gain;
Little by little from his bitter pain
Fell off the softening veil of tenderness;
Moody and brooding was he none the less,
And all the world, with all its good and ill,
Seemed nothing meet to move his sluggish will.
   And now a whole long year had passed, since he
Stood wildered by the borders of the sea
’Neath his first sorrow. Herdholt late had seen
A noble feast, and thereat had there been
Among the guests Refna, the tender maid;
Gentle of mood, and pale, with head down-weighed
She sat amidst the feast; and Kiartan saw
That much she changed as he anigh did draw,
That her eyes brightened, and a sprightlier grace p. 453
Came o’er her lips, and colour lit her face.
And so when all the guests therefrom were gone,
Thurid, his sister, sat with him alone
Close upon sunset; thoughtful now was she,
He gayer than it was his wont to be,
And many things he spake to her; at last
The absent look from off her face she cast,
For she had listened little; and she said;
"Yea, brother, is she not a lovesome maid?"

   He started, "Who?" he said, "I noted not."

   She smiled, "Nay, then is beauty soon forgot;
Yet if I were a man, not old or wise,
Methinks I should remember wide grey eyes,
Lips like a scarlet thread, skin lily-white,
Round chin, smooth brow ’neath the dark hair's delight,
Fair neck, slim hands, and dainty limbs, well hid,
Since unto most of men doth fate forbid
To hold them as their own."
                              A dark cloud spread
O’er Kiartan's face: "Sister, forbear," he said;
"I am no lover, unto me but nought
Are these things grown."
                       Nigher her face she brought
To his, and said: "And yet were I a man,
And noted how the love of me began
To move within the heart of such a maid
As Refna is, not soon her face would fade
From out my memory." p. 454
                        "Nay, nay, thou sayst
Fools’ words," he said, "and every word dost waste;
Who shall love broken men like unto me?"

   And therewithal he sprang up angrily
And would be gone: she stayed him: "Were it so
That over well she loved; what wouldst thou do?"

   "What should I do?" he said; "I have no heart
To give away, let her e’en act my part
And find the days right dreary, yet live on."

   "Methinks," she said, "the end will soon be won
For her, poor maid! surely she waneth fast."

   And Thurid sighed withal; but Kiartan passed
Swiftly away from her: and yet he went
Unto his bed that night less ill content,
And ere he slept, of Ingibiorg he thought,
And all the pleasure her sweet love had brought
While he was with her; and this maid did seem
Like her come back amidst a happy dream.
The next morn came, and through his dreariness
A sweet thought somewhat did his heart caress;
Howe’er he put it from him, back it came
Until it gathered shape, and took the name
Of pity, and seemed worthy to be nursed.
   So wore the days, and life seemed not so cursed p. 455
With this to think of—this so set apart
From all the misery that wrung his heart;
Until the sweet ruth grew, until he deemed
That yet perchance her love was only dreamed,
That she was heart-whole, yea, or loved indeed
But for another man was in such need:
And at that thought blank grew the world again,
And his old pain was shot across with pain
As woof hides warp. Ah, well! what will you have?
This was a man some shreds of joy to save
From out the wreck, if so he might, to win
Some garden from the waste, and dwell therein.
And yet he lingered long, or e’er he told
His heart that it another name might hold
With that of the lost Gudrun. Time and sight
Made Refna's love clear as the noonday light;
Yea, nowise hard it was for him to think
That she without this joy would quickly sink
Into death's arms—and she, she to fade thus
God's latest marvel! eyes so piteous
With such sweet longing, midst her beauty rare,
As though they said, 'Nought worthy thee is here,
Yet help me if thou canst: yet, if I die,
Like sweet embalmment round my heart shall lie
This love, this love, this love I have for thee;
Look once again before thou leavest me!'

   She died not wholly joyless; they were wed,
When twenty changing moons their light had shed p. 456
On the dark waves of Burgfirth, since in trust
Of Gudrun's love, over the bridge new thrust
From out the ship, the much-praised Kiartan ran.
So strangely shift men's lives in little span.


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