The Earthly Paradise, (September-November), by William Morris, , at sacred-texts.com
The Prophecy of Guest the Wise.
UPON a day, amid the maids that spun
Within the bower at Bathstead, sat Gudrun,
Her father in the firth a-fishing was,
The while her mother through the meads did pass
About some homely work. So there she sat,
Nor set her hand to this work or to that,
And a half-frown was on her pensive face,
Nor did she heed the chatter of the place
As girl spake unto girl. Then did she hear
The sound of horse-hoofs swiftly drawing near,
And started up, and cried, "That shall be Guest,
Riding, as still his wont is, from the west p. 340
Unto the Thing, and this is just the day
When he is wont at Bathstead to make stay."
Then to the door she went, and with slim hand
Put it aback, and twixt the posts did stand,
And saw therewith a goodly company
Ride up the grey slopes leading from the sea.
That spring was she just come to her full height;
Low-bosomed yet she was, and slim and light,
Yet scarce might she grow fairer from that day;
Gold were the locks wherewith the wind did play,
Finer than silk, waved softly like the sea
After a three days calm, and to her knee
Well-nigh they reached; fair were the white hands laid
Upon the door-posts where the dragons played;
Her brow was smooth now, and a smile began
To cross her delicate mouth, the snare of man;
For some thought rose within the heart of her
That made her eyes bright, her cheeks ruddier
Than was their wont, yet were they delicate
As are the changing steps of high heaven's gate;
Bluer than grey her eyes were; somewhat thin
Her marvellous red lips; round was her chin,
Cloven, and clear-wrought; like an ivory tower
Rose up her neck from love's white-veiled bower.
But in such lordly raiment was she clad,
As midst its threads the scent of southlands had,
And on its hem the work of such-like hands p. 341
As deal with silk and gold in sunny lands.
Too dainty seemed her feet to come anear
The guest-worn threshold-stone. So stood she there,
And rough the world about her seemed to be,
A rude heap cast up from the weary sea.
But now the new-come folk, some twelve in all,
Drew rein before the doorway of the hall,
And she a step or two across the grass
Unto the leader of the men did pass,
A white-haired elder clad in kirtle red:
"Be welcome here, O Guest the Wise!" she said,
"My father honours me so much that I
Am bid to pray thee not to pass us by,
But bide here for a while; he says withal
That thou and he together in the hall
Are two wise men together, two who can
Talk cunningly about the ways of man."
Guest laughed, and leapt from off his horse, and said:
"Fair words from fair lips, and a goodly stead,
But unto Thickwood must I go to-night
To give my kinsman Armod some delight;
Nevertheless here will we rest a while,
And thou and I with talk an hour beguile,
For so it is that all men say of thee,
'Not far off falls the apple from the tree,'
That neath thy coif some day shall lie again p. 342
When he is dead, 'the wise old Oswif's brain."
With that he took her hand, and to the hall
She led him, and his fellows one and all
Leapt to the ground, and followed clattering
In through the porch, and many a goodly thing
There had they plenteously; but mid the noise
And rattling horns and laughter, with clear voice
Spake Gudrun unto Guest, and ever he
Smiled at her goodly sayings joyfully,
And yet at whiles grew grave; yea, and she too,
Though her eyes glistened, seemed as scarce she knew
The things she said. At last, amid their speech,
The old man stayed his hand as it did reach
Out to the beaker, and his grey eyes stared
As though unseen things to his soul were bared;
Then Gudrun waited trembling, till he said:
"Liest thou awake at midnight in thy bed,
Thinking of dreams dreamed in the winter-tide,
When the north-east, turned off the mountain-side,
Shook the stout timbers of the hall, as when
They shook in Norway ere the upland men
Bore axe against them?"
She spake low to him:
"So is it, but of these the most wax dim
When daylight comes again; but four there are
Four dreams in onethat bring me yet great care,
Nor may I soon forget them, yea, they sink
Still deeper in my soulbut do thou drink, p. 343
And tell me merry tales; of what avail
To speak of things that make a maiden pale
And a man laugh?"
"Speak quick," he said, "before
This glimmer of a sight I have is oer."
Then she delayed not, but in quick words said:
"Methought that with a coif upon my head
I stood upon a stream-side, and withal
Upon my heart the sudden thought did fall
How foul that coif was, and how ill it sat,
And though the folk beside me spoke gainst that,
Nevertheless, from off mine head I tore
The cursed thing, and cast it from the shore;
And glad at heart was I when it was gone,
And woke up laughing."
"Well, the second one,"
Said Guest; "Make good speed now, and tell me all!"
"This was the dream," she said, "that next did fall:
By a great water was I; on mine arm
A silver ring, that more my heart did charm
Than one might deem that such a small thing might;
My very own indeed seemed that delight,
And long I looked to have it; but as I
Stood and caressed the dear thing, suddenly
It slipped from off my arm, and straightway fell
Into the water: nor is more to tell p. 344
But that I wept thereat, and sorrowed sore
As for a friend that I should see no more."
"As great," said Guest, "is this thing as the last,
What follows after?"
"Oer the road I passed
Nigh Bathstead," said she, "in fair raiment clad,
And on mine arm a golden ring I had;
And seemly did I deem it, yet the love
I had therefor was not so much above
That wherewithal I loved the silver ring,
As gold is held by all a dearer thing
Than silver is; now, whatso worth it bore,
Methought that needs for longer than before
This ring should give me what it might of bliss;
But even as with foolish dreams it is
So was it now; falling I seemed to be,
And spread my arms abroad to steady me;
Upon a stone the ring smote, and atwain
It broke; and when I stooped the halves to gain,
Lo, blood ran out from either broken place;
Then as I gazed thereon I seemed to trace
A flaw within the craftsman's work, whereby
The fair thing brake; yea, withal presently
Yet other flaws therein could I discern;
And as I stood and looked, and sore did yearn,
Midst blind regrets, rather than raging pain,
For that fair thing I should not see again,
My eyes seemed opened, to my heart it came, p. 345
Spite of those flaws, that on me lay the blame
Why thus was spoiled that noble gift and rare,
Because therewith I dealt not with due care:
So with a sigh I woke."
"Ill fare," said Guest,
"Three of thy dreams, tell now about the rest."
"This is the last of the four dreams," she said;
"Methought I had a helm upon my head,
Wrought all of gold, with precious gems beset,
And pride and joy I had therein, and yet,
So heavy was it, that I scarce might hold
My head upright for that great weight of gold;
Yet for all that I laid no blame or wrong
Upon it, and I fain had kept it long;
But amid this, while least I looked therefor,
Something, I knew not what, the fair helm tore
From off mine head, and then I saw it swept
Into the firth, and when I would have wept
Then my voice failed me, and mine eyes were dry
Despite my heart; and therewith presently
I woke, and heard withal the neat-herd's song
As oer the hard white snow he went along
Unto the byre, shouldering his load of hay;
Then knew I the beginning of the day,
And to the window went and saw afar
The wide firth, black beneath the morning-star,
And all the waste of snow, and saw the man
Dark on the slope; twixt the dead earth and wan,p. 346
And the dark vault of star-besprinkled sky,
Croaking, a raven toward the sea did fly
With that I fell a yearning for the spring,
And all the pleasant things that it should bring,
And lay back in my bed and shut my eyes,
To see what pictures to my heart would rise,
And slept, but dreamed no more; now spring is here
Thou knowst perchance, made wise with many a year,
What thing it is I long for; but to me
All grows as misty as the autumn sea
Neath the first hoar-frost, and I name it not,
The thing wherewith my wondering heart is hot"
Then Guest turned round upon her, with a smile
Beholding her fair face a little while,
And as he looked on her she hid her eyes
With slim hands, but he saw the bright flush rise,
Despite of them, up to her forehead fair;
Therewith he sighed as one who needs must bear
A heavy burden.
"Since thou thus hast told
Thy dreams," he said, "scarce may I now withhold
The tale of what mine eyes have seen therein;
Yet little from my foresight shalt thou win,
Since both the blind, and they who see full well,
Go the same road, and leave a tale to tell
Of interwoven miseries, lest they,
Who after them a while on earth must stay,
Should have no pleasure in the winter night, p. 347
When this man's pain is made that man's delight."
He smiled an old man's smile, as thus he spake,
Then said, "But I must hasten ere it break
The thin sharp thread of light that yet I see
Methinks a stirring life shall hap to thee.
Thou shalt be loved and love; wrongs shalt thou give,
Wrongs shalt thou take, and therewithal outlive
Both wrongs, and love, and joy, and dwell alone
When all the fellows of thy life are gone.
Nay, think not I can tell thee much of this,
How it shall hap, the sorrow or the bliss
Only foreshadowing of outward things,
Great, and yet not the greatest, dream-lore brings.
"For whereas of the ill coif thou didst dream,
That such a husband unto me doth seem
As thou shalt think mates thee but ill enow,
Nor shall love-longings bind thee; so shalt thou
By thine own deed shake off this man from thee.
"But next the ring of silver seems to me,
Another husband, loved and loving well;
But even as the ring from off thee fell
Into the water, so it is with him,
The sea shall make his love and promise dim.
But for the gold ring; thou shalt wed again, p. 348
A worthier man belikeyet well-nigh vain
My strivings are to see what means the gold
Thou lovedst not more than silver: I am old
And thou art very young; hadst thou my sight,
Perchance herein thou wouldst have more of might.
But my heart says, that on the land there comes
A faith that telleth of more lovesome homes
For dead men, than we deemed of heretofore,
And that this man full well shall know that lore.
But whereas blood from out the ring did run,
By the sword's edge his life shall be foredone:
Then for the flawssee thou thyself to these!
Thou knowest how a thing full well may please,
When first thou hast it in thine hold, until
Up to the surface float the seeds of ill,
And vain regret oer all thy life is spread.
But for the heavy helm that bowed thine head
This, thy last husband, a great chief shall be
And hold a helm of terror over thee
Though thou shalt love him: at the end of life
His few last minutes shall he spend in strife
With the wild waves of Hwammfirth, and in vain,
For him too shall the white sea-goddess gain.
"So is thy dream areded; but these things
Shall hang above thee, as on unheard wings
The kestrel hangs above the mouse; nor more
As erst I said shalt thou gain by my lore p. 349
Than at the end of life, perchance, a smile
That fate with sight and blindness did beguile
Thine eyes in such sortthat thou knewst the end,
But not the way whereon thy feet did wend
On any day amid the many years,
Wherethrough thou waitedst for the flood of tears,
The dreariness that at some halting-place,
Waited in turn to change thy smiling face.
Be merry yet! these things shall not be all
That unto thee in this thy life shall fall."
Amid these latter words of his, the may
From her fair face had drawn her hands away,
And sat there with fixed eyes, and face grown pale,.
As one who sees the corner of the veil,
That hideth strange things, lifted for a while;
But when he ceased, she said with a faint smile
And trembling lips:
"Thanked be thou; well it is!
From thee I get no promise of vain bliss,
And constant joy; a tale I might have had
From flattering lips to make my young heart glad
Yea, have my thanks!yet wise as thou mayst be,
Mayst thou not dimly through these tangles see?"
He answered nought, but sat awhile with eyes
Distraught and sad, and face made over wise
With many a hard vain struggle; but at last
As one who from him a great weight doth cast,
He rose and snake to her: p. 350
"Wild words, fair may,
Now time it is that we were on our way."
Then unto him her visage did she turn,
In either cheek a bright red spot did burn,
Her teeth were set hard, and her brow was knit
As though she saw her life and strove with it.
Yet presently but common words she spake,
And bid him bide yet for her father's sake,
To make him joyful when the boards were laid;
But certainly, whatever words she said,
She heeded little, only from her tongue
By use and wont clear in his ears they rung.
Guest answered as before, that he would ride,
Because that night at Thickwood must he bide;
So silent now with wandering weary eyes
She watched his men do on their riding guise,
Then led him from the hall but listlessly,
As though she heeded nought where she might be.
So forth he rode, but turned and backward gazed
Before his folk the garth-gate latch had raised,
And saw her standing yet anigh the hall,
With her long shadow cast upon its wall,
As with her eyes turned down upon the ground
A long lock of her hair she wound and wound
About her hand. Then turning once again,
He passed the gate and shook his bridle-rein.
Now but a short way had he gone ere he
Beheld a man draw nigh their company, p. 351
Who, when they met, with fair words Guest did greet,
And said that Olaf Peacock bade him meet
Him and his men, and bid them to his stead:
"And well ye wot, O Goodman Guest," he said,
"That all day long it snoweth meat and drink
At Herdholt, and the gurgle and the clink
Of mead and horns, the harp alone doth still."
Guest laughed, and said, "Well, be that as it will,
Get swiftly back, and say that I will come
To look upon the marvels of his home
And hear his goodly voice; but may not bide
The night through, for to Thickwood must I ride."
Then the man turned and smote his horse; but they
Rode slowly by the borders of the bay
Upon that fresh and sunny afternoon,
Noting the sea-birds cry and surf's soft tune,
Until at last into the dale they came,
And saw the gilt roof-ridge of Herdholt flame
In the bright sunlight over the fresh grass,
Oer which the restless white-woolled lambs did pass
And querulous grey ewes; and wide around,
Near and far up the dale, they heard the sound
Of lowing kine, and the blithe neat-herd's voice,
For in those days did all things there rejoice.
Now presently from out the garth they saw
A goodly company unto them draw,
And thitherward came Olaf and his men;
So joyous greeting was betwixt them when p. 352
They met, and side by side the two chiefs rode,
Right glad at heart unto the fair abode.
Great-limbed was Olaf Hauskuldson, well knit,
And like a chief upon his horse did sit;
Clear-browed and wide-eyed was he, smooth of skin
Through fifty rough years; of his mother's kin,
The Erse king's daughter, did his short lip tell,
And dark-lashed grey-blue eyes; like a clear bell
His voice was yet, despite of waves and wind,
And such a goodly man you scarce might find,
As for his years, in all the northern land.
He held a gold-wrought spear in his right hand,
A chief's gold ring his left arm did upbear,
And as a mighty king's was all his gear,
Well shaped of Flanders' cloth, and silk and gold.
Thus they their way up to the garth did hold,
And Thord the Short, Guest's son, was next thereby,
A brisk man and a brave; so presently
They passed the garth-wall, and drew rein before
The new-built hall's well-carven, fair porch-door,
And Guest laughed out with pleasure, to behold
Its goodly fashion, as the Peacock told
With what huge heed and care the place was wrought,
And of the Norway earl's great wood, he brought
Over the sea; then in they went and Guest
Gazed through the cool dusk, till his eyes did rest
Upon the noble stories, painted fair
On the high panelling and roof-boards there; p. 353
For over the high-seat, in his ship there lay
The gold-haired Baldur, god of the dead day,
The spring-flowers round his high pile, waiting there
Until the Gods thereto the torch should bear;
And they were wrought on this side and on that,
Drawing on towards him. There was Frey, and sat
On the gold-bristled boar, who first they say
Ploughed the brown earth, and made it green for Frey.
Then came dark-bearded Niörd; and after him
Freyia, thin-robed, about her ankles slim
The grey cats playing. In another place
Thor's hammer gleamed oer Thor's red-bearded face;
And Heimdall, with the gold horn slung behind,
That in the God's-dusk he shall surely wind,
Sickening all hearts with fear; and last of all
Was Odin's sorrow wrought upon the wall,
As slow-paced, weary-faced, he went along,
Anxious with all the tales of woe and wrong
His ravens, Thought and Memory, bring to him.
Guest looked on these until his eyes grew dim,
Then turned about, and had no word to praise,
So wrought in him the thought of those strange days
Done with so long ago. But furthermore
Upon the other side, the deeds of Thor
Were duly done; the fight in the far sea
With him who rings the world's iniquity,
The Midgard Worm; strife in the giants' land,
With snares and mockeries thick on either hand, p. 354
And dealings with the Evil One who brought
Death even amid the Godsall these well wrought
Did Guest behold, as in a dream, while still
His joyous men the echoing hall did fill
With many-voiced strange clamour, as of these
They talked, and stared on all the braveries.
Then to the presses in the cloth-room there
Did Olaf take him, and showed hangings fair
Brought from the southlands far across the sea,
And English linen and fair napery,
And Flemish cloth; then back into the hall
He led him, and took arms from off the wall,
And let the mail-coat rings run oer his hands,
And strung strange bows brought from the fiery lands.
Then through the butteries he made him pass,
And, smiling, showed what winter stock yet was;
Fish, meal, and casks of wine, and goodly store
Of honey, that the bees had grumbled oer
In clover fields of Kent. Out went they then
And saw in what wise Olaf's serving-men
Dealt with the beasts, and what fair stock he had,
And how the maids were working blithe and glad
Within the women's chamber. Then at last,
Guest smiled, and said;
"Right fair is all thou hast,
A noble life thou livest certainly,
And in such wise as now, still may it be,
Nor mayst thou know beginning of ill days!
Now let it please thee that we go our ways, p. 355
Een as I said, for the sun falleth low."
"So be it then," said he. "Nor shalt thou go
Giftless henceforth; and I will go with thee
Some little way, for we my sons may see;
And fain I am to know how to thine eyes
They seem, because I know thee for most wise,
And that the cloud of time from thee hides less
Than from most men, of woe or happiness."
With that he gave command, and men brought forth
Two precious things; a hat of goodly worth,
Of fur of Russia, with a gold chain wound
Thrice round it, and a coin of gold that bound
The chain's end in the front, and on the same
A Greek king's head was wrought, of mighty fame
In olden time; this unto Guest he gave,
And smiled to see his deep-set eyes and grave
Gleam out with joy thereover: but to Thord,
Guest's son, he gave a well-adorned sword
And English-broidered belt; and then once more
They mounted by the goodly carven door,
And to their horses gat all Guest's good men,
And forth they rode toward Laxriver: but when
They had just overtopped a low knoll's brow,
Olaf cried out, "There play hot hearts enow
In the cold waves!" Then Guest looked, and afar
Beheld the tide play on the sandy bar
About the stream's mouth, as the sea waves rushed p. 356
In over it and back the land-stream pushed;
But in the dark wide pool mid foam-flecks white,
Beneath the slanting afternoon sunlight,
He saw white bodies sporting, and the air
Light from the south-west up the slopes did bear
Sound of their joyous cries as there they played.
Then said he, "Goodman, thou art well apaid
Of thy fair sons, if they shall deal as well
With earth as water."
"Nought there is tell
Of great deeds at their hands as yet," said he;
"But look you, how they note our company!"
For waist-high from the waves one rose withal,
And sent a shrill voice like a sea-mew's call
Across the river, then all turned toward land,
And beat the waves to foam with foot and hand,
And certes kept no silence; up the side
They scrambled, and about the shore spread wide
Seeking their raiment, and the yellowing sun
Upon the line of moving bodies shone,
As running here and there with laugh and shout
They flung the linen and grey cloth about,
Yet spite of all their clamour clad them fast.
So Guest and Olaf oer the green slopes passed
At sober pace, the while the other men
Raced down to meet the swimmers. p. 357
There are, who have no part or lot in thee
Among these lads," said Guest.
"Yea, such there be,"
Said Olaf, "sons of dale-dwellers hereby;
But Kiartan rules the swimming."
Guest gazed upon the lads as they drew near,
And scarcely now he seemed the words to hear
That Olaf spake, who talked about his race
And how they first had dwelling in that place;
But at the last Guest turned his horse about
Up stream, and drew rein, yet, as one in doubt,
Looked oer his shoulder at the youths withal;
But nought said Olaf, doubting what should fall
From those wise lips.
Then Guest spake, "Who are these?
Tell me their names; yon lad upon his knees,
Turning the blue cloak over with his hands,
While over him a sturdy fellow stands,
"Hauskuld, my youngest son,"
Said Olaf, "kneels there, but the standing one
Is An the Black, my house-carle, a stout man."
"Good," Guest said; "name the one who een now ran
Through upraised hands a glittering silver chain, p. 358
And, as we look now, gives it back again
Unto a red-haired youth, tall, fair, and slim."
"Haldor it was who gave the chain to him,
And Helgi took it," Olaf said.
"There kneeleth one in front of all the rest,
Less clad than any there, and hides from me
Twain who are sitting nigher to the sea?"
Then Olaf looked with shaded eyes and said:
"Steinthor, the sluggard, is it, by my head
He hideth better men! nay, look now, look!"
Then toward the stream his spear-butt Olaf shook,
As Steinthor rose, and gat somewhat aside,
And showed the other twain he first did hide.
On a grey stone anigh unto the stream
Sat a tall youth whose golden head did gleam
In the low sun; half covered was his breast,
His right arm bare as yet, a sword did rest
Upon his knees, and some half-foot of it
He from the sheath had drawn; a man did sit
Upon the grass before him; slim was he,
Black-haired and tall, and looked up smilingly
Into the other's face, with one hand laid
Upon the sword-sheath nigh the broad grey blade,
And seemed as though he listened. p. 359
Then spake Guest:
"No need, O friend, to ask about the rest,
Since I have seen these; for without a word
Kiartan I name the man who draws the sword
From out the sheath, and low down in the shade
Before him Bodli Thorleikson is laid.
But tell me of that sword, who bore it erst?"
Then Olaf laughed, "Some call that sword accursed;
Bodli now bears it, which the Eastlander
Geirmund, my daughter's husband, once did wear,
Hast thou not heard the tale? he won the maid
By my wife's word, wherefor with gold he paid,
Or so I deemed; but whereas of good kin
The man was, and the women hot herein,
I stood not in the way; well, but his love,
Whateer it was, quenched not his will to rove;
He left her, but would nowise leave the sword,
And so she helped herself, and for reward
Got that, and a curse with it, babblers say.
Let see if it prevail gainst my good day!"
Guest answered nought at all, his head was turned
Eastward, away from where the low sun burned
Above the swimmers. Olaf spake once more:
"Wise friend, thou thus hast heard their names told oer,
How thinkest thou? hast thou the heart to tell
Which in the years to come shall do right well?" p. 360
Guest spake nought for a while, and then he said,
But yet not turning any more his head:
"Surely of this at least thou wouldst be glad,
If Kiartan while he lived more glory had
Than any man now waxing in the land."
Then even as he spoke he raised his hand
And smote his horse, and rode upon his way
With no word more; neither durst Olaf stay
His swift departing, doubting of his mood;
For though indeed the word he spake was good,
Yet some vague fear he seemed to leave behind,
And Olaf scarce durst seek, lest he should find
Some ill thing lurking by his glory's side.
But after Guest his son and men did ride,
And forth to Thickwood with no stay they went.
But now, the journey and the day nigh spent,
Unto his father as they rode turned Thord,
With mind to say to him some common word,
But stared astonished, for the great tears ran
Over the wrinkled cheeks of the old man,
Yea, and adown his beard, nor shame had he
That Thord in such a plight his face should see,
At last he spake:
"Thou wonderest, O my son,
To see the tears fall down from such an one
As I amfolly is it in good sooth
Bewraying inward grief; but pain and ruth
Work in me so, I may not hold my peace p. 361
About the woes, that as thy years increase
Thou shalt behold fall on the country-side
But me the grey cairn ere that day shall hide
Fair men and women have I seen to-day,
Yet I weep not because these pass away,
Sad though that is, but rather weep for this,
That they know not upon their day of bliss
How their worn hearts shall fail them ere they die,
How sore the weight of woe on them shall lie,
No sighing eases, wherewithal no hope,
No pride, no rage, shall make them fit to cope.
Remember what folk thou this day hast seen,
And in what joyous steads thy feet have been,
Then think of this!that men may look to see
Love slaying love, and ruinous victory,
And truth called lies, and kindness turned to hate,
And prudence sowing seeds of all debate!
Son, thou shalt live to hear when I am dead
Of Bodli standing over Kiartan's head,
His friend, his foster-brother, and his bane,
That he in turn een such an end may gain.
Woe worth the while! forget it, and be blind!
Look not before thee! the road left behind,
Let that be to thee as a tale well told
To make thee merry when thou growest old!"
So spake he; but by this time had they come
Unto the wood that lay round Armod's home,
So on the tree-beset and narrow way p. 362
They entered now, and left behind the day;
And whatso things thenceforth to Guest befell,
No more of him the story hath to tell.