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

Gudrun's deeming of the Men who loved her.

THUS have I striven to show the troublous life
Of these dead folk, e’en as if mid their strife
I dwelt myself; but now is Kiartan slain;
Bodli's blank yearning, Gudrun's wearying pain, p. 520
Shall change but little now unto the end;
And midst a many thoughts home must I wend,
And in the ancient days abide no more.
Yet, when the shipman draweth nigh the shore,
And slacks the sheet and lets adown the sail,
Scarce suddenly therewith all way doth fail
The sea-clasped keel. So with this history
It fareth now; have patience then with me
A moment yet, ere all the tale is told.

   While Olaf Peacock lived, his sons did hold
Their hands from Bodli; Oswif's sons must pay
With gold and outlawry for that ill day,
And nothing else there happened to them worse
Than o’er the sea to bear all people's curse,
Nor know men aught more of their history.
Three winters afterward did Olaf die,
Full both of years and honour; then was not
Thorgerd's fierce oath amidst her sons forgot;
The golden ring, whose end old Guest foresaw,
Worn through the weary years with many a flaw,
Now smitten, fell asunder: Bodli died
Manlike amidst his foes, with none beside
To sorrow o’er him, scarcely loth maybe
The end of his warped life at last to see.

   Turn back a while; of her I have to tell,
Whose sorrow on my heart the more doth dwell,
That nought she did to earn it, as I deem— p. 521
—Unto the Ridge, where on the willowy stream
Her father's stead looks down, did Refna go,
That, if it might be, she some rest might know
Within the fair vale where she wandered, when
The bearded faces of the weaponed men
Were wonders to her child's eyes, far away
The wild thoughts of their hearts; her little day
Of hope and joy gone by, there yet awhile
She wandered once again; nor her faint smile
Would she withhold, when pitying eyes did gaze
On the deep sorrow of her lovely face;
For she belike felt strong, and still might deem
That life, all turned into a longing dream,
Would long abide with her—happier she was,
But little time over her head did pass,
Before all smiles from off her face did fade,
And in the grave her yearning heart was laid,
No more now to be rent ’twixt hope and fear,
No more to sicken with the dull despair.

   Yet is she left to tell of, some might call,
The very cause the very curse of all;
And yet not I—for after Bodli's death
Too dreadful grew the dale, my story saith,
For Gudrun longer at her house to dwell,
Wherefore with Snorri, lord of Holyfell,
Did she change steads. There dwelt she a long space,
And true it is, that in her noble face
Men deemed but little signs of woe they saw; p. 522
And still she lived on long, and in great awe
And honour was she held, nor unfulfilled
Was the last thing that Guest deemed fate had willed
Should fall on her: when Bodli's sons were men
And many things had happed, she wed again,
And though her days of keen joys might be bare
Yet little did they bring of added care
As on and on they wore from that old time
When she was set amidst mad love and crime.

   Yet went this husband's end no otherwise
Than Guest foresaw: at last with dreamy eyes
And weary heart from his grave too she turned.
Across the waste of life on one hand burned
The unforgotten sore regretted days
Long left behind; and o’er the stony ways
Her feet must pass yet, the grey cloud of death
Rolled doubtful, drawing nigher. The tale saith
That she lived long years afterwards, and strove,
E’en as she might, to win a little love
From God now, and with bitter yearning prayer
Through these slow-footed lonely days to wear.
And men say, as to all the ways of earth
Her soul grew blind, and other hopes had birth
Within her, that her bodily sight failed too,
And now no more the dark from day she knew.

   This one more picture gives the ancient book
On which I pray you for a while to look, p. 523
If for your tears ye may. For it doth tell
That on a day she sat at Holyfell
Within the bower, another Bodli there
Beside her, son of him who wrought her care;
A travelled man and mighty, gay of weed,
Doer belike of many a desperate deed
Within the huge wall of the Grecian king.
A summer eve it was, and everything
Was calm and fair, the tinkling bells did sound
From the fair chapel on the higher ground
Of the holy hill, the murmur of the sea
Came on the fitful south-west soothingly;
The house-caries sang as homeward now they went
From out the home-field, and the hay's sweet scent
Floated around: and when the sun had died
An hour agone now, Bodli stirred and sighed;
Perchance too clearly felt he life slip by
Amid those pensive things, and certainly
He too was passed his youth.
                                 "Mother," he said,
"Awhile agone it came into my head
To ask thee somewhat; thou hast loved me well,
And this perchance is no great thing to tell
To one who loves thee."
                           With her sightless eyes
Turned on him did she smile in loving wise,
But answered nought; then he went on, and said:
"Which of the men thou knewest—who are dead
Long ago, mother,—didst thou love the best?" p. 524
Then her thin hands each upon each she pressed,
And her face quivered, as some memory
Were hard upon her:
                       "Ah, son! years go by.
When we are young this year we call the worst
That we can know; this bitter day is cursed,
And no more such our hearts can bear we say.
But yet as time from us falls fast away
There comes a day, son, when all this is fair
And sweet, to what, still living, we must bear—
Bettered is bale by bale that follows it,
The saw saith."
                Silent both awhile did sit
Until she spake again: "Easy to tell
About them, son, my memory serves me well:
A great chief Thorkel was, bounteous and wise, -
And ill hap seemed his death in all men's eyes.
Bodli thy sire was mighty of his hands,
Scarce better dwelt in all the northern lands;
Thou wouldst have loved him well. My husband Thord
Was a great man; wise at the council-board,
Well learned in law—for Thorwald, he indeed,
A rash weak heart, like to a stinging weed
Must be pulled up—ah, that was long ago!"
Then Bodli smiled, "Thou wouldst not have me know
Thy thought, O mother—these things know I well;
Old folk about these men e’en such tales tell."

She said, "Alas, O son, thou askst of love! p. 525
Long folly lasteth; still that word doth move
My old worn heart—hearken one little word,
Then ask no more; ill is it to be stirred
To vain repining for the vanished days."

   She turned, until her sightless eyes did gaze
As though the wall, the hills, must melt away,
And show her Herdholt in the twilight grey;
She cried, with tremulous voice; and eyes grown wet
For the last time, whate’er should happen yet,
With hands stretched out for all that she had lost:

   "I did the worst to him I loved the most."



p. 526

THEY too, those old men, well might sit and gaze
Upon the images of bygone days,
And wonder mid their soft self-pity, why
Mid such wild struggles had their lives gone by,
Since neither love nor joy, nor even pain,
Should last for ever; yet their strife so vain
While still they strove, so sore regretted now,
The heavy grief that once their heads did bow,
Had wrought so much for them, that they might sit
Amid some pleasure at the thought of it;
At least not quite consumed by sordid fear,
That now at last the end was come anear;
At least not hardened quite so much, but they
Might hear of love and longing worn away
’Twixt birth and death of others, wondering
Belike, amid their pity what strange thing
Made the mere truth of what poor souls did bear
—In vain or not in vain—so sweet to hear,
So healing to the tangled woes of earth,
At least for a short while.
                                But little mirth
The grey eve and the strong unfailing wind
Might ask of them that tide; and yet behind
That mask of pensive eyes, so unbeguiled
By ancient folly any more, what wild
Strange flickering hopes ineffable might lie,
As swift that latter end of eve slipped by!

p. 527





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