Home  »  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895  »  From “Balder Dead”

Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908). A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895. 1895.

Matthew Arnold 1822–88

From “Balder Dead”


BUT now the sun had pass’d the height of Heaven,

And soon had all that day been spent in wail;

But then the Father of the ages said:—

“Ye Gods, there well may be too much of wail!

Bring now the gather’d wood to Balder’s ship;

Heap on the deck the logs, and build the pyre.”

But when the Gods and Heroes heard, they brought

The wood to Balder’s ship, and built a pile,

Full the deck’s breadth, and lofty; then the corpse

Of Balder on the highest top they laid,

With Nanna on his right, and on his left

Hoder, his brother, whom his own hand slew.

And they sat jars of wine and oil to lean

Against the bodies, and stuck torches near,

Splinters of pine-wood, soak’d with turpentine;

And brought his arms and gold, and all his stuff,

And slew the dogs who at his table fed,

And threw them on the pyre, and Odin threw

A last choice gift thereon, his golden ring.

The mast they fix’d, and hoisted up the sails,

Then they put fire to the wood; and Thor

Set his stout shoulder hard against the stern

To push the ship through the thick sand;—sparks flew

From the deep trench she plough’d, so strong a God

Furrow’d it; and the water gurgled in.

And the ship floated on the waves, and rock’d.

But in the hills a strong east-wind arose,

And came down moaning to the sea; first squalls

Ran black o’er the sea’s face, then steady rush’d

The breeze, and fill’d the sails, and blew the fire;

And wreath’d in smoke the ship stood out to sea.

Soon with a roaring rose the mighty fire,

And the pile crackled; and between the logs

Sharp quivering tongues of flame shot out, and leap’d,

Curling and darting, higher, until they lick’d

The summit of the pile, the dead, the mast,

And ate the shrivelling sails; but still the ship

Drove on, ablaze above her hull with fire.

And the Gods stood upon the beach, and gaz’d.

And while they gaz’d, the sun went lurid down

Into the smoke-wrapp’d seas, and night came on.

Then the wind fell, with night, and there was calm;

But through the dark they watch’d the burning ship

Still carried o’er the distant waters on,

Farther and farther, like an eye of fire.

And long, in the far dark, blaz’d Balder’s pile;

But fainter, as the stars rose high, it flar’d;

The bodies were consum’d, ash chok’d the pile.

And as, in a decaying winter-fire,

A charr’d log, falling, makes a shower of sparks—

So with a shower of sparks the pile fell in,

Reddening the sea around; and all was dark.

But the Gods went by starlight up the shore

To Asgard, and sate down in Odin’s hall

At table, and the funeral-feast began.

All night they ate the boar Serimner’s flesh

And from their horns, with silver rimm’d, drank mead,

Silent, and waited for the sacred morn.