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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

The Foes

By Adam Gottlob Oehlenschläger (1779–1850)

  • From ‘Hakon Jarl’: Translation of Frank C. Lascelles
  • [Hakon’s dominion is menaced by Olaf Trygvesön, who has invaded the land and seeks to substitute the faith of the Christian for that of the heathen. In his extremity, Hakon resorts to foul means, and hires one Thorer Klake to assassinate King Olaf. The attempt is unsuccessful, for Thorer Klake falls a victim to his own treachery; and Olaf Trygvesön himself seeks out Hakon in the peasant hut to which he has retired.]

  • Enter Olaf Trygvesön, muffled up in a gray cloak, with a broad hat on his head.

    HAKON[without looking up]—My valiant Thorer Klake, hast come at last?

    Hast been successful? Dost thou bring to me

    What thou didst promise? Answer, Thorer Klake.

    Olaf—All things have happened as they should, my lord;

    But pardon Thorer that he does not come

    And bring himself King Olaf’s head to thee—

    ’Twas difficult for him. Thor knows he had

    A sort of loathing that himself should bring it,

    And so he sent me.
    Hakon—Well, ’tis good; away,

    And deeply bury it in the dark earth.

    I will not look on it myself: my eye

    Bears not such sights,—they reappear in dreams.

    Bury the body with it. Tell thy lord

    That he shall come at once.
    Olaf—He is asleep.

    Olaf—A midday slumber; he lies stretched

    Stiffly beneath a shadowy elder-tree.

    Hakon—Then wake him up.[Aside.]Asleep, and after such

    A deed— Ha! Thorer, I admire thee;

    Thou hast rare courage.[Aloud.]Thrall, go wake him up.

    Olaf—But wilt thou first not look at Olaf’s head?

    Hakon—No; I have said no.
    Olaf—Thou dost think, my lord,

    That perhaps it is a horrid frightful sight:

    It is not so, my lord; for Olaf’s head

    Looks fresh and sound as any in the land.

    Hakon—Away, I tell thee!
    Olaf—I ne’er saw the like:

    I always heard that Hakon was a hero,

    Few like him in the North,—and does he fear

    To see a lifeless and a corpseless head?

    How wouldst thou tremble then, my lord, if thou

    Shouldst see it on his body?
    Hakon[turning round angrily]—Thrall, thou darest!

    Where hast thou got it?
    Olaf[takes his hat off, and throws off his cloak]—On my shoulders, Earl.

    Forgive me that I bring it thee myself

    In such a way: ’twas easiest for me.

    Hakon—What, Olaf! Ha! what treachery is here?

    Olaf—Old gray-beard, spare thy rash, heroic wrath.

    Attempt not to fight Olaf, but remember

    That he has still his head upon his body,

    And that thy impotent, gray-bearded strength

    Was only fitting for the headless Olaf.

    Hakon[rushes at him]—Ha, Hilfheim!
    Olaf[strikes his sword, and says in a loud voice]—So, be quiet now, I say,

    And sheathe thy sword again. My followers

    Surround the house; my vessels are a match

    For all of thine, and I myself have come

    To win the country in an honest fight.

    Thyself hast urged me with thy plots to do it.

    Thou standest like a despicable thrall

    In his own pitfall caught at last; but I

    Will make no use of these advantages

    Which fate has granted me. I am convinced

    That I may boldly meet thee face to face.

    Thy purpose, as thou seest, has wholly failed,

    And in his own blood does thy Thorer swim.

    Thou seest ’twere easy for me to have seized thee;

    To strike thee down were even easier still:

    But I the Christian doctrine do confess,

    And do such poor advantages despise.

    So choose between two courses. Still be Earl

    Of Hlade as thou wast, and do me homage,

    Or else take flight; for when we meet again

    ’Twill be the time for red and bleeding brows.

    Hakon[proudly and quietly]—My choice is made. I choose the latter, Olaf.

    Thou callest me a villain and a thrall;

    That forces up a smile upon my lips.

    Olaf, one hears indeed that thou art young;

    It is by mockery and arrogance

    That one can judge thy age. Now, look at me

    Full in the eyes; consider well my brow:

    Hast thou among the thralls e’er met such looks?

    Dost think that cunning or that cowardice

    Could e’er have carved these wrinkles on my brow?

    I did entice thee hither. Ha! ’tis true

    I knew that thou didst wait but for a sign

    To flutter after the enticing bait;

    That in thy soul thou didst more highly prize

    Thy kinship with an extinct race of kings

    Than great Earl Hakon’s world-renownèd deeds;

    That thou didst watch the opportunity

    To fall upon the old man in his rest.

    Does it astonish thee that I should wish

    Quickly to rid myself of such a foe?

    That I deceived a dreamer who despised

    The mighty gods,—does that astonish thee?

    Does it astonish thee that I approved

    My warriors’ purpose, since a hostile fate

    Attempted to dethrone, not only me,

    But all Valhalla’s gods?
    Olaf—Remember, Hakon,—

    Remember, Hakon, that e’en thou thyself

    Hast been a Christian; that thou wast baptized

    By Bishop Popo, and that thou since then

    Didst break thy oath. How many hast thou broken?

    Hakon—Accursed forever may that moment be

    When by the cunning monk I was deceived,

    And let myself be fooled by paltry tricks.

    He held a red-hot iron in his hand,

    After by magic he had covered it

    With witches’ ointment.
    Olaf—O thou blind old man!

    Thy silver hair does make me pity thee.

    Hakon—Ha! spare thy pity; as thou seest me here,

    Thou seest the last flash and the latest spark

    Of ancient Northern force and hero’s life;

    And that, with all thy fever-stricken dreams,

    Proud youth, thou shalt be powerless to quench.

    I well do know it is the Christian custom

    To pity, to convert, and to amend.

    Our custom is to heartily despise you,

    To ruminate upon your fall and death,

    As foes to gods and to a hero’s life.

    That Hakon does, and therein does consist

    His villainy. By Odin, and by Thor,

    Thou shalt not quench old Norway’s warlike flame

    With all thy misty dreams of piety.

    Olaf—’Tis well: fate shall decide. We separate,

    And woe to thee when next we meet again.

    Hakon—Aye, woe to me if then I crush thee not.

    Olaf—Heaven shall strike thee with its fiery might!

    Hakon—No, with his hammer Thor the cross will smite!