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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 Sacrifice

By Adam Gottlob Oehlenschläger (1779–1850)

  • From ‘Hakon Jarl’: Translation of Frank C. Lascelles
  • [A golden horn with runic inscription has been brought to Hakon, who has taken the words—
  • “Go to the great gods,
  • Give them thy best”—
  • to signify that he must sacrifice what is most dear to him if he would win in the impending battle with Olaf Trygvesön. Acting upon this belief, he takes Erling, his child, at early morn to the sacrificial grove.]

    Enter Earl Hakon, leading Erling by the hand

    ERLING—It is so cold, my father!
    Hakon—My dear son,

    It is yet early, therefore is it cold;

    Thou shiverest, child!
    Erling—That matters not, my father.

    I am so glad that thou didst promise me

    That I should see the sun arise to-day;

    A sunrise have I never seen before.

    Hakon—Dost see the golden rays which yonder break

    Far in the east?
    Erling[clapping his hands]—What lovely roses, father!

    Oh, see the lovely roses, how they blush!

    But tell me, my dear father, whence do come

    Such masses of these lovely pearls, which are

    Strewed over all the valley down below?

    Oh, how they glitter up towards the roses!

    Hakon—Those are no pearls; it is but morning dew.

    That which thou callest roses is the sun.

    Dost see it rise?
    Erling—Oh, what a ball of fire!

    How crimson red! O father dear, can we

    Not travel thither to the morning sun?

    Hakon—Towards the sun our life must ever strive;

    For seest thou that lovely ruddy glow

    Which glitters yonder?—that is Odin’s eye.

    The other, which by night thou seest shine

    With a far softer and a paler glow,

    Has he now left in pledge in Mimer’s well,

    That there it may obtain the drink which makes

    His eye more fresh and more acute.
    Erling—And where

    And what is Mimer’s well?
    Hakon—The mighty sea

    There, deep below, which dashes ’gainst the rocks,—

    That is the deep-dug well of ancient Mimer,

    That strengthens Odin’s eye; and doubly bright

    The sun arises, joyful and refreshed

    By the cool morning waves.
    Erling—Oh, how on high

    It rises up! I can no longer bear

    To gaze upon it, for it burns my eyes.

    Hakon—The Almighty Father mounts upon his throne,

    And soon the whole world will he look upon.

    The golden throne doth dazzle earthly eyes;

    Who dares presume to gaze upon the king

    Of light and day in his full midday glow?

    Erling[turning round frightened]—Oh, oh! my father, who are those? such grim

    And old white men, who in the shadow stand

    Behind the trees there?
    Hakon—Speak not so, my son!

    Those are the statues of the mighty gods,

    Formed in the hard stone by the hands of men.

    They do not dazzle us with summer flames;

    To them may Askur’s sons kneel down in peace,

    And gaze with reverence upon their face.

    Come, let us go and see them closer, come.

    Erling—Oh no, my father, I do fear! Dost see

    That old, long-bearded, hoary-headed man?

    He looks so fierce and grim upon me. Oh,

    He makes me quite afraid!
    Hakon—O Erling, Erling!

    That is god Odin—art afraid of Odin?

    Erling—No, no; of Odin I am not afraid,—

    The real Odin yonder in the sky,

    He will not harm me: he is good and bright;

    He calls forth flowers from the lap of earth,

    And like a flower does he gleam himself.

    But that white, pallid sorcerer, he stares

    As though he sought to take my life-blood.

    Erling—My father, let me go and fetch my wreath;

    I left it hanging yonder on a bush

    When thou didst show me when the sun arose:

    And let us then go home again, my father,

    Away from these grim, ancient statues here;

    For thou mayst well believe the grim old man

    Has no good-will towards thee, father dear.

    Hakon—Go fetch thy wreath, child, then come back at once.

    [Exit Erling.]

    The sacrificial lamb should be adorned.

    Ye mighty gods, behold from Valaskjalf

    Earl Hakon’s faith and truth confirmed by deeds!

    Re-enter Erling with a wreath of flowers round his head
    Erling—Here am I, my dear father, with my wreath.

    Hakon—Kneel down, my son, to Odin, ere thou goest;

    Stretch out thy little hands towards the sky,

    And say, “Great Father! hear the little Erling’s prayer,

    And mercifully take him in thy charge.”

    Erling[kneels down, looking towards the sun, stretches out his hands, and says innocently and childlike]—Great Father, hear the little Erling’s prayer,

    And mercifully take him in thy charge!

    [Hakon, who stands behind him, draws his dagger while Erling is saying his prayer, and raises it to strike, but it falls from his hand.Erling turns towards him quietly and confidently, picks up the dagger, and says, as he gets up off his knees:—]

    My father dear, thou’st let thy dagger drop.

    How sharp and bright it is! When I am big

    Then I shall also have such weapons, and

    Will help thee ’gainst thy enemies, my father.

    Hakon—What sorcerer is’t that places in thy mouth

    Such words as these to scare me, and to make

    Me tremble?
    Erling—O my father! what’s the matter?

    What has, then, Erling done? Why art thou wroth?

    Hakon—Come, Erling, follow me behind the gods.

    Erling—Behind the grim men?
    Hakon—Follow, and obey.

    Behind the statue do the roses grow;

    No pale white roses,—ruddy roses they,

    Blood-red and purple roses. Ha! it is

    A joy to see how quickly they shoot forth.

    Follow, I say,—obey!
    Erling[weeping]—My father dear,

    I am so frightened at the purple roses.

    Hakon—Away! already Heimdal’s cock does crow,

    And now the time is come, the time is come![Exeunt.]