Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. VII. Descriptive: Narrative
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Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume VII. Descriptive: Narrative.  1904.
 
Narrative Poems: III. Norseland
The Skeleton in Armor
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882)
 
“SPEAK! 1 speak! thou fearful guest!
Who, with thy hollow breast
Still in rude armor drest,
  Comest to daunt me!
Wrapt not in Eastern balms,        5
But with thy fleshless palms
Stretched, as if asking alms,
  Why dost thou haunt me?”
 
Then from those cavernous eyes
Pale flashes seemed to rise,        10
As when the Northern skies
  Gleam in December;
And, like the water’s flow
Under December’s snow,
Came a dull voice of woe        15
  From the heart’s chamber.
 
“I was a Viking old!
My deeds, though manifold,
No Skald in song has told,
  No Saga taught thee!        20
Take heed that in thy verse
Thou dost the tale rehearse,
Else dread a dead man’s curse;
  For this I sought thee.
 
“Far in the Northern Land,        25
By the wild Baltic’s strand,
I, with my childish hand,
  Tamed the gerfalcon;
And, with my skates fast-bound,
Skimmed the half-frozen Sound,        30
That the poor whimpering hound
  Trembled to walk on.
 
“Oft to his frozen lair
Tracked I the grisly bear,
While from my path the hare        35
  Fled like a shadow;
Oft through the forest dark
Followed the were-wolf’s bark,
Until the soaring lark
  Sang from the meadow.        40
 
“But when I older grew,
Joining a corsair’s crew,
O’er the dark sea I flew
  With the marauders.
Wild was the life we led;        45
Many the souls that sped,
Many the hearts that bled,
  By our stern orders.
 
“Many a wassail-bout
Wore the long Winter out;        50
Often our midnight shout
  Set the cocks crowing,
As we the Berserk’s tale
Measured in cups of ale,
Draining the oaken pail        55
  Filled to o’erflowing.
 
“Once as I told in glee
Tales of the stormy sea,
Soft eyes did gaze on me,
  Burning yet tender;        60
And as the white stars shine
On the dark Norway pine,
On that dark heart of mine
  Fell their soft splendor.
 
“I wooed the blue-eyed maid,        65
Yielding, yet half afraid,
And in the forest’s shade
  Our vows were plighted.
Under its loosened vest
Fluttered her little breast,        70
Like birds within their nest
  By the hawk frighted.
 
“Bright in her father’s hall
Shields gleamed upon the wall,
Loud sang the minstrels all,        75
  Chanting his glory;
When of old Hildebrand
I asked his daughter’s hand,
Mute did the minstrels stand
  To hear my story.        80
 
“While the brown ale he quaffed,
Loud then the champion laughed,
And as the wind-gusts waft
  The sea-foam brightly,
So the loud laugh of scorn,        85
Out of those lips unshorn,
From the deep drinking-horn
  Blew the foam lightly.
 
“She was a Prince’s child,
I but a Viking wild,        90
And though she blushed and smiled,
  I was discarded!
Should not the dove so white
Follow the sea-mew’s flight?
Why did they leave that night        95
  Her nest unguarded?
 
“Scarce had I put to sea,
Bearing the maid with me,—
Fairest of all was she
  Among the Norsemen!—        100
When on the white sea-strand,
Waving his armèd hand,
Saw we old Hildebrand,
  With twenty horsemen.
 
“Then launched they to the blast,        105
Bent like a reed each mast,
Yet we were gaining fast,
  When the wind failed us;
And with a sudden flaw
Came round the gusty Skaw,        110
So that our foe we saw
  Laugh as he hailed us.
 
“And as to catch the gale
Round veered the flapping sail,
‘Death!’ was the helmsman’s hail,        115
  ‘Death without quarter!’
Midships with iron keel
Struck we her ribs of steel;
Down her black hulk did reel
  Through the black water!        120
 
“As with his wings aslant,
Sails the fierce cormorant,
Seeking some rocky haunt,
  With his prey laden,
So toward the open main,        125
Beating to sea again,
Through the wind hurricane,
  Bore I the maiden.
 
“Three weeks we westward bore,
And when the storm was o’er,        130
Cloud-like we saw the shore
  Stretching to leeward;
There for my lady’s bower
Built I the lofty tower,
Which, to this very hour,        135
  Stands looking seaward.
 
“There lived we many years;
Time dried the maiden’s tears;
She had forgot her fears,
  She was a mother;        140
Death closed her mild blue eyes;
Under that tower she lies;
Ne’er shall the sun arise
  On such another.
 
“Still grew my bosom then,        145
Still as a stagnant fen!
Hateful to me were men,
  The sunlight hateful!
In the vast forest here,
Clad in my warlike gear,        150
Fell I upon my spear,
  Oh, death was grateful!
 
“Thus seamed with many scars,
Bursting these prison bars,
Up to its native stars        155
  My soul ascended!
There from the flowing bowl
Deep drinks the warrior’s soul,
Skoal! to the Northland! skoal!”
  Thus the tale ended.        160
 
Note 1. Suggested by an armor-clad skeleton dug up at Fall River, and in the ballad connected with the old Roman Tower at Newport. [back]
 
 
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