Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. VIII. National Spirit
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Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume VIII. National Spirit.  1904.
 
III. War
Hakon’s Defiance
Adam Gottlob Oehlenschläger (1779–1850)
 
 
From the Danish by Sir Frank C. Lascelles

From “Hakon Jarl”
  
  [Olaf Trygvesön from Ireland is trying to introduce Christianity, and reclaim his father’s kingdom, in Norway, and has invaded the realm of Earl Hakon, a formidable heathen usurper, who, after defeat in battle, unsuccessfully attempts to have King Olaf assassinated by Thorer Klake, one of his adherents. But Olaf slays Klake, and now visits Hakon, lying hid in a peasant’s hut.]

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        5
And bring himself King Olaf’s head to thee—
’T was difficult for him. Thor knows he had
A sort of loathing that himself should bring it,
And so he sent me.
  HAKON.—Well, ’t is good; away,        10
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.        15
  OLAF.—He is asleep.
  HAKON.—Asleep?
  OLAF.—A midday slumber; he lies stretched
Stiffly beneath a shadowy elder-tree.
  HAKON.—Then wake him up.  [Aside.]  Asleep, Asleep, and after such        20
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,        25
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:        30
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?        35
  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: ’t was easiest for me.        40
  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        45
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        50
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        55
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.        60
Thou seest ’t were 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        65
Of Hlade as thou wast, and do me homage,
Or else take flight; for when we meet again
’T will 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;        70
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:        75
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! ’t is true
I knew that thou didst wait but for a sign        80
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        85
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?        90
Does it astonish thee that I approved
My warrior’s purpose, since a hostile fate
Attempted to dethrone, not only me,
But all Valhalla’s gods?
  OLAF.—Remember, Hakon,—        95
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        100
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.        105
  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;        110
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,        115
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        120
With all thy misty dreams of piety.
  OLAF.—’T is 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!        125
  HAKON.—No, with his hammer Thor the cross will smite!
 
 
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