Verse > John Greenleaf Whittier > The Poetical Works in Four Volumes
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John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892).  The Poetical Works in Four Volumes.  1892.
 
Narrative and Legendary Poems
King Volmer and Elsie
 
After the Danish of Christian Winter

WHERE, over heathen doom-rings and gray stones of the Horg,
In its little Christian city stands the church of Vordingborg,
In merry mood King Volmer sat, forgetful of his power,
As idle as the Goose of Gold that brooded on his tower.
 
Out spake the King to Henrik, his young and faithful squire:        5
“Dar’st trust thy little Elsie, the maid of thy desire?”
“Of all the men in Denmark she loveth only me:
As true to me is Elsie as thy Lily is to thee.”
 
Loud laughed the king: “To-morrow shall bring another day, 1
When I myself will test her; she will not say me nay.”        10
Thereat the lords and gallants, that round about him stood,
Wagged all their heads in concert and smiled as courtiers should.
 
The gray lark sings o’er Vordingborg, and on the ancient town
From the tall tower of Valdemar the Golden Goose looks down;
The yellow grain is waving in the pleasant wind of morn,        15
The wood resounds with cry of hounds and blare of hunter’s horn.
 
In the garden of her father little Elsie sits and spins,
And, singing with the early birds, her daily task begins.
Gay tulips bloom and sweet mint curls around her garden-bower,
But she is sweeter than the mint and fairer than the flower.        20
 
About her form her kirtle blue clings lovingly, and, white
As snow, her loose sleeves only leave her small, round wrists in sight;
Below, the modest petticoat can only half conceal
The motion of the lightest foot that ever turned a wheel.
 
The cat sits purring at her side, bees hum in sunshine warm;        25
But, look! she starts, she lifts her face, she shades it with her arm.
And, hark! a train of horsemen, with sound of dog and horn,
Come leaping o’er the ditches, come trampling down the corn!
 
Merrily rang the bridle-reins, and scarf and plume streamed gay,
As fast beside her father’s gate the riders held their way;        30
And one was brave in scarlet cloak, with golden spur on heel,
And, as he checked his foaming steed, the maiden checked her wheel.
 
“All hail among thy roses, the fairest rose to me!
For weary months in secret my heart has longed for thee!”
What noble knight was this? What words for modest maiden’s ear?        35
She dropped a lowly courtesy of bashfulness and fear.
 
She lifted up her spinning-wheel; she fain would seek the door,
Trembling in every limb, her cheek with blushes crimsoned o’er.
“Nay, fear me not,” the rider said, “I offer heart and hand,
Bear witness these good Danish knights who round about me stand.        40
 
“I grant you time to think of this, to answer as you may,
For to-morrow, little Elsie, shall bring another day.”
He spake the old phrase slyly as, glancing round his train,
He saw his merry followers seek to hide their smiles in vain.
 
“The snow of pearls I ’ll scatter in your curls of golden hair,        45
I ’ll line with furs the velvet of the kirtle that you wear;
All precious gems shall twine your neck; and in a chariot gay
You shall ride, my little Elsie, behind four steeds of gray.
 
“And harps shall sound, and flutes shall play, and brazen lamps shall glow;
On marble floors your feet shall weave the dances to and fro.        50
At frosty eventide for us the blazing hearth shall shine,
While, at our ease, we play at draughts, and drink the blood-red wine.”
 
Then Elsie raised her head and met her wooer face to face;
A roguish smile shone in her eye and on her lip found place.
Back from her low white forehead the curls of gold she threw,        55
And lifted up her eyes to his, steady and clear and blue.
 
“I am a lowly peasant, and you a gallant knight;
I will not trust a love that soon may cool and turn to slight.
If you would wed me henceforth be a peasant, not a lord;
I bid you hang upon the wall your tried and trusty sword.”        60
 
“To please you, Elsie, I will lay keen Dynadel away,
And in its place will swing the scythe and mow your father’s hay.”
“Nay, but your gallant scarlet cloak my eyes can never bear;
A Vadmal coat, so plain and gray, is all that you must wear.”
 
“Well, Vadmal will I wear for you,” the rider gayly spoke,        65
“And on the Lord’s high altar I ’ll lay my scarlet cloak.”
“But mark,” she said, “no stately horse my peasant love must ride,
A yoke of steers before the plough is all that he must guide.”
 
The knight looked down upon his steed: “Well, let him wander free:
No other man must ride the horse that has been backed by me.        70
Henceforth I ’ll tread the furrow and to my oxen talk,
If only little Elsie beside my plough will walk.”
 
“You must take from out your cellar cask of wine and flask and can;
The homely mead I brew you may serve a peasant-man.”
“Most willingly, fair Elsie, I ’ll drink that mead of thine,        75
And leave my minstrel’s thirsty throat to drain my generous wine.”
 
“Now break your shield asunder, and shatter sign and boss,
Unmeet for peasant-wedded arms, your knightly knee across.
And pull me down your castle from top to basement wall,
And let your plough trace furrows in the ruins of your hall!”        80
 
Then smiled he with a lofty pride; right well at last he knew
The maiden of the spinning-wheel was to her troth-plight true.
“Ah, roguish little Elsie! you act your part full well:
You know that I must bear my shield and in my castle dwell!
 
“The lions ramping on that shield between the hearts aflame        85
Keep watch o’er Denmark’s honor, and guard her ancient name.
For know that I am Volmer; I dwell in yonder towers,
Who ploughs them ploughs up Denmark, this goodly home of ours!
 
“I tempt no more, fair Elsie! your heart I know is true;
Would God that all our maidens were good and pure as you!        90
Well have you pleased your monarch, and he shall well repay;
God’s peace! Farewell! To-morrow will bring another day!”
 
He lifted up his bridle hand, he spurred his good steed then,
And like a whirl-blast swept away with all his gallant men.
The steel hoofs beat the rocky path; again on winds of morn        95
The wood resounds with cry of hounds and blare of hunter’s horn.
 
“Thou true and ever faithful!” the listening Henrik cried;
And, leaping o’er the green hedge, he stood by Elsie’s side.
None saw the fond embracing, save, shining from afar,
The Golden Goose that watched them from the tower of Valdemar.        100
 
O darling girls of Denmark! of all the flowers that throng
Her vales of spring the fairest, I sing for you my song.
No praise as yours so bravely rewards the singer’s skill;
Thank God! of maids like Elsie the land has plenty still!

  1872.
 
Note 1. A common saying of Valdemar; hence his sobriquet Alterday. [back]
 
 
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