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composed entire poems on unpremeditated subjects; and the Scald Sivard, who always hesitated when speaking prose, expressed himself with the greatest facility when he sung in verse.
A portion of the Scald songs which we know were composed in Denmark; others in Sweden or Norway; and perhaps the most in Iceland. But from the wandering habits of their composers, they have been circulated throughout Scandinavia.
The Scalds quitted their country animated by the ardent hopes and impatience of youth, but returned to it with the wisdom and reminiscences of maturer age. They passed long years in the search of adventure, singing as they went from village to village, bearing nothing with them but their lute and sword. Poets were they in the midst of poverty, liable at any moment to exchange the melody of verse for the clang of the sabre ; resembling restless, weary birds, to whom Nature had denied the green shelter of the forest, and forced to build their nests on battle-fields or along the shores of wind-vexed oceans.
When a Scald arrived at the court of a prince, he announced himself as a poet, and was so received. In each festive saloon a seat was reserved for him, from which he sung to those assembled. It was an old custom,' says Odin, in the Hearamal, 'to sit beside the Scalds and reduce to memory their songs of ancient time. While they thus recounted the histories of various people, I regarded and was silent.'
The Scalds frequently repeated their strophes, which the attendant courtiers learned by heart, and thus rescued from oblivion. It was the desire of kings that they should do so; and it is related of Edward of England that previous to recompensing the poet Hille, he commanded his attendance sufficiently long to fix indelibly the songs he uttered.
In those times of general ignorance, the Scald was not only a faithful historian and skilful versifier, but he was also one who had travelled much, and whose judgment and intelligence had been developed by poetic instinct. He was at once poet and philosopher, ranking with the nobles of the empire, having for his armorial bearings a rose upon a buckler.
But whenever a prince had once rendered a proper tribute to the talent and character of these energetic poets, he had also secured their unwavering fidelity. On one occasion a tempest shattered the vessel of the young
Scald Starkoddr upon the coast of Denmark. He was little known, but from his imposing appearance was well received by King Froddr, who, pleased with his martial air, equipped another vessel, in which the poet revisited Sweden, England, Ireland, and subsequently the shores of the Baltic, penetrating even to Poland and Russia. During these voyages he attacked numerous pirates, and amassed vast riches, which he returned to share with the king, to whom he recounted his adventures. Whenever he heard of a celebrated warrior, he sought him out for combat, and hastened to the succor of all who were unfortunate.
Meanwhile Froddr, his friend and benefactor, was assassinated, leaving a son whom Starkoddr would not deprive of the glory of avenging his father. Starkoddr therefore retired to Sweden, where he passed his time in recounting former battles or preparing for new ones, until he learned the seduction of Helge by an under officer. He departed immediately, and arriving in Denmark, entered the tent of the officer in complete disguise, where he seated himself in silence. He soon learned the truth of the report, and observed, while continually pressing his dagger, the numerous caresses Helge lavished upon her seducer. He was finally recognized by Helge, who from that moment rejected the advances of her lover. Starkoddr
sprang to his feet, while the unhappy officer, pale and affrighted, riveted his gaze upon the iron hand and sword which seemed to menacé his destruction. Without the means of defence or power of flight, he cowered beneath the indignant glance of the Scald, as a defenceless bird before the bloody vulture. Starkoddr, after having tantalized him with the agonies of anticipated death, turned away with disgust, exclaiming: 'I will not tarnish my reputation as a warrior by punishing a villain like yourself. I impose no other chastisement than the gift of life.' 'For,' adds Saxo Grammaticus, “Starkoddr was one who believed that crime and its attendant remorse were far more terrible than death.'
At a subsequent period Helge married the son of a neighboring monarch, and the Scald returned to Sweden. But learning that Ingle, the new King of Denmark, so far from avenging the death of his father, had become the friend of his assassin and espoused his sister, he returned to the palace, and without announcing himself, took the seat of honor assigned of old by Froddr. The queen ordered him to retire, and the Scald, without endeavoring to justify bimself, complied, but in his indignation struck so forcibly against the columns of the hall, that the whole house trembled. The king, on returning from a hunt, recognized his father's friend, and although burdened by his presence, ordered him a grand reception, while the queen demanded pardon for her error. Starkoddr, bowever, heeded neither flattery nor protestations, but seated himself at the festival prepared for the occasion like one in mourning. He could not but compare the table, now loaded with choice meats and costly liquors, with the simpler board of his former patron; and when the king, pressing him to drink, offered also the viands reserved for his own use, the old warrior refused them with unqualified disgust. 'I came here,' he exclaimed, 'to see the son of Froddr, not a wretched voluptuary who dreams only of rich living.' Hearing the German language spoken around him, his northern pride revolted at its accents. Suddenly the murderers of the late king appeared to take their places, when the indignant glance of the Scald so affrighted the queen, that snatching the golden diadem from her head, she presented it, hoping to appease his anger. It was rejected with contempt, the Scald exclaiming: Offer not these foolish gew-gaws as a present. Presume you that an old soldier is to be corrupted, like a woman, by the sight of gold? He who could adorn his head with such ornaments is no hero, for the true armor of the warrior is the scar and sword.' Thus speaking, he bounded toward the a-sassins of Froddr, whom he trampled under foot, and departed to his warriorlife in Sweden.
If, by his natural vocation, the Scald occupied the front rank in the mansions of the great, it is equally to be remembered that, led by the reminiscences of childhood and family affection, he loved also to descend to the hearts of the common people. Even in the midst of the brilliant saloons where the hydromel flowed from golden goblets, he remembered the humble roof which had often sheltered him, and beside his own hearth repeated in the evening to old companions the songs that had won him in the morning the rich decorations of some earl. The cry of the oppressed and the complaint of poverty were softened as they trembled amid the echoes of his harp. When he thus sung, kings listened more attentively, and poetry established a mysterious tie between the slave and the master, the cottage and the throne.
Judging from the history of Saxo Grammaticus, the Scandinavians were passionately addicted to all kinds of poetry. When Froddr III. died, he left no legitimate successor, as the only one who could have any pretensions had fled to Russia, where it was supposed he had long since perished. The Danes therefore promised the crown to him who should compose the best poem on the death of the late monarch. Saxo does not inform us under what circumstances the selection was made, but a poor Scald, named Biarn, until that time little known, bore away the palm from every rival. At the Olympic games, even Sophocles never obtained any other royal decoration than a poetic crown; and Petrarch, when conducted in triumph to the Capitol, received only a laurel-wreath from the attendant cardinals.
Some of the Scalds belonged to the most noble families in Scandinavia, and, as in Germany and France, might be often seen in the midst of mennisingers and troubadours, princes, earls and dukes, composing the Flockr or Drapa, and bearing with pride the name of poet. But whether born in the mansion of the noble or the cottage of the peasant, the Scalds were equally and beyond all else warriors. The sword effaced all rank and distances. War was their delight, and each of them could exclaim with Antor, the Arabian hero, My ancestry is my strength, my nobility, my courage. Am I asked for a genealogy? I present my lance and sword.
We are not to expect therefore, in their compositions, those refined ideas and tender reveries painted by more modern poets. Their harp will not sigh as the guitar, or murmur like the mandolen. The feeble, timid hand of the young maiden cannot woo a sound from it, and even tears will cause no vibration in those strings of steel. But beneath the nervous pressure of the Scald, those cords will ring like the clarion, and reëcho as the trumpet. The Scald sings the intoxication of the battle and heroic glory; he tells of magic bucklers, and wondrous swords, cleaving chains asunder and dividing solid mountains. He chants of the Valkyries, who collect the dead from battle-fields and prepare the banquets of Valhalla. When he abandons himself to the full promptings of enthusiasm, the hearts of surrounding warriors palpitate at the recital, while each sword springs from out its scabbord. At the hour of combat the Scald, throwing aside his harp, rushes forward, arms in hand, to the front rank of the conflict
. While perishing, he smiles at death as it approaches; and even then, should the memory of early love steal over him, he utters it in poetry!
The Scald Gisle, when pursued by his enemies, bounded upon a rock and defended himself for a long time valiantly. He was finally conquered, and declared in dying, as his greatest consolation, that his wife would know the valor with which he had combated. “My young wife,' he exclaimed,' will be proud when my enemies extol my bravery. I have yet courage though the sword has hewn me asunder. It was from my father I received this great power of endurance.'
Hjalmar fell upon the field of battle, and sung : “My armor is broken. I am pierćed with sixteen wounds. All is dark before me.
I stagger, and can go no longer. The sword of Agantyr has penetrated to my heart, and had I five mansions I could not inhabit one of them. The beautiful daughter of Helmir told me I should gaze on her no more. Take from my finger this golden ring, and bear it to my Ingenborg. She will know that I have perished. I behold approaching me the ravens, and behind them are the eagles. I shall be their nourishment until my heart's blood is exhausted.'
The Scald IIagbard, who was one day with the daughter of a Danish king, thus addressed her: 'If your father knew I was here, who have killed his sons and seduced his daughter, how gladly would he cast me into prison; and you, where would you be when I died?' 'I should die also,' was the firm reply. A few days afterward Hagbard was surprised while in her company, and condemned to death. On his way to the scaffold, he desired to know whether his mistress would be faithful to her promise. He therefore prayed the executioner to go forward, bearing a robe, which he gave him. At the sight of this the young girl, confident of her lover's death, set fire to her residence and perished in the flames. Hagbard then proceeded with his death-song: "Hasten, oh, hasten to destroy me. It will be sweet, my beautiful betrothed, to join you in the world of spirits! Hear you the hissing of those flames? See you
those whirling fire-sparks ? To me they were like a banner of fidelity. The devotion of her I love mounts higher than the flames. Happy indeed, idol of my heart, have you made me at this moment. You have redeemed your promise. In death as in life, we are still united. That which you swore to do as woman, you have nobly done as heroine.
Hasten, oh, hasten, for I now know that even within the realms of death, true love can never die. I come, my beloved, to renew our happiness. From north to south will resound our united death-chant. It shall be heard on earth and reëchoed in the heavens, that equally faithful and equally beloved, we are happy now together.'
The most celebrated Scald of Scandinavia was Ragnar Lodbrok, King of Denmark. History gives the principal details of his life, while popular tradition has developed and adorned them. His Saga is one of the most ancient and authentic.
There was formerly, according to this Saga,* a powerful king in Gottland, who had a beautiful daughter named Thora. She was tenderly beloved by her father, whose constant care consisted in seeking out new pleasures, and preparing festivals for her amusement. He built for her a splendid palace, to which he brought one morning a beautiful serpent of the rarest species known in Scandinavia; its eyes were piercing, its head finely shaped, and its skin richly variegated, while at the same time it was graceful and winning in its movements. Thora received the serpent with much satisfaction, and having placed it on a golden cushion, trans
• Saca Regsars Konung's LODBROKAR. Published by Rafn in his Fornaldar Sægur, T. 11, p.
ferred it to a cage. Suddenly the serpent began to increase in size in a most alarming manner. At first one could hold it in the hollow of the hand, and it occupied merely a small corner of its prison. It soon burst the barrier that confined it, and coming out, extended through the room, and afterward throughout the house, which it finally encircled with innumerable folds. As the serpent grew, its cushion increased also, until resting upon it with flaming eyes, it completely terrified by its gaze and hissings all who endeavored to approach it. The king, in his alarm, caused a proclamation to be made that he would bestow the hand of his daughter on the destroyer of the monster. Ragnar, the son of Sigurd, King of Denmark, heard this strange story, and determined to deliver Thora. He caused a suit of armor to be made of copper, tempered in bitumen ; and, lance in hand, advanced to the young girl's residence. The serpent vomited streams of venom, but Ragnar, protected by his armor, buried his steel lance deep within its vitals. Soon after he espoused Thora, who presented him with two sons, equally distinguished for strength and valor. She died, however; and Ragnar, to console himself, became a pilgrimwarrior, bearing away the palm from all competitors.
One day he arrived in Norway, where his companions, disembarking, discovered, in a miserable cabin, a maiden named Kraka, of surpassing beauty. They spoke of her with enthusiasm to Ragnar, who in return gave them one of those enigmas so common in the middle ages. “If,? said he, this maiden is so beautiful as you represent, bring her to me; but let her come neither naked nor clothed, without having eaten or being hungry, without arriving alone, and yet accompanied by no one.'
Kraka, on hearing this enigma, comprehended it, and prepared to effect its solution. She permitted her long flaxen hair to fall around her body, which she enveloped in a fish-net. She also drank a hastily-prepared soup, and went forth attended by no one, but followed by a dog. The king became enamored, and espoused her.
Time passed on, and Ragnar, tired with inactivity, equipped a vessel, and resumed his explorations of foreign countries. He visited the King of Sweden, who received him with great deference, and placed him at a banquet in the seat of honor. The king had a beautiful daughter, Ingenborg, whom Ragnar saw, and forgot his vows to Kraka. On his return to Sweden his wife questioned him as to his adventures. He replied that he had none to recount. Three times she thus addressed them, and then spoke as follows: 'I know all that has happened. You have demanded Ingenborg in marriage, and are soon to wed her. Your companions have not revealed this secret to me, but I have learnt it from three birds which have been hovering around you. I am not however affronted at your project, for I am not, as you have hitherto believed, the daughter of a peasant, but I am Aslagua, the child of Sigurd, who killed Fafnir. In proof of what I say, I shall bear you a son in whose eyes will appear the picture of a dragon. Her words were confirmed, and Ragnar refused the contemplated marriage.
On learning this determinnation, the King of Sweden sent to his various tribes the arrow, (or symbol of war,) and assembled his troops to avenge the injury done to his daughter. But the sons of Ragnar, like their father, were intrepid warriors. They had already stood in the front