Home  »  Complete Poetical Works by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow  »  Part First. The Musician’s Tale: The Saga of King Olaf. XII. King Olaf’s Christmas

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882). Complete Poetical Works. 1893.

Tales of a Wayside Inn

Part First. The Musician’s Tale: The Saga of King Olaf. XII. King Olaf’s Christmas

AT Drontheim, Olaf the King

Heard the bells of Yule-tide ring,

As he sat in his banquet-hall,

Drinking the nut-brown ale,

With his bearded Berserks hale

And tall.

Three days his Yule-tide feasts

He held with Bishops and Priests,

And his horn filled up to the brim;

But the ale was never too strong,

Nor the Saga-man’s tale too long,

For him.

O’er his drinking-horn, the sign

He made of the cross divine,

As he drank, and muttered his prayers;

But the Berserks evermore

Made the sign of the Hammer of Thor

Over theirs.

The gleams of the fire-light dance

Upon helmet and hauberk and lance,

And laugh in the eyes of the King;

And he cries to Halfred the Scald,

Gray-bearded, wrinkled, and bald,


“Sing me a song divine,

With a sword in every line,

And this shall be thy reward.”

And he loosened the belt at his waist,

And in front of the singer placed

His sword.

“Quern-biter of Hakon of Good,

Wherewith at a stroke he hewed

The millstone through and through,

And Foot-breadth of Thoralf the Strong,

Were neither so broad nor so long,

Nor so true.”

Then the Scald took his harp and sang,

And loud through the music rang

The sound of that shining word;

And the harp-strings a clangor made,

As if they were struck with the blade

Of a sword.

And the Berserks round about

Broke forth into a shout

That made the rafters ring:

They smote with their fists on the board,

And shouted, “Long live the Sword,

And the King!”

But the King said, “O my son,

I miss the bright word in one

Of thy measures and they rhymes.”

And Halfred the Scald replied,

“In another ’t was multiplied

Three times.”

Then King Olaf raised the hilt

Of iron, cross-shaped and gilt,

And said, “Do not refuse;

Count well the gain and the loss,

Thor’s hammer or Christ’s cross:


And Halfred the Scald said, “This

In the name of the Lord I kiss,

Who on it was crucified!”

And a shout went round the board,

“In the name of Christ the Lord,

Who died!”

Then over the waste of snows

The noonday sun uprose,

Through the driving mists revealed,

Like the lifting of the Host,

By incense-clouds almost


On the shining wall a vast

And shadowy cross was cast

From the hilt of the lifted sword,

And in foaming cups of ale

The Berserks drank “Was-hael!

To the Lord!”