Home  »  Complete Poetical Works by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow  »  Part First. The Musician’s Tale: The Saga of King Olaf. XIII. The Building of the Long Serpent

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. XIII. The Building of the Long Serpent

THORBERG SKAFTING, master-builder,

In his ship-yard by the sea,

Whistling, said, “It would bewilder

Any man but Thorberg Skafting,

Any man but me!”

Near him lay the Dragon stranded,

Built of old by Raud the Strong,

And King Olaf had commanded

He should build another Dragon,

Twice as large and long.

Therefore whistled Thorberg Skafting,

As he sat with half-closed eyes,

And his head turned sideways, drafting

That new vessel for King Olaf

Twice the Dragon’s size.

Round him busily hewed and hammered

Mallet huge and heavy axe;

Workmen laughed and sang and clamored;

Whirred the wheels, that into rigging

Spun the shining flax!

All this tumult heard the master,—

It was music to his ear;

Fancy whispered all the faster,

“Men shall hear of Thorberg Skafting

For a hundred year!”

Workmen sweating at the forges

Fashioned iron bolt and bar,

Like a warlock’s midnight orgies

Smoked and bubbled the black caldron

With the boiling tar.

Did the warlocks mingle in it,

Thorberg Skafting, any curse?

Could you not be gone a minute

But some mischief must be doing,

Turning bad to worse?

’T was an ill wind that came wafting

From his homestead words of woe;

To his farm went Thorberg Skafting,

Oft repeating to his workmen,

Build ye thus and so.

After long delays returning

Came the master back by night;

To his ship-yard longing, yearning,

Hurried he, and did not leave it

Till the morning’s light.

“Come and see my ship, my darling!”

On the morrow said the King;

“Finished now from keel to carling;

Never yet was seen in Norway

Such a wondrous thing!”

In the ship-yard, idly talking,

At the ship the workmen stared:

Some one, all their labor balking,

Down her sides had cut deep gashes,

Not a plank was spared!

“Death be to the evil-doer!”

With an oath King Olaf spoke;

“But rewards to his pursuer!”

And with wrath his face grew redder

Than his scarlet cloak.

Straight the master-builder, smiling,

Answered thus the angry King:

“Cease blaspheming and reviling,

Olaf, it was Thorberg Skafting

Who has done this thing!”

Then he chipped and smoothed the planking,

Till the King, delighted, swore,

With much lauding and much thanking,

“Handsomer is now my Dragon

Than she was before!”

Seventy ells and four extended

On the grass the vessel’s keel;

High above it, gilt and splendid,

Rose the figure-head ferocious

With its crest of steel.

Then they launched her from the tressels,

In the ship-yard by the sea;

She was the grandest of all vessels,

Never ship was built in Norway

Half so fine as she!

The Long Serpent was she christened,

’Mid the roar of cheer on cheer!

They who to the Saga listened

Heard the name of Thorberg Skafting

For a hundred year!