Home  »  Complete Poetical Works by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow  »  Part First. The Musician’s Tale: The Saga of King Olaf. XXI. King Olaf’s Death-Drink

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. XXI. King Olaf’s Death-Drink

ALL day has the battle raged,

All day have the ships engaged

But not yet is assuaged

The vengeance of Eric the Earl.

The decks with blood are red,

The arrows of death are sped,

The ships are filled with the dead,

And the spears the champions hurl.

They drift as wrecks on the tide,

The grappling-irons are plied,

The boarders climb up the side,

The shouts are feeble and few.

Ah! never shall Norway again

See her sailors come back o’er the main;

They all lie wounded or slain,

Or asleep in the billows blue!

On the deck stands Olaf the King,

Around him whistle and sing

The spears that the foemen fling,

And the stones they hurl with their hands.

In the midst of the stones and the spears,

Kolbiorn, the marshal, appears,

His shield in the air he uprears,

By the side of King Olaf he stands.

Over the slippery wreck

Of the Long Serpent’s deck

Sweeps Eric with hardly a check,

His lips with anger are pale;

He hews with his axe at the mast,

Till it falls, with the sails overcast,

Like a snow-covered pine in the vast

Dim forests of Orkadale.

Seeking King Olaf then,

He rushes aft with his men,

As a hunter into the den

Of the bear, when he stands at bay.

“Remember Jarl Hakon!” he cries;

When lo! on his wondering eyes,

Two kingly figures arise,

Two Olafs in warlike array!

Then Kolbiorn speaks in the ear

Of King Olaf a word of cheer,

In a whisper that none may hear,

With a smile on his tremulous lip;

Two shields raised high in the air,

Two flashes of golden hair,

Two scarlet meteors’ glare,

And both have leaped from the ship.

Earl Eric’s men in the boats

Seize Kolbiorn’s shield as it floats,

And cry, from their hairy throats,

“See! it is Olaf the King!”

While far on the opposite side

Floats another shield on the tide,

Like a jewel set in the wide

Sea-current’s eddying ring.

There is told a wonderful tale,

How the King stripped off his mail,

Like leaves of the brown sea-kale,

As he swam beneath the main;

But the young grew old and gray,

And never, by night or by day,

In his kingdom of Norroway

Was King Olaf seen again!