Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Scotland: Vols. VI–VIII. 1876–79.

Norway: Graven, the Lake

Lake Graven

By Bayard Taylor (1825–1878)

(From Lars)

THE FIELDS were reaped; the longer shadows thrown

From high Hardanger and the eastern range

Began to chill the vales: it was the time

When on the meadow by the lonely lake

Of Graven, from the regions round about

The young men met to hold their wrestling-match,

As since the days of Olaf they had done.

There, too, the maids came and the older folk,

Delighting in the grip of strength and skill,

The strain of sinew, stubbornness of joint,

And urge of meeting muscles. All the place

Was thronged, and loud the cheers and laughter rang

When some old champion from a rival vale

Bent before fresher arms, and from his base

Wrenched ere he knew, fell heavily to earth.

Until the sun across the fir-trees laid

His lines of level gold, they watched the bouts;

Then strayed by twos and threes toward the sound

Of wassail in the houses and the booths.

And Brita with her Ulvik gossips went.

Once only, when a Lærdal giant brought

Sore grief upon the men of Vik, she saw

Or seemed to see, beyond the stormy ring,

The shape of Lars; but, scarce disquieted

If it were he, or if the twain were there,

(Since blood, she thought, must surely cool in time,)

She followed to the house upon the knoll

Where ever came and went, like bees about

Their hive’s low doorway, groups of merry folk.

A mellow dusk already filled the room;

The chairs were pushed aside, and on the stove,

As on a throne of painted clay, sat Nils.

Behold! Lars waited there; and as she reached

The inner circle round the dancing-floor

He moved to meet her, and began to say

“Thanks for the last”—when from the other side

Strode Per.
The two before her, face to face,

Stared at each other: Brita looked at them.

All three were pale; and she, with faintest voice,

Remembering counsel of the tongues unkind,

Could only breathe: “I know not how to choose.”

“No need!” said Lars: “I choose for you,” said Per.

Then both drew off and threw aside their coats,

Their broidered waistcoats, and the silken scarves,

About their necks; but Per growled “All!” and made

His body bare to where the leathern belt

Is clasped between the breast-bone and the hip.

Lars did the same; then, setting tight the belts,

Both turned a little: the low daylight clad

Their forms with awful fairness, beauty now

Of life, so warm and ripe and glorious, yet

So near the beauty terrible of Death.

All saw the mutual sign, and understood;

And two stepped forth, two men with grizzled hair

And earnest faces, grasped the hooks of steel

In either’s belt, and drew them breast to breast,

And in the belts made fast each other’s hooks.

An utter stillness on the people fell

While this was done; each face was stern and strange,

And Brita, powerless to turn her eyes,

Heard herself cry, and started: “Per, O Per!”

When those two backward stepped, all saw the flash

Of knives, the lift of arms, the instant clench

Of hands that held and hands that strove to strike:

All heard the sound of quick and hard-drawn breath,

And naught beside; but sudden red appeared,

Splashed on the white of shoulders and of arms.

Then, thighs intwined, and all the body’s force

Called to the mixed resistance and assault,

They reeled and swayed, let go the guarding clutch,

And struck out madly. Per drew back, and aimed

A deadly blow, but Lars embraced him close,

Reached o’er his shoulder and from underneath

Thrust upward, while upon his ribs the knife,

Glancing, transfixed the arm. A gasp was heard:

The struggling limbs relaxed; and both, still bound

Together, fell upon the bloody floor.

Some forward sprang, and loosed, and lifted them

A little; but the head of Per hung back,

With lips apart and dim blue eyes unshut,

And all the passion and the pain were gone

Forever. “Dead!” a voice exclaimed; then she,

Like one who stands in darkness, till a blaze

Of blinding lightning paints the whole broad world,

Saw, burst her stony trance, and with a cry

Of love and grief and horror, threw herself

Upon his breast, and kissed his passive mouth,

And loud lamented: “O, too late I know

I love thee best, my Per, my sweetheart Per!

Thy will was strong, thy ways were masterful;

I did not guess that love might so command!

Thou wert my ruler: I resisted thee,

But blindly: O, come back!—I will obey.”