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

Norway: Torrisdell

The Bride of Torrisdell

By Hjalmar Hjorth Boyesen (1848–1895)

LONG ago while yet the Saga’s dream-red haze

Lay o’er Norway’s dales and fjords unbroken;

Ere with Olaf’s cross men saw her steeples blaze,

Ere their mighty iron tongues had spoken;

Then the Neck, the Hulder, elves, and fairies gay

Wooed the summer moon with airy dance and play.

But alas! they fled,

As with flaming head

O’er the valley shone St. Olaf’s token.

Thorstein Aasen was forsooth the boldest swain

Ever church-road trod on Sabbath morning;

As a boy he fought the savage bear full fain,

Spite of mother’s tears and father’s warning;

Never yet was rafter for his heel too high,

Haughtiest mien he fronted with unquailing eye;

And the rumor’s tide

Bore his glory wide,

Still with virtues new his name adorning.

Like a lingering echo from the olden time,

Wondrous legends still the twilight haunted,

And o’er Brage’s goblet still heroic rhymes

In the merry Yule-tide oft were chanted,

How of Thorstein’s race had one at Necken’s will

Stayed the whirl and roar of many a noisy mill;

How in wild delight

At the fall of night

He would seek the river’s gloom undaunted.

Late one autumn night, as wild November storms

Whirled the withered leaves in frantic dances,

And half-moonlit clouds of huge fantastic forms

Swift to horror-dreams from rapturous trances

Plunged the restless earth, anon in sudden fear

E’en the raging storm-wind held its breath to hear:

From the river’s lair

Rose a tremulous air,—

Rose and fell in sweetly flowing stanzas.

But as morn came forth with frosty splendor keen

Where the birch-trees o’er the waters quiver,

Found the grooms their lord with bow and violin,

Ghastly staring down the brawling river.

To his instrument was closely pressed his ear,

As if there some charméd melody to hear;

In his sunken sight

Shone a weird delight;

But life’s mystery had flown forever!

From that time the secret sorcery of the tone,

Passed from sire to son by sure transmission,

Had full oft a witching web of music thrown

O’er the lonely forests of tradition;

And full oft the son with pride and secret dole

Heard those strange vibrations in his inmost soul,

Like the muffled knell

Of a distant bell

Fraught with dark and bodeful admonition.

Where the river hurls its foam-crests to the fjord,

There lies Torrisdell in sunshine gleaming;

Oft its valiant lord ’gainst Aasen drew his sword,

And the red cock crew while blood was streaming.

But his daughter Birgit,—by the holy rood

Ne’er a fairer maid on church or dance-croft stood!—

Like the glacier’s gaze

In the sun’s embrace

Shone her eye with tender brightness beaming.

And when Thorstein Aasen saw that lily maid

On her palfrey white on church-road riding,

Aye his heart beat loud, and fierce defiance bade

To ancestral feuds their hearts dividing,

And young Birgit, the fair maid of Torrisdell,

Little cared or strove that rising flame to quell;

For, ere spring new-born

Did the fields adorn,

Him she pledged her word and faith abiding.

Loud then swore her angry sire with mead aglow,

(Deadly hate was in his visage painted,)

Rather would he see his daughter’s red blood flow,

Than with shame his ancient scutcheon tainted.

In her lonesome bower then fair Birgit lay,

Wept and prayed by night and prayed and wept by day;

O’er her features pale

Crept a death-like veil;

With her waning hopes her heart had fainted.

But when winter came and merry Christmas-tide,

Birgit’s sire her wedding torches lighted;

Out his varlets rode through seven valleys wide,

Far and near to bridal-feast invited.

For that lily sweet with summer’s fervor blest

Must its blossom waste on winter’s snowy breast,—

To a hoary swain,

Kalf of Nordarstein,

Torrisdell’s fair maid her troth had plighted.

Sooth a goodly feast he gave, the doughty lord;

Through the halls shone ninety torches blazing.

Forward bent in flight, stood on the bending board—

As upon their trail the hounds were chasing—

Stag and hind; and through the wide-flung doors

Poured the noisy throng like breakers on the shores.

But in silent gloom

With her hoary groom,

Sat the bride on all that splendor gazing.

Seven days they feasted all that lusty throng

In the midnight flush of bright December:

On the seventh eve the bride with play and song

Burst in glory forth from out her chamber.

For the last time now she stood there silver-crowned;

Strove to feign good cheer, while tears her accents drowned;

Then an awful cry

Shook the rafters high,

“Birgit Torrisdell,” it said, “remember!”

Open flew the doors: there fell a silence dread;

In sprang Thorstein bounding to the rafter,

Round he swung a flaming torch above his head

Till a trail of blood-red sparks flew after.

“Birgit!” cried he,—“Birgit!” but about the bride

Clung the affrighted women close on every side.

“Come, my beauteous elf,

Hast thou hid thyself?”

And he whirled the torch with frantic laughter.

Hark!—then trembling chords as on the night-wind blown

Came with fitful throbs and weird vibration;

Quickly stayed he, shuddered, and his wild eye shone

With a restless, strange illumination;

And as eager falcon darts upon his prey,

Seized a violin and straight began to play.

Up then springs in haste

Every drowsy guest,

Smitten with the tone’s intoxication.

As the fifth stroke fell, then quaked the lofty roof,

Quaked the tottering walls too that upbore it,

Wild and wilder danced the rout, and hurled aloof

Torches, tables, benches, all before it.

Ninth,—and lo, as if the horror-laden deep

Burst its gnawing chains of long-enforcéd sleep,

Hid in midnight’s shroud

Shrieked the doom-fraught cloud,

As the wrathful storm-wind beat and tore it.

Fierce with stifled hissing came the tenth accord,

While the tempest blew its strain sonorous;

Down the hungry heavens swooped upon the fjord,

And our world was gloom beneath and o’er us.

Off was hurled the roof; by maddening frenzy caught,

Wild with glaring eyes the guests together fought,

And like angry hosts

Of appalling ghosts

Joined the tempest’s terror-haunted chorus.

Densely and more densely rolled the waves of gloom,

Everywhere above them and around them:

Onward rushed the player and the guests of doom,

Making midnight blacker where it found them.

On and ever onward, over land and sea,

In the darksome clouds the hapless dancers flee,

Till the last sound died

In the sullen tide,

And the tempest’s roar in distance drowned them.

Centuries have faded, and the kindly earth

Hides the mouldering beams of Birgit’s bower;

But the dooméd dancers still with frantic mirth

Breast the tempest and the midnight’s power.

And full oft the peasant from his hearthstone warm

Hears those fitful notes, that bode the coming storm,

And his mirth will die

In a pitying sigh

At the fate of Torrisdell’s fair flower.