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John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892). The Poetical Works in Four Volumes. 1892.

Narrative and Legendary Poems

The Dole of Jarl Thorkell

THE LAND was pale with famine

And racked with fever-pain;

The frozen fiords were fishless,

The earth withheld her grain.

Men saw the boding Fylgja

Before them come and go,

And, through their dreams, the Urdarmoon

From west to east sailed slow!

Jarl Thorkell of Thevera

At Yule-time made his vow;

On Rykdal’s holy Doom-stone

He slew to Frey his cow.

To bounteous Frey he slew her;

To Skuld, the younger Norn,

Who watches over birth and death,

He gave her calf unborn.

And his little gold-haired daughter

Took up the sprinkling-rod,

And smeared with blood the temple

And the wide lips of the god.

Hoarse below, the winter water

Ground its ice-blocks o’er and o’er;

Jets of foam, like ghosts of dead waves,

Rose and fell along the shore.

The red torch of the Jokul,

Aloft in icy space,

Shone down on the bloody Horg-stones

And the statue’s carven face.

And closer round and grimmer

Beneath its baleful light

The Jotun shapes of mountains

Came crowding through the night.

The gray-haired Hersir trembled

As a flame by wind is blown;

A weird power moved his white lips,

And their voice was not his own!

“The Æsir thirst!” he muttered;

“The gods must have more blood

Before the tun shall blossom

Or fish shall fill the flood.

“The Æsir thirst and hunger,

And hence our blight and ban;

The mouths of the strong gods water

For the flesh and blood of man!

“Whom shall we give the strong ones?

Not warriors, sword on thigh;

But let the nursling infant

And bedrid old man die.”

“So be it!” cried the young men,

“There needs nor doubt nor parle.”

But, knitting hard his red brows,

In silence stood the Jarl.

A sound of woman’s weeping

At the temple door was heard,

But the old men bowed their white heads,

And answered not a word.

Then the Dream-wife of Thingvalla,

A Vala young and fair,

Sang softly, stirring with her breath

The veil of her loose hair.

She sang: “The winds from Alfheim

Bring never sound of strife;

The gifts for Frey the meetest

Are not of death, but life.

“He loves the grass-green meadows,

The grazing kine’s sweet breath;

He loathes your bloody Horg-stones,

Your gifts that smell of death.

“No wrong by wrong is righted,

No pain is cured by pain;

The blood that smokes from Doom-rings

Falls back in redder rain.

“The gods are what you make them,

As earth shall Asgard prove;

And hate will come of hating,

And love will come of love.

“Make dole of skyr and black bread

That old and young may live;

And look to Frey for favor

When first like Frey you give.

“Even now o’er Njord’s sea-meadows

The summer dawn begins:

The tun shall have its harvest,

The fiord its glancing fins.”

Then up and swore Jarl Thorkell:

“By Gimli and by Hel,

O Vala of Thingvalla,

Thou singest wise and well!

“Too dear the Æsir’s favors

Bought with our children’s lives;

Better die than shame in living

Our mothers and our wives.

“The full shall give his portion

To him who hath most need;

Of curdled skyr and black bread,

Be daily dole decreed.”

He broke from off his neck-chain

Three links of beaten gold;

And each man, at his bidding,

Brought gifts for young and old.

Then mothers nursed their children,

And daughters fed their sires,

And Health sat down with Plenty

Before the next Yule fires.

The Horg-stones stand in Rykdal;

The Doom-ring still remains;

But the snows of a thousand winters

Have washed away the stains.

Christ ruleth now; the Æsir

Have found their twilight dim;

And, wiser than she dreamed, of old

The Vala sang of Him!