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Poem by George Meredith

King Harald's Trance


Sword in length a reaping-hook amain
Harald sheared his field, blood up to shank:
'Mid the swathes of slain,
First at moonrise drank.


Thereof hunger, as for meats the knife,
Pricked his ribs, in one sharp spur to reach
Home and his young wife,
Nigh the sea-ford beach.


After battle keen to feed was he:
Smoking flesh the thresher washed down fast,
Like an angry sea
Ships from keel to mast.


Name us glory, singer, name us pride
Matching Harald's in his deeds of strength;
Chiefs, wife, sword by side,
Foemen stretched their length!


Half a winter night the toasts hurrahed,
Crowned him, clothed him, trumpeted him high,
Till awink he bade
Wife to chamber fly.


Twice the sun had mounted, twice had sunk,
Ere his ears took sound; he lay for dead;
Mountain on his trunk,
Ocean on his head.


Clamped to couch, his fiery hearing sucked
Whispers that at heart made iron-clang:
Here fool-women clucked,
There men held harangue.


Burial to fit their lord of war
They decreed him: hailed the kingling: ha!
Hateful! but this Thor
Failed a weak lamb's baa.


King they hailed a branchlet, shaped to fare,
Weighted so, like quaking shingle spume,
When his blood's own heir
Ripened in the womb!


Still he heard, and doglike, hoglike, ran
Nose of hearing till his blind sight saw:
Woman stood with man
Mouthing low, at paw.


Woman, man, they mouthed; they spake a thing
Armed to split a mountain, sunder seas:
Still the frozen king
Lay and felt him freeze.


Doglike, hoglike, horselike now he raced,
Riderless, in ghost across a ground
Flint of breast, blank-faced,
Past the fleshly bound.


Smell of brine his nostrils filled with might:
Nostrils quickened eyelids, eyelids hand:
Hand for sword at right
Groped, the great haft spanned.


Wonder struck to ice his people's eyes:
Him they saw, the prone upon the bier,
Sheer from backbone rise,
Sword uplifting peer.


Sitting did he breathe against the blade,
Standing kiss it for that proof of life:
Strode, as netters wade,
Straightway to his wife.


Her he eyed: his judgement was one word,
Foulbed! and she fell: the blow clove two.
Fearful for the third,
All their breath indrew.


Morning danced along the waves to beach;
Dumb his chiefs fetched breath for what might hap:
Glassily on each
Stared the iron cap.


Sudden, as it were a monster oak
Split to yield a limb by stress of heat,
Strained he, staggered, broke
Doubled at their feet. 

George Meredith

George Meredith's other poems:
  1. Modern Love. Sonnet 24. The Misery is Greater, as I Live!
  2. Empdeocles
  3. On Como
  4. Hawarden
  5. Alternation

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