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Poem by Isabella Valancy Crawford

Gisli: The Chieftain

To the Goddess Lada prayed
  Gisli, holding high his spear
Bound with buds of spring, and laughed
  All his heart to Lada's ear.

Damp his yellow beard with mead,
  Loud the harps clang'd thro the day;
With bruised breasts triumphant rode
  Gisli's galleys in the bay.

Bards sang in the banquet hall,
  Set in loud verse Gisli's fame,
On their lips the war gods laid
  Fire to chaunt their warrior's name.

To the Love-queen Gisli pray'd,
  Buds upon his tall spear's tip;
Laughter in his broad blue eyes,
  Laughter on his bearded lip.

To the Spring-queen Gisli pray'd,
  She, with mystic distaff slim,
Spun her hours of love and leaves,
  Made the stony headlands dim--

Dim and green with tender grass,
  Blew on ice-fields with red mouth;
Blew on lovers hearts; and lured
  White swans from the blue-arched south.

To the Love-queen Gisli pray'd,
  Groan'd far icebergs tall and blue
As to Lada's distaff slim,
  All their ice-locked fires flew.

To the Love-queen Gisli prayed,
  She, with red hands, caught and spun.
Yellow flames from crater lips,
  flames from the waking sun.

To the Love-queen Gisli prayed,
  She with loom and beam and spell,
All the subtle fires of earth
  Wove, and wove them strong and well.

To the Spring-queen Gisli prayed,
  Low the sun the pale sky trod;
Mute her ruddy hand she raised
  Beckon'd back the parting God.

To the Love-queen Gisli prayed--
  Weft and woof of flame she wove--
Lada, Goddess of the Spring!
  Lada, Goddess strong of Love!

Sire of the strong chieftain's prayer,
  Victory with his pulse of flame;
Mead its mother--loud he laughed,
  Calling on great Lada's name.

"Goddess Lada--Queen of Love!
  "Here stand I and quaff to thee--
"Deck for thee with buds my spear--
  "Give a comely wife to me!

"Blow not to my arms a flake
  "Of crisp snow in maiden guise;
"Mists of pallid hair and tips
  "Of long ice-spears in her eyes!

"When my death-sail skims the foam--
  "Strain my oars on Death's black sea--
"When my foot the "Glass-Hill" seeks--
  "Such a maid may do for me!

"Now, O Lada, mate the flesh!
  "Mate the fire and flame of life,
"Tho' the soul go still unwed,
  "Give the flesh its fitting wife!

"As the galley runs between,
  "Skies with billows closely spun:
"Feeling but the wave that leaps
  "Closest to it in the sun."

"Throbs but to the present kiss
  "Of the wild lips of the sea;
"Thus a man joys in his life--
  "Nought of the Beyond knows he!

"Goddess! here I cast bright buds,
  "Spicy pine boughs at thy feet;
"Give the flesh its fitting mate
  "Life is strong and life is sweet!"

To the Love-queen Gisli pray'd--
  Weft and woof of flame she wove:
Lada, Goddess of the Spring--
  Lada, Goddess strong of Love!

      *      *      *      *      *


From harpings and sagas and mirth of the town,
Great Gisli, the chieftain strode merrily down.

His ruddy beard stretch'd in the loom of the wind,
His shade like a dusky God striding behind.

Gylfag, his true hound, to his heel glided near,
Sharp-fang'd, lank and red as a blood-rusted spear.

As crests of the green bergs flame white in the sky,
The town on its sharp hill shone brightly and high.

In fjords roared the ice below the dumb stroke
Of the Sun's red hammer rose blue mist like smoke.

It clung to the black pines, and clung to the bay--
The galleys of Gisli grew ghosts of the day.

It followed the sharp wings of swans, as they rose--
It fell to the wide jaws of swift riven floes.

It tam'd the wild shriek of the eagle--grew dull
The cries, in its foldings, of osprey and gull.

"Arouse thee, bold wind," shouted Gisli "and drive
"Floe and Berg out to sea as bees from a hive.

"Chase this woman-lipped haze at top of thy speed,
"It cloys to the soul as the tongue cloys with mead!

"Come, buckle thy sharp spear again to thy breast!
"Thy galley hurl forth from the seas of the West.

"With thy long, hissing oars, beat loud the north sea.
"The sharp gaze of day give the eagles and me.

"No cunning mists shrouding the sea and the sky,
"Or the brows of the great Gods, bold wind, love I!

"As Gylfag, my hound, lays his fangs in the flank
"Of a grey wolf, shadowy, leather-thew'd, lank.

"Bold wind, chase the blue mist, thy prow in its hair,
"Sun, speed thy keen shafts thro' the breast of the air!

      *      *      *      *      *


The shouting of Gisli, the chieftain,
Rock'd the blue hazes, and cloven
In twain by sharp prow of the west wind,
To north and to south fled the thick mist.

As in burnish'd walls of Valhalla,
In cleft of the mist stood the chieftain,
And up to the blue shield of Heaven,
Flung the load shaft of his laughter.

Smote the mist, with shrill spear the swift wind.
Grey shapes fled like ghosts on the Hell way;
Bay'd after their long locks hoarse Gylfag,
Stared at them, triumphant, the eagles.

To mate and to eaglets, the eagle
Shriek'd, "Gone is my foe of the deep mist,
"Rent by the vast hands of the kind Gods,
"Who knows the knife-pangs of our hunger!"

Shrill whistled the winds as his dun wings
Strove with it feather by feather;
Loud grated the rock as his talons
Its breast spurned slowly his red eyes.

Like fires seemed to flame in the swift wind,
At his sides the darts of his hunger--
At his ears the shriek of his eaglets--
In his breast the love of the quarry.

Unfurl'd to the northward and southward
His wings broke the air, and to eastward
His breast gave its iron; and God-ward
Pierc'd the shrill voice of his hunger.

Bared were his great sides as he laboured
Up the first steep blue of the broad sky;
His gaze on the fields of his freedom,
To the God's spoke the prayers of his gyres.

Bared were his vast sides as he glided
Black in the sharp blue of the north sky:
Black over the white of the tall cliffs,
Black over the arrow of Gisli.

      *      *      *      *      *


What know I,
As I bite the blue veins of the throbbing sky;
To the quarry's breast
Hot from the sides of the sleek smooth nest?

What know I
Of the will of the tense bow from which I fly?
What the need or jest,
That feathers my flight to its bloody rest.

What know I
Of the will of the bow that speeds me on high?
What doth the shrill bow
Of the hand on its singing soul-string know?

Flame-swift speed I--
And the dove and the eagle shriek out and die;
Whence comes my sharp zest
For the heart of the quarry? the Gods know best.

Deep pierc'd the red gaze of the eagle--
The breast of a cygnet below him;
Beneath his dun wing from the eastward
Shrill-chaunted the long shaft of Gisli!

Beneath his dun wing from the westward
Shook a shaft that laugh'd in its biting--
Met in the fierce breast of the eagle
The arrows of Gisli and Brynhild!

      *      *      *      *      *


A ghost along the Hell-way sped,
The Hell-shoes shod his misty tread;
A phantom hound beside him sped.

Beneath the spandrils of the Way,
World's roll'd to-night--from night to day;
In space's ocean Suns were spray.

Group'd world's, eternal eagles, flew;
Swift comets fell like noiseless dew,
Young earths slow budded in the blue.

The waves of space inscrutable,
With awful pulses rose and fell--
Silent and godly--terrible.

Electric souls of strong Suns laid,
Strong hands along the awful shade
That God about His God-work made.

Ever from all ripe worlds did break,
Men's voices, as when children speak,
Eager and querulous and weak.

And pierc'd to the All-worker thro'
His will that veil'd Him from the view
"What hast thou done? What dost thou do?"

And ever from His heart did flow
Majestical, the answer low--
The benison "Ye shall not know!"

The wan ghost on the Hell-way sped,
Nor yet Valhalla's lights were shed
Upon the white brow of the Dead.

Nor sang within his ears the roll
Of trumpets calling to his soul;
Nor shone wide portals of the goal.

His spear grew heavy on his breast,
Dropp'd, like a star his golden crest;
Far, far the vast Halls of the Blest!

His heart grown faint, his feet grown weak,
He scal'd the knit mists of a peak,
That ever parted grey and bleak.

And, as by unseen talons nipp'd,
To deep Abysses slowly slipp'd;
Then, swift as thick smoke strongly ripp'd.

By whirling winds from ashy ring,
Of dank weeds blackly smoldering,
The peak sprang upward a quivering

And perdurable, set its face
Against the pulsing breast of space
But for a moment to its base.

Refluent roll'd the crest new sprung,
In clouds with ghastly lightnings stung,--
Faint thunders to their black feet clung.

His faithful hound ran at his heel--
His thighs and breast were bright with steel--
He saw the awful Hellway reel.

But far along its bleak peaks rang
A distant trump--its airy clang
Like light through deathly shadows sprang.

He knew the blast--the voice of love!
Cleft lay the throbbing peak above
Sail'd light, wing'd like a silver dove.

On strove the toiling ghost, his soul
Stirr'd like strong mead in wassail bowl,
That quivers to the shout of "Skoal!"

Strode from the mist close-curv'd and cold
As is a writhing dragon's fold;
A warrior with shield of gold.

A sharp blade glitter'd at his hip,
Flamed like a star his lance's tip;
His bugle sang at bearded lip.

Beneath his golden sandels flew
Stars from the mist as grass flings dew;
Or red fruit falls from the dark yew.

As under shelt'ring wreaths of snow
The dark blue north flowers richly blow--
Beneath long locks of silver glow.

Clear eyes, that burning on a host
Would win a field at sunset lost,
Ere stars from Odin's hand were toss'd.

He stretch'd his hand, he bowed his head:
The wan ghost to his bosom sped--
Dead kiss'd the bearded lips of Dead!

"What dost thou here, my youngest born?
"Thou--scarce yet fronted with life's storm--
"Why art thou from the dark earth torn?

"When high Valhalla puls'd and rang
"With harps that shook as grey bards sang--
"'Mid the loud joy I heard the clang.

"Of Death's dark doors--to me alone
"Smote in thy awful dying groan--
"My soul recall'd its blood and bone.

"Viewless the cord which draws from far
"To the round sun some mighty star;
"Viewless the strong-knit soul-cords are!

"I felt thy dying gasp--thy soul
"Towards mine a kindred wave in roll,
"I left the harps--I left the bowl.

"I sought the Hellway--I--the blest;
"That thou, new death-born son should rest
"Upon the strong rock of my breast.

"What dost thou here, young, fair and bold?
"Sleek with youth's gloss thy locks of gold;
"Thy years by flow'rs might yet be told!

"What dost thou at the ghostly goal,
"While yet thy years were to thy soul,
"As mead yet shallow in the bowl?"

His arm about the pale ghost cast,
The warrior blew a clear, loud blast;
Like frighten'd wolves the mists fled past.

Grew firm the way; worlds flame to light
The awful peak that thrusts its height,
With swift throbs upward, like a flight.

Of arrows from a host close set
Long meteors pierc'd its breast of jet--
Again the trump his strong lips met--

And at its blast blew all the day,
In broad winds on the awful Way;
Sun smote at Sun across the grey;

As reindeer smite the high-pil'd snow
To find the green moss far below--
They struck the mists thro' which did glow

Bright vales--and on a sea afar,
Lay at a sunlit harbour bar,
A galley gold-sail'd like a star!

Spake the pale ghost as onward sped
Heart-press'd to heart the valiant dead;
Soft the green paths beneath their tread.

"I lov'd, this is my tale, and died--
The fierce chief hunger'd for my bride--
The spear of Gisli pierc'd my side!

"And she--her love fill'd all my need--
Her vows were sweet and strong as mead;
Look, father--doth my heart still bleed?

"I built her round with shaft and spear,
I kept her mine for one brief year--
She laugh'd above my blood stain'd bier!

"Upon a far and ice-peak'd coast
My galleys by long winds were toss'd--
There Gisli feasted with his host.

"Of warriors triumphant--he
Strode out from harps and revelry;
And sped his shaft above the sea!

"Look, father, doth my heart bleed yet?
His arrow Brynhild's arrow met--
My gallies anchor'd in their rest.

"Again their arrows meet--swift lies
That pierc'd me from their smiling eyes;
How fiercely hard a man's heart dies!

"She false--he false! There came a day
Pierc'd by the fierce chief's spear I lay--
My ghost rose shrieking from its clay.

"I saw on Brynhild's golden vest
The shining locks of Gisli rest;
I sought the Hell-way to the Blest.

"Father, put forth thy hand and tear
Their twin shafts from my heart, all bare
To thee--they rankle death--like there!

      *      *      *      *      *

Said the voice of Evil to the ear of Good,
  "Clasp thou my strong, right hand,
"Nor shall our clasp be known or understood
  "By any in the land."

"I, the dark giant, rule strongly on the earth,
  "Yet thou, bright one, and I
"Sprang from the one great mystery--at one birth
  "We looked upon the sky!

"I labour at my bleak, my stern toil accurs'd
  Of all mankind--nor stay,
To rest, to murmur "I hunger" or "I thirst!"
  Nor for my joy delay.

"My strength pleads strongly with thee; doth any beat
  With hammer and with stone
Past tools to use them to his deep defeat--
  To turn them on his throne?

"Then I of God the mystery--toil thou with me
  Brother; but in the sight
Of men who know not, I, the stern son shall be
  Of Darkness--Thou of Light!"

Isabella Valancy Crawford

Isabella Valancy Crawford's other poems:
  1. Bouche-Mignonne
  2. An Interregnum
  3. Said the Wind
  4. His Sweetheart
  5. Late Loved - Well Loved

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