Verse > Anthologies > Alfred H. Miles, ed. > Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century
Alfred H. Miles, ed.  Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century.  1907.
Canute the Great (1887)
Canute and Gunhild (Act I, Scene 4)
By Michael Field (Katherine Harris Bradley) (1846–1914)

Hardegon.  AT his learning!
Deal with him, spare him not.
  Canute.  Whom hast thou brought?
A brooding face, with windy sea of hair,
And eyes whose ample vision ebbs no more        5
Than waters from a fiord. I conceive
A dread of things familiar as she breathes.
  Gunhild.  O king.
  Canute.  Ay, Scandinavia.
  Gunhild.  He sees        10
How with a country’s might I cross his door;
How in me all his youth was spent, in me
His ancestors are buried; on my brows
Inscribed is his religion; through my frame
Press the great, goading forces of the waves.        15
  Canute.  Art thou a woman?
  Gunhild.  Not to thee. I am
Thy past.
  Canute.  Her arms are knotted in her bosom
Like ivy-stems. What does she here, so fixed        20
Before my seat?
  Gunhild.  Harken! I wandered out
Among the break-fern, and the upright flags,
And snatching brambles, when the sun was gone,
And the west yellow underneath the night.        25
A fir-bough rolled its mass athwart my way,
With a black fowl thereon. All eve I stood
And gathered in your fate. You raise your hands
To other gods, you speak another tongue
You learn strange things on which is Odin’s seal        30
That men should know them not, you cast the billows
Behind your back, and leap upon the horse.
You love no more the North that fashioned you,
The ancestors whose blood is in your heart:—
These things you have forgotten.        35
  Canute.  Yes.
  Gunhild.  But they
Will have a longer memory. Alas,
The mournfulness that draws about my breasts!
Woe, woe! There is a justice of the Norn,        40
Who sings about the cradle.
  Canute.  Speak thy worst.
  [Aside, rising and pacing apart.]  How different my queen! How liberal
The splendour of her smile! This woman’s frown
Is tyrannous. So will my country look,        45
When I sail back next year; for I shall feel
A dread, a disappointment, and a love
I loathe, it comes up from so deep a well,
Where I am sod and darkness.
  Gunhild.  At thy birth        50
Sang Urd of foregone things, of thy wild race,
Of rocks and fir-trees that for ages past
Stood in thy native bounds, of creeping seas,
That call thy countrymen to journey forth
Among strange people; and her song went on        55
As flesh was woven for thee in the womb;
It cannot be forgotten, for she sang
  Canute.  O grey-headed tyrannies
Of yore, I will escape you.        60
  Gunhild.  Verily,
They have requital. Thou wilt get a child:
Will it not draw from the deep parts of life;
Will it not take of thee that disposition,
Old as the hills, and as the waterfall,        65
Whose foam alone was ever seen by man?
Thou wilt produce a being of thy past,
And all thy change avail not.
  Hardegon.  How these women
Can sing foundations!        70
  Canute.  If in those I breed
It work no blessing, to myself this new,
Unsettled energy within my brain
Is worth all odds. I cannot understand
Half that is meeting me. Go hence, your face        75
Is sheer confusion to me; it brings back
The load of ignorance, the brutishness,
The fetters of nativity.
  Gunhild.  I go:
But wrathful leave behind me what was told        80
When the crow bent from the swirled plume of fir,
And held me like a statue.
  Canute.  O my past,
I loved thine aspect once, but now my mind
Drives thee away. It seems to me that thought        85
Is as a moving on along the air—
I cannot yet find language. You oppress,
And hinder me; but when I brood alone,
Hope stirs, and there is tumult of a joy,
That flashes through my nature, like a sword,        90
Cutting the knots.
  Gunhild.  Oh, indestructible
Are the first bonds of living. Fare thee well.
Thou wilt engender thine own ancestry;
Nature will have her permanence.        95
  Canute.  And I
Will have my impulse.
  Gunhild.  Oh, the blue fir-bough,
The bird, the fern, and iris at my feet!
The whole world talks of birth, it is the secret        100
That shudders through all sap      [Exit.
  Canute.  She turns away
With rigid shoulders, and is vanishing
For ever. ’Tis in wrestles with her like
We are transformed.
  [To HARDEGON.]  Call Edric, do you hear!
And say no other word as you would live;
My temper will not bear it.      [Exit HARDEGON.]

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