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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
From ‘Axel and Valborg’
By Adam Gottlob Oehlenschläger (1779–1850)
 
Translation of Pierce Butler

Axel enters with King Hakon, who is wounded in the right arm.

AXEL—Here are we safe awhile, my lord and king!
Here in God’s holy house. Come, sit you down,
And let me bind for you your wounded arm;
A warrior ought to know the art of healing;
One has not always help at hand. The wound        5
Is deep, but yet not dangerous. Now, had we
A piece of linen only!
  Hakon—                This your kindness
Wounds me more deep than Erling Skakke’s sword.
  Axel—Be thou not wounded by my faithfulness,—
Far other was its purpose.
[He feels in his bosom, draws out a cloth, and starts; but instantly composes himself, and says:—]
                    Here is linen.
        10
  Hakon—Axel, why startest thou? Almighty God!
I know that cloth too well.
  Axel—                    Nay, calm yourself.
  Hakon—And with this cloth you wish to bind my arm?
  Axel—So that you may not die from loss of blood.
  Hakon—You wish to bind it with this very cloth        15
Wherewith I rent your life in twain?
  Axel—                            My lord!
It is another cloth.
  Hakon—                Nay, nay! It is
The very cloth which that malicious Knud
Cut with my sword ’twixt you and Valborg, Axel!
I know it. Oh, swathe not my arm with this:        20
It burns me—tortures me with double pain.
  Axel—Nay, it is natural a wound should burn,
And bandaging a sore is always painful.
Be calm, and rest yourself a moment, King!
Then in your left hand take your sword, and come        25
Once more with Axel ’gainst your haughty foe:
The presence of their king supports his people,
And I will serve instead of your right hand.
  Hakon—Is it contempt,—a lurking, proud revenge?
Or is it natural high-mindedness?        30
How shall I understand you, Axel? Think you
To heap up coals of fire on Hakon’s head?
  Axel—By God and man! I will be true to you;
I will not harm you; I will ne’er forsake you.
  Hakon—This generosity but hurts me more.        35
O most unhappy Hakon Herdebred!
Thy bravest warrior despises thee.
  Axel—By God in heaven, and by my Valborg, Hakon!
I do respect you.
  Hakon—                I believe you, kinsman:
That was a solemn oath,—well is it so;        40
For Hakon acted like an ardent lover
Upon the throne—not like a coward, Axel!
  Axel—Who feels the power of love, and does not know
Its mighty workings?
  Hakon—                    Now your words are drawn
Out of my very heart, my gallant hero;        45
Your faithfulness and kindness move me so.
[With sudden wildness]—And yet, did I perceive that you believed
This were but woman’s weakness, only caused
By this my pain of body. Axel Thordson,
With my left hand I would draw forth my sword,        50
And challenge you to fight for life and death.
  Axel—I swore by Valborg that I do respect you.
  Hakon—You swear it. Then you shall esteem me too;
For I will make to you a sacrifice.
The sacrifice is great;—’tis needful, Axel,        55
That you should know its costliness!
  Axel—                            My King!
  Hakon—I well know what I hazard by the offer
Of such a gift at such a time as this:
“Now has the proud and foolish youth at last
Opened his eyes; and now he can perceive        60
How his throne stands in need of brave defense.
Now does he need his warriors’ faithfulness;
And therefore does he purchase friend with maid,
In the despair and anguish of his heart.”
Ha,—I would hate you, Axel! I would call you        65
A cold and cruel and barbarian foe,
If you could dream of such a motive.
  Axel—                            Sire!
  Hakon—For Valborg loses Hakon Norway’s realm,
But Valborg—loses he for Valborg’s sake.
Think of the value of my gift! Gives one        70
The greater for the less, to satisfy
One’s selfishness?
  Axel—                O Hakon! noble kinsman!
  Hakon—Yes, I have blindly erred, and your pure soul,
Your noble mind, have opened now mine eyes;
And of free-will, because I wish the good,        75
Do I subdue the passion of my breast,
And give you back your Valborg—give you back
That which to me is dearest in the world.
Misjudge me not,—oh, see my sacrifice!
  Axel—I see it,—and God sees it, noble King!        80
  Hakon—And now embrace me!
  Axel—                    Hold—your wounded arm!
  Hakon—The wound no longer burns: this linen cloth
Hurts me no more; it cools me, like the juice
Of healing herbs fresh gathered.
  Axel—                            O my King!
  Hakon—And now let Erling overcome me. Hakon        85
Has overcome himself: his victory
Is greatest.
  Axel—            But it shall not be the last:
The other victory must now be gained.
[Noise is heard outside the church.]
Be calm, my King! Rest yet a moment longer!
Your golden helm is heavy, and your head        90
Needs some relief; give me your helmet. Here—
Take mine instead; it is a lighter one.
[The noise increases; Axel throws the King’s purple mantle, which has been unloosed during the bandaging, over his own shoulders.]
  Hakon—What do you, Axel?
  Axel—                Nay, be still, my lord!
I hear men coming—possibly our foes:
Let Axel be a shield to you!
[A troop of the enemy rushes in.]
  The Captain—                    There stands he!
        95
There stands he! See you? with the golden helmet
And purple robe. It is the King. Rush in—
Rush in on him, and cut him down!
  Hakon—                        O Axel!
Now do I understand your strange behavior.
Give me my helmet back!
  Axel—                    Nay, draw your sword;
        100
Place yourself so that your right arm may be
Protected by my body. When you see
An opening, strike—and then draw back again.
[He cries]—Come on, ye paltry wretches! Here stands Hakon.
His sword is drawn, you see; he does not fear        105
Your coward onslaught in the house of God.
Come on, ye murderers! who do not dare
To stand up man ’gainst man in honest fight,
But think to win base gold by Hakon’s murder.
My fiery lion’s-tongue is gleaming bright;        110
Come, let it slake its thirst in traitors’ blood!
  Hakon  [drawing his sword]—He would befool you! Here stands Norway’s chief,
And with his left hand will he punish you.
  Axel—Peace, Axel Thordson! you are wounded. Hakon
Can well defend himself.
  The Enemy—                    Down with him! down!
[A fight.  Noise is heard outside, of other warriors; there is a cry—]
        115
To help! to help! the King has been attacked.
  The Hostile Warrior  [to Axel]—Aha! help comes too late!  [He wounds him.]  Haste! flee away.
Hakon is slain! Come on, and cut your way
To Erling through the Biarkebeiners’ ranks.
Hakon is slain;—away!
Sigurd of Reine and Wilhelm rush in with a number of Biarkebeiners
  Sigurd—                    Ha, cut and thrust!
        120
Pursue the murderers!
[The enemy is put to flight.]
  Sigurd  [to the King]—            Your life is saved!
[He becomes aware of Axel.]
What! Axel in the royal robe and helmet?
All bleeding, too?
  Axel  [to the King]—        Now take your helm again!
It is too heavy now for me. Go, Sire!
And leave me with my comrade here alone.        125
  Hakon—My brother! is your wound—
  Axel—                        Nay,—leave me, King!
Charge boldly on the foe; revenge this treachery;
Follow with Sigurd and his bark-clad warriors!
  Sigurd—Yes, Hakon! even Norway’s forests
Have armed themselves to fight for Throndhjem’s lord.        130
Look at these warriors! Gotha-dwellers! Bears!
Stems of the forest pines, all gathered here
From many a mountain ridge. For want of armor,
This rugged bark protects their gallant hearts.
These stems of alder, with their sharpened points        135
Hardened by fire, supply the place of spears.
In such wise fight they for their humble hearths,
And the king’s honor. Head thou them, my lord,
And by a storm avenge we Axel’s slaying.
You die a noble death, my Northern brother!        140
Fallen for your King. We, too, shall follow you
Ere long, perhaps, and greet you before God.
Come, Hakon! Leave him with his friend alone!
Come on! Life calls for strife, but Death for peace.
  Hakon  [to his warriors—pointing at Axel]—Ye Norsemen! for the King he gave his life.        145
  The Biarkebeiners  [impatiently striking their wooden spears against the ground]—We, we will also give our lives for thee!
Lead us to death! Lead us against the foe!
  Hakon  [embracing Axel]—Farewell! ere sunset we shall meet again.  [He follows the warriors.]
  Wilhelm  [approaching Axel]—My brother! is your wound a mortal one?
  Axel—Yes, Wilhelm. Loose my shoulder scarf, I pray you!        150
Draw out the scabbard, and give me the scarf,
That I may stanch the blood a little while,
And respite life. Thanks! Lead me over now
To yonder pillar that bears Valborg’s name;
Here shall I rest more easily. So! Let me lean        155
Against the wall, so that I may not fall
In dying.
  Wilhelm—            Brother, do you suffer pain?
  Axel—No! Light and calm and peaceful is my heart.
  Wilhelm—Axel, would you not wish to see your Valborg
Once more before you die?
  Axel—                    Ah, Wilhelm, yes!
        160
  Wilhelm—Then will I hasten up and fetch her straightway.
  Axel—Stay yet a moment! It might happen, Wilhelm,
That Axel were no more when Valborg comes.
Then tell the chosen of my heart I died
With Valborg’s name upon my lips.
  Wilhelm—                            That will I.
        165
  Axel—Tell her that Hakon is a noble hero;
That Axel’s confidence was not misplaced
In trusting to his royal heart.
  Wilhelm—                        I will.
  Axel—Greet Helfred,—greet my darling sister, Wilhelm!
At Immersborg; and thank her lovingly        170
For all the thoughts and feelings, joys and sorrows,
She ever shared from childhood with her brother.
Ah, Helfred understood me, knew me well!
Tell her that I have not forgot my sister
In e’en mine hour of death.
  Wilhelm—                        Good! I will greet her.
        175
  Axel—But Valborg first and last! my earnest wish
Is, that whene’er her days on earth are ended,
Axel may slumber by her side.
  Wilhelm—                            Your wish
Shall be fulfilled. Hast more to tell me?
  Axel—                                Nay.
  Wilhelm—Well then,—I go!
  Axel  [grasping his hand]—            My noble, faithful comrade!
        180
Thanks for your friendship and your true devotion.
In deeds you showed it, though in words but seldom.
Take from this feeble hand my life’s farewell!
  Wilhelm—Farewell, farewell!
  Axel—                Wilhelm, was I your friend?
  Wilhelm—My only friend! Now have I none remaining.  [He goes.]        185
  Axel  [alone]—I die for land and lord, as did my sires.
What honorable Norseman more desires?
O God! with joy my soul doth fly to Thee;
For thou wilt give the chosen of my heart
To be my bride in thine eternity,        190
Where Axel from his Valborg ne’er shall part.
[The sun shines through the choir window.]
All hail to thee, thou new-born morning light!
Thou comest to enlighten my dim sight,
And tinge my pallid cheek with thy warm ray.
Soon, soon a morning glow upon me shines,        195
That never waxes into glaring day;
An evening glow that ne’er to night declines.
 
My youthful hopes! ye were no shadows vain;—
’Twas mine to love, and to be loved again;
A friend was mine; a noble king God gave,        200
  Whom I have fitted for his station high,
Whom by my death it is my lot to save.
  Well, Axel! thou hast lived, so thou canst die.
 
And see, my Valborg! yonder angels twine
A wreath of blue forget-me-nots like thine.        205
Then thou shalt never from thine Axel part,
  When thou shalt meet him in those realms above,
More worthy of thy beauty and thine heart,
  Where ’tis no sin to nourish sacred love.
Farewell, my Valborg!  [He dies.]
  Wilhelm  [coming with Valborg]—                He is still alive!
        210
He is alive! Heard you?—he spoke of Valborg!
  Valborg—I took his life’s farewell.  [She gazes on him.]  He is no more.
Mine Axel! dost thou live? If thou dost live,
Lift upon me thine eye for the last time,
Thou noble soul! and let thy blessing shine        215
On Valborg in thy fixed and dying gaze.
He is no more. Ah, he is dead! He died
With Valborg’s name upon his lips. Well, thou
Hast fought thy fight, brave youth! Fell he not for
His king?
  Wilhelm—            Ay, as a hero.
  Valborg—                        Glorious death!
        220
Far better this than fly to foreign lands,
To spend thy days in barren banishment,
And waste away with grief of heart, my Axel!
Thou sufferest now no longer, heart-loved youth!
Now hast thou won thyself eternal honor.        225
Thy Fatherland, thy noble mother Norway,
Is proud of Axel—of her gallant son.
For many an age shall thy beloved name
Be heard fresh-sounding on her grateful lips;
At Thing-motes men shall often high extol        230
Thy hero-deed; while in the ladies’ bower,
At eventide old ballads shall be sung,
Recounting Axel’s love and faithfulness.
[To Wilhelm]—How fair he is in death!  [To the dead Axel]—Thy golden locks
Are wildly scattered round thy pallid brow.
[She arranges his hair with her hand.]
        235
So should it be! This brow must not be covered:
’Tis arched so high and noble, like the heavens.
See how he smiles in death!  [She kisses him.]  Farewell, my Axel!
Thy Valborg follows soon.
[She rises up, and lays her hand upon her breast, whilst she draws her breath deeply and heavily.]
                        Ay, soon! ay, soon!
  Wilhelm—My noble Valborg, you are pale.
  Valborg—                        My Axel
        240
Is paler still. Peace, my kind Wilhelm! peace!
Disturb not Valborg in her loneliness.
[With enthusiasm]—How pleasant seems it here within the church!
How brightly beams the sunshine through the windows,
As at this very hour, my Axel! yesterday,        245
When first thou pressedst Valborg to thy heart.
How homelike ’tis, how cheerful, in the church!
Here shall we live right happily together,
Peacefully dwelling opposite each other,—
Thou with thy father, Valborg with her mother.        250
And when the clock strikes twelve, and in yon birch
Outside our window sings each night the thrush,
The wall and marble stones will open wide,
And we shall meet at Harold Gille’s grave,
And thence go hand in hand up to the altar,        255
And sit us down within the moonlit choir
And let the moon with pale and silv’ry light
Beam on our pallid cheeks, and listen to
The thrush’s spring song, whilst we call to mind
The memories of our faithful love in life;        260
Then, when the moonlight passes from the choir,
Go back with slow and melancholy steps,
And walk three times round Harold Gille’s tomb;
There shall we pause and take our loving leave
Until the next night comes. Deep in our graves        265
Then shall we slumber sweetly, whilst the living
Are rioting without.
  Wilhelm—                And Axel’s wish
Was to be buried in one grave with Valborg.
  Valborg—In one same grave? Ah, that were glorious, but
It may not be, my noble knight! Alas!        270
Axel and Valborg never were betrothed.
It may not be; yet how much would I give,
That the same coffin might contain both Valborg’s
And Axel’s bones!
[She gazes down before her.]
                But, noble Wilhelm, tell me
What glistens in the dust, in yonder crevice        275
Of Harold’s tombstone?
  Wilhelm—                    See I right, it is
  Wilhelm—A ring.
  Valborg—        A ring?
  Wilhelm  [takes it up]—        Yes,—it is Axel’s ring.
  Valborg—Axel’s? Did it not roll into the grave?
O our forefather! now I understand thee;—
I understood thee then. Give me my ring!
[She places it upon her finger.]
        280
Now am I truly thy betrothed, my Axel!
Now am I Axel’s bride! Now may we be
Buried together in one grave.
  Wilhelm—                        Poor girl!
  Valborg—“Poor girl”? Nay, Wilhelm! happy, happy girl.
Is it not true, my noble friend,—I call you        285
My friend, for you were Axel Thordson’s friend,—
Is it not true, my friend, you know the ballad
Of Knight Sir Aage and of Lady Else?
  Wilhelm—The Danish bishop taught it to my mother;
And she, in early childhood, taught it me.        290
  Valborg—And you remember it?
  Wilhelm—                    Yes, perfectly.
  Valborg—Oh, that is well! My Axel told me that
You have a noble voice; not delicate
And soft, like that which pleases men in life,
But deep, and strong, and solemn,—as a voice        295
From out the grave. Well, noble Wilhelm, will
You show me now the kindness, for the sake
Of him who was your friend, to sing this ballad
For Valborg,—whilst in recompense she places
Her ring upon his cold and lifeless hand?        300
  Wilhelm—Yes, I will do it, if it comforts you.
  Valborg—My Axel too has told me that you are
A skilled musician on the harp.
  Wilhelm—                            Its tones
Full oft have lulled my troubled soul to rest.
  Valborg—Well, see in yonder corner, dearest Wilhelm,        305
Close by my mother’s grave, there stands a harp.
How many a sleepless night has Valborg’s voice
Risen to its tuneful notes among the tombs!
How many a time has she to it begun
Aage’s and Else’s ballad! Never yet        310
I sang it to the end; for hot tears choked
My feeble voice. To you, my noble knight,
To you a stronger nature God has given;
So take the tunèd harp, and sit you down
By yonder pillar, opposite my Axel,        315
And sing the mournful ballad to the end,
Whilst Valborg kneels beside her Axel’s corpse;
And do not rise, I pray, till all is o’er,
And Else is to Aage joined in death.
  Wilhelm—I sing thee comfort in the morning dawn.
[Valborg kneels down beside Axel’s corpse; Wilhelm takes the harp, sits down, and sings.]
        320
 
      “It was the fair knight Aagen: 1
        To an isle he went his way,
      And plighted troth to Else,
        Who was so fair a may.
      He plighted troth to Else        325
        All with the ruddy gold;
    But or ere that day’s moon came again,
      Low he lay in the black, black mold.
 
      “It was the maiden Else:
        She was fulfilled of woe        330
    When she heard how the fair knight Aagen
        In the black mold lay alow.
      Uprose the fair knight Aagen,
        Coffin on back took he,
    And he’s away to her bower        335
      Sore hard as the work might be.
 
    “With that same chest on door he smote,
      For the lack of flesh and skin;
        ‘O hearken, maiden Else,
          And let thy true love in.’        340
    Then answered maiden Else,
      ‘Never open I my door,
    But and if thou namest Jesu’s name
      As thou hadst might before!’—
 
    “‘Oh, whenso thou art joyous,        345
      And the heart is glad in thee,
    Then fares it with my coffin
      That red roses are with me;
    But whenso thou art sorrowful,
      And weary is thy mood,        350
    Then all within my coffin
      Is it dreadful with dark blood.
 
    “‘Now is the red cock a-crowing,—
      To the earth adown must I;
    Down to the earth wend all dead folk,        355
      And I wend in company.
    Look thou up to the heavens aloft
      To the little stars and bright,
    And thou shalt see how sweetly
      It fareth with the night.’        360
 
    “She looked up to the heavens aloft,
      To the little stars bright above;
    The dead man sank into his grave,—
      Ne’er again she saw her love.
    Home then went maiden Else,        365
      Mid sorrow manifold,
    And ere that night’s moon came again
      She lay alow in the mold.”
 
[Wilhelm ceases.  Valborg lies motionless with her head upon Axel’s shoulder.]
  Wilhelm—The song is ended, noble Valborg!  [He rises.]  Valborg,
Rise up again: my song is ended now.        370
Valborg! She does not move. Cold, pale! She breathes
No longer. Heaven! I had foreboded it!
Valborg is dead! As Nanna with her Baldur;
As with her Hjalmar, Ingeborg; as Else
With Ridder Aage. Her true heart has broken        375
With sorrow o’er the body of her Axel.
O Northern faithfulness, how strong thou art!
There lie they both, in one another’s arms,
Lifeless, but now one life, one soul with God.
And Wilhelm had to sing your funeral dirge!        380
Well, it was but the tribute due to friendship.
[Martial music outside the scene.]
  Gotfred  [comes]—Hakon is fallen: Erling is victorious.
They bring the body of the king.
  Wilhelm—                        And so
The Gille’s race is utterly extinct.
Be speedy, Gotfred! Hasten to the bishop;        385
Take him on board our ship; await me there;
Ere sunset we will sail from Throndhjem’s Fiord.
[Gotfred goes.]
  Wilhelm  [drawing his sword]—And now go, dearest, best beloved friends.
Until the grave shall open, and unite
What life had parted, shall your Wilhelm show        390
The honor due by friendship to your dust.
I will keep watch beside you; I will lay
Thy shield and sword, brave knight! upon thy coffin,
Encircled by thy maiden’s wreath of flowers;
And on the shining plate will I engrave,        395
“Here Axel Thordson and fair Valborg rest;
He for his king, she for her lover died.”
 
Note 1. Mr. Butler’s version of this famous ballad is a creditable one; but the translation made by William Morris far surpasses it in beauty, and is here substituted. [back]
 
 
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