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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Svanhvit’s Colloquy
By Per Daniel Amadeus Atterbom (1790–1855)
 
From ‘The Islands of the Blest’

SVANHVIT  (alone in her chamber)
NO Asdolf yet,—in vain and everywhere
Hath he been sought for, since his foaming steed,
At morn, with vacant saddle, stood before
The lofty staircase in the castle yard.
His drooping crest and wildly rolling eye,        5
And limbs with frenzied terror quivering,
All seemed as though the midnight fiends had urged
His swiftest flight through many a wood and plain.
O Lord, that know’st what he hath witnessed there!
Wouldst thou but give one single speaking sound        10
Unto the faithful creature’s silent tongue,
That momentary voice would be, for me,
A call to life or summons to the grave.
 
[She goes to the window.]
And yet what childish fears are these! How oft
Hath not my Asdolf boldest feats achieved        15
And aye returned, unharmed and beautiful!
Yes, beautiful, alas! like this cold flower
That proudly glances on the frosty pane.
Short is the violet’s, short the cowslip’s spring;—
The frost-flowers live far longer: cold as they        20
The beautiful should be, that it may share
The splendor of the light without its heat;
For else the sun of life must soon dissolve
The hard, cold, shining pearls to liquid tears;
And tears—flow fast away.        25
 
[She breathes on the window.]
Become transparent, thou fair Asdolf flower,
That I may look into the vale beneath!
There lies the city,—Asdolf’s capital:
How wondrously the spotless vest of snow
On roof, on mount, on market-place now smiles        30
A glittering welcome to the morning sun,
Whose blood-red beams shed beauty on the earth!
The Bride of Sacrifice makes no lament,
But smiles in silence,—knowing sadly well
That she is slighted, and that he, who could        35
Call forth her spring, doth not, but rather dwells
In other climes, where lavishly he pours
His fond embracing beams, while she, alas!
In wintry shade and lengthened loneliness
Cold on the solitary couch reclines.—        40
 
[After a pause.]
What countless paths wind down, from divers points,
To yonder city gates!—Oh, wilt not thou,
My star, appear to me on one of them?
Whate’er I said,—thou art my worshiped sun.
Then pardon me;—thou art not cold; oh, no!        45
Too warm, too glowing warm, art thou for me.
 
Yet thus it is! Thy being’s music has
A thousand chords with thousand varying tones,
Whilst I but one poor sound can offer thee
Of tenderness and truth. At times, indeed,        50
This too may have its power,—but then it lasts
One and the same forever, sounding still
Unalterably like itself alone;
A wordless prayer to God for what we love,
’Tis more a whisper than a sound, and charms        55
Like new-mown meadows, when the grass exhales
Sweet fragrance to the foot that tramples it.
 
Kings, heroes, towering spirits among men,
Rush to their aim on wild and stormy wings,
And far beneath them view the world, whose form        60
For ever varies on from hour to hour.
What would they ask of love? That, volatile,
In changeful freshness it may charm their ears
With proud, triumphant songs, when high in air
Victorious banners wave; or sweetly lull        65
To rapturous repose, when round them roars
The awful thunder’s everlasting voice!
 
Mute, mean, and spiritless to them must seem
The maid who is no more than woman. How
Should she o’er-sound the storm their wings have raised?        70
 
[Sitting down.]
Great Lord! how lonely I become within
These now uncheerful towers! O’er all the earth
No shield have I,—no mutual feeling left!
’Tis true that those around me all are kind,
And well I know they love me,—more, indeed,        75
Than my poor merits claim. Yet, even though
They raised me to my Asdolf’s royal throne,
As being the last of all his line,—ah me!
No solace could it bring;—for then far less
Might I reveal the sorrow of my soul!        80
A helpless maiden’s tears like raindrops fall,
Which in a July night, ere harvest-time,
Bedew the flowers, and, trembling, stand within
Their half-closed eyes unnumbered and unknown.
 
[She rises.]
Yet One there is, who counts the maiden’s tears;—
        85
But when will their sad number be fulfilled?—
 
[Walking to and fro.]
How calm was I in former days!—I now
Am so no more! My heart beats heavily,
Oppressed within its prison-cave. Ah! fain
Would I that it might burst its bonds, so that        90
’Twere conscious, Asdolf, I sometimes had seemed
Not all unworthy in thine eyes.
 
[She takes the guitar.]
A gentle friend—the Master from Vallandia—
Has taught me how I may converse with thee,
Thou cherished token of my Asdolf’s love!        95
I have been told of far-off lakes, around
Whose shores the cypress and the willow wave,
And make a mournful shade above the stream,
Which, dark, and narrow on the surface, swells
Broad and unfathomably deep below;—        100
From these dark lakes at certain times, and most
On Sabbath morns and eves of festivals,
Uprising from the depths, is heard a sound
Most strange and wild, as of the tuneful bells
Of churches and of castles long since sunk;        105
And as the wanderer’s steps approach the shore,
He hears more plainly the lamenting tone
Of the dark waters, whilst the surface still
Continues motionless and calm, and seems
To listen with a melancholy joy,        110
While thus the dim mysterious depths resound;
So let me strive to soften and subdue
My heart’s dark swelling with a soothful song.
 
[She plays and sings.]
  The maiden bound her hunting-net
    At morning fresh and fair—
Ah, no! that lay doth ever make me grieve.
Another, then! that of the hapless flower,        115
Surprised by frost and snow in early spring.
 
[Sings.]

      Hush thee, oh, hush thee,
Slumber from snow and stormy sky,
    Lovely and lone one!
Now is the time for thee to die,
When vale and streamlet frozen lie.
    Hush thee, oh, hush thee!
  
    Hours hasten onward;—
For thee the last will soon be o’er.
    Rest thee, oh, rest thee!
Flowers have withered thus before,—
And, my poor heart, what wouldst thou more?
    Rest thee, oh, rest thee!
  
    Shadows should darkly
Enveil thy past delights and woes.
    Forget, oh, forget them!
’Tis thus that eve its shadows throws;
But now, in noiseless night’s repose,
    Forget, oh, forget them!
  
    Slumber, oh, slumber!
No friend hast thou like kindly snow;
    Sleep is well for thee,
For whom no second spring will blow;
Then why, poor heart, still beating so?
    Slumber, oh, slumber!
  
    Hush thee, oh, hush thee!
Resign thy life-breath in a sigh,
    Listen no longer,
Life bids farewell to thee,—then die!
Sad one, good night!—in sweet sleep lie!
    Hush thee, oh, hush thee!
 
[She bursts into tears.]
Would now that I might bid adieu to life;
But, ah! no voice to me replies, “Sleep well!”
 
 
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