Reference > Anthologies > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library > Verse

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Ensign Stål
By Johan Ludvig Runeberg (1804–1877)
Translation of William and Mary Howitt

I TOOK such books as first I found,
  Merely to while the time along;
Which written by no name renowned,
  Treated of Finland’s war and wrong;—
’Twas simply stitched, and as by grace,        5
Had ’mid bound volumes found a place;—
And in my room, with little heed,
  The pages carelessly surveyed,
And all by chance began to read
  Of noble Savolak’s brigade.        10
I read a page, then word by word,
My heart unto its depths was stirred.
I saw a people who could hold
  The loss of all, save honor, light;
A troop, ’mid hunger-pangs and cold,        15
  Yet still victorious in the fight.
On, on from page to page I sped,
I could have kissed the words I read.
In danger’s hour, in battle’s scathe,
  What courage showed this little band;        20
What patriot love, what matchless faith
  Didst thou inspire, poor native land;
What generous, steadfast love was born
In those thou fed’st on bark and corn!
Into new realms my fancy broke        25
  Where all a magic influence bore,
And in my heart a life awoke
  Whose rapture was unknown before,
As if on wings the day careered,
But oh! how short the book appeared!        30
With close of day the book was done,
  Yet was my spirit all aglow:
Much yet remained to ponder on,
  Much to inquire about and know,
Much yet of darkness wrapped the whole;        35
I went to seek old Cornet Stål.
He sat, as oft he sat before,
  Busily bending o’er his net
And at the opening of the door,
  A glance displeased my coming met;        40
It seemed as though his thought might say,
“Is there no peace by night or day!”
But mischief from my mind was far,—
  I came in very different mood:
“I’ve read of Finland’s latest war—        45
  And in my veins runs Finnish blood!
To hear yet more I am on fire:
Pray can you tell what I desire?”
Thus spoke I, and the aged man
  Amazed his netting laid aside;        50
A flush passed o’er his features wan
  As if of ancient martial pride:
“Yes,” said he, “I can witness bear,
If so you will, for I was there!”
His bed of straw my seat became,        55
  And he began with joy to tell
Of Malm and Duncker’s soul of flame,
  And even deeds which theirs excel.
Bright was his eye and clear his brow,
His noble look is with me now.        60
Full many a bloody day he’d seen;
  Had shared much peril and much woe;
In conquest, in defeat, had been,—
  Defeat whose wounds no cure can know.
Much which the world doth quite forget        65
Lay in his faithful memory yet.
I listening sat, but naught I said,
  And every word fell on my heart;
And half the night away had fled,
  Before I rose from him to part.        70
The threshold reached, he made a stand,
And pressed with joy my willing hand.
Since then, no better joy he had,
  Than when he saw me by his side;
Together mourned we or were glad,        75
  Together smoked as friends long tried.
He was in years, I in life’s spring;
A student I, he more than king!
The tales which now I tell in song,
  Through many a long and silent night,        80
Fell from the old man’s faltering tongue
  Beside the peat-fire’s feeble light.
They speak what all may understand:
Receive them, thou dear native land.

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