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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Sigurd Slembe’s Return
By Björnstjerne Björnson (1832–1910)
 
Translation of William Morton Payne

The scene is at first empty.  Then Sigurd Slembe enters, climbing over a rock; he comes forward in silence, but powerfully agitated.

THE DANES forsake me! The battle is lost! Thus far—and no farther!
  1
  Escape to the mountains to-night! Exchange my ships for freedom! There are herds of horses on the mountains: we will climb up there and then fall upon the valleys like a snowstorm.  2
  But when winter comes? To begin at the beginning: the outlaw’s life—never more! I have made my last effort; had it been successful, men would have wondered at me. It has failed, and vengeance is loose. I cannot gather another force in Norway!  3
  All over? Thus far and no farther? No! The Danes sail, but we will sail with them! This night, this very night we will raise our yards and follow them to the open sea.  4
  But whither shall we turn our prows? To Denmark? We may raise no third force in Denmark. Start out again as merchant? No! Serve in foreign lands? No! Crusade? No! Hither and no farther! Sigurd, the end has come!  5
  [Almost sobbing.]  Death! The thought sprang up in my mind as a door swings open, clashing upon its hinges; light, air, receive me!  [He draws his sword.]  No; I will fall fighting in the cause I have lived for—my men shall have a leader!  6
  Is there no chance of victory? no trick? Can I not get them ashore? Can I not get them in the toils? try them in point-blank fight, man to man, all the strength of despair fighting with me? Ah, could they but hear me, could I but find some high place and speak to them; tell them how clear as the sun is my right, how monstrous the wrongs I have borne, what a crime is theirs in withstanding me! You murder not me alone, but thousands upon thousands of thoughts for my fatherland’s welfare; I have carried nothing out, I have not sown the least grain, or laid one stone upon another to witness that I have lived. Ah, I have strength for better things than strife; it was the desire to work that drove me homewards; it was impatience that wrought me ill! Believe me, try me, give me but half what Harald Gille promised me, even less; I ask but very little, if I may still live and strive to accomplish something! Jesus, my God, it was ever the little that thou didst offer me, and that I ever scorned!  7
  Where am I? I stand upon my own grave, and hear the great bell ring. I tremble as the tower beneath its stroke, for where now are the aims that were mine? The grave opens its mouth and makes reply. But life lies behind me like a dried-up stream, and these eighteen years are lost as in a desert. The sign, the sign that was with me from my birth! In lofty flight I have followed it hither with all the strength of my soul, and here I am struck by the arrow of death. I fall, and behold the rocks beneath, upon which I shall be crushed. Have I, then, seen a-wrong? Ah, how the winds and currents of my life stood yonder, where it was warm and fruitful, while I toiled up where it grew ever colder, and my ship is now clasped by the drifting icebergs; a moment yet, and it must sink. Then let it sink, and all will be over.  [On his knees.]  But in thy arms, All-Merciful, I shall find peace!  8
  What miracle is this? For in the hour I prayed the prayer was granted! Peace, perfect peace!  [Rises.]  Then will I go to-morrow to my last battle as to the altar; peace shall at last be mine for all my longings.  9
 
[Holds his head bowed and covered by his hands.  As he, after a time, slowly removes them, he looks around.]

  How this autumn evening brings reconciliation to my soul! Sun and wave and shore and sea flow all together, as in the thought of God all others; never yet has it seemed so fair to me! Yet it is not mine to reign over this lovely land. How greatly I have done it ill! But how has it all come so to pass? for in my wanderings I saw thy mountains in every sky, I yearned for home as a child longs for Christmas, yet I came no sooner, and when at last I came—I gave thee wound upon wound.
  10
  But thou, in contemplative mood, now gazest upon me, and givest me at parting this fairest autumn night of thine. I will ascend yonder rock and take a long farewell.  [Mounts up.]  11
  And even thus I stood eighteen years ago,—thus looked out upon the sea, blue beneath the rising sun. The fresh breezes of morning seemed wafted to me from a high future; through the sky’s light veil a vision of strange lands was mine; in the glow of the morning sun, wealth and honor shone upon me; and to all this, the white sails of the Crusaders should swiftly bear me.  12
  Farewell, dreams of my youth! Farewell, my sweet country! Ah, to what sorrow thou hast brought me forth! But now it will soon be over.  [He descends.]  13
  If these ships should sail up to me this very night bearing the fulfillment of all my dreams! Could any one of them be now in truth mine,—or may a tree bear fruit twice in one year?  14
  I give way to make room for some better man. But be thou gracious to me, and let death be mine with these feelings in my heart, for strength to be faithful might not long be vouchsafed me.  15
  “Thou shalt die to-morrow!” How sure a father-confessor is that word! Now for the first time I speak truth to myself.  16
 
  Ivar  [climbing over a rock]—Yes, here he is.  [Gives his hand to the nun.]  17
  The Nun  [without seeing]—Sigurd!  [Mounts up.]  Yes, there he is!  18
  Sigurd—Mother!  19
  The Nun—My child, found once more!  [They remain long clasped in each other’s arms.]  My son, my son, now shalt thou no more escape me!  20
  Sigurd—O my mother!  21
  The Nun—Thou wilt keep away from this battle, is it not so? We two will win another kingdom,—a much better one.  22
  Sigurd—I understand thee, mother.  [Leads her to a seat, and falls upon his knee.]  23
  The Nun—Yes, dost thou not? Thou art not so bad as all men would have it. I knew that well, but wanted so much to speak with thee,—and since thou art wearied and hast lost thy hopes for this world, thou hast come back to me, for even now there is time! And of all thy realm they must leave thee some little plot, and there we will live by the church, so that when the bells ring for vespers we shall be near the blessed Olaf, and with him seek the presence of the Almighty. And there we will heal thy wounds with holy water, and thoughts of love, more than thou canst remember ever to have had, shall come back to thee robed in white, and wondering recollection shall have no end. For the great shall be made small and the small great, and there shall be questionings and revelations and eternal happiness. Thou wilt come and thus live with me, my son, wilt thou not? Thou wilt stay from this battle and come quickly?  24
  Sigurd—Mother, I have not wept till now since I lay upon the parched earth of the Holy Land.  25
  The Nun—Thou wilt follow me?  26
  Sigurd—To do thus were to escape the pledges I have made but by breaking them.  27
  The Nun—To what art thou now pledged?  28
  Sigurd—Pledged to the blind king I took from the cloister; pledged to the men I have led hither.  29
  The Nun—And these pledges thou shalt redeem—how?  30
  Sigurd—By fighting and falling at their head.  31
  The Nun  [springs to her feet.  Sigurd also rises.]—No! No! No! Shall I now, after a lifetime of sorrow, behold thy death?  32
  Sigurd—Yes, mother. The Lord of life and death will have it so.  33
  The Nun—Ah! what sufferings a moment’s sin may bring!  [She falls upon his breast, then sinks, with outstretched arms.]  O my son, spare me!  34
  Sigurd—Do not tempt me, mother!  35
  The Nun—Hast thou taken thought of what may follow? Hast thou thought of capture, of mutilation?  36
  Sigurd—I have some hymns left me from childhood. I can sing them.  37
  The Nun—But I—thy mother—spare me!  38
  Sigurd—Make not to me this hour more bitter than death itself.  39
  The Nun—But why now die? We have found one another.  40
  Sigurd—We two have nothing more to live for.  41
  The Nun—Wilt thou soon leave me?  42
  Sigurd—Till the morning sun appear we will sit together. Let me lift thee upon this rock.  [He does so, and casts himself at her feet.]  It was fair that thou shouldst come to me. All my life is now blotted out, and I am a child with thee once more. And now we will seek out together the land of our inheritance. I must away for a moment to take my leave, and then I shall be ready, and I think that thou too art ready.  43
  Ivar Ingemundson  [falling on his knee]—My lord, now let me be your friend.  44
  Sigurd  [extending his hand]—Ivar, thou wilt not leave her to-morrow?  45
  Ivar Ingemundson—Not until she is set free.  46
  Sigurd—And now sing me the Crusader’s song. I may joyfully go hence after that.

  
IVAR INGEMUNDSON  [rises and sings]—
  
      Fair is the earth,
      Fair is God’s heaven;
Fair is the pilgrim-path of the soul.
      Singing we go
Through the fair realms of earth,
Seeking the way to our heavenly goal.
  
      Races shall come,
      And shall pass away;
And the world from age to age shall roll;
      But the heavenly tones
      Of our pilgrim song
Shall echo still in the joyous soul.
  
      First heard of shepherds,
      By angels sung,
Wide it has spread since that glad morn:
      Peace upon earth!
      Rejoice all men,
For unto us is a Savior born. 1

[The mother places both her hands on Sigurd’s head, and they look into one another’s eyes; he then rests his head upon her breast.]
  47
 
Note 1. This song is borrowed by Björnson from the Danish poet B. S. Ingemann, although it is slightly altered for its present use. [back]
 
 
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