Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
From ‘The Pretenders’
By Henrik Ibsen (1828–1906)
Translation of William Archer

The action passes in the first half of the Thirteenth Century.  Present: Skule; Jatgeir the Skald, an Icelander; Paul Flida, a nobleman.

JATGEIR  [enters from the back]—Forgive my coming, lord King.  1
  King Skule—You come to my wish, Skald!  2
  Jatgeir—I overheard some townsfolk at my lodging talking darkly of—  3
  King Skule—Let that wait. Tell me, Skald, you who have fared far abroad in strange lands,—have you ever seen a woman love another’s child? Not only be kind to it—’tis not that I mean; but love it, love it with the warmest passion of her soul.  4
  Jatgeir—That can only those women do who have no child of their own to love.  5
  King Skule—Only those women—?  6
  Jatgeir—And chiefly women who are barren.  7
  King Skule—Chiefly the barren—? They love the children of others with all their warmest passion?  8
  Jatgeir—That will oftentimes befall.  9
  King Skule—And does it not sometimes befall that such a barren woman will slay another’s child, because she herself has none?  10
  Jatgeir—Ay, ay; but in that she does unwisely.  11
  King Skule—Unwisely?  12
  Jatgeir—Ay, for she gives the gift of sorrow to her whose child she slays.  13
  King Skule—Think you the gift of sorrow is a great good?  14
  Jatgeir—Yes, lord.  15
  King Skule  [looking fixedly at him]—Methinks there are two men in you, Icelander. When you sit amid the household at the merry feast, you draw cloak and hood over all your thoughts; when one is alone with you, sometimes you seem to be of those among whom one were fain to choose his friend. How comes it?  16
  Jatgeir—When you go to swim in the river, my lord, you would scarce strip you where the people pass by to church: you seek a sheltered privacy.  17
  King Skule—True, true.  18
  Jatgeir—My soul has a like shyness; therefore I do not strip me when there are many in the hall.  19
  King Skule—Hm.  [A short pause.]  Tell me, Jatgeir, how came you to be a skald? Who taught you skaldcraft?  20
  Jatgeir—Skaldcraft cannot be taught, my lord.  21
  King Skule—Cannot be taught? How came it then?  22
  Jatgeir—I got the gift of sorrow, and I was a skald.  23
  King Skule—Then ’tis the gift of sorrow the skald has need of?  24
  Jatgeir—I needed sorrow; others there may be who need faith, or joy—or doubt—  25
  King Skule—Doubt, as well?  26
  Jatgeir—Ay; but then must the doubter be strong and sound.  27
  King Skule—And whom call you the unsound doubter?  28
  Jatgeir—He who doubts his own doubt.  29
  King Skule  [slowly]—That, methinks, were death.  30
  Jatgeir—’Tis worse; ’tis neither day nor night.  31
  King Skule  [quickly, as if shaking off his thoughts]—Where are my weapons? I will fight and act—not think. What was it you would have told me when you came?  32
  Jatgeir—’Twas what I noted in my lodgings. The townsmen whisper together secretly, and laugh mockingly, and ask if we be well assured that King Hakon is in the west land: there is somewhat they are in glee over.  33
  King Skule—They are men of Viken, and therefore against me.  34
  Jatgeir—They scoff because King Olaf’s shrine could not be brought out to the mote-stead when we did you homage; they say it boded ill.  35
  King Skule—When next I come to Nidaros the shrine shall out! It shall stand under the open sky, though I should have to tear down St. Olaf’s church and widen the mote-stead over the spot where it stood.  36
  Jatgeir—That were a strong deed; but I shall make a song of it as strong as the deed itself.  37
  King Skule—Have you many unmade songs within you, Jatgeir?  38
  Jatgeir—Nay, but many unborn; they are conceived one after the other, come to life, and are brought forth.  39
  King Skule—And if I, who am King and have the might,—if I were to have you slain, would all the unborn skald-thoughts within you die along with you?  40
  Jatgeir—My lord, it is a great sin to slay a fair thought.  41
  King Skule—I ask not if it be a sin: I ask if it be possible!  42
  Jatgeir—I know not.  43
  King Skule—Have you never had another skald for your friend, and has he never unfolded to you a great and noble song he thought to make?  44
  Jatgeir—Yes, lord.  45
  King Skule—Did you not then wish that you could slay him, to take his thought and make the song yourself?  46
  Jatgeir—My lord, I am not barren: I have children of my own; I need not to love those of other men.  [Goes.]  47
  King Skule  [after a pause]—The Icelander is in very deed a skald. He speaks God’s deepest truth and knows it not. I am as a barren woman. Therefore I love Hakon’s kingly thought-child, love it with the warmest passion of my soul. Oh that I could but adopt it! It would die in my hands. Which were best, that it should die in my hands or wax great in his? Should I ever have peace of soul if that came to pass? Can I forego all? Can I stand by and see Hakon make himself famous for all time? How dead and empty is all within me—and around me. No friend—ah, the Icelander!  [Goes to the door and calls.]  Has the skald gone from the palace?  48
  A Guard  [outside]—No, my lord: he stands in the outer hall talking with the watch.  49
  King Skule—Bid him come hither.  [Goes forward to the table; presently Jatgeir enters.]  I cannot sleep, Jatgeir: ’tis all my great kingly thoughts that keep me awake, you see.  50
  Jatgeir—’Tis with the king’s thoughts as with the skald’s, I doubt not. They fly highest and grow quickest when there is night and stillness around.  51
  King Skule—Is it so with the skald’s thoughts too?  52
  Jatgeir—Ay, lord: no song is born by daylight; it may be written down in the sunshine, but it makes itself in the silent night.  53
  King Skule—Who gave you the gift of sorrow, Jatgeir?  54
  Jatgeir—She whom I loved.  55
  King Skule—She died, then?  56
  Jatgeir—No, she deceived me.  57
  King Skule—And then you became a skald?  58
  Jatgeir—Ay, then I became a skald.  59
  King Skule  [seizes him by the arm]—What gift do I need to become a king?  60
  Jatgeir—Not the gift of doubt; else would you not question so.  61
  King Skule—What gift do I need?  62
  Jatgeir—My lord, you are a king.  63
  King Skule—Have you at all times full faith that you are a skald?  64
  Jatgeir  [looks silently at him for a while]—Have you never loved?  65
  King Skule—Yes, once—burningly, blissfully, and in sin.  66
  Jatgeir—You have a wife.  67
  King Skule—Her I took to bear me sons.  68
  Jatgeir—But you have a daughter, my lord—a gracious and noble daughter.  69
  King Skule—Were my daughter a son, I would not ask you what gift I need.  [Vehemently.]  I must have some one by me who sinks his own will utterly in mine—who believes in me unflinchingly, who will cling close to me in good hap and ill, who lives only to shed light and warmth over my life, and must die if I fall. Give me counsel, Jatgeir Skald!  70
  Jatgeir—Buy yourself a dog, my lord.  71
  King Skule—Would no man suffice?  72
  Jatgeir—You would have to search long for such a man.  73
  King Skule  [suddenly]—Will you be that man to me, Jatgeir? Will you be a son to me? You shall have Norway’s crown to your heritage—the whole land shall be yours, if you will be a son to me, and live for my life work, and believe in me.  74
  Jatgeir—And what should be my warranty that I did not feign—?  75
  King Skule—Give up your calling in life, sing no more songs, and then will I believe you!  76
  Jatgeir—No, lord: that were to buy the crown too dear.  77
  King Skule—Bethink you well: ’tis greater to be a king than a skald.  78
  Jatgeir—Not always.  79
  King Skule—’Tis but your unsung songs you must sacrifice!  80
  Jatgeir—Songs unsung are ever the fairest.  81
  King Skule—But I must—I must have one who can trust in me! Only one. I feel it: had I that one I were saved!  82
  Jatgeir—Trust in yourself and you will be saved!  83
  Paul Flida  [enters hastily]—King Skule, look to yourself! Hakon Hakonsson lies off Elgjarness with all his fleet!  84
  King Skule—Off Elgjarness! Then he is close at hand.  85
  Jatgeir—Get we to arms then! If there be bloodshed to-night, I will gladly be the first to die for you!  86
  King Skule—You, who would not live for me!  87
  Jatgeir—A man can die for another’s life work; but if he go on living, he must live for his own.  [Goes.]  88

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