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A Child's Own Book of Verse, Book Three by  Ada M. Skinner and Frances Gillespy Wickes


 

 

THE SKELETON IN ARMOR

[96]

"Speak! speak! thou fearful guest!

Who, with thy hollow breast

Still in rude armor drest,

Comest to daunt me!

Wrapt not in Eastern balms,

But with thy fleshless palms

Stretched, as if asking alms,

Why dost thou haunt me?"


Then from those cavernous eyes

Pale flashes seemed to rise,

As when the Northern skies

Gleam in December;

And, like the water's flow

Under December's snow,

Came a dull voice of woe

From the heart's chamber.


"I was a Viking old!

My deeds, though manifold,

No Skald in song has told,

No Saga taught thee!

Take heed, that in thy verse

Thou dost the tale rehearse,

Else dread a dead man's curse;

For this I sought thee.


[97]

"Far in the Northern Land,

By the wild Baltic's strand,

I, with my childish hand,

Tamed the gerfalcon;

And, with my skates fast bound,

Skimmed the half-frozen Sound,

That the poor whimpering hound

Trembled to walk on.


"Oft to his frozen lair

Tracked I the grisly bear,

While from my path the hare

Fled like a shadow;

Oft through the forest dark

Followed the werewolf's bark,

Until the soaring lark

Sang from the meadow.


"But when I older grew,

Joining a corsair's crew,

O'er the dark sea I flew

With the marauders.

Wild was the life we led;

Many the souls that sped,

Many the hearts that bled,

By our stern orders.


"Many a wassail bout

Wore the long Winter out;

[98]

Often our midnight shout

Set the cocks crowing,

As we the Berserk's tale

Measured in cups of ale,

Draining the oaken pail

Filled to o'erflowing.


"Once as I told in glee

Tales of the stormy sea,

Soft eyes did gaze on me,

Burning yet tender

And as the white stars shine

On the dark Norway pine,

On that dark heart of mine

Fell their soft splendor.


"I wooed the blue-eyed maid,

Yielding, yet half afraid,

And in the forest's shade

Our vows were plighted.

Under its loosened vest

Fluttered her little breast,

Like birds within their nest

By the hawk frighted.


"Bright in her father's hall

Shields gleamed upon the wall,

Loud sang the minstrels all,

Chanting his glory.

[99]

When of old Hildebrand

I asked his daughter's hand,

Mute did the minstrels stand

To hear my story.


"While the brown ale he quaffed,

Loud then the champion laughed,

And as the wind gusts waft

The sea foam brightly,

So the loud laugh of scorn,

Out of those lips unshorn,

From the deep drinking horn

Blew the foam lightly.


"She was a Prince's child,

I was a Viking wild,

And though she blushed and smiled,

I was discarded!

Should not the dove so white

Follow the sea mew's flight?

Why did they leave that night

Her nest unguarded?


"Scarce had I put to sea,

Bearing the maid with me,—

Fairest of all was she

Among the Norsemen!—

When on the white sea strand,

Waving his armèd hand,

[100]

Saw we old Hildebrand

With twenty horsemen.


"Then launched they to the blast,

Bent like a reed each mast,

Yet we were gaining fast,

When the wind failed us;

And with a sudden flaw

Came round the gusty Skaw,

So that our foe we saw

Laugh as he hailed us.


"And as to catch the gale

Round veered the flapping sail,

'Death!' was the helmsman's hail,

'Death without quarter!'

Midships with iron keel

Struck we her ribs of steel;

Down her black hulk did reel

Through the black water!


"As with his wings aslant,

Sails the fierce cormorant,

Seeking some rocky haunt,

With his prey laden,

So toward the open main,

Beating to sea again,

Through the wild hurricane,

Bore I the maiden.


[101]

"Three weeks we westward bore,

And when the storm was o'er,

Cloudlike we saw the shore

Stretching to leeward!

There for my lady's bower

Built I the lofty tower

Which to this very hour

Stands looking seaward.


"There lived we many years;

Time dried the maiden's tears;

She had forgot her fears,

She was a mother;

Death closed her mild blue eyes;

Under that tower she lies;

Ne'er shall the sun arise

On such another!


"Still grew my bosom then,

Still as a stagnant fen!

Hateful to me were men,

The sunlight hateful!

In the vast forest here,

Clad in my warlike gear,

Fell I upon my spear,

Oh, death was grateful!


"Thus, seamed with many scars,

Bursting these prison bars,

[102]

Up to its native stars

My soul ascended!

There from the flowing bowl,

Deep drinks the warrior's soul,

Skoal! to the Northland! skoal!"

Thus the tale ended.

—HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW.


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