Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 11/Sir Olaf

Translation of "Ritter Olaf" (1839).

Pale as corpse, and trembling, weeping,
See the king's fair child appearing,—
Bold and proud, as nothing fearing,
Gaily smiling, walks Sir Olaf.

And, with lips so red and smiling,
To the gloomy king thus speaks he,
"Father of my wife, I greet thee,
Though my head must pay the forfeit.

"I must die to-day, yet let me,
Only let me live till midnight,
That, with feast and dance by torchlight,
I may celebrate my bridal;

"Let me live till the last goblet
To the last drop I have drained,
Till the last wild dance is ended,—
Let me, let me live till midnight."

And the king speaks to the headsman,—
"To the bridegroom grant we respite,
But his life must end at midnight.
Keep, oh! keep, thy good axe ready."


II.

Sir Olaf sits at the festive board,
Into his cup the last wine is poured,
And close at his side
Sits the weeping bride,
And the headsman stands in the doorway.

The dancing begins, the knight, in wild haste,
Hath clasped his arm round his fair wife's waist,
And they dance the last dance
By the torches' glance,
And the headsman stands in the doorway.

Merry the viols' clear notes float by,
But the flutes full softly and sadly sigh;
As the dancers draw near,
Each soul fills with fear,
And the headsman stands in the doorway.

And as through the quaking room they glide,
Sir Olaf whispers so low to his bride,—
"My love for thee can never be told—
The grave is so cold,"—
And the headsman stands in the doorway.


III.

Sir Olaf, hark! the midnight bell,
For thee shall rise no morrow;
To love a king's fair child too well
Bringeth but shame and sorrow.

Chant, ye monks, a prayer for the dead,
The dismal block is ready,
The headsman, wrapped in his mantle red,
Poiseth his axe so steady.

Sir Olaf the castle-yard doth reach.
Swords flash and lights are flaring,
But boldly he maketh his dying speech,
And his lips a smile are wearing.

"I bless the sun, and the moon, and each star
Its rays o'er the fair earth flinging,
The birds that in the free air afar
Their joyful songs are singing.

"I bless the land, and I bless the sea,
The flowers the earth entwining;
I bless the violets, sweet that be
As my wife's blue eyes so shining.

"Those eyes have cost my life to me,
Those violet eyes, love-lighted,
Yet I bless them, and the elder-tree
Where our rash love was plighted."



A CHAPTER ON BIRDS.


Not the least interesting side of ornithology is a knowledge of the associations connected with birds. These, as a few specimens will show, are multitudinous, and range over many departments of learning. The classics, ancient history and mythology, mediæval manners and customs, sacred lore and modern æsthetics, have each of them a point where they come in contact with ornithology. Hardly a single bird that we see in our walks is without a relation to the past or some reference to the home life of our own days.

We will begin with our own British birds. Seldom as it is seen with us now, the eagle soaring amongst the clouds is still to the classical scholar Jove's bird that bore off Ganymede to Olympus. The peacock sunning its many-eyed tail on the terrace recalls the pomp and state of Juno. Minerva, goddess of the wisdom that loves silence and the night hours, has her noise less winged owl, just as Venus delighted in her Paphian doves. Around the osprey (Pandion), the hoopoe, kingfisher (Halcyon), unhappy Philomela and the swallow (Procne), crystallises many a legend of the old mythology. The woodpecker (Picus), takes us back to the cradle of Romulus and Remus, while the vulture, of which two or three specimens have been taken in Great Britain, recalls the foundation of the Eternal City: geese are for ever associated with its capitol. How appropriately is the Orphean warbler named! When spring brings back the cuckoo, and its attendant the cuckoo-maid (as country folks call the wry neck), who is not instantly transported to the sunny hills of Campania in Horace's time, and the vine-dresser vying with the passer-by in the rustic witticism of shouting "cuckoo" to each other? The cocks and hens in the farmyard tell us of the Indian jungles where their ancestors strutted ages ago, just as the very mention of a pheasant bears us off to Colchis, and shows us Medea brewing her unholy potions by the Phasis. Very suitably has the wren, with its small body and curious propensity for burrowing into hedge-bottoms, received the name of Troglodytes Europœus, carrying us away to Africa, the fairy-land of the old