Earl Sigurd's Christmas Eve
by Hjalmar Hjorth Boyesen
Earl Sigurd, he rides o'er the foam-crested brine,
And he heeds not the billowy brawl,
For he yearns to behold gentle Swanwhite, the maid
Who abides in Sir Burislav's hall.
"Earl Sigurd, the viking, he comes, he is near!
Earl Sigurd, the scourge of the sea;
Among the wild rovers who dwell on the deep,
There is none that is dreaded as he.
"Oh, hie ye, ye maidens, and hide where ye can,
Ere the clang of his war-ax ye hear,
For the wolf of the woods has more pity than he,
And his heart is as grim as his spear."
Thus rang the dread tidings, from castle to hut,
Through the length of Sir Burislav's land,
As they spied the red pennon unfurled to the breeze,
And the galleys that steered for the strand.
But with menacing brow, looming high in his prow
Stood Earl Sigurd, and fair to behold
Was his bright, yellow hair, as it waved in the air,
'Neath the glittering helmet of gold.
"Up, my comrades, and stand with your broadswords in hand,
For the war is great Odin's delight;
And the Thunderer proud, how he laughs in his cloud
When the Norsemen prepare for the fight!"
And the light galleys bore the fierce crew to the shore,
And naught good did their coming forebode,
And a wail rose on high to the storm-riven sky
As to Burislav's castle they strode.
Then the stout-hearted men of Sir Burislav's train
To the gate-way came thronging full fast
And the battle-blade rang with a murderous clang,
Borne aloft on the wings of the blast.
And they hewed and they thrust, till each man bit the dust,
Their fierce valor availing them naught.
But the Thunderer proud, how he laughed in his cloud,
When he saw how the Norsemen had fought!
Then came Burislav forth; to the men of the North
Thus in quivering accents spake he:
"O, ye warriors, name me the ransom ye claim,
Or in gold, or in robes, or in fee."
"Oh, what reck I thy gold?" quoth Earl Sigurd, the bold;
"Has not Thor laid it all in my hand?
Give me Swanwhite, the fair, and by Balder I swear
I shall never revisit thy land.
"For my vengeance speeds fast, and I come like the blast
Of the night o'er the billowy brine;
I forget not thy scorn and thy laugh on that morn
When I wooed me the maid that was mine."
Then the chief, sore afraid, brought the lily-white maid
To the edge of the blood-sprinkled field,
And they bore her aloft o'er the sward of the croft
On the vault of the glittering shield.
But amain in their path, in a whirlwind of wrath
Came young Harold, Sir Burislav's son;
With a great voice he cried, while the echoes replied:
"Lo, my vengeance, it cometh anon!"
Hark ye, Norsemen, hear great tidings:
Odin, Thor, and Frey are dead,
And white Christ, the strong and gentle,
standeth peace-crowned in their stead.
Lo, the blood-stained day of vengeance to the
ancient night is hurled,
And the dawn of Christ is beaming blessings
o'er the new-born world.
"See the Cross in splendor gleaming far and
wide o'er pine-clad heath,
While the flaming blade of battle slumbers in
its golden sheath.
And before the lowly Savior, e'en the rider of
Sigurd, tamer of the billow, he hath bent the
Now at Yule-tide sat he feasting on the shore
of Drontheim fiord,
And his stalwart swains about him watched
the bidding of their lord.
Huge his strength was, but his visage, it was
mild and fair to see;
Ne'er old Norway, heroes' mother, bore a
mightier son than he.
With her maids sat gentle Swanwhite 'neath a
roof of gleaming shields,
As the rarer lily blossoms 'mid the green herbs
of the fields;
To and fro their merry words flew lightly
through the torch-lit room,
Like a shuttle deftly skipping through the
mazes of the loom.
And the scalds with nimble fingers o'er the
sounding harp-strings swept;
Now the strain in laughter rippled, now with
hidden woe it wept,
For they sang of Time's beginning, ere the sun
the day brought forth—
Sang as sing the ocean breezes through the
pine-woods of the North.
Bolder beat the breasts of Norsemen—when
amid the tuneful din
Open sprang the heavy hall-doors, and a
stranger entered in.
Tall his growth, though low he bended o'er a
twisted staff of oak,
And his stalwart shape was folded in a dun,
Straight the Earl his voice uplifted: "Hail
to thee, my guest austere!
Drain with me this cup of welcome: thou shalt
share our Yule-tide cheer.
Thou shalt sit next to my high-seat e'en
though lowly be thy birth,
For to-night our Lord, the Savior, came a
stranger to his earth."
Up then rose the gentle Swanwhite, and her
eyes with fear grew bright;
Down the dusky hall she drifted, as a shadow
drifts by night.
"If my lord would hold me worthy," low she
spake, "then grant me leave
To abide between the stranger and my lord,
this Christmas eve."
"Strange, O guest, is women's counsel, still
their folly is the staff
Upon which our wisdom leaneth," and he
laughed a burly laugh;
Lifted up her lissome body with a husband's
Kissed her brow, and placed her gently in the
high-seat at his side.
But the guest stood pale and quivered, where
the red flames roofward rose,
And he clenched the brimming goblet in his
fingers, fierce and close,
Then he spake: "All hail, Earl Sigurd,
mightiest of the Norsemen, hail!
Ere I name to thee my tidings, I will taste thy
flesh and ale."
Quoth the merry Earl with fervor: "Courteous
is thy speech and free:
While thy worn soul thou refreshest, I will
sing a song to thee;
For beneath that dusky garment thou mayst
hide a hero's heart,
And my hand, though stiff, hath scarcely yet
unlearned the singer's art."
Then the arms so tightly folded round his neck
the Earl unclasped,
And his heart was stirred within him as the
silvern strings he grasped,
But with eyes of meek entreaty, closely to his
side she clung,
While his mighty soul rose upward on the
billows of the song.
For he sang, in tones impassioned, of the death
of Aesir bright,
Sang the song of Christ the glorious, who was
born a babe to-night,
How the hosts of heaven victorious joined the
anthem of his birth,
Of the kings the starlight guided from the far
lands of the earth.
And anon, with bodeful glamour fraught, the
hurrying strain sped on,
As he sang the law of vengeance and the wrath
Sang of gods with murder sated, who had laid
the fair earth waste,
Who had whetted swords of Norsemen,
plunged them into Norsemen's breast.
But he shook a shower of music, rippling from
the silver strings,
And bright visions rose of angels and of fair
and shining things
As he sang of heaven's rejoicing at the mild
and bloodless reign
Of the gentle Christ who bringeth peace and
good-will unto men!
But the guest sat dumb and hearkened, staring
at the brimming bowl,
While the lay with mighty wing-beats swept
the darkness of his soul.
For the Christ who worketh wonders as of old,
so e'en to-day
Sent his angel downward gliding on the ladder
of the lay.
As the host his song had ended with a last
And within the harp's dumb chambers
murmurous echoes faintly rang,
Up then sprang the guest, and straightway
downward rolled his garment dun—
There stood Harold, the avenger, Burislav's
High he loomed above the feasters in the
torchlight dim and weird,
From his eyes hot tears were streaming,
sparkling in his tawny beard;
Shining in his sea-blue mantle stood he, 'mid
that wondering throng,
And each maiden thought him fairest, and each
warrior vowed him strong.
Swift he bared his blade of battle, flung it
quivering on the board:
"Lo!" he cried, "I came to bid thee baleful
greeting with my sword;
Thou hast dulled the edge that never shrank
from battle's fiercest test—
Now I come, as comes a brother, swordless unto
"With three hundred men I landed in the
gloaming at thy shore—
Dost thou hear their axes clanking on their
shields without thy door?
But a yearning woke within me my sweet sister's
voice to hear,
To behold her face and whisper words of
warning in her ear.
"But I knew not of the new-born king, who
holds the earth in sway,
And whose voice like fragrance blended in the
soarings of thy lay.
This my vengeance now, O brother: foes as
friends shall hands unite;
Teach me, thou, the wondrous tidings, and the
law of Christ the white."
Touched as by an angel's glory, strangely
shone Earl Sigurd's face,
As he locked his foe, his brother, in a brotherly
And each warrior upward leaping, swung his
horn with gold bedight:
"Hail to Sigurd, hail to Harold, three times
hail to Christ the white!"