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Poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Tales of a Wayside Inn

XVII

KING SVEND OF THE FORKED BEAR

Loudly the sailors cheered
Svend of the Forked Beard,
As with his fleet he steered
  Southward to Vendland;
Where with their courses hauled
All were together called,
Under the Isle of Svald
  Near to the mainland.

After Queen Gunhild's death,
So the old Saga saith,
Plighted King Svend his faith
  To Sigrid the Haughty;
And to avenge his bride,
Soothing her wounded pride,
Over the waters wide
  King Olaf sought he.

Still on her scornful face,
Blushing with deep disgrace,
Bore she the crimson trace
  Of Olaf's gauntlet;
Like a malignant star,
Blazing in heaven afar,
Red shone the angry scar
  Under her frontlet.

Oft to King Svend she spake,
"For thine own honor's sake
Shalt thou swift vengeance take
  On the vile coward!"
Until the King at last,
Gusty and overcast,
Like a tempestuous blast
  Threatened and lowered.

Soon as the Spring appeared,
Svend of the Forked Beard
High his red standard reared,
  Eager for battle;
While every warlike Dane,
Seizing his arms again,
Left all unsown the grain,
  Unhoused the cattle.

Likewise the Swedish King
Summoned in haste a Thing,
Weapons and men to bring
  In aid of Denmark;
Erie the Norseman, too,
As the war-tidings flew,
Sailed with a chosen crew
  From Lapland and Finmark.

So upon Easter day
Sailed the three kings away,
Out of the sheltered bay,
  In the bright season;
With them Earl Sigvald came,
Eager for spoil and fame;
Pity that such a name
  Stooped to such treason!

Safe under Svald at last,
Now were their anchors cast,
Safe from the sea and blast,
  Plotted the three kings;
While, with a base intent,
Southward Earl Sigvald went,
On a foul errand bent,
  Unto the Sea-kings.

Thence to hold on his course,
Unto King Olaf's force,
Lying within the hoarse
  Mouths of Stet-haven;
Him to ensnare and bring,
Unto the Danish king,
Who his dead corse would fling
  Forth to the raven!