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Poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Tales of a Wayside Inn

V

THE SKERRY OF SHRIEKS

Now from all King Olaf's farms
    His men-at-arms
Gathered on the Eve of Easter;
To his house at Angvalds-ness
    Fast they press,
Drinking with the royal feaster.

Loudly through the wide-flung door
    Came the roar
Of the sea upon the Skerry;
And its thunder loud and near
    Reached the ear,
Mingling with their voices merry.

"Hark!" said Olaf to his Scald,
    Halfred the Bald,
"Listen to that song, and learn it!
Half my kingdom would I give,
    As I live,
If by such songs you would earn it!

"For of all the runes and rhymes
    Of all times,
Best I like the ocean's dirges,
When the old harper heaves and rocks,
    His hoary locks
Flowing and flashing in the surges!"

Halfred answered: "I am called
    The Unappalled!
Nothing hinders me or daunts me.
Hearken to me, then, O King,
    While I sing
The great Ocean Song that haunts me."

"I will hear your song sublime
    Some other time,"
Says the drowsy monarch, yawning,
And retires; each laughing guest
    Applauds the jest;
Then they sleep till day is dawning.

Facing up and down the yard,
    King Olaf's guard
Saw the sea-mist slowly creeping
O'er the sands, and up the hill,
    Gathering still
Round the house where they were sleeping.

It was not the fog he saw,
    Nor misty flaw,
That above the landscape brooded;
It was Eyvind Kallda's crew
    Of warlocks blue
With their caps of darkness hooded!

Round and round the house they go,
    Weaving slow
Magic circles to encumber
And imprison in their ring
    Olaf the King,
As he helpless lies in slumber.

Then athwart the vapors dun
    The Easter sun
Streamed with one broad track of splendor!
in their real forms appeared
    The warlocks weird,
Awful as the Witch of Endor.

Blinded by the light that glared,
    They groped and stared
Round about with steps unsteady;
From his window Olaf gazed,
    And, amazed,
"Who are these strange people?" said he.

"Eyvind Kallda and his men!"
    Answered then
From the yard a sturdy farmer;
While the men-at-arms apace
    Filled the place,
Busily buckling on their armor.

From the gates they sallied forth,
    South and north,
Scoured the island coast around them,
Seizing all the warlock band,
    Foot and hand
On the Skerry's rocks they bound them.

And at eve the king again
    Called his train,
And, with all the candles burning,
Silent sat and heard once more
    The sullen roar
Of the ocean tides returning.

Shrieks and cries of wild despair
    Filled the air,
Growing fainter as they listened;
Then the bursting surge alone
    Sounded on;--
Thus the sorcerers were christened!

"Sing, O Scald, your song sublime,
    Your ocean-rhyme,"
Cried King Olaf: "it will cheer me!"
Said the Scald, with pallid cheeks,
    "The Skerry of Shrieks
Sings too loud for you to hear me!"