Odin’s twin ravens from his shoulders sped
Down from fair Asgard to the plains below.
They were the envoys of the one—eyed god
who came and went according to his wish.
They brought him from the very bounds of space
All news and tidings, favourable or bad.
Today, all men and beasts their lives pursued
In gentle harmony and rectitude.
One thing alone they saw which boded ill
And made the ravens to their lord return
In greatest haste upon the soaring winds,
Back to their perch on Odin’s outstretched arms.
“Why back so soon? What news have you for me?
Your ruffled feathers speak your deep disquiet!
Are men at war with men or giants with gods?
What is this news you bring to me in haste?”
“All-father Odin, Master of all joys,
The news we bring will sadden your good heart.
Balder your son, the apple of your eye,
Within his palace of the Sun lies ill.
His face is ashen and his rays grow dim
And no one knows the reason for his state.
Go to him now and questioning your son
Find out the cause before it is too late!”
Now Odin had twin sons he dearly loved,
Balder the God of Day who ruled the Sun,
Fairest of all the gods, beloved by all,
And Hod, blind God of Darkness and of Night.
Dismayed and troubled by the ravens’ news,
Odin departed with the greatest speed
Upon his grey horse Sleipnir, through the air,
To journey to the sick-bed of his son.
Into the prince’s palace Odin went
And joined the gods around poor Balder’s bed.
With them were Nanna, Balder’s faithful wife
And Loki, God of Mischief and of Fire.
The gods drew back and let great Odin pass
To stand beside the sick-bed of his child.
“Leave us alone,” he said, “for just a while,
I want to talk in private with my son.”
“What ails you Balder? Why the ashen face?
Why sinks your spirit downwards to the shades?
All of creation pines without your light,
Laughter has died, your father’s heart is sad.”
Pale Balder stirred upon his gilded couch,
Opened his eyes and saw his father there.
Relief replaced the terror in his look,
He sat upright, held out his hand and smiled.
“My father”, Balder said, “for some time now
My sleep has been invaded by a dream
Which grows in horror and intensity,
Oppressing me on each consecutive night.
The new-born day should bring me some relief
But fear compounds itself and ’tis not so.
This nightmare haunts my days and fills my heart
with dread of all-consuming magnitude.
I dream that in the forests of the gods,
Some creature lives which menaces my life.
At first remote, the threat each day draws near
And soon will reach me, though I hide and flee.“
“My son,” said Odin, “you are dear to me
And know I would defend you with my life,
But still I feel you must resist your fear,
A dream is but a dream, however real.”
“The dream is like no other”, Balder said,
“This nightmare lingers when all others fade;
My enemy is real, his malice great,
I cannot face alone this unknown threat!”
Odin withdrew and summoned all the gods
To meet before Valhalla’s golden gate:
There they debated long into the night
How to identify the deadly threat.
At last the goddess Frigg, great Odin’s wife,
Found a solution which seemed good to all;
Each creature, thing or plant, both small and big,
Should swear to do no harm to Odin’s son.
When morning came, Frigg set about her task
Of binding with an oath all living things.
They swore this joyfully, for Balder’s sake,
No harm would e’er befall him by their hand.
Once more did laughter ring in Asgard’s plains
And sunlight cloak the contours of the land.
Once more was Balder, freed now from his fear,
The light and joy and darling of the gods.
In sport and games the happy gods rejoiced,
with sticks and stones assaying Balder’s claim.
He stayed unharmed before each weapon’s thrust
And smilingly deflected every blow.
Two gods alone this pleasure did not share
And took no part nor joy in Balder’s games,
Loki, by envy burnt, the God of Fire
And Hod, blind God of Darkness and of Night.
“Sweet Frigg!” said Loki, full of smiles and guile,
“Your tireless pains have rendered safe your son.
Throughout the world all living thins by oath
Have shown you their allegiance and their love.”
“Well almost all,” said Frigg, “one thing alone
I overlooked but tis no matter now,
The mistletoe which grows by Valhall’s door
Is far too weak to do him any harm!”
On hearing this, sly Loki slipped away,
Down to the oak which by Valhalla stands,
And from its branches plucked the thickest shoot
Of mistletoe and whittled him a shaft.
He hurried back to Asgard’s flowered fields,
Where Balder and the gods pursued their games,
Sought out blind Hod, alone who did not play,
And asked him why he held himself apart.
“Why do you tease me, Loki? You know well
My eyes are sightless and I cannot see
To aim the missiles at fair Balder’s form.
Leave me alone, don’t waste your taunts on me!”
“You judge me wrongly, Hod, you too can play!
Here, take this shaft, your hand I’ll gladly hold
To guide your throw and send it on its way,
With all the strength and speed you can command.”
No second invitation was required,
The mistletoe its fatal passage made
Across the darkening sky. Its aim was true
And Balder’s heart it pierced both swift and deep.
No sound was heard as Balder slowly fell
Already pale in death upon the mossy bank.
All Nature held its breath, while from the sky
Daylight departed and gave way to night.
From their initial shock the gods awoke,
Loud were their cries of sorrow and despair.
Blind Hod, in horror, from the gods’ revenge
Took refuge in the deepest forest glades.
Now for the first time ever did the gods
A vision of their own demise forsee.
The mould was broken and that precious peace
Which once prevailed in Asgard now had fled.
All-father Odin, prostrate in his grief,
Sent out a messenger in greatest haste
To visit Hel, the Guardian of the Dead,
To beg her to restore to him his son.
Hel did not easily give up the souls
Of those she guarded jealously in death.
Balder she would reprieve if, in the world
All creatures mourned his passing, barring none.
Creation wept and Balder’s swift return
Seemed guaranteed to all the mourning gods,
But Loki’s evil was not yet complete,
He, hidden in a cave, refused to grieve.
Down to the shore, the broken-hearted gods
Bore Balder’s body on a wooden bier.
There they bedecked his boat with oak leaves green
And garlands mixed of thyme and rosemary.
They primed the deck with boughs of fir and yew,
Around the mast his treasure piled up high.
His sword and helmet on the vessel’s bow
And shield of silver they deposited.
When all was done, Lord Odin gave the sign
To carry Balder’s body to his ship.
with loving care, the gods their burden laid
Upon his cloak, high in the vessel’s stern.
Poor Nanna, Balder’s wife, could not endure
Her sorrow at the passing of her lord.
Her frail heart broke and there, beside her love,
They laid her body and their hands entwined.
Out from the shallows to the deep beyond
The gods pushed Balder’s ship and there it rode
Upon the tide, its blessed cargo rocked
By lapping waves to sea birds’ mournful cries.
Above his head, great Odin held a branch
Of blazing yew, lit from the sacred fire.
Into the ship he thrust the burning brand
And with its flame ignited Balder’s pyre.
“Go, dearest Son, fair winds your passage make!
May night’s bright stars your sacred vessel guide!
Farewell Sweet Light! Our days are darker now
And sad our hearts without you by our side.”
Across the lonely sea a wind arose
which blew the smoke across the open bay.
It caught the sail and bore the vessel out
And slowly, slowly, sent it on its way.
Great flames rose up around the mast and sail,
The timbers flared and sparks flew heaven-high.
The sea turned red as Balder’s vessel plied
Its final course beneath a burning sky.
Upon the shingle by the water’s edge,
The silent gods kept watch throughout the night.
By day’s grey dawn, the smoke and flames were gone
And Balder’s ship had disappeared from sight.
But this is not the end. The legends tell
That in the Fall of Time at Ragnarok
A great upheaval will unseat the gods
And ice and fire will ravage Asgard’s plains.
Wild beasts will roam its halls, the gods will die,
Loki will perish and his mischief cease,
In chaos will the heavenly order end,
Its ruins slowly sinking in the waves.
From that bleak end a new world will emerge,
Nature will blossom and pure fountains spring.
From Hel’s domaine, fair Balder will return
And all the Earth with Peace and Joy shall ring.
So let Hope live! though Evil win the day,
Its reign is doomed, its cruel course will run.
Pale watchers on the shore, we brave the night
To catch the golden rising of the sun.