St. Olaf's Fountain

LIKE a ball of blood-red fire
Sinks the sun o’er forests sleeping,
Wondrously in splendor steeping
Glaciers far with cloud-capt spire.
Leaning on his stalwart steed,
Stands King Olaf, sad and weary ;
Loath to view the ruins dreary,
Whereon flames exulting feed.
Still and sultry is the night; —
Not a rustle in the rushes,
Not a breeze to stir the bushes
With its fugitive delight.
Dry and thirsty lies the land ;
Where erewhile the cooling current
Traced its courses, gay and errant,
Glimmers now the sun-bleached sand.
Far and near resounds the air
With the low of homeless cattle ;
O’er the bloody field of battle
Throws the sun its lurid glare.
From below, a muffled ring,
Like the far, unceasing dirges
Of the faintly murmuring surges,
From his musing wakes the king ;
And a vast and weary throng —
Peasants, armed with scythes, and brawny
Spearmen, clad in wolf-skins tawny —
Slowly wind the hills along.
Spoke a warrior grave and hoar,
To the king his voice uplifted :
“ Tossed and vanquished we have drifted,
Saintly king, unto thy shore.
“ We have cried to Thor and Frey ;
But our gods no more are near us,
Wrathful Thor no more will hear us.
Give us water ere we die !
“We have heard that Christ the White
Hath a balm for each disaster.
We will worship him, O master,
Who our armies put to flight.”
Then with holy zeal aglow,
With the power of strong believing,
Swift the king, his sword upheaving,
Smote the barren mountain’s brow.
Into splinters sprang the sword;
And the mountain’s ancient giant1
Roused its echoes, fierce, defiant,
As if mocking Christ the Lord.
Ah ! but from the earth’s deep breast
Came no bubbling fountain bursting ;
And the barren land lay thirsting,
With its heavy doom oppressed.
Rose a peasant then, and said,
Chuckling with a cunning, low laugh :
“ Now we know, forsooth, King Olaf,
Still is ancient Thor not dead.”
Fierce the royal warriors frowned.
“ Slay the wretch ! ” they shouted wildly.
But the king rebuked them mildly ;
Low he knelt upon the ground.
Grave and silent stood the throng,
While he prayed with deep contrition :
“ Lord, O save them from perdition ;
I am weak, but thou art strong.”
And his tears fell hot and fast ;
Waked to life the barren mountain ;
Upward sprang a bubbling fountain,
Rushing o’er the sun-bleached waste.
Now is sheathed King Olaf’s sword ;
But the cross his zeal hath planted
In our land stands bright, undaunted,
Gleaming over dale and fjord.
And his fountain pure and clear
’Mid the drooping alder-bushes
Still with joyous cadence gushes,
Fresh, unchanged, from year to year.
Hjalmar Hjorth Boyesen.
  1. According to the popular belief, the mountains were the abodes of trolls and giants, who were constantly waging war against St. Olaf, because they could not endure the noise of his church-bells.