Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 8/Ballad of the page and the king's daughter
BALLAD OF THE PAGE AND THE KING’S DAUGHTER.
(TRANSLATED FROM GIEBEL.)
The King rides forth to hunt to-day:
And midst the forest trees
The hunter’s horn, the hounds’ deep bay,
Are borne upon the breeze.
And when the noontide pours its rays
Through tangled bush and brake,
The King’s fair daughter slowly strays,
Nor knows which path to take.
Softly she rides, and by her side
The Page with golden hair;
And were she not a kingdom’s pride
They were a lovely pair.
He looks on her, loud beats his heart,
Crimsoned are brow and cheeks;
They’ve reached the beech trees’ thickest part
When glowing red he speaks.
“To hide my grief, it is in vain,
Oh, Princess, kind and fair;
My heart it breaks with love’s sweet pain,
Ah, listen to my prayer.
“If on that rosy mouth I might
Impress one single kiss,
The worst of deaths would seem but light
For such unhoped-for bliss.”
She says not “Yes”—no answer makes,
But checks her palfrey’s reins,
When from the saddle her he takes,
His hand her foot sustains.
Down to the woodland’s deepest shade
They steal and tell their love;
The nightingale sings in the glade,
Murmurs the turtle-dove.
The wild red roses bloom around
Beneath the leafy screen;
The green fresh moss strews all the ground,
Meet bed for Love’s soft Queen.
Upon the mossy bank they stay,
And let their horses rove,
Nor hear the nightingale’s sweet lay,
Nor horn wound in the grove.
Oh, haste thee, King: the gold-haired Page
Is by thy daughter’s side;
She, in his arms, forgets thy rage,
The world, and all beside.
Down by the castle of the King
Two ride along the shore;
On high the winds their storm-notes sing,
The waves advancing roar.
Then to the Page in accents dread
These words the King thus speaks:
“Who gave thee, friend, that rose-bud red,
That rose thy hat safe keeps?”
“My mother gave me this red rose
When she farewell did say;
In water every night it blows,
To bloom afresh next day.”
Further along the winding creek
Still ride they side by side;
The sea-gulls flying wildly shriek,
Moans the advancing tide.
When thus the King: “Boy, tell me true,
Whose is that lock of hair,
Which, as aside thy mantle flew,
Lay on thy bosom bare?”
“That is my sister’s light brown hair,
’Tis sweet as rose’s scent,
With softest silk it might compare,
She wept as thence I went.”
Up the steep rock their path now lay,
Where, carved in letters rude,
Are Runic rhymes of olden days.
When thus, in savage mood,
A third time spake the wrathful King:
“Rash boy, oh tell to me,
Who gave thee that bright golden ring
I on thy finger see?”
“She who gave me this golden ring
Her heart likewise she gives;
And she’s the fairest maid, Sir King,
Who in thy kingdom lives.”
Then, red with anger, cried the King,
His eyes with fury burn:
“That ring—it is my daughter’s ring,
It’s sparkle I discern.
“And if, indeed, with wanton love
Thou’st dared my child to woo,
Thy youthful life no plea shall prove,
In death thy crime thou’lt rue.”
Then to his heart with weapon keen
He smote him—nought can save;
His blood the Runic stones between
Flows downwards to the waves.
Into the sea he did him fling:
“And, since thou aim’st so high,
Go, seek the haunts where mermaids sing,
To win their queen, go try!”
To the King’s castle by the shore
One horseman rode alone,
Whilst out to sea a body bore
The waves with ceaseless moan.
The Runic stones one summer night
Saw the mermaidens play:
Midst rippling waters, breezes light,
And moon in heaven which lay.
They laugh, they splash, their arms they lave
’Mongst water-lilies fair,
Their golden locks float on the wave,
Glisten their white limbs bare.
A sedgy bearded merman, through
A horn of mussel-shell
Blows blasts to call the giddy crew,
But nought their mirth can quell.
Then cried the youngest, laughing low,
“Ah, see what I have here!
A gleaming body white as snow,
Or silver shining clear.
“Upon a coral reef it lay,
I found it as I dived,
’Twas tangled in a branching spray:
Say, what can be contrived!”
Around the body in a ring
They troop—their Queen thus spake:
“So fair and fine this new-found thing,
A harp of it we’ll make.
“Come, old Sedge-Beard, my trusty friend,
Thou’rt wise in all things strange;
A swordfish thee for horse I’ll send,
So thou wilt work this change.”
The merman comes, the body takes,
He labours sure and slow;
The pegs he of the fingers makes,
Of the breast-bone the bow.
He takes the Queen’s bright golden hair,
And with it makes the strings;
And soon the summer night-winds bear
Strange sounds upon their wings.
The harp he strikes with chords so clear,
The waves forget to moan,
The breezes hold their breath to hear
That soft and wondrous tone.
The seamews settle on the strand,
The gold-fish swim around,
The winds and waters trancéd stand,
All charmed by that sweet sound.
The merman sings and plays all night,
Fatigue he doth not feel;
The mermaids dance, till morn’s red light,
In many a graceful wheel.
The lamps flash in the King’s high hall,
The flutes and viols play;
The King’s fair daughter leads the ball,
For ’tis her marriage day.
A myrtle wreath is on her head,
But ne’er a word she speaks;
Upon her breast are roses red,
But white as death her cheeks.
All richly clad, with lordly air,
A Prince stands by her side;
But, oh! ten thousand times more fair
The Page who for her died.
To pass the wine, twelve maidens stand
Around the board of gold,
And Pages swarm on every hand,
Who wreaths and torches hold.
When suddenly the lights dim burn,
The viols cease to play,
And from his throne the King speaks stern,
“What means this silence?—say.”
“Before thy castle gates, Sir King,
We hear the merman’s lay,
When to his harp we hear him sing
Our music we must stay.”
And hark! from out the sea there flow
Into the festal hall,
Through the clear night, sweet sounds and low
Which on their ears soft fall.
The sound into the bride’s soul steals,
As if in that same hour
Her dead love’s presence it reveals
By some strange magic power.
She knows not why, but from her eyes
Fast fall the tear-drops down;
Upon her breast the rose-bud dies,
Low lies her myrtle crown.
To the King’s proud soul it pierced through,
He cursed it in his heart;
The Prince to seek his charger flew,
And hurried to depart.
With broken heart the Bride lies dead,
For Grief hath power to kill;
And when the morning breaketh red,
The Merman’s Harp is still.