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Svend Vonved (From The Old Danish)

George Borrow

Grimm, in the preface to his German translation of the Kiaempe Viser,
characterizes this Ballad in the following magnificent words:—

   “Seltsam ist das Lied von dem Held Vonved.  Unter dem
   Empfang des Zauberseegens und mit rathselhaften Worten,
   dass er nie wiederkehre oder dann den Tod seines Vaters
   rachen musse, reitet er aus.  Lange sieht er keine Stadt
   und keinen Menschen, dann, wer sich ihm entgegen stelit,
   den wirft er nieder, den Hirten legt er seine Rathsel vor
   uber das edelste und abscheuungswurdigste, ubar den Gang
   der Sonne und die Ruhe des Todten: wer sie nicht Iost,
   den erschlagt er; trotzig sitzt er unter den Helden, ihre
   Anerbietungen gefallen ihm nicht, er reitet heim,
   erschlagt zwolf Zauberweiber, die ihm entgegen kommen,
   dann seine Mutter, endlich zernichtet er auch sein
   Saitenspiel, damit kein Wohllaut mehr den wilden Sinn
   besanftige.  Es scheint dieses Lied vor allen in einer
   eigenen Bedeutung gedichtet, und den Mismuth eines
   zerstorten herumirrenden Gemuths anzuzeigen, das seine
   Rathsel will gelost haben: es ist die Angst eines
   Menschen darin ausgedruckt, der die Flugel, die er fuhlt,
   nicht frei bewegen kann, und der, wenn ihn diese Angst
   peinigt, gegen alles, auch gegen sein Liebstes, wuthen
   muss.  Dieser Charakter scheint dem Norden gantz
   eigenthumlich; in dem seltsamen Leben Konigs Sigurd des
   Jerusalemfahrers, auch in Shakspeare’s Hamlet ist etwas
   ahnliches.”

   “Singular is the song of the hero Vonved.  After having
   received the magic blessing, he rides out, darkly hinting
   that he must never return, or have avenged the death of
   his father.  For a long time he sees no city and no man;
   he then overthrows whomsoever opposes him; he lays his
   enigmas before the herdsmen, concerning that which is
   most grand, and that which is most horrible; concerning
   the course of the sun and the repose of the dead; he who
   cannot explain them is slaughtered.  Haughtily he sits
   among the heroes—their invitations do not please
   him—he rides home—slays twelve sorceresses
   who come against him—then his mother, and at last
   he demolishes his harp, so that no sweet sound shall in
   future soften his wild humour.  This song, more than any
   of the rest, seems to be composed with a meaning of its
   own; and shows the melancholy of a ruined, wandering
   mind, which will have its enigmas cleared up!  The
   anguish of a man is expressed therein, who cannot move
   freely the wings which he feels; and, who, when this
   anguish torments him, is forced to deal out destruction
   against all—even against his best-beloved.  Such a
   character seems to be quite the property of the North.
   In the strange life of King Sigurd, the wanderer to
   Jerusalem, and likewise in Shakspeare’s Hamlet, there is
   something similar.”


Svend Vonved sits in his lonely bower;
He strikes his harp with a hand of power;
His harp return’d a responsive din;
Then came his mother hurrying in:
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

In came his mother Adeline,
And who was she, but a queen, so fine:
“Now hark, Svend Vonved! out must thou ride,
And wage stout battle with knights of pride.
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

“Avenge thy father’s untimely end;
To me, or another, thy gold harp lend;
This moment boune thee, and straight begone!
I rede thee, do it, my own dear son.”
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

Svend Vonved binds his sword to his side;
He fain will battle with knights of pride.
“When may I look for thee once more here?
When roast the heifer, and spice the beer?”
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

“When stones shall take, of themselves, a flight,
And ravens’ feathers are woxen white,
Then may’st thou expect Svend Vonved home:
In all my days, I will never come.”
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

His mother took that in evil part:
“I hear, young gallant, that mad thou art;
Wherever thou goest, on land or sea,
Disgrace and shame shall attend on thee.”
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

He kiss’d her thrice, with his lips of fire:
“Appease, O mother, appease thine ire;
Ne’er wish me any mischance to know,
For thou canst not tell how far I may go.”
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

“Then I will bless thee, this very day;
Thou never shalt perish in any fray;
Success shall be in thy courser tall;
Success in thyself, which is best of all.
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

“Success in thy hand, success in thy foot,
In struggle with man, in battle with brute;
The holy God and Saint Drotten dear
Shall guide and watch thee through thy career.
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

“They both shall take thee beneath their care,
Then surely thou never shalt evily fare:
See yonder sword of steel so white,
No helm nor shield shall resist its bite.”
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

Svend Vonved took up the word again—
“I’ll range the mountain, and rove the plain,
Peasant and noble I’ll wound and slay;
All, all, for my father’s wrong shall pay.”
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

Svend Vonved bound his sword to his side,
He fain will battle with knights of pride;
So fierce and strange was his whole array,
No mortal ventur’d to cross his way.
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

His helm was blinking against the sun,
His spurs were clinking his heels upon, . . .
His horse was springing, with bridle ringing,
While sat the warrior wildly singing.
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

He rode a day, he rode for three,
No town nor city he yet could see;
“Ha!” said the youth, “by my father’s hand,
There is no city in all this land.”
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

He rode and lilted, he rode and sang,
Then met he by chance Sir Thule Vang;
Sir Thule Vang, with his twelve sons bold,
All cas’d in iron, the bright and cold.
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

Svend Vonved took his sword from his side,
He fain would battle with knights so tried;
The proud Sir Thule he first ran through,
And then, in succession, his sons he slew.
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

Svend Vonved binds his sword to his side,
It lists him farther to ride, to ride;
He rode along by the grene shaw;
The Brute-carl there with surprise he saw.
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

A wild swine sat on his shoulders broad,
Upon his bosom a black bear snor’d;
And about his fingers, with hair o’erhung,
The squirrel sported, and weasel clung.
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

“Now, Brute-carl, yield thy booty to me,
Or I will take it by force from thee.
Say, wilt thou quickly thy beasts forego,
Or venture with me to bandy a blow?
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

“Much rather, much rather, I’ll fight with thee,
Than thou my booty should’st get from me;
I never was bidden the like to do,
Since good King Esmer in fight I slew.”
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

“And did’st thou slay King Esmer fine?
Why, then thou slewest dear father mine;
And soon, full soon, shalt thou pay for him,
With the flesh hackt off from thy every limb!”
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

They drew a circle upon the sward;
They both were dour, as the rocks are hard;
Forsooth, I tell you, their hearts were steel’d,—
The one to the other no jot would yield.
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

They fought for a day,—they fought for two,—
And so on the third they were fain to do;
But ere the fourth day reach’d the night,
The Brute-carl fell, and was slain outright.
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

Svend Vonved binds his sword to his side,
Farther and farther he lists to ride:
He rode at the foot of a hill so steep,
There saw he a herd as he drove the sheep.
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

“Now tell me, Herd, and tell me fair,
Whose are the sheep thou art driving there?
And what is rounder than a wheel?
And where do they eat the holiest meal?”
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

“Where does the fish stand up in the flood?
And where is the bird that’s redder than blood?
Where do they mingle the best, best, wine?
And where with his knights does Vidrik dine?”
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

There sat the herd, he sat in thought;
To ne’er a question he answer’d aught.
Svend gave him a stroke, a stroke so sore,
That his lung and his liver came out before.
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

On, on went he, till more sheep he spied;
The herd sat, too, by a deep pit’s side.
“Now tell me, Herd, and tell me fair,
Whose are the sheep thou art tending there?”
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

“See yonder house, with turret and tower,
There feasting serves to beguile the hour;
There dwells a man, Tygge Nold by name,
With his twelve fair sons, who are knights of fame.”
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

“Enough, Sir Herd; now lend an ear—
Go, tell Tygge Nold to come out here.”
From his breast Svend Vonved a gold ring drew;
At the foot of the herd the gold ring he threw.
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

And as Svend Vonved approach’d the spot,
His booty among them they ‘gan to allot.
Some would have his polish’d glaive,
Others, his harness, or courser brave.
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

Svend Vonved stops, in reflection deep;
He thought it best he his horse should keep:
His hauberk and faulchion he will not lose,
Much rather to fight the youth will choose.
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

“Had’st thou twelve sons to the twelve thou hast,
And cam’st in the midst of them charging me fast,
Sooner should’st thou wring water from steel,
Than thou in such fashion with me should’st deal.
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

He prick’d with his spur his courser tall,
Which sprang, at once, over the gate and wall.
Tygge Nold there he has stretch’d in blood,
And his twelve sons too, that beside him stood.
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

Then turn’d he his steed, in haste, about,—
Svend Vonved, the knight, so youthful and stout;
Forward he went o’er mountain and moor,
No mortal he met, which vex’d him sore.
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

He came, at length, to another flock,
Where a herd sat combing his yellow lock:
“Now listen, Herd, with the fleecy care;
Listen, and give me answers fair.”
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

“What is rounder than a wheel?
Where do they eat the holiest meal?
Where does the sun go down to his seat?
And where do they lay the dead man’s feet?”
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

“What fills the valleys one and all?
What is cloth’d best in the monarch’s hall?
What cries more loud than cranes can cry?
And what can in whiteness the swan outvie?
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

“Who on his back his beard does wear?
Who ’neath his chin his nose does bear?
What’s more black than the blackest sloe?
And what is swifter than a roe?
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

“Where is the bridge that is most broad?
What is, by man, the most abhorr’d?
Where leads, where leads, the highest road up?
And say, where the hottest of drink they sup.”
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

“The sun is rounder than a wheel.
They eat at the altar the holiest meal.
The sun in the West goes down to his seat:
And they lay to the East the dead man’s feet.
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

“Snow fills the valleys, one and all.
Man is cloth’d best in the monarch’s hall.
Thunder cries louder than cranes can cry.
Angels in whiteness the swan outvie.
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

“His beard on his back the lapwing wears.
His nose ’neath his chin the elfin bears.
More black is sin than the blackest sloe:
And thought is swifter than any roe.
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

“Ice is, of bridges, the bridge most broad.
The toad is, of all things, the most abhorr’d.
To paradise leads the highest road up:
And in hell the hottest of drink they sup.”
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

“Now hast thou given me answers fair,
To each and all of my questions rare;
And now, I pray thee, be my guide,
To the nearest spot where warriors bide.”
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

“To Sonderborg I’ll show thee straight,
Where drink the heroes early and late:
There thou wilt find of knights a crew,
Haughty of heart, and hard to subdue.”
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

With a bright gold ring was his arm array’d,
Full fifteen pounds that gold ring weigh’d,
That has he given the herd, for a meed,
Because he will show him the knights with speed.
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

Svend Vonved enter’d the castle yard;
There Randulph, wrapt in his skins, kept guard:
“Ho! Caitiff, ho! with shield and brand,
What art thou doing in this my land?”
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

“I will, I will, with my single hand,
Take from thee, Knave, the whole of thy land:
I will, I will, with my single toe,
Lay thee and each of thy castles low.”
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

“Thou shalt not, with thy single hand,
Take from me, Hound, an inch of my land;
And far, far less, shalt thou, with thy toe,
Lay me or one of my castles low.
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

“Thou shalt not e’er, with finger of thine,
Strike asunder one limb of mine;
I am for thee too woxen and stark,
As thou, to thy cost, shalt quickly mark.”
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

Svend Vonved unsheath’d his faulchion bright,
With haughty Randulph he fain will fight;
Randulph he there has slain in his might,
And Strandulph too, with full good right.
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

The rest against him came out pell-mell,
Then slew he Carl Ege, the fierce and fell:—
He slew the great, he slew the small;
He slew till his foes were slaughter’d all.
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

Svend Vonved binds his sword to his side,
It lists him farther to ride, to ride;
He found upon the desolate wold
A burly knight, of aspect bold.
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

“Now tell me, Rider, noble and good,
Where does the fish stand up in the flood?
Where do they mingle the best, best wine?
And where with his knights does Vidrik dine?”
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

“The fish in the East stands up in the flood.
They drink in the North the wine so good.
In Halland’s hall does Vidrik dine,
With his swains around, and his warriors fine.”
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

From his breast Svend Vonved a gold ring drew;
At the foot of the knight the gold ring he threw:
“Go! say thou wert the very last man
Who gold from the hand of Svend Vonved wan.”
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

Svend Vonved came where the castle rose;
He bade the watchmen the gate unclose:
As none of the watchmen obey’d his cry,
He sprang at once over the ramparts high.
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

He tied his steed to a ring in the wall,
Then in he went to the wide stone hall;
Down he sat at the head of the board,
To no one present he utter’d a word.
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

He drank and he ate, he ate and he drank,
He ask’d no leave, and return’d no thank;
“Ne’er have I been on Christian ground
Where so many curst tongues were clanging round.”
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

King Vidrik spoke to good knights three:
“Go, bind that lowering swain for me;
Should ye not bind the stranger guest,
Ye will not serve me as ye can best.”
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

“Should’st thou send three, and twenty times three,
And come thyself to lay hold of me;
The son of a dog thou wilt still remain,
And yet to bind me have tried in vain.
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

“Esmer, my father, who lies on his bier,
And proud Adeline, my mother so dear,
Oft and strictly have caution’d me
To waste no breath upon hounds like thee.”
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

“And was King Esmer thy father’s name,
And Adeline that of his virtuous Dame?
Thou art Svend Vonved, the stripling wild,
My own dear sister’s only child.
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

“Svend Vonved, wilt thou bide with me here?
Honour awaits thee, and costly cheer;
Whenever it lists thee abroad to wend,
Upon thee shall knights and swains attend.
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

“Silver and gold thou never shalt lack,
Or helm to thy head, or mail to thy back;”
But to this and the like he would lend no ear,
And home to his mother he now will steer.
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

Svend Vonved gallop’d along the way;
To fancies dark was his mind a prey:
Riding he enter’d the castle yard
Where stood twelve witches wrinkled and scarr’d:
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

There stood they all, with spindle and rok,—
Each over the shinbone gave him a knock:
Svend turn’d his steed, in fury, round;
The witches he there has hew’d to the ground.
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

He hew’d the witches limb from limb,
So little mercy they got from him;
His mother came out, and was serv’d the same,
Into fifteen pieces he hackt her frame.
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.

Then in he went to his lonely bower,
There drank he the wine, the wine of power:
His much-lov’d harp he play’d upon
Till the strings were broken, every one.
   Look out, look out, Svend Vonved.
Online text © 1998-2014 Poetry X. All rights reserved.
From Romantic Ballads translated from the Danish; and Miscellaneous Pieces | Jarrold and Sons, 1913
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