The Vala's Song--Signs of Ragnarok--Evil among Men--Fimbul Winter--Goldcomb's Warning--Giants assail Bif-rost--Heimdal's Horn is blown--The Quaking of Ygdrasil--Loke and the Monsters freed--Ship of Death--Fear in Hela--Harper of Ironwood--The Midgard Serpent rises--Coming of Monsters--The Last Scene--Gods in Battle: their Doom--Odin avenged--Sun and Moon devoured--The End of All--World's New Age--Balder's Return--The Regenerating Race--All-father's Decrees.
THERE was a Vala who sang of the end of all things, of the doom of gods and men, of the last dread battle and Odin's death, and of the coming of Surtur, whose flames shall consume the world. In mid-air she sang, and at high noon. Odin, sitting in his throne of gold, was silent, and listening he understood, for from the beginning he had foreknowledge of the end. Yet was he not afraid. He awaited Ragnarok, "the Dusk of the Gods", as in youth he had waited, and now he was grown old.
. . . . . .
It was thus the Vala sang:
"The Age of Evil hath come upon earth--the Knife Age, the Axe Age, and the Age of Cloven Shields. The violent fall upon the peaceful; brothers slay brothers, and the children of sisters are shedding one another's blood. Great luxuries do men seek, and sensual sin prevails. The world is doomed, yet is it hard and cruel and full of sin. Thick-pressed in Hela's heavy streams doth Urd behold wading confusedly perjurers and murderers and evildoers without number. . . .
"Follows the Age of Northern Winds. Sword blasts are cleaving the darkened skies. Fierce beasts from forests and mountains and barren wilds seek their prey among men. None spares his neighbour, nor lifts a hand to save. . . .
"Fimbul Winter is now come. Heavy snows are driven and fall from the world's four corners; the murder frost prevails. The sun is darkened at noon; it sheds no gladness; devouring tempests bellow and never end. In vain do men await the coming of summer. Thrice winter follows winter over a world which is snow-smitten, frost-fettered, and chained in ice. . . . Yet wars are waged, blood is shed, and evil grows greater. . . .
"Suddenly Goldcomb crows loud in Asgard; from Hela's depths the Red Fire-Cock makes answer. On a hilltop in Ironwood the Storm-Eagle flaps heavily its wings, and tempests bellow over ocean and land. . . .
"The giants have gathered to assail Asgard. To Bif-rost they hasten: at the north end are Frost-giants and Mountain-giants; at the south end are the dread sons of Suttung. Heimdal beholds them. In his hand is the Gjallar-horn, which has long been hidden in the deepest shade of Ygdrasil, and from it he blows a thunder blast which awakens the nine worlds. . . . Mimer's seven sons start from sleep in Hela's golden hall, and arm themselves for conflict. . . . Odin talks with Mimer's head; he divines the end of all things, and unafraid he plans his battle array in the last conflict.
"With clamour and speed the giants ascend Bif-rost, and the sublime bridge breaks with the weight of riders, whereat Ygdrasil quakes--the old ash, deep-rooted and strong-rooted, trembles standing, so that the worlds are shaken and the bonds of fettered giants are broken. Loud barks Garm on the rocky isle of the Gulf of Black
[paragraph continues] Grief, for the wolf Fenrer escapes and Loke is set free, Snapped are the cords that bind Naglefar, the great Ship of Death; it breaks loose. . . .
"The gods are unafraid; they sit in counsel in their High Thingstead. But Njord leaves Asgard and returns to the wise Vans, for the war is waged against the Asa-gods, and Suttung seeks to be avenged upon Odin. . . .
"The elves tremble, and the dwarfs shudder in dim-discovered caverns; they hide behind their rocky walls. In Jotun-heim there is loud bellowing and defiance, and terror spreads among men in Midgard. White fear passes over Hela, for the uncertain conflict is at hand. The sons of Mimer guard the gate: their long swords are in their hands. . . .
"In gloomy Ironwood the ice-cold heart of Angerboda is made glad. Gymer sits upon a mound alone, playing a harp; he is merry because of what is at hand. Long hath he awaited the hour of doom. To him comes Fjalar-Suttung, creator of illusions, in the guise of Hela's red cock, and he seeks the Sword of Victory which Gymer hath guarded--the sword which Thjasse-Volund forged with spells to wreak vengeance upon the gods, which Mimer captured and Svipdag found, the sword which Frey should wield in the last battle, and he yet gave to Angerboda for love of Gerd. To Fjalar-Suttung is the Sword of Victory given up, and he hastens to Surtur. . . .
"Now from the east drives Hrym; a buckler covers him, and his hordes follow. The Midgard serpent is shaken with giant rage, for its hour hath come; it writhes and wallows on Ocean's slimy floor, so that billows are raised and driven over Midgard high as the mountains; it rears its shaggy head out of the sea; venom-spotted is its body, and fire fumes it sends forth.
[paragraph continues] In Ironwood the storm eagle rises with beating wings. It snaps its sharp beak; it hungers for dead men's flesh. . . .
"The Ship of Death is sailing over the sea. On board are the sons of Muspel, who were bound; the stricken Jotuns, freed from bonds; Garm, the watch-dog; and the unfettered wolf Fenrer. Monsters gaunt and grim are in the ship, and Hel is there also. Loke is the pilot and holds the rudder. To Ironwood he steers over it his host he shall lead to the plain of Vigrid. . . .
"From the south comes black Surtur. In his hand flames the Sword of Victory, which he hath received from Suttung. Seething fire gleams from the sunbright blade, and his bleak avengers follow him. . . .
Mountains are shaken and the rocks tremble. The giant maids are stricken with fear. Mortals n Midgard are strewn in death, and their shades crowd the path to Hela. Heaven yawns; it is rent in twain because that Surtur issues forth. . . .
"On the plains of Vigrid is the last battle fought, A hundred miles it stretches in length, and a hundred miles in width, enclosing the wood of Vidar the Silent, where Odin is doomed to die. . . . The hosts of evil come against the hosts of Asgard. Frey leads the heroes of Valhal in the fray. He goes against black Surtur, unarmed and without fear, and by the Sword of Victory he is slain.
"Against strong Tyr leaps Garm, the fierce wolf-dog, and in dread conflict they engage; and one by the other is wounded, so that both fall dead.
"Loke battles with Heimdal, but against the shining hero the Evil One cannot prevail. Terrible is Loke's aspect after long torture, for his beard and hair have grown like horns. With his bright sword the watchman
of Bif-rost takes his head. But even after death is the Evil One avenged, for his head strikes the body of Heimdal, who is grievously wounded thereby and brought to life's end.
"There is no longer fear in Hela; the sons of Mimer rejoice because that Loke is dead.
"Thor is engaged in fierce combat with the Midgard serpent. Long is the strife and uncertain. The serpent is coiled and uncoiled; it writhes before Thor; it avoids his hammer blows, and over him it pours floods of venom. Terrible is the wrath of the thunder-god, and fain would he smite his enemy, dreading that he will be overcome. But at length he prevails. Thunder bellows loud and Mjolner flashes fire as Thor smites the deathblow, and the monster is stretched dying upon the plain. Great renown, indeed, hath the God of Thunder gained, yet pays he life's cost for the victory. With its last fierce breath the serpent sends forth suffocating venom fumes, and Thor staggers back nine paces. Then with a thunder groan the victor falls dead. . . .
"How fares Odin in this dread hour? He combats with the ravenous wolf Fenrer, the avenging monster which broke free from its bonds. From earth to heaven its jaws gape. Fiery flames dart from its nostrils and from its eyes. Odin fights with his spear Gungner, and violent are his blows. He rides on Sleipner; on his head gleams his helmet of gold; his blue robe streams behind. Fearless is Odin and proud, and his form is stately in this his hour of doom. Naught can avail him in the great combat. He is stricken down in his splendour, and by the wolf is he devoured.
"Yet short-lived is the triumph of Fenrer. Strong Vidar the Silent advances speedily to avenge his sire's death. His iron-shod foot is stamped on the monster's
under jaw. He struggles fiercely with the terrible wolf, for he is stronger and must prevail. In the end he tears asunder the great jaws, and plunges his spear in Fenrer's heart through that throat of fire. Thus Odin is avenged. . . .
"How fares the Asa-hosts when Odin and Thor fall, and Tyr and Frey lie dead? The heroes of Valhal are scattered, hordes of giants are killed, and the field is wet with blood. The black dragon Nidhog is soaring through the air with rustling wings. It flies towards the plain of battle and swallows the bodies of the dead. . . . Surtur alone prevails.
"In Heaven there is disaster. Closer and closer hath the giant wolf Skoll crept towards the sun, and now he swallows it. By Hati-Managarm is the moon devoured.
"So is the sun darkened at high noon, the heavens and the earth are turned red with blood, the seats of the mighty gods drip gore. So is the moon lost in blackness, while the stars vanish from the skies.
"Now Surtur completes creation's doom. He casts his firebrands against the scattered Asa-hosts, and those who remain are burned up, save Vale and Vidar, sons of Odin, and Modi and Magni, sons of Thor. Midgard is swept by flame; the smoke curls round mountain tops; all things are burned up; nothing with life remains. Asgard is scorched, and fire envelops the withering trunk of Ygdrasil. Even Nidhog is destroyed in its flight. . . . Earth, smouldering and black, sinks into Ocean; the billows cover it. . . .
"Now there is naught but thick blackness and silence unbroken. The end hath come-Ragnarok, 'the Dusk of the Gods'!"
. . . . . .
Silent was then the voice of the Vala in mid-air and
at high noon. Odin sat in his throne of gold listening through the stillness, unafraid, waiting for Ragnarok and his own doom. Waited he also for the song's end and the promise of Time's new morning, when evil would cease to be and Balder would come back.
The skylark soars till its song falls weakly; at morn is its singing fresh and sweet. Sweet, too, and fresh was the song of the Vala when Odin heard, sitting in his throne, her voice falling through the stillness, afar off but clear.
. . . . . .
"In Hela's realms there is sure defence. None goeth thither to conquer, and the long swords are unstained with blood. The fire hath reached not the Underworld. Mimer's seven sons, who have awakened, sleep not again. The roots of Ygdrasil are watered once more from Mimer's well; fire has destroyed not the tree save those branches which had withered; it grows green again.
"The World's New Age hath dawned. The sun is bright in heaven, for Balder hath returned. Earth rises a second time, from the deep sea; it rises clad with green verdure. The sound of falling waters fills the morning air. High soars the eagle; from the mountain ridge he espies the fish. . . .
"Asgard is again made fair. The young gods arrive. Balder is there, and Hodur, his brother; Vale and Vidar are there also, and Mode and Magne, who bear with them Mjolner, the hammer of Thor. Honer, who reads the future, is in their midst; he is able to choose his part.
"Of the evils and perils of past time do the gods converse. Midgard's serpent they call to mind and the wolf Fenrer. They forget not the judgments of the
gods and the antique mysteries. They remember the sacred runes of mighty Odin. On the grass they find the tablets of gold with which in the Golden Age was played the game of the gods. So did the Asa clan find them on Time's fair morning ere yet by the Hag was Asgard corrupted.
"The world is decked in beauty. Fields yield produce without being sown. Evil is ended and every ill hath ceased. Balder hath indeed returned, and with Hodur he dwells in the holy halls of Odin.
"The sons of the two brothers are in the vast abode of the winds, the wide free hall of the cloud drift. In the sun chariot is Sol's daughter, who is more beautiful than was Sol, and she drives in brightness over a heaven of blue.
"Lifthraser and Lif and their descendants, who are the regenerating race, have come from Mimer's realm to inhabit Midgard. Pure are they and without stain. Honey-dew is their food in Time's new morning: their children shall overspread the earth.
"The new race shall dwell, when life ends, in their hall which is named Gimle. Brighter it shines than the sun, and its roof is of gold, and it stands in high heaven. There indeed shall the holy ones dwell in peace and eternal joy for evermore.
"Northward on Nida mountains is a golden hall. The sons of Mimer and Sindre's race have dwelling within it. In heaven there is also the hall Brimer, where mead drinkers sit round the board amidst plenty and in peace.
"The evil ones who have fallen from their high state dwell in Naastrand. A vast hall it is, and of great height. Its doors are open to the north. With serpents was it built; they are entwined so that their backs are outward and their heads are within. Venom drops from
Click to enlarge
THE DUSK OF THE GODS
From the painting by P. N. Arbo
their jaws; it burns the sinners on the benches beneath; they wade through venom floods in the hall. . . .
"Odin returns not again, nor Heimdal. Another comes who is more mighty. Him I dare not name, for he is All-father. He comes to the great judgment; he utters decrees. He governeth all realms, by him are all things swayed. He settles strife; he makes war to cease. He ordains sacred laws which are inviolable and shall flourish for ever."
. . . . . .
The Vala's song was ended, and Odin sat in his golden throne, pondering in silence.
Far to the south, beyond the blue, there spreads
Another Heaven, the boundless--no one yet
Hath reach'd it; there hereafter shall arise
The second Asgard, with another name.
Thither, when o'er this present earth and Heavens
The tempest of the latter days hath swept,
And they from sight have disappear'd, and sunk,
Shall a small remnant of the Gods repair;
Hoder and I shall join them from the grave.
There re-assembling we shall see emerge
From the bright Ocean at our feet an earth
More fresh, more verdant than the last, with fruits
Self-springing, and a seed of man preserved,
Who then shall live in 'peace, as now in war.
But we in Heaven shall find again with joy
The ruin'd palaces of Odin, seats
Familiar, halls where we have supp'd of old;
Re-enter them with wonder, never fill
Our eyes with gazing, and rebuild with tears.
And we shall tread once more the well-known plain p. 186
Of Ida, and among the grass shall find
The golden dice wherewith we play'd of yore;
And that will bring to mind the former life
And pastime of the Gods, the wise discourse
Of Odin, the delights of other days.
--From "Balder Dead", by Matthew Arnold.