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For all the nobler souls of mortal men
On battle field have met their death, and now
Feast in Valhalla, in my father's hall;
Only the inglorious sort are there below –
The old, the cowards, and the weak are there,
Men spent by sickness, or obscure decay.
But even there, O Vanna, we might find
Some solace in each other's look and speech,
Wandering together through that gloomy world,
And talking of the life we led in heaven,
While we yet lived, among the other gods."

He spake, and straight his lineaments began
To fade; and Nanna in her sleep stretched out
Her arms towards him with a cry, but he
Mournfully shook his head and disappeared.
And as the woodman sees a little smoke
Hang in the air, afield, and disappear,
So Balder faded in the night away.
And Nanna on her bed sank back; but then
Frea, the mother of the gods, with stroke
Painless and swift, set free her airy soul,
Which took, on Balder's track, the way below;
And instantly the sacred morn appeared.

With the morn Hermod, mounting Sleipnir, set out on his mission. For the space of nine days and as many nights he rode through deep glens so dark that he could not discern anything, until he arrived at the river Gyoll, which he passed over on a bridge covered with glittering gold. The maiden who kept the bridge asked him his name and lineage, telling him that the day before five bands of dead persons had ridden over the bridge, and did not shake it as much as he alone. “But,” she added, “thou hast not death's hue on thee; why then ridest thou here on the way to Hel?” .

“I ride to Hel," answered Hermod, “ to seek Balder. Hast thou perchance seen him pass this way?”.

She replied, “ Balder hath ridden over Gyoll's bridge, and yonder lieth the way he took to the abodes of death."

Hermod pursued his journey until he came to the barred gates of Hel. Here he alighted, girthed his saddle tighter, and remounting clapped both spurs to his horse, which cleared the gate by a tremendous leap without touching it. Hermod then rode on to the palace, where he found his brother Balder occupying the most distinguished seat in the hall, and passed the night in his company. The next morning he besought Hela to let Balder ride home with him, assuring her that nothing but lamentations were to be heard among the gods. Hela answered that it should now be tried whether Balder was so beloved as he was said to be. “If, therefore,” she added, “all things in the world, both living and lifeless, weep for him, then shall he return to life ; but if any one thing speak against him or refuse to weep, he shall be kept in Hel.”

Hermod then rode back to Asgard and gave an account of all he had heard and witnessed.

The gods upon this despatched messengers throughout the world to beg everything to weep in order that Balder might be delivered from Hel. All things very willingly complied with this request, both men and every other living being, as well as earths, and stones, and trees, and metals, just as we have all seen these things weep when they are brought from a cold place into a hot one. Then the messengers returned,

... And they rode home together, through the wood
Of Jarnvid, which to east of Midgard lies
Bordering the giants, where the trees are iron;
There in the wood before a cave they came,
Where sate in the cave's mouth a skinny hag,
Toothless and old; she gibes the passers-by.
Thok is she called, but now Lok wore her shape;
She greeted them the first, and laughed and said:
“Ye gods, good lack, is it so dull in heaven
That ye come pleasuring to Thok's iron wood ?
Lovers of change, ye are, fastidious sprites.
Look, as in some boor's yard, a sweet-breath'd cow,
Whose manger is stuffed full of good fresh hay,
Snuffs at it daintily, and stoops her head

To chew the straw, her litter at her feet -
So ye grow squeamish, gods, and sniff at heaven!”

She spake, but Hermod answered her and said,
“ Thok, not for gibes we come; we come for tears.
Balder is dead, and Hela holds her prey,
But will restore, if all things give him tears.
Begrudge not thine! to all was Balder dear."

Then, with a louder laugh, the hag replied:
“Is Balder dead? and do ye come for tears?
Thok with dry eyes will weep o'er Balder's pyre.
Weep him all other things, if weep they will —
I weep him not! let llela keep her prey."

She spake, and to the cavern's depth she fled,
Mocking; and Hermod knew their toil was vain.1

So was Balder prevented from returning to Asgard.

The Funeral of Balder. — The gods took up the dead body and bore it to the sea-shore where stood Balder's ship Hringham, which passed for the largest in the world. Balder's dead body was put on the funeral pile, on board the ship; and the body of Nanna was burned on the same pile with her husband's. There was a vast concourse of various kinds of people at Balder's obsequies. First came Odin accompanied by Frigga, the Valkyries, and his ravens; then Freyr in his car drawn by Gullinbursti, the boar; Heimdall rode his horse Gulltopp, and Freya drove in her chariot drawn by cats. There were also a great many Frost giants and giants of the mountain present. Balder's horse was led to the pile fully caparisoned and consumed in the same flames with his master.

But Loki did not escape his merited punishment. When he saw how wroth the gods were, he fled to the mountain, and there built himself a hut with four doors, so that he could see every approaching danger. He invented a net to catch the fishes, such as fishermen have used since his time. But Odin found out his hiding-place and the gods assembled to take him. He, seeing this, changed himseif into a salmon, and lay hid among the stones of the brook. But the gods took his net and dragged the brook, and Loki finding he must be caught, tried to leap over the net; but Thor caught him by the tail and compressed it so, that salmons ever since have had that part remarkably fine and thin. They bound him with chains and suspended a serpent over his head, whose venom falls upon his face drop by drop. His wife Siguna sits by his side and catches the drops as they fall, in a cup; but when she carries it away to empty it, the venom falls upon Loki, which makes him howl with horror, and writhe so that the whole earth shakes.

i From Matthew Arnold's “ Balder Dead."

$ 183. The Elves. — The Edda mentions another class of beings, inferior to the gods, but still possessed of great power; these were the Elves. The white spirits, or Elves of Light, were exceedingly fair, more brilliant than the sun, and clad in garments of a delicate and transparent texture. They loved the light, were kindly disposed to mankind, and generally appeared as fair and lovely children. Their country was called Elfheim, and was the domain of Freyr, in whose sunlight they always sported.

The black or night elves, ugly, long-nosed dwarfs, of a dirty brown color, appeared only at night. They avoided the sun as their most deadly enemy, because his beams changed them immediately into stones. Their language was the echo of soli- · tudes, and their dwelling-places subterranean caves and clefts. They were supposed to have come into existence as maggots produced by the decaying flesh of Ymir's body. They were afterwards endowed by the gods with a human form and great understanding. They were particularly distinguished for a knowledge of the mysterious powers of nature, and for the runes which they carved and explained. They were the most skilful artificers of all created beings, and worked in metals and in wood. Among their most noted works were Thor's hammer, and the ship Skidbladnir, which they gave to Freyr, and which was so large that it could contain all the deities with their war and household implements, but so skilfully was it wrought that when folded together it could be put into a side pocket.

§ 184. Ragnarok, the Twilight of the Gods. — It was a firm belief of the Northern nations that a time would come when all the visible creation, the gods of Valhalla and Niflheim, the inhabitants of Jötunheim, Elfheim, and Midgard, together with their habitations, would be destroyed. The fearful day of destruction will not, however, be without warning. First will come a triple winter, during which snow will fall from the four comers of the heavens, the frost be severe, the wind piercing, the weather tempestuous, and the sun impart no gladness. Three such winters will pass without being tempered by a single summer. Three other like winters will follow, during which war and discord will spread over the universe. The earth itself will be afraid and begin to tremble, the sea leave its basin, the heavens tear asunder; men will perish in great numbers, and the eagles of the air feast upon their still quivering bodies. The wolf Fenris will now break his bands, the Midgard serpent rise out of his bed in the sea, and Loki, released from his bonds, will join the enemies of the gods. Amidst the general devastation the sons of Muspelheim will rush forth under their leader Surter, before and behind whom are flames and burning fire. Onward they ride over Bifrost, the rainbow bridge, which breaks under the horses' hoofs. But they, disre. garding its fall, direct their course to the battle-field called Vigrid Thither also repair the wolf Fenris, the Midgard serpent, Loki with all the followers of Hela, and the Frost giants.

Heimdall now stands up and sounds the Giallar horn to assemble the gods and heroes for the contest. The gods advance, led on by Odin, who engaging the wolf Fenris, falls a victim to the monster. Fenris is, in turn, slain by Vithar, Odin's son. Thor wins great renown by killing the Midgard serpent, but, recoiling, falls dead, suffocated with the venom which the dying monster vomits over him. Loki and Heimdall meet and fight till they both are slain. The gods and their enemies having fallen in battle, Surter, who has killed Freyr, darts fire and flames over the world, and the universe is consumed. The sun grows dim, the earth sinks into the ocean, the stars fall from heaven, and time is no more.

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