Tag Archives: Scandinavia

The Skeleton in Armor by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Image result for the skeleton in armor

The Skeleton in Armor

“Speak! speak! thou fearful guest!

Who, with thy hollow breast

Still in rude armor drest,

      Comest to daunt me!

Wrapt not in Eastern balms,

But with thy fleshless palms

Stretched, as if asking alms,

      Why dost thou haunt me?”

Then, from those cavernous eyes

Pale flashes seemed to rise,

As when the Northern skies

      Gleam in December;

And, like the water’s flow

Under December’s snow,

Came a dull voice of woe

      From the heart’s chamber.

“I was a Viking old!

My deeds, though manifold,

No Skald in song has told,

      No Saga taught thee!

Take heed, that in thy verse

Thou dost the tale rehearse,

Else dread a dead man’s curse;

      For this I sought thee.

“Far in the Northern Land,

By the wild Baltic’s strand,

I, with my childish hand,

      Tamed the gerfalcon;

And, with my skates fast-bound,

Skimmed the half-frozen Sound,

That the poor whimpering hound

      Trembled to walk on.

“Oft to his frozen lair

Tracked I the grisly bear,

While from my path the hare

      Fled like a shadow;

Oft through the forest dark

Followed the were-wolf’s bark,

Until the soaring lark

      Sang from the meadow.

“But when I older grew,

Joining a corsair’s crew,

O’er the dark sea I flew

      With the marauders.

Wild was the life we led;

Many the souls that sped,

Many the hearts that bled,

      By our stern orders.

“Many a wassail-bout

Wore the long Winter out;

Often our midnight shout

      Set the cocks crowing,

As we the Berserk’s tale

Measured in cups of ale,

Draining the oaken pail,

      Filled to o’erflowing.

“Once as I told in glee

Tales of the stormy sea,

Soft eyes did gaze on me,

      Burning yet tender;

And as the white stars shine

On the dark Norway pine,

On that dark heart of mine

      Fell their soft splendor.

“I wooed the blue-eyed maid,

Yielding, yet half afraid,

And in the forest’s shade

      Our vows were plighted.

Under its loosened vest

Fluttered her little breast,

Like birds within their nest

      By the hawk frighted.

“Bright in her father’s hall

Shields gleamed upon the wall,

Loud sang the minstrels all,

      Chanting his glory;

When of old Hildebrand

I asked his daughter’s hand,

Mute did the minstrels stand

      To hear my story.

“While the brown ale he quaffed,

Loud then the champion laughed,

And as the wind-gusts waft

      The sea-foam brightly,

So the loud laugh of scorn,

Out of those lips unshorn,

From the deep drinking-horn

      Blew the foam lightly.

“She was a Prince’s child,

I but a Viking wild,

And though she blushed and smiled,

      I was discarded!

Should not the dove so white

Follow the sea-mew’s flight,

Why did they leave that night

      Her nest unguarded?

“Scarce had I put to sea,

Bearing the maid with me,

Fairest of all was she

      Among the Norsemen!

When on the white sea-strand,

Waving his armed hand,

Saw we old Hildebrand,

      With twenty horsemen.

“Then launched they to the blast,

Bent like a reed each mast,

Yet we were gaining fast,

      When the wind failed us;

And with a sudden flaw

Came round the gusty Skaw,

So that our foe we saw

      Laugh as he hailed us.

“And as to catch the gale

Round veered the flapping sail,

‘Death!’ was the helmsman’s hail,

      ‘Death without quarter!’

Mid-ships with iron keel

Struck we her ribs of steel;

Down her black hulk did reel

      Through the black water!

“As with his wings aslant,

Sails the fierce cormorant,

Seeking some rocky haunt,

      With his prey laden, —

So toward the open main,

Beating to sea again,

Through the wild hurricane,

      Bore I the maiden.

“Three weeks we westward bore,

And when the storm was o’er,

Cloud-like we saw the shore

      Stretching to leeward;

There for my lady’s bower

Built I the lofty tower,

Which, to this very hour,

   Stands looking seaward.

“There lived we many years;

Time dried the maiden’s tears;

She had forgot her fears,

      She was a mother;

Death closed her mild blue eyes,

Under that tower she lies;

Ne’er shall the sun arise

      On such another!

“Still grew my bosom then,

Still as a stagnant fen!

Hateful to me were men,

      The sunlight hateful!

In the vast forest here,

Clad in my warlike gear,

Fell I upon my spear,

      Oh, death was grateful!

“Thus, seamed with many scars,

Bursting these prison bars,

Up to its native stars

      My soul ascended!

There from the flowing bowl

Deep drinks the warrior’s soul,

Skoal! to the Northland! skoal!”

      Thus the tale ended.

Advertisements

Book Review: I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Treviño

I Juan de Pareja.jpg

I, Juan de Pareja is a historical novel a friend read some time ago and raved about for a while afterward. Recently, I saw the book on the library shelves and thought, I will read this. So I did.

Many people these days like to pick on the United States for a great many things. One of their prime delights is to attack the U.S. on account of slavery, which became illegal after the American Civil War. American slavery, just like most other forms of slavery, was certainly an abomination. This is a fact.

However, what people tend to forget – either through lack of knowledge or by willfully ignoring the facts – is that the U.S. did not start slavery. Slavery existed from the year dot. The Ancient Greeks owned slaves, who had no rights whatsoever under the law. The Ancient Romans had slaves, as did the Ancient Irish and Scandinavians. There is no country on Earth where slavery did not exist at one time or another in some (more or less severe) form.

America inherited the idea of slavery from Europe. By the era of the American Revolution, slavery was dying out in the Old World. Indenturing people as servants – as we saw in the post on Carry On, Mr. Bowditch – died out after slavery. And the fact is slavery still exists today. Asia has a vibrant slave trade, and while slavery is not sanctioned in first world countries, this does not mean there are not people who are held as slaves within these nations.

In the 1600s – when I, Juan de Pareja takes place – slavery was not yet obsolete in Europe. Juan de Pareja was a black slave, the son of a black woman and a white Spaniard who could not afford to buy her. Orphaned at five when his mother died, Juan remained in the house of his mother’s owners, Don Basilio and Doña Emilia Rodríguez.

After Don Basilio’s death, Juan lived with Doña Emilia in Seville until she died some years later. Long before these events, Doña Emilia taught him to read and write. Juan suffered no great torments in the Rodríguez household. According to all reports, he was relatively well-loved by the couple. But on his journey to Doña Emilia’s nephew Don Diego Velázquez, who had inherited him after her death, he was abused by a gypsy hired to take him to Velázquez’s home in Madrid.

Eventually, Juan de Pareja came to Velázquez’s house. Don Velázquez never mistreated Juan. He made the young slave his personal assistant. Juan’s duty was to grind the colors for Velázquez’s paint, to clean the used paint brushes, and to help in the alignment of the objects of the master’s paintings.   For years Juan stood behind Velázquez, watching him paint his masterpieces….

It was not long before the young black boy declared that he would like to paint. “Alas, I cannot teach you,” Don Velázquez replied. A law in Spain had declared that it was illegal for slaves to learn and practice the arts. If Don Velázquez had taken Juan as an apprentice, he would have broken the law and been subject to punishment.

So the years rolled by, and as time went on, the two men became close friends. Wherever Don Velázquez went, Juan followed. This was because of his slave status but, after their years of friendship, it is quite possible that Juan would have stayed with him anyway. On their first trip to Italy, while Velázquez was studying the art of the great painters there and making copies for the Spanish court, Juan started to practice painting covertly.

He carried on practicing secretly in Spain after their return, watching and learning as Don Velázquez continued his work. Eventually, he could bear the secrecy no longer. On an occasion when the King of Spain entered Velázquez’s studio, he found a painting that Juan had made and set out specifically for him to see. Once he had found it, Juan fell on his knees before the king and confessed what he had done, begging no retribution for his master (who had no idea that Juan had been painting behind his back), and saying that he was willing to endure whatever punishment may come from his disobedience to the law.

Was Juan de Pareja punished? You must read the book to learn his fate! Those of you well-versed in the lore of great art probably already know what became of him. But I will spoil no more of the novel for anyone else. Elizabeth Borton de Treviño writes exquisitely, and she describes seventeenth century Spain with great care. Her historical novel is enlightening as she weaves a warm, heartfelt story out of the snippets of recorded fact. A book for all ages, I, Juan de Pareja is certain to touch the heart of any reader out there.

Until next time!

The Mithril Guardian