Scottish Poetry Selection
- Sea-King's Burial

This poem by Charles Mackay recalls the days when a Viking chief died and his body was placed in a boat. The vessel, with full sail set and a fire lighted, was then sent drifting out to sea.

Sea-King's Burial

My strength is failing fast
   (Said the sea-king to his men).
I shall never sail the seas
   Like a conqueror again,
But while yet a drop remains
Of the life-blood in my veins
Raise, oh, raise me from my bed,
Put the crown upon my head,
Put my good sword in my hand,
And so lead me to the strand,
   Where my ship at anchor rides
If I cannot end my life
In the crimsoned battle-strife
   Let me die as I have lived,
      On the sea.

They have raised King Balder up,
   Put his crown upon his head ;
They have sheathed his limbs in mail
   And the purple o'er him spread;
And, amid the greeting rude
Of a gathering multitude,
Borne him slowly to the shore,
All the energy of yore
From his dim eyes flashing forth,
Old sea-lion of the North,
   As he looked upon his ship
      Riding free,
And on his forehead pale
Felt the cold, refreshing gale,
   And heard the welcome sound
      Of the sea.

They have borne him to the ship
   With a slow and solemn tread;
They have placed him on the deck
   With his crown upon his head,
Where he sat as on a throne;
And have left him there alone,
With his anchor ready weighed,
And his snowy sails displayed
To the favouring wind, once more
Blowing freshly from the shore,
   And have bidden him farewell
Saying: "King of mighty men,
We shall meet thee yet again
   In Valhalla, with the monarchs
      Of the sea."

Underneath him in the hold
   They had placed the lighted brand;
And the fire was burning slow
   As the vessel from the land,
Like a stag-hound from the slips,
Darted forth from out the ships.
There was music in her sail
As it swelled before the gale,
And a dashing at her prow
As it cleft the waves below,
   And the good ship sped along,
      Scudding free;
As on many a battle morn
In her time she had been borne
   To struggle and to conquer
      On the sea.

And the king with sudden strength
   Started up and paced the deck,
With his good sword for his staff
   And his robe around his neck.
Once alone he raised his hand
To the people on the land ;
And with shout and joyous cry
Once again they made reply,
Till the loud, exulting cheer
Sounded faintly on his ear;
   For the gale was o'er him blowing
      Fresh and free;
And ere yet an hour had passed
He was driven before the blast,
   And a storm was on his path,
      On the sea.

So blow, ye tempests, blow,
   And my spirit shall not quail;
I have fought with many a foe,
   I have weathered many a gale;
And in this hour of death,
Ere I yield my fleeting breath,
Ere the fire now burning slow
Shall come rushing from below,
And this worn and wasted frame
Be devoted to the flame,
   I will raise my voice in triumph,
      Singing free ;
To the great All-Father's home
I am driving through the foam,
   I am sailing to Valhalla
      O'er the sea.

So blow, ye stormy winds,
   And ye flames, ascend on high!
In easy, idle bed
   Let the slave and coward die!
But give me the driving keel,
Clang of shields and flashing steel,
Or my foot on foreign ground,
With my enemies around!
Happy, happy, thus I'd yield,
On the deck or in the field,
   My last breath, shouting On
      To victory.
But since this has been denied
They shall say that I have died
   Without flinching, like a monarch
      Of the sea.

And Balder spoke no more,
   And no sound escaped his lip;
And he looked, yet scarcely saw
   The destruction of his ship,
Nor the fleet sparks mounting high,
Nor the glare upon the sky;
Scarcely heard the billows dash,
Nor the burning timber crash;
Scarcely felt the scorching heat
That was gathering at his feet,
   Nor the fierce flames mounting o'er him
But the life was in him yet,
And the courage to forget
   All his pain in his triumph
      On the sea.

Once alone a cry arose,
   Half of anguish, half of pride,
As he sprang upon his feet,
   With the flames on every side.
"I am coming! " said the king,
Where the swords and bucklers ring,
Where the warrior lives again,
Where the souls of mighty men
And the weary find repose,
And the red wine ever flows,
   I am coming, great -All-Father,
      Unto thee!
Unto Odin, unto Thor,
And the strong, true hearts of yore:
   I am coming to Valhalla
      O'er the sea."

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