Within me lies a little tale of epic proportions,
Hither unto untold, rife with mythic distortions:
Lists of ships, heroes brave, catalogs of trees,
Ten books at least, knights on their knees,
Named swords, noble lords, magic rocks, 5
Animals who talk, evil villains in stocks,
Vengeful gods, lovely goddesses fair,
Stolen cattle, broken sails, a monster’s lair,
Dragons green, mean, and filled with fire,
Treasure aplenty to quench any man’s desire, 10
Young sons of Adam freed by pagan tears,
Quaking waters and an antihero’s fears,
Icy, sunlit caves and hard-hearted knaves,
Poisoned shirts and a prophet who raves,
Forests grand and dry deserts wide, 15
Castles, citadels, and a dolphin for to ride.
Virgil, Melville, Milton, Byron, and Homer of old,
What have they on me? Look as my story does unfold!
Time’s a factor though; it slips away so quick!
Just as I begin and get really into the thick, 20
I think: some critics have said the epic’s dead.
But no, it’s just a form the modern poets dread.
But who’d actually deem it worthy of study?
Just to think on this makes my poor brain muddy.
To bring back and resurrect the epic is my task, 25
That’s my story if anyone might ask!
“Thor, red-beard Thor, take that hot helmet off, set it down,
Rest yourself, lay Mjollnir aside, your hammer renown,
Shake out your curly locks, have some beer from my cup,
Then tell me a tale of the world when it first sprung up.” 30
I ended; he began: “Poet, poet boastful and bold,
Would you hear things yet to mortal ears untold?
Åsgard’s secrets to you I can never openly reveal;
Odin holds us in liege, manacled tongues he did seal.
Call on old bearded Bragi, my brother the skald, 35
With his rune-carved tongue, word-enthralled,
Enchanting the world with his pleasing rhymes,
Charming even giants with tales of the early times.
He with secret Etruscan letters rightly wrought,
His honey verse flows with hardly a thought. 40
Surely no storyteller am I, fighting, smiting,
The meek with my lightening bolts frightening.”
“Thundering god, I think your version will do;
I want to know what became of Baldr the true.
What power, what foe, what guile laid him low? 45
What conniving fiend could bloody heaven’s snow?
Rumors and lies plentiful circle, swoop, and abound;
Common bards hurt my ear with rough verses’ sound.
But set me straight, my avenging friend,
And I will carefully to you my ears lend.” 50
I finished. “Baldr, my brother, my brother dear,
Of all us Æsir in Valhalla bright and clear,
Most beloved stood he, of wondrous beauty grand,
Sunkiss’d, golden locks, eclipsing the gods of any land.
So pure, so innocent, light and truth, without ire, 55
Loving and loved, he made to glitter our snowy shire.”
“But what of his horrid death, his fall, his decline?
How might he, one so strong and sublime
Have his thread cut so short, leaving us in the lurch?
What strange force could virile Baldr besmirch? 60
Was it a giant or demon from the dank nether reaches
Who finally brought his ashes onto Jutland’s beaches?”
Here begins the book the first. Thor begins.
“And so the story must be told. Listen you –
Nanna, Baldr’s bride, decided on a plan anew.
For to travel the earth and blue skies wide, 65
Across mountain and whale-way did she ride,
For to take an oath from every living thing,
Animal, vegetable, mineral, and spring.
For so greatly did she love her Baldr dear,
She harbored in her heart her greatest fear: 70
Were ever good Baldr to be taken away,
Midgaard would be cast in full disarray;
Ygdrassil might well be cleft half in twain,
And God above would look down in disdain.
From oak, holly, beech, and
tamarack tall, 75
Rill, creek, river, wave, lake, and waterfall,
Hard iron, glittering gold, copper buried deep,
Soaring eaglekind and bears wrested from sleep,
Damascene swords, fell axes, keen arrow tips,
Belladonna with its poisonous nightshade hips, 80
Razor-teethed beasts of the darkling sea,
Craggy mountain trolls roaming wanton and free,
Giants in frigid Jötunheim, dwarves mining ore,
Dryad and Nyad, and cruel dragons as they soar:
Nanna exacted from them a promise both solemn and bold: 85
Never should they harm him whom her heart did hold.
Across the Kalevala heath to the Northern Witch's lair
Rode white-clad Nanna, the wind blowing her flaxen hair.
Behind nine adamant locks lay the stolen Sampo stone,
For to guard her loot the ancient thief stood there alone. 90
Nanna bargains and begs that old Ilmarinen's magic craft
Never be employed. The hag with a hideous mouth laughed.
'What amount of gold do you think Baldr's life is worth?
How greatly do you treasure your
blissful marital mirth?
For your fine-countenanced consort, what would you give? 95
Would you send here to me your first-born son to live?
It is with this powerful rock that I hold all Finland in liege;
Were it not for my Sampo dear, mine enemies would me besiege!'
‘Fit it would have been for you to have been slain long ago;
All the gods would rejoice to see the deep Karelian snow 100
Littered with your black teeth, with your vile blood spilt!’
Then Nanna with steely resolve draws her dirk gold-gilt . . .