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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, 5 
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, 10 
As when the Northern skies 
Gleam in December; 
And, like the water's flow 
Under December's snow, 
Came a dull voice of woe 15 
From the heart's chamber.
"I was a Viking old! My deeds, though manifold, No Skald in song has told, No Saga taught thee! 20 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, 25 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, 30 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 35 Fled like a shadow; Oft through the forest dark Followed the were-wolf's bark, Until the soaring lark Sang from the meadow.
40 "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; 45 Many the souls that sped, Many the hearts that bled, By our stern orders.
"Many a wassail-bout Wore the long Winter out; 50 Often our midnight shout Set the cocks crowing, As we the Berserk's tale Measured in cups of ale, Draining the oaken pail, 55 Filled to o'erflowing.
"Once as I told in glee Tales of the stormy sea, Soft eyes did gaze on me, Burning yet tender; 60 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, 65 Yielding, yet half afraid, And in the forest's shade Our vows were plighted.
Under its loosened vest Fluttered her little breast, 70 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, 75 Chanting his glory; When of old Hildebrand I asked his daughter's hand, Mute did the minstrels stand To hear my story.
80 "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, 85 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, 90 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 95 Her nest unguarded? "Scarce had I put to sea, Bearing the maid with me, Fairest of all was she Among the Norsemen! 100 When on the white sea-strand, Waving his arm¨¨d hand, Saw we old Hildebrand, With twenty horsemen.
"Then launched they to the blast, 105 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, 110 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, 115 'Death without quarter!' Mid-ships with iron keel Struck we her ribs of steel; Down her black hulk did reel Through the black water! 120 "As with his wings aslant, Sails the fierce cormorant, Seeking some rocky haunt, With his prey laden, So toward the open main, 125 Beating to sea again, Through the wild hurricane, Bore I the maiden.
"Three weeks we westward bore, And when the storm was o'er, 130 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, 135 Stands looking seaward.
"There lived we many years; Time dried the maiden's tears; She had forgot her fears, She was a mother; 140 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, 145 Still as a stagnant fen! Hateful to me were men, The sunlight hateful! In the vast forest here, Clad in my warlike gear, 150 Fell I upon my spear, Oh, death was grateful! "Thus, seamed with many scars, Bursting these prison bars, Up to its native stars 155 My soul ascended! There from the flowing bowl Deep drinks the warrior's soul, Skoal! to the Northland! skoal!" Thus the tale ended.

Poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
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Book: Shattered Sighs