When they thought that Denmark's king
Soundly in the graveyard slumbered,
Words incredible, unnumbered,
Through the land crept whispering.
Rumor said: 'The king hunts nightly
Stag and doe on Sjaelland's isle
With a company unsightly
Through the country mile on mile.'
They saw the Childe at the head of his hosts;
In the moonlight they heard the racket
Of his train of terrible shadows and ghosts
With the hawk and the sable brachet.
Fables deep in Time's abyss
From oblivion resurrected,
Champions in their rest ejected
From the dim necropolis,
Women from their hidden prison,
Heathen kings from the sepulchre,
All (the peasants said) had risen
Forth to ride with Valdemar.
Like wings the sound over woods was borne,
In terror the dwarf dug deeper,
While overhead a mad hunting-horn
Aroused the horrified sleeper.
Volmer's eyes with anguish blazed,
Never found he rest and quiet;
Ever in this awful riot
Must he hurry on half-crazed.
Nearest him, of all the shadows
Coursing over lake and glade
Through the night-mist of the meadows,
Was a pale and slender maid.
Her long hair flickered in the midnight blast,
She sighed with sighs inhuman;
On snow-white horse she galloped fast,
The fairest of all women.
Over castle and lofty house,
Falcon, raven, birds of evil,
Unknown fowl from Night primeval,
Fat, enormous flittermouse,
Over forests, fields, and ditches,
Clustering pallid flare on flare,
Wolves with hundred feet, and witches
Sailed the river of the air.
The hunters' shouts, the thunders' crash,
Roared high in the lust of slaughter,
Through horses' whinnies, the snap of the lash,
Above the livid water.
Just before them, roe and hart
Flew as if on hidden pinions
From the ghost-king and his minions,
Cleaving the slow mists apart.
At their head there flitted, leading,
Tall and white, a wounded hind
Stuck with many arrows, bleeding,
Shaking, in the midnight wind.
The peasants who saw the chase sweep by
Swore, to all who would hear it,
That out of the hunted hind's wild eye
There peered Queen Helvig's spirit.
As in an enchanted space,
Trees stood in the vapor rootless,
While the stag flew onward, footless
Yet unwearied by the chase.
Then the black snake coursed the meadow,
The red dragon rose unwombed,
While the storm wailed like a shadow
To eternal anguish doomed.
The full moon, like a bleeding troll,
Unheeding the earth's ire,
Cruelly charmed each tortured soul
From out the Abyss's fire.
Often when the autumn brought
Wheeling gusts of phosphorescence
In this dismal chase, the peasants
Whispered, pallid and distraught:
'Save us, Christ and Maid of Heaven,
From this evil by thy grace !
Save us from the infernal levin;
Save us: 'tis King Volmer's chase!'
They thought that his doom was sealed for aye,
By no prayers to be diminished:
To hunt until the last Judgment Day,
Till World and Time were finished.