Tuesday, February 21, 2012

"Scandinavian Ballad Stories: Agnes & the Merman", Adam Oehlenschläger; "Agneta & the Sea King", John Bauer

 Illustrations from the book, Swedish Folk Tales
(The poem & the illustrations are not from the same book)
Agneta & the Sea King, illustrated by John Bauer
Coronation of the Sea Queen
"Now you shall be my queen & stay with me forever."

“Agneta, look at me,” he pleaded.
But she did not raise her face. She kneeled on the spot as still as a statue.

 Scandinavian Ballad Stories, by Robert Buchanan

Adam Oehlenschläger
MAID AGNES musing sat alone
Upon the lonely strand;
The breaking waves sighed oft and low
Upon the white sea-sand.
 Watching the thin white foam, that broke
 Upon the wave, sat she,
 When up a beauteous merman rose
 From the bottom of the sea.
 And he was clad unto the waist
 With scales like silver white,
 And on his breast the setting sun
 Put rose gleams of light. 
 The merman’s spear a boat-mast was,
 With crook of coral brown,
 His shield was made of turtle-shell,
 Of mussel-shells his crown.
 His hair upon his shoulders fell,
  Of bright and glittering tang;
 And sweeter than the nightingale’s
 Sounded the song he sang.
 “And tell to me, sweet merman,
 Fresh from the deep, deep sea,
 When will a tender husband come
 To woo and marry me?"
 “O hearken, sweetest Agnes,
 To the words I say to thee—
 All for the sake of my true heart, 
Let me thy husband be.
“Far underneath the deep, deep sea,
 I reign in palace halls,
 And all around, of crystal clear,
 Uprise the wondrous walls.

 “And seven hundred handmaids wait,
 To serve my slightest wish—
 Above the waist like milk-white maids,
 Below the waist, like fish.

 “Like mother-of-pearl the sea-sledge gleams,
 Wherein I journey crowned,
 Along the sweet green path it goes,
 Dragged by the great seal-hound.

 “And all along the green, green deeps
 Grow flowers wondrous fair;
 They drink the wave, and grow as tall
 As those that breathe the air.”

 Fair Agnes smiled, and stretched her arms,
 And leapt into the sea,
 And down beneath the tall sea-plants
 He led her tenderlie.


Eight happy years fair Agnes dwelt
     Under the green-sea wave,
And seven beauteous little ones
     She to the merman gave.

She sat beneath the tall sea-plants,
     Upon a throne of shells,
And from the far-off land she heard
     The sound of sweet kirk bells.

Unto her gentle lord she stept,
 And softly took his hand:
“And may I once, and only once,
     Go say my prayers on land?”

“Then hearken, sweet wife Agnes,
     To the words I say to thee—
Fail not in twenty hours and four
     To hasten home to me.”

A thousand times “Good night” she said
     Unto her children small,
And ere she went away she stooped,
     And softly kissed them all;

And, old and young, the children wept
     As Agnes went away,
And loud as any cried the babe
     Who in the cradle lay.

Now Agnes sees the sun again,
     And steps upon the strand—
She trembles at the light, and hides
     Her eyes with her white hand.

Among the folk she used to know,
 As they walk to kirk, steps she,
“We know thee not, thou woman wild,
     Come from a far countrie.”

The kirk bells chime, and into kirk
     And up the aisle she flies;
The images upon the walls
     Are turning away their eyes!

The silver chalice to her lips
     She lifteth tremblinglie,
For that her lips were all athirst,
     Under the deep, deep sea.

She tried to pray, and could not pray,
 And still the kirk bells sound;
She spills the cup of holy wine
     Upon the cold, cold ground.

When smoke and mist rose from the sea,
     And it was dark on land,
She drew her robe about her face,
     And stood upon the strand.

Then folded she her thin, thin hands,
 The merman’s weary wife:
“Heaven help me in my wickedness,
     And take away my life!”

She sank among the meadow grass,
     As white and cold as snow;
The roses growing round about
     Turned white and cold alsò.

The small birds sang upon the bough,
     And their song was sad and deep—
“Now, Agnes, it is gloaming hour,
     And thou art going to sleep.”

All in the twilight, when the sun
     Sank down behind the main,
Her hands were pressed upon her heart,
     And her heart had broke in twain.

The waves creep up across the strand,
     Sighing so mournfullie,
And tenderly they wash the corse
     To the bottom of the sea.

Three days she stayed beneath the sea,
     And then came back again,
And mournfully, so mournfully,
     Upon the sand was lain.

And, sweetly decked by tender hands,
     She lay a-sleeping there,
And all her form is wreathed with weeds,
     And a flower was in her hair.

The little herd-boy drove his geese
     Seaward at peep o’ day,
And there, her hands upon her breast,
     Sweet Agnes sleeping lay.

He dug a grave behind a stone,
     All in the soft sea-sand,
And there the maiden’s bones are dry,
     Though the waves creep up the strand.

Each morning and each evening,
     The stone is wet above;
The merman hath wept (the town girls say)
     Over his lost true-love.

You can read The Sea King's Second Bride, by CSE Cooney, if you find yourself so inclined.  It's a continuation of the merman's story, though not by the original author.  While charming, I don't find it quite as beautiful.

Monday, February 20, 2012

"Scandinavian Ballad Stories: The Sunken City", F L Hoedt , by Robert Buchanan

From the book, Little Mermaids and Ugly Ducklings
Hans Christian Andersen's, The Little Mermaid; illustrator, Gennady Spirin

Scandinavian Ballad Stories, by Robert Buchanan

The Sunken City
F L Hoedt 

Where the sea is smiling
So blue and cold
There stood a city
In days of old;
But the black earth opened
To make a grave,
And the city slumbers
Beneath the wave.

Where life and beauty
Dwelt long ago,
The oozy rushes
And seaweeds grow;
And no one sees,
And no one hears,
And none remember
The far-off years.

But go there, lonely,
At eventide,
And hearken, hearken
To the lisping tide;
And faint sweet music
Will float to thee,
Like church bells chiming
Across the sea.

It is the olden,
The sunken town,
Which faintly murmurs
Far fathoms down;
Like the sea-winds breathing
It murmurs by,
And the sweet notes tremble,
And sink, and die.

Where now is moorland,
All dark and dry,
Where fog and night-mist
For ever lie,
Of old there blossomed,
Divinely free,
A flowery kingdom
Of Poesy.

A wondrous region
Of visions proud,
’Neath bright blue heaven
And white dream-cloud!
With scent of roses,
And song of birds,
And gentle zephyrs
Of loving words.

Each thing of beauty
The old earth bore,
Each tone, each odour,
(Alas! no more!)
By Art and Music
Were hither brought,
And grew eternal
In divinest thought.

Here lies the moorland,
All dark and dry,
Here fogs and night-mist
For ever lie;
And no one sees,
And no one hears,
And few remember
These far-off years.

But if thou hast not
In sin and strife
Forgot already
Thy childish life,
If things that harden
The human heart
Have not yet murdered
Thy nobler part—
Then on that moorland, 
In the summer dark,
While the wind sighs past thee,
Stand still and hark,
And a faint sweet music
Will float to thee,
Like church bells chiming
Across the sea.

It is the world
That once hath been,
Which sadly chimeth,
Itself unseen;
Like the sea-winds breathing,
The tones creep by—
They faint, they tremble,
And sweetly die !

Read the rest of Robert Buchanan's, Scandinavian Ballad Stories.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Arnold Böcklin, Mermaids & Mermen

Calm Sea; Arnold Böcklin

 Arnold Böcklin (October 16, 1827 – January 16, 1901) was a Swiss, symbolist painter. 
     According to wikipedia he was: Influenced by Romanticism his painting is symbolist with mythological subjects often overlapping with the Pre-Raphaelites. His pictures portray mythological, fantastical figures along classical architecture constructions (often revealing an obsession with death) creating a strange, fantasy world.
Böcklin is best known for his five versions of Isle of the Dead, which partly evokes the English Cemetery, Florence, close to his studio and where his baby daughter Maria had been buried.
     If memory serves me correctly, there was also a very harrowing, creepy Boris Karloff movie inspired by Böcklin's Isle of the Dead paintings.  However, I have here Böcklin's mermaids & his mermen.  Very strange creatures indeed.

  The Island of Life, 1888; Arnold Böcklin

In the Sea, 1883; Arnold  Böcklin

At Play in the Waves; Arnold  Böcklin

Mermaids at Play, 1886; Arnold Böcklin

The Triton Family, 1888; Arnold  Böcklin

Sea Idyll, 1887; Arnold Böcklin

Triton & a Nereid, 1875; Arnold Böcklin

Idyll of the Sea; Arnold Böcklin

Triton & Nereid, 1875; Arnold Böcklin

Venus Anadyomene, Venus Rising from the Sea, 1872; Arnold Böcklin

Venus Anadyomene, Venus Rising from the Sea, 1872; Arnold Böcklin

Sedna, Inuit Goddess of the Sea

 Sedna, a song with the low boom of the didgeridoo from Heather Dale's beautiful album, The Road to Santiago

Can you imagine a mermaid swimming about in a great, fur coat?  Sealskin or Polar Bear, perhaps?  That is Sedna.  Inuit Goddess of the Sea.  Black haired beauty.  When Sedna is angered, men are sent out in canoes to wash & comb her long hair, for Sedna has no fingers & the sea creatures will become tangled in its knots.  When trapped in her hair, fish will not reach man & when the fish do not reach the land, there is no food for the people of the frozen waste.  Sedna, Satsuma Arnaa, Mother of the Deep.
     Though many legends & variations upon her legend exist, Sedna always meets with tragedy & disaster.  Her father chops off her fingers with the blade of his axe.  She floats to the bottom of the sea, no longer able to hold onto the edge of the canoe.  Her fingers, & the blood from them, become the lifeblood of sea creatures.  Of seals & sea lions & walruses & fishes & otters & whales.

The Lure of the North; Arthur Wardle

A Mermaid & Polar Bears; Arthur Wardle

       Before Sedna's immortality in Adlivun, the underworld of Inuit mythology, there beneath the waves & the icebergs, she was a young woman whose father was a mighty hunter upon the land.  Many of the warriors of the village came to court her, Sedna rejected each one to a man.  It was not until a striking stranger, a man with raven dark hair & green-gold eyes came, that Sedna would consent to a marriage.  He provided her with shining otter pelts & carved bone jewelry.  His canoe was intricately carved with beasts of the sea & it was stained blood red.  Sedna, aloft in the prow of his canoe, the wind stinging her cheeks & the foam of the waters spraying over her hair, went with him, to journey to his country.  The man with the green-gold eyes told her that if she looked out upon the horizon, that the land of his birth was just beyond that point.  She slept, waves lapping, her husband whistling into the wind like a bird.
     Sedna woke to the screaming of ravens.  They beat their black wings like whirlwinds & the nest in which she lay, pressed its barbed branches into her back.  She recognized the one who had once been the beautiful stranger, she knew the green-gold of his eyes & found them horrible.
     The wails of Sedna, flew over the ocean, the awful sounds led her father to the island of ice where he set his courage to rescue her at his first chance.  When dark night fell, the wretched bird-men preened their feathers, they squawked haughtily at the Inuit girl, jabbing her with their sharp beaks, & then, they slumbered at last.
     Father & daughter stole along the cliffs.  The canoe was in sight when the lords of the air  discovered the theft.  Wings beat the air, storm clouds rolled over, blotting out the light of the moon & the storm in the skies caused the sea to boil.  The canoe, now far across the ocean, was covered by a white wall of water.  The wave crashed against them, nearly capsizing the little craft.  Then it was, that Sedna's own father turned against her.  The fear of death had gripped his heart in a bony hand.  He found himself a coward.  He grabbed hold of her inky black hair, tossing her over the side.  Sedna screamed in terror, her slender fingers gripping the wooden side.
     The axe, he smashed down against her where she clung for dear life.  It took several swings to break the bone.  Sedna sank beneath the waves, the light gone from her eyes, staring up at the men of the world who had betrayed her.  Her heart had become as cold as the snow and the ice.