The Expedition to Birting's Land - and other ballads - - - Translator: George Borrow
by Thomas J. Wise
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Transcribed from the 1914 Thomas J. Wise pamphlet by David Price, email





Copyright in the United States of America by Houghton, Mifflin & Co. for Clement Shorter.


The King he oer the castle rules, He rules oer all the land; Oer many a hardy hero too, With naked sword in hand.

Let the courtier govern his steed, The boor his thatchèd cot, But Denmarks King oer castles rules, For nobler is his lot.

King Diderik sits on Brattingsborg, And round he looks with pride: No one I know of in the world Would me in fight abide.

Then answered Brand Sir Viferlin, Had been in many a land: Methinks I know a warrior stout Would thee in fight withstand.

Hes Ifald calld, a king is he, In Birtings land afar; And he has fellows following him With savage wolves who war.

O he has fellows following him Gainst teeth of bears who fight; The food in which he most delights Is flesh of Christian wight.

Every day in the East that dawns His mouth hes wont to cool With serpents, toads, and other filth, That come from the hellish pool.

As Ifald sat on his throne that day He thus was heard to cry: Let some one bid my little foot page To come to me instantly.

Now list to me, thou little foot page, On my errand thee Ill send Unto the King of Brattingsborg, To whom I am no friend.

Tell him that he must tribute pay, Or for bloody war prepare; Forsooth if him in the field I meet I him will little spare.

Then answered straight the little foot page And a gallant answer he gave: My Lord thy message Ill carry forth, Though they lay me in my grave.

In came he, the little foot page, And stood before the board: Now list to me, King Diderik, My master has sent you word.

Either tribute thou shalt pay, As thou didst last year agree, Or thou shalt meet us in the field, And bloodshed there shall be.

I will not tribute pay, forsooth, I scorn to stoop so low; Nay, rather unto Birtings land With sword unsheathed I go.

Then answerd Vitting Helfredson, And loud he laughed with glee: If ye fare this year into Birtings land I too of the troop shall be.

Last year wast thou in Birtings land, And there didst lose thy steed; Thou hadst better stay in Brattingsborg Than again seek Birtings mead.

On me, if I stay in Brattingsborg, Be every malison; If I have no horse on which to ride I have legs on which to run.

There rode out from Brattingsborg So many a knight renownd; The rocks were split neath the coursers feet, And quaked the startled ground.

There rode forth King Diderik, The lion upon his shield; And there too glittered the golden crown So far across the field.

There rode Vidrik Verlandson, The hammer and tongs he bore; And there rode good King Esmers sons, All men of wondrous power.

There rode the rich Count Rodengard, A warrior stout and fine; And there rode King Sir Sigfred, who Displayed a monarchs sign.

Then followed Siward Snarenswayne, With many arrows white; And then came Brand Sir Viferlin, Who never fled from fight.

And next rode Hero Hogen, He looked a rose so brave; And then rode Folker Spillemand, In his hand a naked glaive.

Then rode the bold young Ulf Van Yern, A glorious horse upon; Behind him young Sir Humble rode, And then Sir Sigfredson.

And then rode Gunther and Gernot, With arrow on bended bow; And there rode Sonne Tolkerson, With courage upon his brow.

There rode the little Grimmer, In golden acton dight; And there rode Seyer the active, Who yields to none in might.

And then came master Hildebrand, As though to his courser fixt; The stalwart friar Alsing rode The ancient hero next.

There rode Orm the Ungarswayne, So bold of heart was he; So joyous were they every one, And sure of victory.

Out galloped they all from Brattingsborg, As fast as they could speed; But Vitting bold came running behind, Because he had no steed.

It was hardy Angelfyr, To Grimselin he cried: O, he must on his bare legs run Who has no horse to ride!

And still ran Vitting, and still ran he, Till with wrath he nigh was wode; Then he struck a warrior from his horse And sat himself on, and rode.

It was Sir King Diderik, He back a glance did throw: O yonder I see the courtier ride Who on foot was wont to go.

Here thou, Vitting Helfredson, Thou art a warrior bold; Thou shalt hie forward to Birtings land, And demand the tribute gold.

With thee shall Vidrik Verlandson, And Diderik knight of Bern; Of all my troop they are best at blows, And most for battle yearn.

They set themselves upon their steeds, And away they rode like wind; The knights they roared, and their steeds they gored, For wroth were they in mind.

The watchman stood on the battlement From whence he far could see: Yonder I warriors three espy Who wrathful seem to be.

The one is Vitting Helfredson Who lost his steed last year; That a rugged guest hell prove to us We have full cause to fear.

The second is Vidrik Verlandson, As the tongs and hammer shew; The third is Diderik Van Bern, All warriors good, I trow.

They left their steeds in the castle yard, To the castle strode they in; Then might each man by their faces see A fray would soon begin.

Upon the porter they laid their hands, And him to pieces hewd; Then in they strode to the high, high hall, And before the King they stood.

Then up rose Ifald the King in rage, And thus the King did cry: O, whence are come the ill-starrd loons Before my board I spy?

Then answered the skinker of the King, Who skinkèd wine and mead: Our sharp spears, if we ply them well, Will drive them out with speed.

It was Vitting Helfredson, By the beard the skinker has taen; He smote him a blow the ear below, Which dashed out half his brain.

He flung the dead corse on the board, And a merry jest had he: Wholl taste, said Vitting Helfredson, This precious roast for me?

Then forth stepped Diderik Van Bern, And, brandishing his glaive, He hewed upon King Ifalds head, And him to the navel clave.

And forth stepped Vidrik Verlandson, And round began to hew; Heads and arms were smitten off As round and round he flew.

In came King Ifalds mother grey, With an eldritch scream she came; I tell to ye in verity There ensued a wondrous game.

Vitting struck her with his sword, A very fearful stroke; But she kissed asunder the good sword, Into pieces three it broke.

With a single kiss of the witchs mouth Was shivered the trusty sword; Vitting the hag by the weazand seized, Without a single word.

The beldame changed herself to a crane, And flew to the clouds on high; But Vitting donned a feather robe, And pursued her through the sky.

They flew for a day, they flew for three, Bold Vitting and the crane; Then Vitting seized the crane by the legs, And her body rent in twain.

Homeward now, with sword in hand, The valiant comrades wended: All the Birting kemps are dead, And the adventure ended.

THE SINGING MARINER A Ballad from the Spanish

Who will ever have again, On the land or on the main, Such a chance as happend to Count Arnaldos long ago.

With his falcon in his hand, Forth he went along the strand; There he saw a galley gay, Briskly bearing for the bay.

Ask me not her name and trade, All the sails of silk were made; He who steerd the ship along Raised his voice, and sang a song.

Sang a song whose magic force Calmd the breaker in its course; While the fishes, sore amazed, Left their holes and upward gazed.

And the fowl came flocking fast, Round the summit of the mast; Still he sang to wind and wave: God preserve my vessel brave!

Guard her from the rocks that grow Mid the sullen deep below; From the gust, and from the breeze, Sweeping through Gibtareks seas.

From the gulf of Venice too, With its shoals and waters blue; Where the mermaid chants her hymn, Borne upon the billows brim.

Forward stept Arnaldos bold, Thus he spake, as I am told: Teach me, sailor, I entreat, Yonder song that sounds so sweet.

But the sailor shook his head, Shook it thrice, and briefly said: Never will I teach the strain But to him who ploughs the main.


O, scarcely is Spring a time of pure bliss, He is wrong who full trust thereon layeth; From many it may Take sorrow away, But to many it trouble conveyeth.

O, when every thing is as joyous in Spring, As in heaven, that never is dreary; Tis a grievous case If one mournful must pace, And cannot be also merry!

THE NIGHTINGALE Translated from the Danish

In midnights calm hour the Nightingale sings Of freedom, of love, and delight; Come, haste to the grove where melody rings, Tis Philomels notes that invite. A fowler attentively follows her there, Resolvd for his victim to spread out a snare: Think, girls, of the Nightingales fate, and beware!

In ambush his nets he carefully brings, Glad innocence feels no alarm; Unguarded her flightmidst danger she wings And falls into sorrowful harm. Alas! she is silent, and full of despair, He glides away quick with his treasure so rare: Think, girls, of the Nightingales fate, and beware!

A beautiful cage adorns his fair prize, In hope that for him she will sing; But Freedom, that wafted her notes to the skies, Bore Gladness away on its wing. Thus you, Philomela, resemble the fair, And we, we delight in the love that we share: O, think of the Nightingales fate, and beware!


Say from what mine took Love the yellow gold To form those tresses? from what thorn-bush tore Those roses sleek? and from what summit bore That stainless snow which seems no longer cold?

MORNING SONG Nu rinder Solen op

From Eastern quarters now The suns up-wandering, His rays on the rocks brow And hills side squandering. Be glad, my soul! and sing amidst thy pleasure, Fly from the house of dust, Up with thy thanks, and trust To heavens azure!

O, countless as the grains Of sand so tiny, Measureless as the mains Deep waters briny, Gods mercy is, which He upon me showereth. Each morning in my shell, A grace immeasurable To me down-poureth.

Thou best dost understand, Lord God! my needing; And placed is in Thy hand My fortunes speeding, And Thou foreseest what is for me most fitting. Be still, then, O my soul! To manage in the whole Thy God permitting.

May fruit the land array, And corn for eating! May truth eer make its way, With justice meeting! Give thou to me my share with every other, Till down my staff I lay, And from this world away Wend to another!


This world by fools is occupied, And whom the sight of a fool displeases, Within his chamber himself should hide, And break his looking-glass to pieces.


To the beech grove with so sweet an air It beckond me. O, Earth! that never the cruel plough-share Had furrowd thee! In their dark shelter the flowerets grew, Bright to the eye, And smild by my foot on the cloudlets blue, Which deckd the sky.

To the wood through a field I took my way; There I could see On the field an uppild stone-heap lay, Twixt hillocks three; So anciently grayly white it stood, An oblong ring: Here doubtless was held in the old time good A royal Ting.

The royal stone, which there doth stand, The Stol-king pressd, With crown on head, and sceptre in hand, In sables drest. And every warrior solemnly pacd Peaceful in thought, And down on his stone himself calmly placd No sword he brought.

The kings house stood on yonder height, With walls of power; On yon had his daughter, the damsel bright, Her maiden bower. Upon the third the temple stood, Through the North famed wide, Where to Thor was offered the he-goats blood, In reeking tide.

O, lovely field! and forest fair, And meads grass-clad; Her bride-bed Freya every where Enamelled had. The corn-flowers rose in azure band From earthly cell; Nought else could I do but stop and stand, And greet them well.

Welcome on earths green breast again, Ye flowerets dear! In spring how charming mid the grain Your heads ye rear. Like stars midst lightnings yellow ray Ye shine red, blue: O, how your summer aspect gay Delights my view.

O poet! poet! silence keep, God help thy case: Our owner holds us sadly cheap, And scorns our race. Each time he sees, he calls us scum, Or worthless tares; Hell-weeds that but to vex him come Midst his corn-ears.

The greatest grace done for our sake In all his life, Is from his pocket deep to take His huge clasp knife; And heavy handful then to cut, Midst grumbling much Us with tobacco leaves to put In seal-skin pouch.

He says, he says, that smoked this way, We dross of the field, To the world by chance, by poor chance, may Some benefit yield; But as for our beauty, our blue and red hues, Tis folly indeed The mouth is his only test of use, And thats his creed.

O wretched mortals!O wretched man! O wretched crowd! No pleasures ye pluckno pleasures ye plan In lifes lone road: Whose eyes are blind to the glories great Of the works of God; And dream that the mouth is the nearest gate To joys abode.

Come flowers! for we to each other belong, Come graceful elf, And around my lute in sympathy strong Now wind thyself; And quake as if movd by zephyrs wing, Neath the clang of the chord, And a morning song with glee well sing To our Maker and Lord!

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Printed for THOMAS J. WISE, Hampstead, N.W.

Edition limited to Thirty Copies.


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