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King Canute

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King Canute
« on: August 04, 2020, 07:34:59 AM »
KING CANUTE by Victor Hugo
     ("Un jour, Kanut mourut.")

     {Bk. X. i.}
     King Canute died.{1} Encoffined he was laid.
     Of Aarhuus came the Bishop prayers to say,
     And sang a hymn upon his tomb, and held
     That Canute was a saint—Canute the Great,
     That from his memory breathed celestial perfume,
     And that they saw him, they the priests, in glory,
     Seated at God's right hand, a prophet crowned.

     I.

                                   Evening came,
     And hushed the organ in the holy place,
     And the priests, issuing from the temple doors,
     Left the dead king in peace. Then he arose,
     Opened his gloomy eyes, and grasped his sword,
     And went forth loftily. The massy walls
     Yielded before the phantom, like a mist.

     There is a sea where Aarhuus, Altona,
     And Elsinore's vast domes and shadowy towers
     Glass in deep waters. Over this he went
     Dark, and still Darkness listened for his foot
     Inaudible, itself being but a dream.
     Straight to Mount Savo went he, gnawed by time,
     And thus, "O mountain buffeted of storms,
     Give me of thy huge mantle of deep snow
     To frame a winding-sheet." The mountain knew him,
     Nor dared refuse, and with his sword Canute
     Cut from his flank white snow, enough to make
     The garment he desired, and then he cried,
     "Old mountain! death is dumb, but tell me thou
     The way to God." More deep each dread ravine
     And hideous hollow yawned, and sadly thus
     Answered that hoar associate of the clouds:
     "Spectre, I know not, I am always here."
     Canute departed, and with head erect,
     All white and ghastly in his robe of snow,
     Went forth into great silence and great night
     By Iceland and Norway. After him
     Gloom swallowed up the universe. He stood
     A sovran kingdomless, a lonely ghost
     Confronted with Immensity. He saw
     The awful Infinite, at whose portal pale
     Lightning sinks dying; Darkness, skeleton
     Whose joints are nights, and utter Formlessness
     Moving confusedly in the horrible dark
     Inscrutable and blind. No star was there,
     Yet something like a haggard gleam; no sound
     But the dull tide of Darkness, and her dumb
     And fearful shudder. "'Tis the tomb," he said,
     "God is beyond!" Three steps he took, then cried:
     'Twas deathly as the grave, and not a voice
     Responded, nor came any breath to sway
     The snowy mantle, with unsullied white
     Emboldening the spectral wanderer.
     Sudden he marked how, like a gloomy star,
     A spot grew broad upon his livid robe;
     Slowly it widened, raying darkness forth;
     And Canute proved it with his spectral hands
     It was a drop of blood.

     R. GARNETT.


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