Hrim-Thor or The Winter King

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Norse Romanticism: Themes in British Literature 1760-1830, Edited By Robert W. Rix

Anonymous

1.        The collection The Tales of Terror came out in May 1801, following hard on the heels of Matthew Lewis’s Tales of Wonder (November 1800). This has frequently been attributed to Lewis, but no external evidence supports this claim. [1]  In his Tales, Lewis had included poems of terrible folklore daemons, whose kingdoms were the four elements. This later poem adds another fiend, a king of winter, whose name is a reflex of the Norse Hrimthursar (Frost Giants) in the Poetic Edda.

2.        The poem illustrates the extent to which Northern poetry and tradition had become associated with Gothic horror. In “An Introductory Dialogue”, which was prefixed to Tales of Terror, the following lines appear

Th’enraptured mind with fancy loves to toil
O’er rugged Scandinavia’s martial soil;
With eager joy the ’venturous spirit goes
O’er Morven’s mountains, and through Lapland’s snows
Sees barbarous chiefs in fierce contention fall,
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And views the blood-stain’d feasts of Odin’s hall

3.        It is significant that the author of this Lewis-inspired composition calls it a “Lapland Ballad”, since Lapland was a place associated with black magic and dreadful witches. In fact, Lapland was often mentioned to invoke an atmosphere of terror and darkness. One may only think of Shakespeare’s “Lapland sorcerers”, Marlowe’s “Lapland giants”, or John Milton’s “Lapland witches”. Milton’s phrase was repeated by Henry Füseli in the title of his oil-painting The Night-Hag Visiting the Lapland Witches (c. 1796). Wordsworth and Keats also used Lapland to create a sense of horror. [2] 

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Hrim Thor or The Winter King. A Lapland Ballad (1801)

Here Winter holds his unrejoicing court,
Here the dread tyrant meditates his wrath
Throned in his palace of cerulean ice
THOMSON. [3] 

THE moon shone bright on Lapland’s snows,
When grim the Winter King arose;
His icy cave he left with speed,
And summon’d straight his fiend-born steed:

—“Oh haste my steed o’er marsh and plain!
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“I burn yon beauteous maid to gain;
“Oh! haste my steed to Sargen’s gate,
“Where Tura weeps her lover’s fate!” —

Full swift he donn’d his armour bright,
And mounts a young and comely knight.
10
The steed sped on o’er marsh and plain,
The beauteous damsel to obtain.

He quickly sped and reach’d the gate
Where Tura wept her lover’s fate.
She cursed her charms which caused the fight
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That tore her Asgar from her sight.

—“Oh! list thee lady, list to me!
“Full many a day I’ve sought for thee;
“Oh! listen lady banish fear,
“Thy lover’s trusty friend is here.”—
20

Then sigh’d the damsel fair and bright,
—“I have no lover courteous knight”,
“My Asgar lies on yonder plain”,
“By Hacho fierce in combat slain.”—

—“Oh! No, fair lady, haste with me!
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“I soon will show thy love to thee;
“In Larno’s caves he wounded lies,
“Oh haste e’er life his bosom flies.” —

Then sigh’d the lady fair and bright,
—“My mind misgives me, courteous knight,
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“For Asgar lies on yonder plain,
“By Hacho fierce in combat slain!”—

—“Oh! list thee, lady, list to me,
“These tokens sends thy love to thee;
“These belts so fair these rings so bright,
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“Which erst you gave with fond delight.” —

He show’d her tokens one and two,
—“Lovely maid he waits for you,” —
He show’d her tokens two and three,
—“Lovely maiden go with me.” —
40

Then spake the lady fair and bright,
—“Forgive my doublings courteous knight!
“Let weal or woe this breast betide,
“O’er hill and dale with thee I’ll ride! ”—

Full sure the dæmon spreads his snare,
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The eager maid descends the stair,
Anon they mount the panting steed
And swift o’er hill and valley speed.

As through the forest quick they dart,
With joy bounds high the fiend’s proud heart,
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Ah! little thought the lady bright
She clasp’d the cruel Winter-Sprite!

Now cried the maiden with dismay,
As swift the steed pursued its way,
—“And must we up yon mountain go,
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“Whose sides are heap d with drifted snow?” —

—“There lies our road,” the Sprite replied,
“The way is drear, but I’m your guide,
“Then hush your throbbing heart’s alarms
“I’ll give you to your lover’s arms!” —
60

The desert wild the moon beams show,
White glares around the glistening snow,
The fiend spurs on his steed amain,
Whose hoofs ring on the frozen plain.

Now swifter, swifter on they ride,
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And reach the mountain’s snow-clad side,
The plunging steed, without delay,
Through drifted heaps pursues his way.

—“Oh, stop your horse! my feet are chill,
“The snow is deep and high the hill.” —
70
—“Now hush your throbbing heart’s alarms,
“I’ll give you to your lover’s arms!” —

—“Oh, stop thou eager guide! for see
“The rising coldness numbs my knee.” —
—“Now hush thy throbbing heart’s alarms,
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“I’ll give thee to thy lover’s arms!” —

—“Stop! stop! for God’s sake, stop!
“My breast is chill’d by circling snow.” —
—“Now vain your fears and wild alarms,
“You feel your lover’s icy arms!” —
80

Now shrieks the maid with sad affright,
While loud exults the Winter-Sprite;
The moon grows dark the night grows foul,
Thick snows descend, and tempests howl.

Afar the fiend’s hoarse yells resound,
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As round the maid his arms he wound;
Afar are borne the maiden’s cries
By warring blasts that rend the skies.

But ere she sunk beneath the snows,
Her Asgar’s ghastly shade arose;
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He bared his bosom streak’d with gore,
And sigh’d —“sweet love, we meet no more! ” —

Now loud are heard the maiden’s cries,
But louder blasts and tempests rise;
And when the tempests ceased to roar,
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The maiden’s cries were heard no more.

Take warning hence ye damsels fair,
Of men’s insidious arts beware,
Believe not every courteous knight,
Lest he should prove a Winter-Sprite.
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1.        Source: Tales of Terror, 2nd ed. (London: R. Faulder et al., 1808), 17–21.

Notes

[1] For the connection between the two anthologies, see Douglass H. Thomson, “Mingled Measures: Gothic Parody in Tales of Wonder and Tales of Terror”, Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net 50 (2008), <http://id.erudit.org/iderudit/018143ar>. BACK

[2] For references, see See Frank Edgar Farley, “Three ‘Lapland Songs’”, PMLA 21.1 (1906): 1–39; Herbert Hartman, “Wordsworth’s ‘Lapland Night’”, Review of English Studies 14 (1938): 189–93. BACK

[3] From James Thomson’s Winter. A Poem (1726). BACK

Published @ RC

March 2012