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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 1: 1791-1797, Edited By Lynda Pratt

18. Robert Southey to Thomas Phillipps Lamb, [c. 18 July 1792] ⁠* 

The Death of Odin. [1] 

—————

Soul of my much love’d Freya [2]  yes I come.
No pale Diseases haggard power
Has hasten’d on thy husbands hour
Nor pourd by victor’s thirsty hand
Has Odin’s life bedewd the land —
I rush to meet thee by a self will’d doom.
No more my clatt’ring iron car
Shall rush amid the throng of war
No more obedient to my heavenly cause
Shall crimson Conquest stamp her Odin’s laws.
I go I go.
Yet shall the Nations own my sway
Far as yon orb shall dart his all enlivening ray
Big is the death fraught cloud of woe
That hangs o Rome impending oer thy wall
For Odin shall avenge his Asgards [3]  fall.

Thus burst from Odins lips the fated sound
As high in air he reard the gleaming blade.
In silent wonder all around
His faithful friends beheld the scene affray’d
He unappalld towards the skies
Uplifts his death denouncing eyes
“Ope wide Valahallas [4]  shield roofd hall
Virgins of bliss obey your masters call
From these injurious realms below
The sire of nations hastes to go.

Say falters now your chieftains breath
Or chills pale Terror now his deathlike face?
Then weep not Thor [5]  thy friends approaching death.
Let no unmanly tears disgrace
The first of mortals valiant race.
Dauntless Heimdal [6]  mourn not now.
Balder [7]  clear thy cloudy brow
I go to happier realms above
To realms of friendship & of love.

This unmanly grief dispelling
List to glorys rapturous call
So with Odin ever dwelling
Meet him in the shield roofd hall.
Still shall Odins fateful lance
Before his faithful friends advance.
When the bloody fight beginning
Helms & shields & hauberks ringing
Streaming life each fatal wound
Pours its current on the ground —
Still in clouds portentous riding
Oer his comrade host presiding
Odin from the stormy air
Oer your disheartend foes shall scatter wild despair.

Mid the mighty din of battle
Whilst conflicting chariots rattle
Floods of purple slaughter streaming
Fate fraught faulchions felly gleaming
Happy he amid the strife
Who pours the current of his life
When Hela [8]  marks her destind prey
And Slaughter stamps his favouring day.
Every toil & trouble ending
Odin from his hall descending
Shall bear him to his blest retreat [9] 
Shall place him in the warriors seat.

Not such the dastards destind state
Not such the joys his sprite aggrate —
Wild shrieks shall yell on every breath
Pale agonies await his death.
Adown his wan distorted face
Big drops their painful way shall trace
Each limb in that tremendous hour
Shall quiver in Diseases power —
Grim Hela oer his couch shall hang
Scoff at his groans & point each pang
No Virgin goddess him shall call
To join you in the shield roofd hall
No Valkery [10]  for him prepare
The smiling mead with lovely care
Sad & unpitied shall he lie
Despairing shriek despairing die.
No Scald [11]  in never ending lays
Shall rear the temple of his praise
No Virgin in her vernal bloom
Bedew with tears his high reard tomb
No Soldier sound his honor’d name
No song shall hand him down to fame.
But rank weeds oer the unglorious mound
Thick shall in proud contempt abound
And swept by Time’s strong stream away
He soon shall sink Oblivions prey.
And deep in Niflehim [12]  — dreary cell
Aye shall his sprite tormented dwell
Where grim Remorse for ever wakes
Where Anguish feeds her torturing snakes
Where Disappointment & Delay
For ever guard the doleful way.
Amid the joyless land of woe
Bitter bleak the chill blasts blow —
Drives the tempest — pours the rain
Showers the hail with force amain —
Yell the night birds as they fly
Flitting in the misty sky
Glows the adder swells the toad
For sad is Hela’s cold abode.

Spread then the Gothic banners to the sky
Lift your towering ensigns high
Yoke your coursers to the car
Strike the sounding shield of war.
Go my lovd companions go —
Haste subdue your every foe
Like the torrents raging force
That rushing from the hills speds on its foaming course.
The Druid throng shall fall away
Beneath your ever victor sway —
No more shall Nations bow the knee
Vanquishd Taranis [13]  to thee
No more upon the sacred stone
Teutates [14]  shall thy victims groan
The vanquishd Odin Rome shall cause thy fall
And my destruction shake thy turret crowned wall.

Yet oh my faithful friends beware
Luxury’s enerving snare
Twas this that shook our Asgards dome
That drove us from our native home
Twas this that smoothd the way for victor Rome.

Gauls fruitful plains shall court your sway
Conquest point the destind way
Conquest shall attend your call
And your success shall gild still more Valhalla’s hall.
So spake the dauntless chief & piercd his breast
Then rushd to seize the seat of endless rest.

——————

The ode I have sent has at least the merit of being long enough — & the subject is such as is not very common. I sent some verses to Mountsfield by the Bolt in Tun coach but know not whether they are arrived. why you say that your rhyming genius is worn out I know not — for the song was so amended that I must not own it now. Tom mentioned in his last that he sets out on his travels with Mr Lettice [15]  next spring — he certainly has done right in preferring it to the University & altho’ I shall feel the loss very sensibly I must commend his resolution. universities are very well for the study of books, to run mad in finding out the paulo post futurum [16]  of a Greek verb or to solve a problem of Euclid, [17]  but they will never teach the most important study — the study of men.

you have heard I suppose of the bloody proceeding at Westminster. [18]  Tom wrote me a full account of it — some hints I have seen in the papers but very obscure ones. Mr Purcel [19]  appears to me to stand a good chance of the gallows.

my best respects at Mountsfield — & believe me

your much obliged humble Servant

Robert Southey.

Bath. July.


Notes

* Address: Thomas Lamb Esqr/ Rye/ Sussex./ Single Sheet
Stamped: BATH
Postmark: DJY/ 18/ 92
MS: Morgan Library, MA 4500
Unpublished. BACK

[1] A revised version was published in Southey and Lovell’s Poems (1795). Odin was chief of the Norse gods. The idea that he might have been an actual historical figure was explored in Thomas Percy’s (1729–1811; DNB) translation of Paul-Henri Mallet (1730–1807), Northern Antiquities: or, A Description of the Manners, Customs, Religion and Laws of the Ancient Danes, and Other Northern Nations, 2 vols (London, 1770), I, pp. 58–73. Southey’s poem was also influenced by Frank Sayers (1763–1817; DNB), Dramatic Sketches of the Ancient Northern Mythology (1790). BACK

[2] In Norse mythology, wife of Odin and mother of Balder, associated with love and fertility. BACK

[3] In Norse mythology, Asgard was the realm of the gods. BACK

[4] Valhalla, the place in Norse mythology to which heroes who died in battle were taken. BACK

[5] In Norse mythology, the god of thunder. BACK

[6] In Norse mythology, the guardian of the gods. BACK

[7] In Norse mythology, Odin’s son and god of beauty, joy, purity and peace. BACK

[8] In Norse mythology, the goddess of Hell. BACK

[9] Valhalla. In Norse mythology, the place where heroes slain in battle were taken. BACK

[10] In Norse mythology, maidens who selected the most heroic of those who had died in battle and carried them to Valhalla. BACK

[11] The old Norse word for a poet. BACK

[12] In Norse mythology, the ‘abode of mist’, a hell-like world where those who did not enter Valhalla were taken. BACK

[13] Celtic god of thunder. BACK

[14] Celtic god to whom victims were sacrificed by being plunged into a vat of liquid. BACK

[15] Probably John Lettice (1737–1832), clergyman and author. Previously tutor to the Beckford family, in 1792 he was employed as travelling companion and tutor to Thomas Davis Lamb. BACK

[16] The Latin translates as ‘some time in the distant future’. BACK

[17] Euclid of Alexandria (dates uncertain, between 325 and 250 BC), mathematician. His work includes the Elements. BACK

[18] Possibly a reference to a disturbance at Westminster School, see Letter 15. BACK

[19] Unidentified, possibly an Usher at Westminster School. BACK

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Published @ RC

March 2009