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[OLAF. ALFHILD from the church.]
ALFHILD. [Runs eagerly to meet him.] Olaf! Olaf! You have led me to the land Where I walk amid flowers, where before I trod on sand. In truth you have here so pleasant an isle, O here I can live without worry or guile! So much I would question, so little I know, The riddles must you explain as we go.— Is it green here always in summer and spring? OLAF. Alfhild! ALFHILD. Your answer delay! You see yon house with its spire and wing? There went I this morning to play; Without there was joy, there was laughter and mirth; Within it was still as nowhere on earth. I stepped through the door, I saw a great hall, Within was a peace that was fair; A dawn softly breaking pervaded it all, And people were kneeling in prayer. But high from above them a virgin looked down, She sailed upon clouds of white, Her head shone forth like a crimson crown, Like heaven when dawns the light. Calm was her face, a blue dress she wore, A beautiful elf in her arms she bore, And round about her played angels of love, That laughed when they saw me below in the door From their place in the heavens above! OLAF. [Aside.] Alas! I have wrought so woeful a play, Soon will her sorrow begin! ALFHILD. O, tell me, Olaf! what people are they Who live in the house I was in? OLAF. Each one who like you is good and kind, Each one who is child-like in spirit and mind. 'Tis the church, God's house,—it belongs to him. ALFHILD. The mighty father! 'Tis only your whim! His house is high over the stars in the sky, Where the white swan sails undefiled, So high 'tis beyond any mortal eye Save that of the dreaming child!— The church that you spoke of! So then it is there We shall ride in festal procession, As bridegroom and bride! OLAF. [Aside.] No longer I dare Delay my wretched confession! ALFHILD. Ah, each of your words has burned like a coal, And deep its mark it has left on my soul! My bosom is filled with joy and with song; Wherever I wander in field or at home, They shine on my path, they light me along,— Like stars at night in the heavenly dome! You said the whole world would be asked to the feast, And foremost should ride the minstrel and priest, Knights should go forward and guide my steed, And roses should blossom on every side, Each lily we met should bow like a weed, The flowers should curtsy before the bride! OLAF. Have I said— ALFHILD. Olaf, you surely recall! All things have followed your every desire; The lindens stand yonder so green and so tall; The roses are decked in their festive attire And dance like elves at an elfen ball. Never did heaven's illumining eye So radiantly shine as here from the sky; Never before sang the birds so sweet! They sing the bride and the bridegroom to greet!— O, you—you make me so happy and blessed, Both heaven and earth could I hold to my breast! Nowhere can so humble a weed be found Which under my feet I could crush and destroy, Nowhere a creature so deep in the ground, But I would share in its sorrow and joy! My bosom is filled with the glory of spring; It surges and roars like a wood in a storm! OLAF. [Aside.] And soon this youthful and lovely form Shall writhe beneath sorrow's tormenting sting! ALFHILD. O, glorious life! [She kneels with upstretched arms.] ALFHILD. O father of love, In the distant heaven! Had I but the power, The tongues of the angels above, Thy praise I should sing every hour; I cannot, for I am of little worth, I can only bow down before you to the earth— O thanks, thou unspeakable! Glory and praise For all I can here understand of thy ways! [She rises.] ALFHILD. Yes, lovely is life in its every breath, As lovely almost as the journey to death! OLAF. In the grave you think it is pleasant to lie? ALFHILD. I know not your meaning, but I brooded long. And asked of my father "What means it to die?" In answer thereto he sang me a song: "When the child of man is weighted with grief And longs to be rocked to rest, Then comes there an elf with wings of white And frees its spirit oppressed. "The little elf with his wings of white Makes ready a downy bed, Of lilies he weaves the linen sheets And pillows of roses red. "Away on the pillows he carries the child, He carries it safe on his arm, He takes it to heaven aloft on a cloud Away from all earthly harm. "And cherubs there are in the heaven above (I tell what is true to you); They strew the pillows of rosy red With pearls of white and of blue. "Then wakens the little earthly child, It wakens to heavenly mirth,— But all that happiness, all that joy There's no one that knows here on earth." OLAF. 'Twere better, alas! had you never come here, Had you lived in the mountain your peaceful life. Your joy like a weed will wither and sear, Your faith will be killed— ALFHILD. But as Olaf's wife I am strong as the torrent and have no fear! With you by my side let happen what may, With you I will laugh and suffer and languish. ALFHILD. [Listening.] Hush, Olaf! You hear that mournful lay, It sounds like a song of the bitterest anguish! CHORUS OF PALLBEARERS. [Softly outside to the right.] The little child we carry With sorrow to the grave, Beneath the mould we bury What soon the worms will crave. Hard is this lot and dreary: With mournful dirge and sigh To carry sad and weary The child where it shall lie! ALFHILD. [Uncertain and anxious.] What is it, Olaf? What is it, I say? OLAF. A child that death is bearing away, A mother and children weep on the way. ALFHILD. Death! Then where are the pillows of red, The lily-white linen, and where is the dead? OLAF. I see no pillows of red or of gray, But only the dark black boards of the bier; And thereon the dead sleeps on shavings and hay. ALFHILD. On shavings and hay? OLAF. That is all there is here! ALFHILD. And where is the elf who bears on his arm The child far away from all earthly harm? OLAF. I see but a mother whose heart will break, And little children who follow the wake. ALFHILD. And where are the pearls of blue and of white, That the angels strew in the heaven of light? OLAF. I see only this,—they weep many a tear As they stand at the side of the bier. ALFHILD. And where is the home, the house of God, Where the dead dream only of mirth? OLAF. Behold! Now they place him beneath the sod And cover him over with earth. ALFHILD. [Quiet and thoughtful, after a pause.] Not so was death in the song—not so. OLAF. 'Tis true; but no such joy and pleasure Has any one felt here below.— Have you never heard of the mountain king's treasure, Which night after night like gold would glow; But if you would seize the gold in your hand, You nothing would find save gravel and sand; And listen, Alfhild! it often is true That life turns out in the selfsame way; Approach not too near, it may happen to you, That you burn your fingers some day. 'Tis true it may shine like a heavenly star, But only when seen from afar. [He becomes aware of Lady Kirsten off the stage to the right.] OLAF. My mother—she'll tell you—I shall depart. The angels above send their peace to your heart!
[He goes towards the house but is stopped by LADY KIRSTEN.—The sky becomes overcast with dark clouds; the wind begins to howl in the tree-tops.—ALFHILD stands absorbed in deep thought.]
Previous: SCENE III
Next: SCENE V