You may have noticed my recent social posts in which I quote various stanzas from a poem. The poem is called “The Saga of King Olaf” and it was written by poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It was included in Longfellow’s book Tales of a Wayside Inn, which was published on November 23rd, 1863 (coincidentally the first day of the Battle of Chattanooga in the Civil War) Based almost entirely on Olaf Tryggvason’s saga in Heimskringla, the poem is the longest part of Longfellow’s book. The initial print run of Tales of a Wayside Inn was 15,000 copies. The New York Times called the book “a pleasant fiction” and an “excellent account.” Two more runs of the book came out later. The poem in its entirety is below.

Longfellow. Photographed by Julia Margaret Cameron in 1868. He sort of looks like an old Viking.

The Saga of King Olaf

And King Olaf heard the cry,
Saw the red light in the sky,
  Laid his hand upon his sword,
As he leaned upon the railing,
And his ships went sailing, sailing
  Northward into Drontheim fiord. 

There he stood as one who dreamed;
And the red light glanced and gleamed
  On the armor that he wore;
And he shouted, as the rifted
Streamers o’er him shook and shifted,
  “I accept thy challenge, Thor!” 

To avenge his father slain,
And reconquer realm and reign,
  Came the youthful Olaf home,
Through the midnight sailing, sailing,
Listening to the wild wind’s wailing,
  And the dashing of the foam. 

To his thoughts the sacred name
Of his mother Astrid came,
  And the tale she oft had told
Of her flight by secret passes
Through the mountains and morasses,
  To the home of Hakon old. 

Then strange memories crowded back
Of Queen Gunhild’s wrath and wrack,
  And a hurried flight by sea;
Of grim Vikings, and the rapture
Of the sea-fight, and the capture,
  And the life of slavery. 

How a stranger watched his face
In the Esthonian market-place,
  Scanned his features one by one,
Saying, “We should know each other;
I am Sigurd, Astrid’s brother,
  Thou art Olaf, Astrid’s son!” 

Then as Queen Allogia’s page,
Old in honors, young in age,
  Chief of all her men-at-arms;
Till vague whispers, and mysterious,
Reached King Valdemar, the imperious,
  Filling him with strange alarms. 

Then his cruisings o’er the seas,
Westward to the Hebrides,
  And to Scilly’s rocky shore;
And the hermit’s cavern dismal,
Christ’s great name and rites baptismal
  In the ocean’s rush and roar. 

All these thoughts of love and strife
Glimmered through his lurid life,
  As the stars’ intenser light
Through the red flames o’er him trailing,
As his ships went sailing, sailing,
  Northward in the summer night. 

Trained for either camp or court,
Skilful in each manly sport,
  Young and beautiful and tall;
Art of warfare, craft of chases,
Swimming, skating, snow-shoe races,
  Excellent alike in all. 

When at sea, with all his rowers,
He along the bending oars
  Outside of his ship could run.
He the Smalsor Horn ascended,
And his shining shield suspended
On its summit, like a sun. 

On the ship-rails he could stand,
Wield his sword with either hand,
  And at once two javelins throw;
At all feasts where ale was strongest
Sat the merry monarch longest,
  First to come and last to go. 

Norway never yet had seen
One so beautiful of mien,
  One so royal in attire,
When in arms completely furnished,
Harness gold-inlaid and burnished,
  Mantle like a flame of fire. 

Thus came Olaf to his own,
When upon the night-wind blown
  Passed that cry along the shore;
And he answered, while the rifted
Streamers o’er him shook and shifted,
  “I accept thy challenge, Thor!”


My Saga of Olaf Tryggvason

I have just completed a work of fiction based on Heimkringla’s Saga of Olaf Tryggvason and Longfellow’s epic poem. It is called Forged by Iron.

If you’re interested in reading it, you can find it on Amazon worldwide. It was released April 15, 2020 on eBook and April 25, 2020, for paperback.

I hope you enjoy it!

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