Myths of the Norsemen From the Eddas and Sagas

Page: 106

Still north, until he met a stretching wall

Barring his way, and in the wall a grate.

Then he dismounted, and drew tight the girths,

On the smooth ice, of Sleipnir, Odin’s horse,

And made him leap the grate, and came within.”

Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold).

Riding onward, Hermod came at last to Hel’s banqueting-hall, where he found Balder, pale and dejected, lying upon a couch, his wife Nanna beside him, gazing fixedly at a beaker of mead, which apparently he had no heart to quaff.

The Condition of Balder’s Release

In vain Hermod informed his brother that he had come to redeem him; Balder shook his head sadly, saying that he knew he must remain in his cheerless abode until the last day should come, but he implored Hermod to take Nanna back with him, as the home of the shades was no place for such a bright and beautiful creature. But when Nanna heard this request she clung more closely to her husband’s side, vowing that nothing would ever induce her to part from him, and that she would stay with him for ever, even in Nifl-heim.

The long night was spent in close conversation, ere Hermod sought Hel and implored her to release Balder. The churlish goddess listened in silence to his request, [211]and declared finally that she would allow her victim to depart provided that all things animate and inanimate would show their sorrow for his loss by shedding tears.

“Come then! if Balder was so dear beloved,

And this is true, and such a loss is Heaven’s—

Hear, how to Heaven may Balder be restored.

Show me through all the world the signs of grief!

Fails but one thing to grieve, here Balder stops!

Let all that lives and moves upon the earth

Weep him, and all that is without life weep;

Let Gods, men, brutes, beweep him; plants and stones.

So shall I know the lost was dear indeed,

And bend my heart, and give him back to Heaven.”

Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold).

This answer was full of encouragement, for all Nature mourned the loss of Balder, and surely there was nothing in all creation which would withhold the tribute of a tear. So Hermod cheerfully made his way out of Hel’s dark realm, carrying with him the ring Draupnir, which Balder sent back to Odin, an embroidered carpet from Nanna for Frigga, and a ring for Fulla.

The Return of Hermod

The assembled gods crowded anxiously round Hermod as soon as he returned, and when he had delivered his messages and gifts, the Æsir sent heralds to every part of the world to bid all things animate and inanimate weep for Balder.

“Go quickly forth through all the world, and pray

All living and unliving things to weep

Balder, if haply he may thus be won!”

Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold).

North, South, East and West rode the heralds, and as they passed tears fell from every plant and tree, so [212]that the ground was saturated with moisture, and metals and stones, despite their hard hearts, wept too.