King Volmer And Elsie by John Greenleaf Whittier


WHERE, over heathen doom-rings and gray stones
of the Horg,
In its little Christian city stands the church of
In merry mood King Volmer sat, forgetful of his
As idle as the Goose of Gold that brooded on his

Out spake the King to Henrik, his young and faithful
“Dar’st trust thy little Elsie, the maid of thy
“Of all the men in Denmark she loveth only me
As true to me is Elsie as thy Lily is to thee.”

Loud laughed the king: “To-morrow shall bring
another day, [18]
When I myself will test her; she will not say me
Thereat the lords and gallants, that round about
him stood,
Wagged all their heads in concert and smiled as
courtiers should.

The gray lark sings o’er Vordingborg, and on the
ancient town
From the tall tower of Valdemar the Golden Goose
looks down;
The yellow grain is waving in the pleasant wind of
The wood resounds with cry of hounds and blare
of hunter’s horn.

In the garden of her father little Elsie sits and
And, singing with the early birds, her daily task,
Gay tulips bloom and sweet mint curls around her
But she is sweeter than the mint and fairer than
the flower.

About her form her kirtle blue clings lovingly, and,
As snow, her loose sleeves only leave her small,
round wrists in sight;
Below, the modest petticoat can only half conceal
The motion of the lightest foot that ever turned a

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The cat sits purring at her side, bees hum in
sunshine warm;
But, look! she starts, she lifts her face, she shades
it with her arm.
And, hark! a train of horsemen, with sound of
dog and horn,
Come leaping o’er the ditches, come trampling
down the corn!

Merrily rang the bridle-reins, and scarf and plume
streamed gay,
As fast beside her father’s gate the riders held
their way;
And one was brave in scarlet cloak, with golden
spur on heel,
And, as he checked his foaming steed, the maiden
checked her wheel.

“All hail among thy roses, the fairest rose to me!
For weary months in secret my heart has longed for
What noble knight was this? What words for
modest maiden’s ear?
She dropped a lowly courtesy of bashfulness and

She lifted up her spinning-wheel; she fain would
seek the door,
Trembling in every limb, her cheek with blushes
crimsoned o’er.
“Nay, fear me not,” the rider said, “I offer heart
and hand,
Bear witness these good Danish knights who round
about me stand.

“I grant you time to think of this, to answer as
you may,
For to-morrow, little Elsie, shall bring another day.”
He spake the old phrase slyly as, glancing round
his train,
He saw his merry followers seek to hide their
smiles in vain.

“The snow of pearls I’ll scatter in your curls of
golden hair,
I’ll line with furs the velvet of the kirtle that you
All precious gems shall twine your neck; and in
a chariot gay
You shall ride, my little Elsie, behind four steeds
of gray.

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“And harps shall sound, and flutes shall play, and
brazen lamps shall glow;
On marble floors your feet shall weave the dances
to and fro.
At frosty eventide for us the blazing hearth shall
While, at our ease, we play at draughts, and drink
the blood-red wine.”

Then Elsie raised her head and met her wooer face
to face;
A roguish smile shone in her eye and on her lip
found place.
Back from her low white forehead the curls of
gold she threw,
And lifted up her eyes to his, steady and clear and

“I am a lowly peasant, and you a gallant knight;
I will not trust a love that soon may cool and turn
to slight.
If you would wed me henceforth be a peasant, not
a lord;
I bid you hang upon the wall your tried and trusty

“To please you, Elsie, I will lay keen Dynadel
And in its place will swing the scythe and mow
your father’s hay.”
“Nay, but your gallant scarlet cloak my eyes can
never bear;
A Vadmal coat, so plain and gray, is all that you
must wear.”

“Well, Vadmal will I wear for you,” the rider
gayly spoke,
“And on the Lord’s high altar I’ll lay my scarlet
“But mark,” she said, “no stately horse my peasant
love must ride,
A yoke of steers before the plough is all that he
must guide.”

The knight looked down upon his steed: “Well,
let him wander free
No other man must ride the horse that has been
backed by me.
Henceforth I’ll tread the furrow and to my oxen
If only little Elsie beside my plough will walk.”

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“You must take from out your cellar cask of wine
and flask and can;
The homely mead I brew you may serve a peasant.
“Most willingly, fair Elsie, I’ll drink that mead
of thine,
And leave my minstrel’s thirsty throat to drain
my generous wine.”

“Now break your shield asunder, and shatter sign
and boss,
Unmeet for peasant-wedded arms, your knightly
knee across.
And pull me down your castle from top to basement
And let your plough trace furrows in the ruins of
your hall!”

Then smiled he with a lofty pride; right well at
last he knew
The maiden of the spinning-wheel was to her troth.
plight true.
“Ah, roguish little Elsie! you act your part full
You know that I must bear my shield and in my
castle dwell!

“The lions ramping on that shield between the
hearts aflame
Keep watch o’er Denmark’s honor, and guard her
ancient name.

“For know that I am Volmer; I dwell in yonder
Who ploughs them ploughs up Denmark, this
goodly home of ours’.

“I tempt no more, fair Elsie! your heart I know
is true;
Would God that all our maidens were good and
pure as you!
Well have you pleased your monarch, and he shall
well repay;
God’s peace! Farewell! To-morrow will bring
another day!”

He lifted up his bridle hand, he spurred his good
steed then,
And like a whirl-blast swept away with all his
gallant men.
The steel hoofs beat the rocky path; again on
winds of morn
The wood resounds with cry of hounds and blare
of hunter’s horn.

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“Thou true and ever faithful!” the listening
Henrik cried;
And, leaping o’er the green hedge, he stood by
Elsie’s side.
None saw the fond embracing, save, shining from
The Golden Goose that watched them from the
tower of Valdemar.

O darling girls of Denmark! of all the flowers
that throng
Her vales of spring the fairest, I sing for you my
No praise as yours so bravely rewards the singer’s
Thank God! of maids like Elsie the land has
plenty still!

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