Monday 12 June 2017

'Esben and Malfred' - another Danish ballad

Esben og Malfred

‘Little Ole, little Ole, don’t journey this year!
Of me’s been foretold things you yet have to hear
While the waves pull one under.

While I was still young, of me was foretold
I’d find all my burdens too heavy to hold.

Yes, while still a maid of me it was said
That after my twelfth child I would lie dead.’

Little Ole refused to believe words such as these,
Little Malfred he answered with little unease:

‘All the soothsayers we curse and we cuss,
And take the good fortune that God wants for us.

Yes, all the soothsayers as chaff we’ll have burned,
And take the good fortune that God sends unearned.’

Little Ole his vessel he steers from the land,
Little Malfred she swoons on the shore’s silver sand.

They bore little Malfred back to her abode,
She bore Ole a son before the cock crowed.

They bore little Malfred upstairs to her bed,
But ere the sun rose in the sky she was dead.

Little Ole he slept on soft silken sheets red,
he dreamt in a dream little Malfred was dead.

Little Ole he slept on soft silken sheets white,
he dreamt little Malfred a corpse she did lie.

Little Ole his vessel he steered toward land,
he stepped ashore on the silvery sand.

And on his way home two maidens he met,
their shoes silvered-buckled, to these two he said:

‘And where have you been, you young maids twain,
with shoes silver-buckled, I beg you explain.’

The first one she answered, her dress it was red,
‘We both have been absent, little Malfred is dead.’

The second she answered, her dress it was white,
‘We both have been absent, a corpse she does lie.’

Little Ole their words refused to believe
tilll once more back home he had reason to grieve.

But when he came home he saw everywhere
Wax candles were burning, their smoke filled the air.

Little Ole then entered, too true were his fears –
His heirs, all eleven, had cheeks wet with tears.

‘My children, why black do you bear? tell me pray,
You all wore bright crimson when I sailed away.’

‘These black clothes we’ll bear now for many a day,
Our mother she died, father he sailed away.’

‘Be quiet now, be quiet now, young children of mine,
No stepmother ever will cause you to pine.’

The white pall he lifted, looked down on the bier,
‘Alas you lie here, my delight and most dear!’

He lifted the linen, on her he gazed down,
‘Alas you lie here, once my joy and my crown!’

He lifted up each of her fingers ten,
A gold ring he placed on each one of them.

He took from his finger a gold ring as well,
and gave to the man who’d be tolling the bell.

Another gold ring from his purse he gave
to him who would dig her a spacious grave.

‘Now dig her grave both wide and deep,
So both of us our church may keep.’

He placed his sword-hilt against a stone,
For its tip to pierce his heart to the bone.

He placed it against the earth so chill,
For its tip to make his heart’s blood spill.

So both of them are now dead and gone,
Their children starve, are pale and wan.
While the waves pull one under.

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