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His hair was yellow as hay,
Gleamed in his tawny beard.
Hearty and hale was Othere,
With a kind of laugh in his speech,
Like the sea-tide on a beach,
As unto the King he spoke.
And Alfred, King of the Saxons,
And wrote down the wondrous tale
Of him who was first to sail
Into the Arctic seas.
“So far I live to the northward,
To the east are wild mountain-chains, .
And beyond them meres and plains;
To the westward all is sea.
“So far I live to the northward, From the harbor of Skeringes-hale,
If you only sailed by day,
With a fair wind all the way,
More than a month would you sail.
“I own six hundred reindeer,
I have tribute from the Finns,
Whalebone and reindeer-skins,
And ropes of walrus-hide.
“I ploughed the land with horses,
For the old seafaring men
Came to me now and then,
With their sagas of the seas; —
“Of Iceland and of Greenland,
And the undiscovered deep; —
For thinking of those seas.
“To the northward stretched the desert,
“To the west of me was the ocean,
But I did not slacken sail
For the walrus or the whale,
Till after three days more.
“The days grew longer and longer,
And southward through the haze
I saw the sullen blaze
Of the red midnight sun.
“And then uprose before me,
The huge and haggard shape
Of that unknown North Cape,
Whose form is like a wedge.
“The sea was rough and stormy, The tempest howled and wailed,
And the sea-fog, like a ghost,
Haunted that dreary coast,
“Four days I steered to eastward, Four days without a night:
Round in a fiery ring
Went the great sun, O King,
Here Alfred, King of the Saxons,
Ceased writing for a while ;
And raised his eyes from his book, With a strange and puzzled look,
And an incredulous smile.
But Othere, the old sea-captain,
Till the King listened, and then
Once more took up his pen,
And wrote down every word.
“And now the land,” said Othere, “Bent southward suddenly,
And I followed the curving shore
And ever southward bore
Into a nameless sea.
“And there we hunted the walrus, The narwhale, and the seal;
Ha! 't was a noble game!
And like the lightning's flame
Flew our harpoons of steel.