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The Story of Karin, A Danish Legend - The Atlantic

  Karin the fair, Karin the gay,
  She came on the morn of her bridal day,—

  She came to the mill-pond clear and bright,
  And viewed hersel' in the morning light.

  "And oh," she cried, "that my bonny brow
  May ever be white and smooth as now!

  "And oh, my hair, that I love to braid,
  Be yellow in sunshine, and brown in shade!

  "And oh, my waist, sae slender and fine,
  May it never need girdle longer than mine!"

  She lingered and laughed o'er the waters clear,
  When sudden she starts, and shrieks in fear:—

  "Oh, what is this face, sae laidly old,
  That looks at my side in the waters cold?"

  She turns around to view the bank,
  And the osier willows dark and dank;—

  And from the fern she sees arise
  An aged crone wi' awsome eyes,

  "Ha! ha!" she laughed, "ye're a bonny bride!
  See how ye'll fare gin the New Year tide!

  "Ye'll wear a robe sae blithely gran',
  An ell-long girdle canna span.

  "When twal-months three shall pass away,
  Your berry-brown hair shall be streaked wi' gray.

  "And gin ye be mither of bairnies nine,
  Your brow shall be wrinkled and dark as mine."

  Karin she sprang to her feet wi' speed,
  And clapped her hands abune her head:—

  "I pray to the saints and spirits all
  That never a child may me mither call!"

  The crone drew near, and the crone she spake:—
  "Nine times flesh and banes shall ache.

  "Laidly and awsome ye shall wane
  Wi' toil, and care, and travail-pain."

  "Better," said Karin, "lay me low,
  And sink for aye in the water's flow!"

  The crone raised her withered hand on high,
  And showed her a tree that stood hard by.

  "And take of the bonny fruit," she said,
  "And eat till the seeds are dark and red.

  "Count them less, or count them more,
  Nine times you shall number o'er;—

  "And when each number you shall speak,
  Cast seed by seed into the lake."

  Karin she ate of the fruit sae fine;
  'Twas mellow as sand, and sweet as brine.

  Seed by seed she let them fall;
  The waters rippled over all.

  But ilka seed as Karin threw,
  Uprose a bubble to her view,—

  Uprose a sigh from out the lake,
  As though a baby's heart did break.

* * * * *

  Twice nine years are come and gone;
  Karin the fair she walks her lone.

  She sees around, on ilka side,
  Maiden and mither, wife and bride.

  Wan and pale her bonny brow,
  Sunken and sad her eyelids now.

  Slow her step, and heavy her breast,
  And never an arm whereon to rest.

  The old kirk-porch when Karin spied,
  The postern-door was open wide.

  "Wae's me!" she said, "I'll enter in
  And shrive me from my every sin."

  'Twas silence all within the kirk;
  The aisle was empty, chill, and mirk.

  The chancel-rails were black and bare;
  Nae priest, nae penitent was there.

  Karin knelt, and her prayer she said;
  But her heart within her was heavy and dead.

  Her prayer fell back on the cold gray stone;
  It would not rise to heaven alone.

  Darker grew the darksome aisle,
  Colder felt her heart the while.

  "Wae's me!" she cried, "what is my sin?
  Never I wrongèd kith nor kin.

  "But why do I start and quake wi' fear
  Lest I a dreadful doom should hear?

  "And what is this light that seems to fall
  On the sixth command upon the wall?

  "And who are these I see arise
  And look on me wi' stony eyes?

  "A shadowy troop, they flock sae fast
  The kirk-yard may not hold the last.

  "Young and old of ilk degree,
  Bairns, and bairnies' bairns, I see.

  "All I look on either way,
  'Mother, mother!' seem to say.

  "'We are souls that might have been,
  But for your vanity and sin.

  "'We, in numbers multiplied,
  Might have lived, and loved, and died,—

  "'Might have served the Lord in this,—
  Might have met thy soul in bliss.

  "'Mourn for us, then, while you pray,
  Who might have been, but never may!'"

  Thus the voices died away,—
  "Might have been, but never may!"

  Karin she left the kirk no more;
  Never she passed the postern-door.

  They found her dead at the vesper toll;—
  May Heaven in mercy rest her soul!