Thomas Love Peacock, Fiolfar (1806)

Thomas Love Peacock (1785–1866)

1.        Thomas Love Peacock was employed with the East India Company until his retirement at the age of 70. He began early in his life to write, and throughout his life he published a number of poetry collections. His first novel, Headlong Hall, was published in 1815 and was followed by six others, among them Nightmare Abbey (1818). They are primarily novels about polite milieus, dominated by sparkling dialogue, satirizing contemporary ideas. The novels, which he characterized as “comic romances”, contain some of his most memorable poems. His essay The Four Ages of Poetry (1820) was admired by Percy Bysshe Shelley, with whom Peacock had a close friendship.

2.         Fiolfar is one of Peacock’s juvenile compositions. He appears to have shown an early interest in Norse mythology. In the early years of the nineteenth century, Peacock wrote a Norse-inspired play entitled The Circle of Loda, a manuscript of which has been preserved among his papers. [1]  It was Fiolfar which he decided to publish. Peacock was evidently exploring a fashion for Nordic composition, whose spectrum of references he wanted to expand. He headed the notes to the poem (some of which have been incorporated here) with the statement:

Though the names of Odin and Thor, the Fatal Sisters, and the Hall of Valhalla, be familiar to the readers of English poetry, yet, as the minutiae of the Gothic Mythology are not very generally known, I have subjoined a few short explanatory notes, which, though they cannot be expected to afford much insight into the general system, will, I trust, be sufficient to enable my readers to comprehend such parts of it, as are alluded to in this poem.

3.         The Critical Review showed appreciation of the poem, describing it as a “Runic rhyme … woven by a master’s hand” in which “the fire of Gray seems not entirely evaporated”. [2]  Others, however, have found it too imitative. His biographer, Carl van Doren, writes: “Fiolfar talks Ossian in anapestic couplets after the manner of Monk Lewis”. [3] 

4.        The eponymous hero of the poem rescues the maiden Nitalpha from her captor, Yrredore of Lochlin. The term “Lochlin” is taken from James Macpherson’s Ossian poems, where it designates an unspecified Scandinavian region.


Fiolfar (1806)

… agmina Ferrata vasto diruit impetu hor  [4] 

In the dark-rolling waves at the verge of the west
The steeds of dellinger  [5]  had advanced to rest,
While hrimfax  [6]  advanc’d through the star-spangled plain,
And shook the thick dews from his grey-flowing mane;
The moon with pale lustre was shining on high,
And meteors shot red down the paths of the sky.
By the shore of the ocean fiolfar reclin’d,
Where through the rock-fissures loud murmured the wind,
For sweet to his ear was the deep-dashing flow
Of the foam-cover’d billows that thunder’d below.
—“Alas!” he exclaimed, “were the hopes of my youth,
Though rais’d by affection, unfounded on truth?
Ye are flown, ye sweet prospects, deceitfully fair,
As the light-rolling gossamer melts into air;
As the wild-beating ocean, with turbulent roar,
Effaces my steps on the sands of the shore!
Thy waters, oh niord! [7]  tumultuously roll,
And such are the passions that war in my soul:
Thy meteors, oh norver! [8]  malignantly dart,
And such are the death-flames that burn in my heart.
nitalpha! my love! on the hill and the plain,
In the vale and the wood, have I sought thee in vain;
Through the nations for thee have I carried afar
The sun-shine of peace and the tempests of war;
Through danger and toil I my heroes have led,
Till hope’s latest spark in my bosom was dead!
Cold, silent, and dark, are the halls of thy sires,
And hush’d are the harps, and extinguished the fires;
The wild autumn-blast in the lofty hall roars,
And the yellow leaves roll through the half-open doors.
nitalpha! when rapture invited thy stay,
Did force or inconstancy bear thee away?
Ah, no! though in vain I thy footsteps pursue,
I will not, I cannot, believe thee untrue:
Perchance thou art doomed in confinement to moan,
To dwell in the rock’s dreary caverns alone,
And lok’s  [9]  cruel mandates, while fast thy tears flow,
Forbid thy fiolfar to solace thy woe,
Condemn thee unvarying anguish to bear,
And leave me a prey to the pangs of despair.”—
Ha! whence were those accents, portentous and dread,
Like the mystical tones of the ghosts of the dead,
In echoes redoubling that rung through the gloom,
As the thunder resounds in the vaults of the tomb?
—“fiolfar!”—He started, and wond’ring descried,
A sable-clad form standing tall by his side:
His soul-piercing eyes as the eagle’s were bright,
Like a spirit of storms by the roar of the deep:
His soul-piercing eyes as the eagle’s were bright,
And his raven-hair flowed on the breezes of night.
—“fiolfar!” he cried, “thy affliction forsake:
“To hope and revenge let thy bosom awake;
“For he, that nitalpha from liberty tore,
“Is lochlin’s proud monarch, the bold yrrodore.
“Still constant to thee, she the traitor abhorr’d;
“Haste! haste! let thy valor her virtue reward:
“For her let the battle empurple the plain:
“In the moment of conquest I meet thee again.”—
He ceas’d, and Fiolfar beheld him no more;
Nor long paus’d the youth on the dark-frowning shore:
—“Whate’er be thy nature, oh stranger!” he said,
“Thou hast called down the tempest on yrrodore’s head:
“The broad-beaming buckler and keen-biting glaive
“Shall ring and resound on the fields of the brave,
“And vengeance shall burst, in a death-rolling flood,
“And deluge thy altars, valfander, [10]  with blood!”—

To loda’s dark circle and mystical stone, [11] 
With the grey-gather’d moss of long ages o’ergrown,
While the black car of norver was central in air,
Did the harp-bearing bards of fiolfar repair;
The wild-breathing chords, as they solemnly sung,
In deep modulations responsively rung;
To the hall of valhalla, [12]  where monarchs repose,
The full-swelling war-song symphoniously rose:
—The mountains of Lochlin shall ring alarms,
For the heroes of norway are rising in arms;
The heroes of norway destruction shall pour
On the wide-spreading plains of bold yrredore.
Valfander! look down from thy throne in the skies!
Our suppliant songs from thy altar arise:
Be thou too propitious, invincible Thor!
And lend thy strong aid to our banners of war.
As the white-beating stream from the rock rushes down,
Fiolfar’s young warriors will speed to renown.
Ye spirits of chieftains, tremendous in fight!
That dwell with Valfander in halls of delight;
Awhile from your cloud-circled mansions descend;
On the steps of your sons through the battle attend,
When the raven shall hover on dark-flapping wing,
And the eagle shall feed on the foes of our king
As full to the wind rose the soul thrilling tones
Strange murmurs rung wild from the moss cover’d stones
The ghosts of the mighty rejoicing came forth
And roll d their thin forms on the blasts of the north
On light flying meteors triumphantly driv’n
They scatter d their signs from the centre of heav’n
The skies were all glowing, portentously bright,
With strong coruscations of vibrating light: [13] 
In shadowy forms, on the long-streaming glare,
The insignia of battle shot swift through the air;
In lines and in circles successively whirl’d,
Fantastical arrows and jav’lins were hurl’d, [14] 
That, flashing and falling in mimic affray,
In the distant horizon died darkly away,
Where a blood-dropping banner seem’d slowly to sail,
And expand its red folds to the death-breathing gale.
fiolfar look’d forth from his time-honor’d halls,
Where the trophies of battle emblazon’d the walls:
He heard the faint song as at distance it swell’d,
And the blazing of ether with triumph beheld;
He saw the white flames inexhaustibly stream,
And he knew that his fathers rode bright on the beam,
That the spirits of warriors of ages long past
Were flying sublime on the wings of the blast.
—“Ye heroes!” he cried,” that in danger arose,
The bulwark of friends, and the terror of foes;
By Odin with glory eternally crown’d;
By valor and virtue for ever renown’d;
Like yours may my arm in the conflict be strong,
Like yours may my name be recorded in song,
And when Hilda and Mista  [15]  my spirit shall bear
The joys of Valhalla with Odin to share,
Oh then may you smile on the deeds I have done,
And bend forward with joy to acknowledge your son!”

The sword clatter’d fiercely on helm and on shield,
For Norway and Lochlin had met in the field;
The long lances shiver’d, the swift arrows flew,
The string shrilly twang’d on the flexible yew;
Rejoicing, the Valkyræ strode through the plain,
And guided the death-blow, and singled the slain.
Long, long did the virgins of Lochlin deplore
The youths whom their arms should encircle no more,
For, strong as the whirlwinds the forest that tear,
And strew with its boughs the vast bosom of air,
The NORWËYNS bore down with all-conquering force,
And havoc and slaughter attended their course.
FIOLFAR through danger triumphantly trod,
And scatter’d confusion and terror abroad;
Majestic as Balder, tremendous as Thor,
He plung’d in the red-foaming torrent of war:
Through the thickest of battle he hasten’d at length
Where Yrrodore stood in the pride of his strength:
—“Turn ,traitor!” he cried,” thy destruction is nigh!
“Thy soul to the regions of Hela shall fly,
“Where the base and the guilty for ever are toss’d
“Through Nilfhil’s nine worlds of unchangeable frost!”—
—“Vain boaster! no! never shall yrrodore yield!”—
But the sword of fiolfar had shatter’d his shield:
Indignantly yrredore sprung on the foe,
And rear’d his strong arm for a death-dealing blow,
But the monarch of norway impatiently press’d,
And sheath’d the bright steel in his enemy’s breast.
Swift flow’ d the black blood, and in anguish he breath’d,
Yet he mutter’d these words as expiring he writh’d:
—“And deem’st thou, fiolfar the conquest is thine?
“No! victory, glory, and vengeance, are mine!
“In triumph I die; thou shalt languish in pain:
“For ne’er shall nitlpha delight thee again!
“The wakeful duergi  [16]  the caverns surround,
“Where in magical slumbers the maiden is bound;
“Those magical slumbers shall last till the day,
“When Odin shall summon thy spirit away:
“Then, then shall she wake to remembrance and pain,
“To seek her Fiolfar, and seek him in vain,
“Long years of unvarying sorrow to prove,
“And weep and lament on the grave of her love!”—
He said, and his guilt-blacken’d spirit went forth,
And rush’d to the caves of the uttermost north;
Still destin’d to roam through the frost-cover’d plain,
Where hela has fix’d her inflexible reign,
Till the day when existence and nature shall end,
When the last fatal Twilight on earth shall descend,
When fenris and lok, by all beings accurst,
Their long-galling chains shall indignantly burst,
When the trump of heimdaller the signal shall peal
Of the evils creation is destin’d to feel,
And surtur shall scatter his ruin-fraught fire,—
And earth, all, and ocean, burn, sink, and expire! [17] 

Now dreary and dark was the field of the dead,
For norway had conquer’d, and lochlin had fled:
The hoarse raven croak’d from the blood-streaming ground:
The dead and the dying lay mingled around:
The warriors of norway were sunk in repose,
And rush’d, in wild visions, again on their foes:
Yet lonely and sad did fiolfar remain
Where the monarch of lochlin had fall’n on the plain;
In the silence of sorrow he lean’d on his spear,
For yrredore’s words echoed still in his ear:
When sudden, through twilight, again he descried
The sable-clad stranger stood tall by his side:
—“Behold me, fiolfar: my promise I keep:
nitalpha is fetter’d in magical sleep:
“Yet I to thy arms can the maiden restore,
“And passion and vengeance shall harm her no more.
“The Monarch of lochlin, enrag’d at her scorn,
“Confin’d her in deuranil’s caverns forlorn,
“Nor Dar’d he endeavour, though deeply he sigh’d,
“By force to obtain what affection denied.”—
—“Strange being! what art thou? thy nature declare.”—
—“The name of nerimher from mortals I bear:
Mid desolate rocks, in a time-hollow’d cell,
At distance from man and his vices I dwell;
But, obedient to odin, I haste from the shade,
When virtue afflicted solicits my aid;
For the mystical art to my knowledge is giv’n,
That can check the pale moon as she rolls through the heav’n,
Can strike the dark dwellers of nilfhil with dread,
And breathe the wild verse that awakens the dead.
My voice can the spells of thy rival destroy:
Then follow fiolfar! I lead thee to joy.”—
He follow’d the stranger, by vale and by flood,
Till they pierc’d the recesses of Deuranil’s wood:
Through untrodden thickets of ash and of yew,
Whose close-twining boughs shut the sky from their view,
Slow-toiling they wound, till before them arose
The black-yawning caves of nitalalpha’s repose.
A blue-burning vapor shone dim through the gloom,
And roll’d its thin curls round a rude-fashion’d tomb,
Where the weary duergi, [18]  by magic constraint,
With eyes never closing, their station maintain’d.
Loud shouting they rose when the strangers advanc’d,
But fear glaz’d their eyes, and they paus’d as entranc’d,
While the mighty nerimnher, in fate-favor’d hour,
Thus breath’d the strong spell that extinguish’d their pow’r:
—“By the hall of valhalla, where heroes repose,
“And drink beer and mead from the skulls of their foes;
“By the virtues of freyer, and valor of thor;
“By the twelve giant-sisters, the rulers of war;
“By the unreveal’d accents, in secret express’d,
“Of old by valfander to balder address’d;
“By the ills which the guilty and dastardly share;
“By hela’s dominions of pain and despair;
“By Surtur’s wide regions of death-spreading fire;
“Hence, children of evil! Duergi, retire!”—
The Duergi with yells made the caverns resound,
As, reluctantly yielding, they sunk through the ground;
And the youth felt his breast with anxiety swell,
While thus the magician concluded the spell:
—“Fair maid, whom the tomb’s dreary confines surround,
“Whom the dark, iron slumber of magic has bound,
“Let life and delight re-illumine thine eyes,
“Arise, star of beauty! Nitalpha, arise!”—
The vapor-flame died in a bright-beaming flash;
The tomb burst in twain with an earth-shaking crash;
All wonder, Nitalpha arose in her charms,
She knew her FiolfaR, she flew to his arms,
And he found ev’ry shadow of sorrow depart,
As he clasp’d the dear maiden again to his heart.

Source: Palmyra: and Other Poems (London: W. J. and J. Richardson, 1806), 67–92.


[1] This is printed in The Plays of Thomas Love Peacock, ed. A. B. Young (1912) BACK

[2] The Critical Review (February, 1806): 210–13. BACK

[3] Carl van Doren, The Life of Thomas Love Peacock (London: Dent & Sons, 1911), 30. BACK

[4] From Horace’s Carmen saeculare 4.14, where it is told that Claudius “assaulted the iron-clad hordes of savages, leaving them strewn over the field”. BACK

[5] Dellingr is a god attested in both the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda. In both sources, he is described as the father of Dagr, who is “day” personified. BACK

[6] Hrymfaxe is the horse pulling the carriage with the moon over the night sky. The foam from its bridle falls like dew BACK

[7] Njörðr is a Varnir god associated with sea, wind and crop fertility. BACK

[8] Norvi was a giant, who fathered Nott, the personification of Night BACK

[9] Peacock’s note: “Lok, though he ranked amongst the Scandinavian Deities, had all the attributes of a demon. He was the enemy of Gods and Men, and the author of crimes and calamities”. BACK

[10] One of Odin’s bynames. BACK

[11] Peacock’s note: “The Circle of Loda, or Loden, was a rude circle of stones, used as a place of worship amongst the Scandinavians”. The reference here is borrowed from a note to James Macpherson’s translation of the Ossian poem Carric-Thura. Loda is supposedly the Erse name for Odin. BACK

[12] Peacock’s note: “Valhalla,—the hall of Odin, where the spirits of heroes who died in battle drank mead and beer from the skulls of their enemies”. This was a misconception, see Thomas Percy’s poem in this anthology. BACK

[13] Peacock’s note:‘It is well known with what superstitious anxiety the Aurora Borealis was formerly regarded. Ignorance and credulity readily discerned in its brilliant phenomena the semblance of aerial battles: and it is not surprising, that from such a source the valiant should draw prognostics of victory, and the timid of defeat and destruction. Thus Lucan, in describing the prodigies which preceded the civil war: Tum, ne qua tiituri/ Spes saltem trepidas mentes levet, addita fati/ Peioris manifesta fides, superique minaces/ Prodigiis terras inplerunt, aetiiera, pontum./ Ignota obscurae viderunt sidera noctes/ Ardentemque polum flammis caeloque volantes/ Obliquas per inane faces crinemque timendi/ Sideris et terris mutantem regna cometen./ Fulgura fallaci micuerunt crebra sereno,/ Et varias ignis denso dedit acre formas,/ Nunc iaculum longo, nunc sparso lumine lam pas./ Emicuit caelo.’The lines Peacock quotes are from the first-century Roman poet Lucan’s Pharsalia, Book I, ll. 522–32. This was a hugely popular poem in the eighteenth century. In English translation: Then, that no hope even for the future might relieve anxiety, clear proof was given of worse to come, and the menacing gods filled earth, sky, and sea with portents. The darkness of night saw stars before unknown, the sky blazing with fire, lights shooting athwart the void of heaven, and the hair of the baleful star — the comet which portends change to monarchs. The lightning flashed incessantly in a sky of delusive clearness and the fire flickering in the heavens. BACK

[14] Peacock’s note: “The northern lights which appeared at London in 1560 were denominated burning spears”. BACK

[15] Names of two valkyries, named in Thomas Gray’s “The Fatal Sisters”. BACK

[16] Dwarfs. BACK

[17] This gives a short account of the final battle of Ragnarök (see Glossary), at which evil forces will be unleashed and fight against the gods, leading to the destruction of the world. BACK

[18] Dwarfs. BACK