The Making of the Long Serpent


Longfellow, known as the children's poet, published this poem about Viking boat-builder Thorberg Skafting in The Children's Own Longfellow (1908). Don't let your children be fooled by the name; the "serpent" is a Viking boat. The drawing (left) is probably similar to the one Skafting built [Illustration by Halfdan Egedius, 1899 from the book series, Snorre Sturlaśon]

The Making of the Long Serpent
Illustration from The Children's Own Longfellow, 1908
Thorberg Skafting, master-builder,
  In his ship-yard by the sea,
Whistling, said, "It would bewilder
Any man but Thorberg Skafting,
  Any man but me!"

Near him lay the Dragon stranded,
  Built of old by Raud the Strong,
And King Olaf had commanded
He should build another Dragon,
  Twice as large and long.

Therefore whistled Thorberg Skafting,
  As he sat with half-closed eyes,
And his head turned sideways, drafting
That new vessel for King Olaf
  Twice the Dragon's size.

Round him busily hewed and hammered
  Mallet huge and heavy axe;
Workmen laughed and sang and clamored;
Whirred the wheels, that into rigging
  Spun the shining flax!

All this tumult heard the master,—
  It was music to his ear;
Fancy whispered all the faster,
"Men shall hear of Thorberg Skafting
  For a hundred year!"

Workmen sweating at the forges
  Fashioned iron bolt and bar,
Like a warlock's midnight orgies
Smoked and bubbled the black caldron
  With the boiling tar.

The Long Serpent
Did the warlocks mingle in it,
  Thorberg Skafting, any curse?
Could you not be gone a minute
But some mischief must be doing,
  Turning bad to worse?

'T was an ill wind that came wafting
  From his homestead words of woe;
To his farm went Thorberg Skafting,
Oft repeating to his workmen,
  Build ye thus and so.

After long delays returning
  Came the master back by night;
To his ship-yard longing, yearning,
Hurried he, and did not leave it
  Till the morning's light.

"Come and see my ship, my darling!"
  On the morrow said the King;
"Finished now from keel to carling;
Never yet was seen in Norway
  Such a wondrous thing!"

In the ship-yard, idly talking,
  At the ship the workmen stared:
Some one, all their labor balking,
Down her sides had cut deep gashes,
  Not a plank was spared!

"Death be to the evil-doer!"
  With an oath King Olaf spoke!
"But rewards to his pursuer!"
And with wrath his face grew redder
  Than his scarlet cloak.

Straight the master-builder, smiling,
  Answered thus the angry King:
"Cease blaspheming and reviling,
Olaf, it was Thorberg Skafting
  Who has done this thing!"

Then he chipped and smoothed the planking,
  Till the King, delighted, swore,
With much lauding and much thanking,
"Handsomer is now my Dragon
  Than she was before!"

Seventy ells and four extended
  On the grass the vessel's keel;
High above it, gilt and splendid,
Rose the figure-head ferocious
  With its crest of steel.

Then they launched her from the tressels,
  In the ship-yard by the sea;
She was the grandest of all vessels,
Never ship was built in Norway
  Half so fine as she!

The Long Serpent was she christened,
  'Mid the roar of cheer on cheer!
They who to the Saga listened
Heard the name of Thorberg Skafting
  For a hundred year!

If you like this poem, enjoy our collection of Children's Poems.


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