Balder Dead

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Balder Dead is a narrative poem with powerful tragic themes, first published in 1855 by Matthew Arnold. This poem draws upon Norse mythology: retelling the story of the murder of Odin's son, Balder, as brought about by the wicked machinations of Loki, blood brother to Odin.[1]


The evil Loki was quickly punished for murdering Balder by being exiled from Asgard. Still, it remains for the gods - the Æsir and the Vanir dwelling in Asgard - to bury and to mourn their dead.

Partly out of desperate grief - and partly in defiance of the harshness of the Norns or fates: Odin begs Hermod to ride his own steed, Sleipnir, down to Hell and beg Hela to release Balder. Hermod executes the seemingly hopeless task: and receives from Hela the unexpected promise that she would release Balder should everything in the upper worlds mourn Balder's death. Before returning to Asgard, Hermod speaks with Balder's shade: Balder warns him that Hela's "promises" are never what they seem - and will only bear bitter fruit. Loki himself undertakes to frustrate the Æsir's hopes: appearing as an ugly hag in Middle Earth, he refuses to mourn for Balder - thus breaking Hela's stipulated conditions.

Hermod returns to Hell to acquaint Balder with the gods' failure. Balder accepts what has happened without surprise, and they soon part: after Balder relates his vision of the end of the worlds in the approaching conflagration of Ragnarök.[2]


  1. ^ Arnold, Matthew. Poetic Works. London: Oxford University Press, 1950.
  2. ^ Arnold, Matthew. Poetic Works. London: Oxford University Press, 1950. pp. 95-ff.

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