The death of Nanna, and the blind fratricide Hoder, are touchingly done, and Hermod's ride to Hela's realm is stately. But as a whole the thing is rather dim and tame. The post is of no great value. I remember the late Sir Francis Doyle, who was Commissioner of Customs as well as Professor, saying to me once with a humorous melancholy, "Ah! Eau de Cologne pays much better than Poetry!"
Hermoder rides on; leaps Hell-gate, Hela's gate; does see Balder, and speak with him: Balder cannot be delivered. Inexorable! Hela will not, for Odin or any God, give him up. The beautiful and gentle has to remain there. His Wife had volunteered to go with him, to die with him. They shall forever remain there. He sends his ring to Odin; Nanna his wife sends her thimble to Frigga, as a remembrance.
"Such a deed of violence must not stain the home of the gods. Moreover, Hoder did it all unwittingly. It was Loki who directed his aim, and we are all to blame that we allowed him to set foot on our playground." Bitter indeed was Hoder's grief, and he implored his heart-broken mother, Frigga, that he might be allowed to take Balder's place in dark Hela's realm.
When Hela saw Hermod coming up the hall she smiled grimly, but beckoned to him at the same time to sit down, and told him that he might sup that night with her. It was a strange supper for a living man to sit down to. Hunger was the table; Starvation, Hela's knife; Delay, her man; Slowness, her maid; and Burning Thirst, her wine. After supper Hela led the way to the sleeping apartments.
Odin, not satisfied with all this, and feeling alarmed for the fate of his son, determined to consult the prophetess Angerbode, a giantess, mother of Fenris, Hela, and the Midgard serpent. She was dead, and Odin was forced to seek her in Hela's dominions. This Descent of Odin forms the subject of Gray's fine ode beginning,
"It is Vegtam the Wanderer who calls. For whom is the bed prepared and the seat left empty in Hela's habitation?" "For Baldur, Odin's son, is the bed prepared and the seat left empty. Now let me go back to my sleep with the Dead." But now Odin saw beyond Volva's prophecy. "Who is it," he cried out, "that stands with unbowed head and that will not lament for Baldur? Answer, Volva, prophetess!"
"And thy price, Toad?" "Thou art the price, lady," piped the goblin. "Thou shalt give thyself to me when thy day is done, and merrily will we sisters dwell in Hela's halls, and merrily for ever will we fare about the earth o' nights, doing such tasks as this task of thine, Swanhild, and working wicked woe till the last woe is worked on us. Art thou content?" Swanhild thought.
"Not you alone," she replied, "but any of the gods, would willingly die for Balder. But not in that way can he be brought back to Asgard. There is one chance speak to Hermod, fleetest of the gods; tell him to take Odin's horse, Sleipnir, and ride to Hela's abode. Perchance, if he entreat her, she may give Balder up."
You unfortunate, you grin as an ape would at such a question: you do not know that unless you can reach thither in some effectual most veritable sense, you are lost, doomed to Hela's death-realm and the abyss where mere brutes are buried. I do not want cheaper cotton, swifter railways; I want what Novalis calls "God, Freedom, and Immortality."
Baldur and Hödur came from Hela's habitation, and the Gods sat on the peak together and held speech with each other, calling to mind the secrets and the happenings they had known before Ragnarök, the Twilight of the Gods. Deep in a wood two of human kind were left; the fire of Surtur did not touch them; they slept, and when they wakened the world was green and beautiful again.