Henry Longfellow’s “Musician’s Tale: The Saga of King Olaf” from his Tales of the Wayside Inn appears on the surface to be little more than a retelling and versification of the Old Norse-Icelandic saga Heimskringla which includes accounts of King Olaf Tryggvason. Of course, in the process, Longfellow adapts the medieval story honoring converter-king Olaf Tryggvason in his modern English translation suited for American audiences and his poem is mediated through Samuel Laing’s translation which Longfellow used as a model. Situating the poem in its the historical context, I would argue, highlights some of the rhetorical implications surrounding early American works of medievalism, such as Longfellow’s “The Saga of King Olaf.”
Archaic diction, especially medieval English terms and compounds, adorn the epic poetic retelling of the saga, such as the line “Through weald, they say, and through wold,” which include two alliterating terms “weald” [a forest] and “wold” [a wooded hill], both deriving from the Old English word wold meaning “wilderness,” and this embeds archaism into the poem.
This is an excerpt from "Longfellow’s Christianizing Rhetoric: ‘Preached the Gospel with His Sword’" written by Richard Fahey, (Ph.D '20). Read the full story.
Originally published by medieval.nd.edu on September 13, 2023.at