Warwulf, or Warwolf, was a Norse king who, feeling his last moments were approaching, decided to die in a “kingly way.” He thus sailed away one evening on a ship loaded with dry wood, to which he finally set fire.
This illustration was created for the poem “The Death of King Warwolf” by George Walter Thornbury and was first published in the magazine Once a Week on August 30, 1862. Below is the full poem:
The Death of King Warwolf
A Norse legend
The great King Warwolf waxing old,
And feeling that death was nigh at hand,
Resolved to die as a hero should—
Not pent in a bed, and then hid in the sand;
So he clad him brave in his golden mail,
And took his axe and his massiest shield,
And his spear, and his bow, and his two-edged sword—
That no one else but himself could wield.
And he bade them drag his galley forth,
And load it with trunks of the driest pine,
And store it with oak-butts knotty and ringed,
And pile it with fir-cones line on line.
So they set the gold-cloth sails all fair,
And they tied the well-worn helm due north,
And they bore him down on their brazen shields
To the barque that was destined to bear him forth.
Sitting erect on his fir-tree throne,
In his royal robe and glittering crown,
As the fateful galley bore away
Slowly out of sight of the town,
Singing to Odin hymns of praise,
Cheerily, though with a failing breath,
He went in splendour and bold of heart,
In a kingly way to meet King Death.
They watched till they saw the ship go down
Below the long grey line of sea;
And then there arose a great red glare,
That seemed to crimson fitfully
The whole broad heaven, and melt the waves
Into one caldron of blood-red light,
And soon all suddenly there fell
A pitchy gloom, and then came NIGHT.