“Aslavga’s Knight” by Robert Burns

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Illustration of two knights on horseback jousting; the one on the right has struck the one on the left. A woman encircles the fallen knight with her arms, seemingly floating beside him. Her hand is on the attacker's lance as if to stop the blow. Behind the trio is a countryside scene: trees and a creek. In the top left corner of the illustration is a black crest with a white cross decorated with five birds; this crest matches the design on the fallen knight's chest.
Aslavga’s Knight, by Robert Burns (1896-97)

“Aslavga’s Knight” is an illustration published in The Book of Winter, Volume 4 of The Evergreen: A Northern Seasonal in 1986-7. The artist behind “Aslavga’s Knight,” Robert Burns, also contributed illustrations to the other three volumes of The Evergreen (“Bathers,” The Book of Summer, pp. 17; “The Victor,” The Book of Summer, pp. 107; “The Casket,” The Book of Spring, pp. 83; “Natura Naturans,” The Book of Spring, pp. 27; “The Passer-by,” The Book of Autumn, pp. 81; “Vintage,” The Book of Autumn, pp. 23). Burns worked in the pen-and-ink style, and the reproductions in The Evergreen were done through line-block engraving.

“Aslavga’s Knight” is the title of a short story by German writer Fredrich de la Motte-Fouque, though “Aslavga” is written as “Aslauga” in every entry that I came across. “Aslauga’s Knight” tells the story of Froda, a knight who falls in love with someone long dead: Aslauga, a golden-haired woman who concealed her high birth and nonetheless won over the affections of the king of Denmark, becoming queen. Throughout the story, Aslauga appears to Froda as a spectre, often surrounded by gusts of golden light and mist.

The particular moment Burns’ illustration captures is from the tournament for the hand of Hildegardis, “acknowledged far and wide as the fairest of maidens.” Froda rides in the tournament not for Hildegardis (for his heart is taken), but “only for the joy of battle and for knightly fame.” In the tournament’s most tense moment, Froda faces his friend Eswald in the ring. Edwald strikes Froda with his lance. Froda sinks backwards on his horse. As Edwald thinks victory is won, Froda calls out to Aslauga, “Beautiful and beloved lady, show thyself to me—the honour of thy name is at stake.” Then, though the spectators see but a “rosy-tinted summer’s cloud” pass over the sky, Froda sees his beloved. Together, they rush Edwald and knock him off his saddle, winning the match.

Why is “Aslavga’s Knight” included in The Book of Winter? Some possible answers may be:

For the following brief but lovely ode to winter in “Aslauga’s Knight”:

“Meanwhile the winter had come and gone. In northern lands this season never fails to bring to those who understand and love it many an image full of beauty and meaning, with which a child of man might well be satisfied, so far as earthly happiness can satisfy, through all his time on earth.”

For the spiritual symbolism:

The Y90s scholarly introduction to The Winter Book states that “Of all the Evergreen’s volumes, Winter is the most mystic and the most interested in the interpenetration of pagan and Christian symbols in the traditional spiritualism of the Celts and the contemporary concerns of the Theosophists.” Froda is described as “a descendant of the famous northern heroes of the olden time; and perhaps yet something more than they—namely, a good Christian.” Froda is a Danish knight, a Christian from the North, chasing the mystical —and the mystical is, of course, right at home with The Evergreen.

For its connection to the story that precedes it, “A Devolution of Terror” by Catharine A. Janvier:

This seems the least likely answer as, unlike the ornamental headpieces and tailpieces, the illustrations in The Evergreen stand alone. This being said, one cannot deny the thematic link between “A Devolution of Terror” and “Aslauga’s Knight”: though Froda did not face any dragons in “Aslauga’s Knight,” many legends tell of dragons and the knights who slay them; the link between knight and dragon is upheld in the fantasy genre to this day.

Whether an intentional nudge or a delightful coincidence, the last section of “The Devolution of Terror” forms into the shape of a shield — one that matches the crest in the top left corner of “Aslavga’s Knight.” This u-shaped paragraph formatting is not unusual to The Evergreen, and appears throughout various volumes (e.g. “The Sociology of Autumn” by Patrick Geddes, The Book of Autumn, pp. 38) but is here most pronounced, certainly pushing the interpretation.

A page with text, which, towards the bottom rounds out in a u-shape
Page 111 of The Winter Book, Volume 4 of The Evergreen: A Northern Seasonal

 

Wiki by Alevtina Lapiy

Works Cited:

de la Motte-Fouque, Fredrich. Aslauga’s Knight. E-Book, Project Gutenberg, 2009.

Kooistra, Lorraine Janzen. “Critical Introduction to The Evergreen: A Northern Seasonal, Volume 4: Winter 1896.” Evergreen Digital Edition, Yellow Nineties 2.0 , Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. http://1890s.ca/egv4_introduction/