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Claude Colleer Abbott: 1943

Durham University Journal No XXXV; June 1943

 

go to: line 62:  click "irresistibly" to return

I will about myself        tell a true story,

recount my wanderings,        how in weary days

seasons of sorrow         oft I endured.

Bitter the anguish         I have confronted,

many disasters,         fierce welter of waters,

suffered on ship.         Oft-times at the stern

narrow the watch         that night has enforced

when the boat knocked the cliffs.       Benumbed with cold

were my feet         with frost stiffened

in chill fetters,         while sorrow sighed

hot round my heart         and hunger within tore

my spirit sea-weary.         That man cannot know

whom fairest fortune         has favoured on land

how I worn with trouble         in paths of exile

weathered the winters         on the ice-cold sea

forlorn of dear comrades,        

cumbered with icicles;         hail drove in showers.

Nothing I heard there         save the sea roaring,

the icy waves,         though at times for merriment

had I the swan's call,         the cry of the gannet

and shriek of the scammel         for laughter of men,

the moan of the mew         for the mead drinking.

Storms beat on the stone cliffs,         the icy-winged tern

threw them back answer,         the eagle wet-feathered

screamed them reply.         Not one of my kin

could cheer and protect         my desolate heart.

Scarce will he believe         who bideth in courts,

who proud and wine-flushed         has joy of life

and few baleful journeys,         how I suffer forlorn

in voyaging ever         over the sea.

Night shadows lowered,        snow fell from the north,

frost fettered the land,         hail fell on the earth

that coldest of grain.        

    Yet thoughts even now

throb at my heart         bidding me venture

the deep waters,         the tumult of waves.

Now and always         desire is urging

my heart to wander         and seek out the land

of strange peoples         far away hence.

Verily no man on earth         is so lofty in mind

nor so free of his gifts         nor so strong in youth

nor in deeds so daring,         so firm in lord's favour

but that on his seafaring         ever is fearful

how may befall him         the purpose of God.

No heart has he for harp         or ring-giving,

no pleasure in woman,         delight in the world,

nor of any whit else         save the welter of waves;

he always has longing         who goes down to the sea.

Groves burst into blossom,         townships grow fair,

the meadows are shining,         mankind is bestirred.

All these things hurry         him who thus hankers,

the mind of high spirit,         eager to wander,

over the flood ways,         to journey afar.

Likewise the cuckoo,         the warden of summer,

with sad call urges,         harshly foreboding

bitter trials to his heart.         He knows of this nothing,

the prosperous man,         what some of those suffer

for whom stretch widest         the ways of exile.

 

Yet now my heart flutters         beyond my breast;

along the ocean         my spirit sweepeth

over the whale's haunt,         over the vast

expanse of the world.         Again it returns to me;

hungry and eager         screams the lone flier,

irresistibly urging         my heart to adventure

the face of the waters.         Now fiercer to me are

the joys of the Lord         than this dead life

fleeting on land.         I do not believe that

the blessings of earth         will always endure.

No matter the man         it will ever be doubtful,

ere time of fulfilment,         which thing of the three ---

sickness or eld         or peril of sword ---

shall sever the life of him         doomed to depart.

The fairest of fames         for every warrior

is the praise of the living,         of those who speak after ---

that he should succeed         ere he go hence,

prevail on earth         against malice of fiends,

with daring deeds         confronting the devil,

so that the sons of men         praise him hereafter

and his renown shall         endure with the angels

for ever --- the glory         of life everlasting

bliss with the righteous.

       

    Those days are gone,

all the wonders         of this earth's kingdom;

there are now no kings         nor emperors

nor gold-givers         as once there were,

when they excelled         their peers in glory

and in the lordliest         splendour lived.

All this chivalry,         these joys are fallen;

a weaker race lingers         this world to inherit

living by toil.         Laid low is the glory,

earth's nobility         grows old and withered

as now is each man         throughout the world.

Age marches on him,         his face grows pallid,

grey-haired he grieves         remembering old friends,

the sons of princes         given to the earth.

Now can the body,         while his spirit ebbeth,

neither taste the sweet,         nor suffer a sorrow,

nor rear a hand,         nor think with the brain.

Though he as a brother         for his born brother

strew the grave with gold,         bury by the dead

what various treasure         he wish to have with him,

yet gold that he hideth         while he is living

nought can avail         the soul which is sinful

in place of the fear         the terror of God ..........

 

In this version of what is perhaps the best-known of the Old English Elegies an attempt is made to suggest the cadence and stressed alliterative metre of the original. The last 22 lines, possibly a later and certainly a platitudinous addition, are omitted.

[PP 6118 n]

 

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