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Dorothy Whitelock: 1955

from English Historical Documents; Eyre & Spottiswoode

 

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I can utter a true lay about myself, relating my journeys, how I often endured days of toil and a time of hardship, and have felt bitter care at heart, explored in my ship many abodes of distress, the dire tossing of the waves. There the anxious night-watch often found me at the prow of my ship when it was dashing against the cliffs. My feet were nipped with cold and numbed by the icy bonds of frost; passionate care sighed in my heart; hunger within tore the spirit of one weary of the sea. The man whose lot is cast most pleasantly on land cannot conceive how I dwelt in winter on the ice-cold sea, distraught with care on the paths of exile, deprived of my friendly kinsmen, and hung with icicles. The hail flew in showers. There I heard nothing but the roar of the sea, the ice-cold waves, and sometimes the song of the swan. For my entertainment I had the cry of the gannet, and the sound of the godwit instead of the laughter of men, the singing seamew instead of mead-drinking. Storms beat on the rocky cliffs, and the icy-feathered tern gave answer; full often shrieked the dewy feathered eagle. No protecting kinsman could comfort my desolate heart. Hence he who has experienced the joy of life in great houses, and few calamities, proud and flushed with wine, scarcely believes how wearily I must often linger on the ocean-path. The shadow of night lowered, snow came from the north, and frost bound the earth; hail, coldest of grains, fell on the ground.

My heart's thoughts constrain me to venture on the deep seas, on the tumult of the salt waves; at all times my heart's desire urges my spirit to travel, that I may seek the land of foreigners afar off; because there is no man on earth so high-hearted, no so liberal with his gifts, nor so bold in his youth, nor so daring in his deeds, nor having so gracious a lord, that he will not always feel anxiety over his voyage, as to what is the Lord's purpose for him. He will have no mind for the harp, nor for the receiving of rings, no pleasure in woman nor delight in the world, nor mind for anything else, except the tossing of the waves, but he who puts out to sea has always yearning.

The groves blossom, cities grow fair, the fields become beautiful, the world's astir. All these things urge on to his journey the man eager of heart, urge on the spirit of him who thus intends to depart far on the paths of the sea. Likewise the cuckoo with its mournful note urges him, the herald of summer sings, forebodes bitter sorrow in his heart. The man living happily in luxury does not know what some endure, those who journey furthest on the paths of exile.

My thoughts are now roaming beyond the confines of my breast; with the ocean flood my spirit roams widely over the surface of the earth, over the whale's domain, and comes back to me eager and hungry; in its solitary flight it calls urgently, irresistibly impels my heart on the whale's path across the expanse of the seas; because dearer to me are the joys of the Lord than this dead life, transitory on earth: I do not believe that earthly happiness will endure for ever.

Ever one of three things brings uncertainty to each before his lifetime is done; sickness or age or the sword's hate will take life from the man doomed to depart. Therefore for every man the best of epitaphs, the praise of those who live on and speak of him afterwards, is that by kind acts on earth against the enmity of fiends, by brave deeds against the devil, he bring it to pass before he must go on his way, that the sons of men will praise him afterwards, and his praise shall live for ever among the angels, the glory of eternal life, joy among the hosts of heaven.

Gone are the days of old, and all the glory of the earthly kingdom. There are now no kings or emperors, or treasure-givers, as once there were, when they performed among themselves the greatest of glorious deeds and lived in the most lordly splendour. All this noble company is fallen, its joys have vanished; weaker men now live and hold this earth, enjoy it by toil.

Glory is brought low; the grandeur of the earth grows old and withers, just as does each man now throughout the world. Age comes on him, his face grows pale; the grey-haired one grieves, knowing his former friends, sons of nobles, given to the earth. Nor, when his life fails, can his body swallow delicacies, nor feel pain, nor gold for his brother born, bury him beside the dead with various treasures, that will not go with him; nor can gold be a help to the soul which is full of sins against the dread [judgement] of God, when he hides it beforehand, while he lives here [on earth].

Great is the dread of the Lord, for the world changes. He established the immovable depths, the surface of the earth and the heavens above. Foolish is the man who does not fear his Lord; death will take him unprepared. Blessed is he who lives humbly; to him comes mercy from heaven. The Lord will make his heart steadfast, because he trusts in his power.

 

 

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