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William O.Rogers III

from The Literature of Medieval England
edited by D.W.Robertson, Jr., McGraw-Hill 1970

go to line 62;  click on "seaway" to return

"The Soul's Voyage"
       The Seafarer

    Let me tell you the truth of myself,
    Tell of my travels, my times of torment,
    The agonized hours that often I lived through:
    I have borne in my breast a bitter pain.

I have known my ship as a cell of pain
On a sharp, choppy sea. Often my stand
Was the bow of the boat in the black night watches
While we courted the cliffs. Clamped in cold
My feet were frozen. But fiery the pain was ---
Hot in my heart --- where a hunger tore through
My shoal-weary spirit.

    No man can know
    To whom, on farmland, Fortune smiles fairly,
    How sore I suffered on the ice-choked channels,
    Suffered the winter on the exile's byway,
    Torn from my tribe

Ice hung from me. Hail showers flayed me.
I heard there only the howl of the sea,
The ice-cluttered course. My hearth-song comfort?
The swan's squawk. Gannet's scream,
And yell of gull served me for laughter of men.
The mourning mew was my cheering mead-drink.
Storms shook the cliffs there. shrilly shouted
The ice-feathered tern, spray feathered eagle.

My spirit was helpless to seek out its home,
Its own tribe's Protector.

    He knows but little who lives in pleasure,
    Who crowds in the city, seldom in peril,
    Haughty and wine-happy, how I have awaited
    With weary frustration my free sea-voyage.

Night blackened. North snow blew.
Ice gripped the ground. The cold grains,
Hail from heaven, hissed on the heath.

Therefore my broodings break on my breast:
That I might go, know the open ocean,
The salt waves' motion, mighty sea swell.
Every moment my spirit demands
That forth I fare, that far from here
I hunt my home at a Stranger's hearth.
There is no man on earth so tough of temper,
So free in giving, so valiant in youth,
So daring in doing nor dear to his lord,
Who has no fear of his own sea-faring
Nor of where his Lord has set the course
No heed has he then of the thrum of the harp,
Giving of wealth or warmth of women
Nor anything else but the wide surging sea
Which he burns to embark on.

Trees flower. Towns shine fresh.
Meadows are merry. Earth makes haste.

These things drive the daring spirit
To launch its sea voyage, set sail on its highway.

The cuckoo chides me --- a cry of sadness,
He sings, summer's sentry, a song of warning
chill to the spirit:

    "No man of this world, no, none whatsoever
    Knows in his ease, how sore a man suffers
    Who travels the broad sea trail of exile."

And yet springs my spirit out of its cell,
Flies unfettered over the sea-flood,
Swings wild and wide above the whale's home,
The world's wide sweep; wings then back to me,
Eager and hungry, a screaming lone flyer;
Soars over the seaway, a spirit free,
Circling the sea-paths.

Warmer to me are the delights of the Lord
Than the death of this life,
This moment on shore.

I cannot believe
That the ground's good fruit will always grow

Three things always threaten a man;
Sickness or age or the shock of quick death
Will snatch the soul from the strongest warrior.
Thus has he need, who treasures his name,
The praise of his people after his parting,
To daunt the devil before his departing,
Do well on earth and worthily conquer.
Then will his children chant his praises,
And ever after the angels will praise him,
Eternally, endlessly doing him honor.

For the age of earthly honor has passed us.
Gone are the heroes of earth's great houses.
No more are there kings or chieftains or wealth-givers,
Who, of all men, did greatest deeds
And lived most honorably, noble heroes.
Mirth has gone from us. Glory has left us.
The meek have inherited. They manage the world
And sweat to enjoy it. Grandeur is servile.
The world, disgraced, grows old and withers.

Likewise each man. Age comes upon him.
He laments his gray locks, his lost companions,
Children of chieftains chill in graves.
He cannot inhabit the house of his flesh
When life has left it; nor swallow sweetness;
Nor shout in pain; nor stir his hand;
Nor think; nor feel. Friends and brothers
Will find the grave with his golden treasures,
Drop gold in with him to purchase his passage.

But gold secreted, cached in coffers,
Cannot buy back a blackened soul,
Ransom it from the wrath of Judgement.

Great is the terror when God turns his face away from the world,
The world he fashioned, the earth's far corners.
The high roofed heavens.

Stupid the man who scorns the Almighty. Death is an ambush.
Happy is he who is humbled: Heaven awaits him.
God upholds him who lives in His hands.

    Steer your will well. Keep it on course.
    Keep faith with your fellows.
    Follow wisdom.
    Love those who love Him. Hate His enemies.
    Until you be placed on the funeral pyre
    Your comrades have made you.

God's scheme is stricter
The Mover mightier than men can imagine.

Let us think where we have a haven;
Consider the course which will carry us there;
Bravely strike out toward bliss unbounded,
With hope, toward Heaven
Where life is limitless, loving the Lord.

He has exalted us, seaman and soarer,
To Whom be thanks for ever and ever
World without end. Amen.

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