Keith Moul: 1973
The Sewanee Review
Volume LXXXI, NUMBER 3, July-September, 1973
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I speak of sufferings that I have stood to,
hardships to rock the heart. The times
of breast-cares stretch from breaking days
toward a bitter dark, as down the sea-track
I steer by stars a strange, sad ship.
The dread waves crash, ever dog my keel
through narrow nightwatch as I, knitted to stiff oars
keep her off the cliffs. Cold clamps my feet
in silence, unseen steals my limbs
with numbing grip; while griefs yet quicken
hotly through the heart and hunger within tears
at the sea-wearied spirit.
What spasm of thought
wakes any man who walks this world
to know the wretchedness I dwell in, know
the ice-cold sea I wander, its swept track
alien to my kind ?
Where ice hangs in air and hail knocks against the storm
I hear only wave-roar wasted on the sea,
the sounding cold. At times the swan's song
does me for a joy, a desperate gaiety;
but the ganet's, curlew's cry gags the crow of men;
and gulls mark a wide sea with no memory of mead.
Terns there restate the storm's beating the stony cliffs,
terns with icy feathers where eagles turn, on like shrieks,
around and around --- the raging spirit
feels no solace when a kinsman's face is desolate
Indeed he owns nothing of pain who, proud and merry with wine,
rioting through the towns, takes life's pleasures;
nor truly will he ever trust my telling of the wretchedness,
how, weary to rage yet must I wander, and wait.
Night's shade deepened, from the north it snowed,
frost gripped the earth, hail too fell
the coldest of kernels. Yes, crowding thoughts
leapt the spirit that I sought the sea's depth,
the salt-wave's motion to move singly on ---
and now every longing urges me onward
to war against the waters, wandering hence
to distant islands, alien and strange.
Yet no worldly man weens a mind so lofty,
his gifts so good nor his deeds that gallant,
nor a frame so mightily thewed, master so friendly
to never fear his faring on the sea,
or what the Lord holds, waiting in the dark hall.
Here is no harping, no hoard to be dispensed,
no pleasure in a woman --- nowhere a worldly joy! ---
nothing, nothing, nothing but the night-black waves.
Who sets out eagerly ever longs with the sea.
Flowers fill the groves; faces of towns,
meadows brighten and the world stirs busily:
everything spurs the eager heart,
that beating to put bow to a breaking sea
when spirit swells to hoist up sails again;
even as the cuckoo calls out sorrowfully,
the ward of summer singing only sadness,
the bitter feelings of his breast. He blessed with comfort
can not know, only dreads this destiny we bear,
we who tread alone the farthest tracks of exile.
And yet, now, my heart would burst the limits of my breast,
my spirit resound the rhythms of the sea,
hunt widely the whale, its isolated haunts
throughout the cold expanse, and then come back to me,
eager, and with greed: one gull screams,
rouses to the whale's way the heart, irresistibly,
however broad the wake. Warmer for me
those lordly joys than this dead life
fleeing, too, this land.
I do not believe
the wealth of the earth stands, for them, unendingly.
For, to each, his final hour fetches doubt of things,
which of three his fate shall finally be:
sickness, old age, the sword of hate?
All wager none will be withstood!
So, let praise live best in lasting words
for every earl by those speaking after;
let that be earned before his eyes forever close,
by holding stead, conquering hatred;
building deeds boldly against a devil,
that men's sons extol him ever after.
May his self live on, as an angelic song
strikes the ear, eternally,
a gladness to the host.
For the glitter is gone,
kingdoms stand, emptied of earth's spectacle,
and kings dead, emperors darkened like the day.
No gold is proffered and the gold-givers gone
whose glory shone in the greatness of their deeds;
gone all who lived in lordliest luster.
Fallen the noble warriors, the frail joys fallen
to weaker hearts who mark this world
by fruitless toil. Fame perishes,
the noble order ages, fades
to now like any man married to the earth:
with palsied body, face grown pale,
the white-haired one weeps, aware that his old friend,
the line of princes, alters with the loam.
The body, lifeless, barren of its senses,
savors no sweetness, nor the sear of pain,
nor the hand's motion, nor the mind's myth.
Though a brother strew a brother's grave
with glorious treasures, gold from hoards
that kept him through his life, to keep him in the next,
the body will turn to death's touch
and the black soul flee the body,
leave it to its emptiness and the terror of the earth.
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