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Roy F.Leslie: 1983

from The Meaning and Structure of The Seafarer
in The Old English Elegies: New Essays in Criticism and Research ed M.Green

 

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I can utter a true tale about myself, tell of [my] experiences, how I often suffered days of toil, a time of hardship, have endured bitter breast-care, experienced aboard ship many misfortunes, the terrible rolling of the waves, where frequently the dangerous nightwatch gripped me at the vessel's prow, when it tosses beside the cliffs. Pierced with cold were my feet, bound with frost, with cold fetters, where those cares sighed hot around my heart; hunger tore within the heart of the sea-weary [one].

That the man does not know to whom on earth things happen most fortunately, how I careworn the ice-cold sea inhabited winter-long in paths of exile, deprived of friendly kinsmen, hung round with icicles. Hail flew in showers.

There I heard nothing but the sea resounding, the ice-cold wave, sometimes the swan's song. I had for my entertainment the gannet's cry, and the sound of the curlew for the laughter of men, the seagull singing for the drinking of mead. Storms beat upon the cliffs, where the tern answered them, icy feathered; many a time the eagle screamed at that, dewy-feathered. Not one of [my] close kinsmen [my] wretched spirit could [support]. Therefore he little believes, he who has experienced life's joy in communities, [experienced] few harrowing things, proud and wine-flushed, how weary I often had to stay on the ocean track. The shadow of night grew dark, it snowed from the north, rime bound the earth, hail fell on earth, coldest of grains.

Therefore thoughts now agitate [my] heart that I should myself try out the high seas, the salt waves' tumult, my heart's desire incites my spirit over and over again to set out so that I may seek out the home of strangers far hence. Because there is no man across the earth so proud-spirited, so generous in his gifts, so valiant in his youth, so bold in his deeds, so gracious to him his lord, that he never has anxiety concerning his voyage, as to what the Lord proposes for him, there is for him no thought of the harp, of the giving of rings, of delight in woman, of joy in the world, or about anything else save the rolling of the waves, but he always has sad yearning, he who aspires to go on to the ocean.

Woods take on blossoms, make beautiful the dwellings, make fair the meadows, the world hastens: all those urge one eager of spirit, [urge] the heart to the journey, in one who thinks to venture far upon the seas. Likewise the cuckoo admonishes with its sad voice, summer's herald sings, bodes sorrow bitter in the breast. That the man does not know, the fortunate man, what those go through who far and wide tread the paths of exile.

Therefore my mind now wanders beyond the confines of [my] breast, my heart with the sea-flood across the whales' domain traverses widely the earth's expanses, comes back to me ravening and greedy, the lone-flyer screams, urges the heart irresistibly on to the water-way, across the seas' expanses, because more vivid to me are the joys of the Lord than this dear life, fleeting on land. I do not believe that earth's riches eternally remain.

Which one of three eventualities is always before his appointed day cause for doubt, [whether] illness or age or the enmity of the sword, will take life from the man foredoomed. Therefore that [is] for every man the best of memorials, the praise of those commemorating [him], of the living, which he should work for before he must depart, to act on earth against the malice of foes, [to act] with brave deeds against the devil, so that the sons of men may posthumously praise him and his fame may live afterwards for all ages among the angels, the glory of life everlasting, joy among the noble hosts.

The days are gone, all the splendors of the kingdom of the world; there are not now kings nor emperors nor gold-givers as once there were, when they performed among themselves the greatest deeds of glory and lived in lordliest renown; fallen is all this noble host, joys are departed. The weaker inhabit and possess this world, make use of it through toil. Glory is brought low, the nobility of the earth grows old and withers, as now does every man throughout the world; age overtakes him, his visage grows pale, hoary-haired he laments, knows his friend of old, child of princes, [to be] given up to the earth. When life fails him the body cannot swallow what is sweet, nor feel pain, nor stir a hand, nor ponder with the mind.

Although a brother desires to strew with gold the grave of his brother born, to bury him beside the dead with various treasures which he wishes [to go] with him, gold cannot be of any assistance (when he has hidden it beforehand while he is living here) in the face of god's terror, to that soul which is full of sins. Great is the terror of the Creator, before whom the earth will turn away, who established the firm foundations, the expanses of the earth, and the sky above.

Foolish is he who does not dread his Lord; death comes to him unexpected. Blessed is he who lives humbl[y]; grace comes to him from the heavens. The Creator makes steadfast his mind, because he believes in His power. A man must control a strong mind and keep it in place, and be true to his pledges and pure in his way of life. Every man must behave with moderation towards friend and towards enemy .... harm, although he desires [to have] him full of fire or .... on a funeral pyre, a burned-out [corpse], the friend he has made. Fate is stronger, the Creator mightier than any man's conception [of them].

Let us think where we have our home, and then consider how we may go there, and we shall then labor also so that we may go there, into that eternal blessedness, where the source of life is in love of the Lord, bliss in the heavens. For that let there be thanks to the Holy One, in that he honored us, Prince of Glory, eternal Lord, for all time.   Amen.

 

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