Nora Kershaw: 1922

Anglo-Saxon and Norse Poems;   Cambridge


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I will recite a lay about my own history and recount my adventures --- how in days of stress I have constantly suffered times of hardship. I have endured bitter anguish of heart and experienced many anxious moments in my bark through the terrible rolling of the waves. A distressing vigil has often been my lot at the stern of the ship, when it was dashing against the rocks. My feet have been numbed with cold, bound with chill fetters of frost, while my heart was beset with passionate sighs of distress and my spirit within me was torn by hunger --- exhausted as I was by my struggle with the waves. A man whose blissful lot is cast on land cannot realise how I have passed the winter in paths of exile on the icy sea, miserable and distraught, deprived of my dear kinsmen and hung about with icicles, while the hail flew in showers. Sometimes I had the song of the swan for my entertainment, the cry of the gannet and the shriek of the godwit for the laughter of men, the calling of the mew instead of mead-drinking. Storms buffeted the rocky cliffs, and the tern with icy plumage gave them answer, and again and again the eagle with dripping feathers took up the cry. I had no protecting kinsman who could comfort my desolate soul. Assuredly one who has spent a happy life in luxury and feasting in a great house, free from perilous adventures, can hardly believe what exhaustion I have repeatedly suffered on my sea-voyages. The shades of night came lowering, snow fell from the North, frost bound the land, and hail, coldest of grains, fell on the earth.

But assuredly even now my thoughts are making my heart to throb, until of my own accord I shall venture on the deep waters, the tossing of the salt waves. At every opportunity a yearning impulse incites my heart to set forth and seek the land of strangers far away. Assuredly there is no man on earth so high-hearted, or so generous, or so full of youthful vigour, or so bold in his deeds, or so high in his lord's favour, that he can ever be free from anxiety as to what is the Lord's purpose with regard to him, when he has to travel across the sea. His thoughts are not on the harp or the giving of rings, he has no pleasure in womankind, nor joy in life, nor thought of anything whatever save the tossing waves: for there is never any peace of mind for him who goes to sea. The houses of the great are beautified by blossoming groves, the fields begin to look bright, mankind begins to stir itself; all these things urge the heart of a high-spirited man towards travel, if he has any inclination thereto. --- They set out on long journeys over the paths of the sea. --- The cuckoo too, summer's herald, incites him, calling with plaintive note, and cruelly foretells troubles to his heart. A nobleman who lives in luxury cannot realise what is endured by many of those who travel far and wide on paths of exile.

Assuredly my thoughts are now soaring beyond my breast; along the course of the sea my spirit soars, over the home of the whale and throughout the great expanse of earth. Again it comes back to me, eager and hungry, screaming on its solitary flight. Resistlessly it impels my heart to the road of the whale, over the expanse of waters. Assuredly I feel more passion for the joys of the Lord than for this lifeless and transient existence on land. I do not believe that earth's blessings will endure for ever. Always and under all circumstances it is matter for uncertainty until the time of its occurrence which of these three --- sickness or old age or violence --- will cut off the life of a man when the fated hour of his departure comes upon him. Assuredly the best of records for every man is the praise of those who will live on and speak of him in after days --- that before he has to depart he should succeed in prevailing on earth against the hostility of fiends, encountering the devil with daring deeds, so that the children of men may praise him in after days, and his fame may endure henceforth with the angels for ever and ever --- the glory of eternal life, bliss among the righteous.

All the days of splendour of earth's realm are departed. There are now no kings or emperors or generous princes such as once there were, when they surpassed all their peers in glory, and lived in the most lordly splendour. All this chivalry has perished. Its joys are departed. A weaker race lingers on and possesses this world, living by toil. Glory lies in the dust. All that is noble on earth grows aged and fades away --- just as every man now does throughout the world. Old age comes upon him, his face grows pallid; grey-haired he grieves in the knowledge that his friends of old days, the scions of princes, have been committed to the earth. While his spirit is ebbing his bodily frame cannot relish delicacies, nor suffer pain, nor raise the hand, nor think with the brain. Though he will spread with gold the grave of his own brother, and bury with the dead in treasures of various kinds what he wishes to have with him, yet gold, which he has hidden while he is still alive here, will not be able to help a soul which is sinful, in face of the fear of God.

Great is the terror of God, for the earth will be transformed. He fixed the immovable depths, the surface of the earth and the Heavens above.

Foolish is he who fears not his Lord: death will come to him when he is unprepared. Blessed is he who lives in humility: mercy will come to him from Heaven. God will establish his heart for him, because he has faith in his might. A man must control a fierce temper and keep it within bounds. He must be true to his pledges, unblemished in his life. Every man should use moderation in cherishing love towards his friend and hatred towards his foe .. Fate is stronger, and God mightier than any man can imagine. Let us consider where our home lies and meditate further as to how we may reach it; and let us also further strive that we may attain to eternal bliss, where life is to be found in the love of the Lord, and joy in Heaven. Thanks be to the holy Prince of glory, the everlasting Lord, that he has shown us favour for all time!   Amen.


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