W.S.Mackie: 1933

Cape Town University 1933


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I can tell a true tale about myself,
narrate my adventures, how in days of toil
I often endured a time of hardship,
have suffered bitter anxiety of heart,
have explored in my ship many halls of care,
the fierce surging waves. There the anxious night-watch
often troubled me at the prow of the ship
beating along the cliffs. My feet
were nipped with cold, frost-bound
in chill fetters, while cares sighed
hot around my heart, and hunger tormented my soul
till I was weary of the sea. The man to whom falls
a most fortunate life on land, does not know
how, wretched and anxious, I remained an exile
during the winter on the ice-cold sea,
separated from my friendly kinsmen,......
hung about with icicles amid flying showers of hail.
There I heard nothing but the roar of the sea,
of the ice-cold wave, and sometimes the song of the wild swan;
I had for my amusement the cry of the gannet
and the sound of the whale instead of the laughter of men,
the sea-mew singing instead of the drinking of mead.
Storms beat on the rocky cliffs, where the tern, ice on its wings, gave answer;
very often the dewy-winged eagle screamed.
No near kinsman ..........
could comfort my desolate soul.
Truly he who has led a joyous life in the cities,
and has had but few calamities,
proud and flushed with wine, little believes how often
I had wearily to remain upon the ocean path.
The shadow of night darkened; there came snow from the north;
frost fettered the ground; hail fell on the earth,
the coldest of grain.
Now indeed there press
thoughts upon my heart, that I myself should explore
the high seas, the dancing salt waves.
Heart's desire ever urges
my soul towards departing, that far from here
I should visit the home of strangers.
Truly there is on earth no man so proud of heart,
or so generous in his gifts, or so active in youth,
or so brave in his deeds, or with a prince so gracious to him,
that is not, in his voyage on the sea, always fearful
of what the Lord will bring upon him.
He has no mind for the harp, or for the receiving of treasure,
or love towards a woman, or delight in the world
or in anything else but the surge of the waves,
for he whom the sea calls has the longing always.
The woods blossom forth, the cities become fair,
the fields are beautiful, the world breaks into life ---
everything urges towards adventure
the eager mind in him who thinks
of departing far upon paths of the sea.
Then too the sad-voiced cuckoo warns him,
the harbinger of summer sings, but bitterly forebodes
sorrow to the heart. He does not know,
the man happy and prosperous, what some of those endure
who print their tracks of exile furthest.
Truly now my heart is restless within my breast,
my thoughts range with the ocean flood
over the home of the whale, range far and wide
over the broad world, and return to me
full of fierce desire. The lone bird screams
and irresistibly incites my heart to the whale's path
upon the ocean plains.
Truly I love more ardently
the joys of the Lord than this dead life
transitory upon earth; I do not believe
that it keeps its worldly riches everlastingly.
In every case one of three things,
before the span of his days reaches its limit,
disease or old age or sword's hate,
takes away life from the man doomed and dying.
So to every man it brings praise from those who live
and speak about him after his death, the best of posthumous fame,
that he succeed, before he must depart,
in prevailing, in this world, against the enmity of fiends
by means of valiant deeds against the devil,
so that the sons of men may afterwards extol him
and his praise then live among the angels
for ever and ever, the glory of eternal life,
bliss amid the hosts of heaven.
Gone are the days of old,
all the pomps of the kingdom of the world.
There are not now kings or emperors
or givers of gold such as once there were,
when they wrought among themselves the greatest of glorious deeds
and lived in the most princely splendour.
All this lordliness has perished, its joys have passed away,
weaker men remain and occupy this world,
subsist upon it by toil. Glory is laid low,
the grandeur of the earth grows old and sere;
as now also every man throughout the world;
old age comes upon him, his face grows pale,
gray-haired he mourns, knows that his former friends,
children of earls, have been given to the grave.
Then when life has gone, his body
cannot swallow what is sweet, or feel pain,
or stir a hand, or think with the mind.
Though a brother will strew with gold
his brother's grave, and bury him among the dead
with various treasures, it will not go with him.
To the soul that is full of sins
gold cannot be an aid before the terror of God
when he has hoarded it during his lifetime here.
Great is the terror of the Judge; because of it the world changes;
He established the solid lands, the broad earth and the sky above.
Foolish is he who does not fear his God; death comes on him unawares.
Blessed is he who lives humble, to him comes grace from the heavens;
the Lord makes that disposition of mind steadfast in him, because he trusts in His might.
One should restrain a stubborn mind and hold it within bounds
and constant towards men and pure in its ways.
Let every man keep moderation
in love towards a friend and enmity towards a foe.
Though he will ... him full of fire ...
or burnt upon the funeral pyre,
the friend whom he has gained. Fate is stronger,
the Lord more mighty, than any man can suppose.
Let us think where we have a home,
and then devise how we may come there,
and let us then also endeavour that we may attain
to that eternal blessedness
where life springs from the love of the Lord
and there is joy in the heavens. Let there be thanks to the holy God
because He, the Prince of glory, the eternal Lord,
has honoured us for all time. Amen.

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