Kemp Malone: 1941

from Ten Old English Poems

put into Modern English alliterative verse

The Johns Hopkins Press; Baltimore


go to: line 62; click on "whets" to return:   go to: emendation



I will tell a true tale of myself,

say my farings, how I far and oft

toil-days underwent and times of hardship.

Breast-cares I have borne, bitter enough,

care-seats many in keel have I known,

fearful roll of waves. There fell to me oft

hard night-watches at head or stern

when the ship lurches along the cliffs.

My feet were bound with frost, were bitten

with cold fetters; my cares moaned there

hot about the heart; hunger broke the mood

of the sea-weary soul from within.

the man that fares fairest on land

can never know how, numb with care,

I sailed the ice-cold sea all winter,

the road of the wretched, bereft of kinsmen,

hung with icicles. Hail flew in showers.

There I heard only the ice-cold wave,

the sea, make song; the swan at times.

I took my glee in the gannet's voice,

had lay of whilp for laughter of men,

and mew-music for mead-drinking.

There tempests beat stone cliffs; there the tern gave answer,

the icy-feathered; full oft the eagle screamed there,

the wet-feathered. Not one of my kinsmen

could help my hapless heart in that faring.


The great of earth, the glad with wine,

who lead in towns a life of bliss,

little they mind how, many a time and oft,

I was doomed to bide on the deep, weary.

The night darkened, from the north came snow,

frost bound the fields, there was fall of hail,

coldest of seeds. They overcome me now,

the thoughts of my heart, till I think to try

high seas, the play of salt billows.

Deep goes the mood that drives my soul

to fare from home, that, far away,

I may find the stead where strangers dwell.


Not a man on earth is so mood-lofty

nor so good of his gifts, nor so glowing in youth,

nor in his deeds so daring, nor with so dear a lord

that he never has fear of his faring to sea,

what the Lord may list to lay upon him.

He recks not of the harp, nor of worldly hopes,

nor of lust for women, nor of worldly hopes,

he recks of naught but roll of waves;

but ever he feels longing who fares out to sea.

Blossoms take the woods, the towns grow fair,

the fields are in flower, fast goes the world:

all those move the man whose mood is bent,

whose thought is ready, who thinks even so

to fare afar, on the flood to ride.

And the cuckoo warns with woeful voice,

summer's ward sings, sorrow he heralds,

bitter, in breast-hoard. The blissful, the lucky,

can never know what need some bear

who widest wander the way of outlaws.

So, now, my soul soars from my bosom,

the mood of my mind moves with the sea-flood,

over the home of the whale, high flies and wide

to the ends of the earth; after, back to me

comes the lonely flier, lustful and greedy,

whets me to the whale-way, whelms with his bidding

over deep waters. Dearer, then, to me

the boons of the Lord than this life that is dead

in a land that passes; I believe no whit

that earthly weal is everlasting.


One woe of three ever awaits each man,

dooms him to doubt ere his day is come:

illness or eld or the edge of the sword

fails not to fell the fey and the dying.

Therefore for each man after he is dead

that laud in the speech of the living is best

that he worked with a will, ere away he must,

to bring it about, braving his foes

in doughty deeds to the devil's hurt,

that the children of men should choose to praise him,

and his laud, after, should live with the angels

always, for aye, in everlasting bliss

with the heavenly host. Gone hence are the days,

all the high mood of earth's kingdom;

there is not a king nor a kaiser now,

nor a gold-giver like the great of old,

when most they matched them in mighty deeds

and lived with fame in lordliest wise.

Gone is all this glory, all; glee is departed.

The weaker walk this world and hold it,

spend it in hardship; splendor is stricken,

earthly honor ages and withers,

so now each of men through middle earth:

eld fares on him, his face turns pale,

the greybeard grieves; his good friends of yore,

begotten of athelings, he knows given to earth.


When the soul flees it then the flesh no whit

can swallow sweetness, nor soreness feel,

nor move a hand, nor with the mind take thought.

Though brother bury by his brothers dead

sundry hoardings, though he sow full wide

the grave with gold, it will not go with them.

The sinful soul can seek no help

in gold the wrath of God to face,

if he hides it away while here he lives.

Great is the fear of God, thereby goes the earth.

He fixed, made fast the firm bottoms,

the ends of the earth and the upper heavens.

Dull is he who dreads not his Lord; to him comes death unwarned.

Happy is he who humble lives; to him comes heaven's favor;

the Lord makes fast his mood, for he believes in its might.

The mood must steer a strong spirit, hold it steadfast and true

and worthy of man's trust, in its ways full clean.

Aright each man should rule evil,

to loved and loathed alike do no wrong,

though folded in fire he fain would have

(or burnt on bale to bones and ashes)

the friend he found! Fate is stronger,

God is greater than the grasp of a man.

Of the home we have, heedful let us be,

and care let us give how we come thither,

and try we must, too, to take our way

to the everlasting, endless bliss of heaven.

In the love of the Lord life, there, is set,

hope, in the heavens. To the Holy One be thanks

that he lifted us up, the Lord of hosts,

world without end, everlasting God.   Amen.


In 1937 Malone proposed emending the ms text (ll. 111-116):


scyle monna gehwylc mid gemete healdan wiž leofne ond wið lažne bealo žeah že he hine wille fyres fulne ožže on bæle forbærnedne his geworhtne wine wyrd biž swire meotud meahtigra žonne ænges monnes gehygd


to read as follows:


Scyle monna gehwylc mid gemete healdan

wiž leofne ond wið lažne gelice bealo

žeah že he hine fyres fulne wille

ožže on bæle gedon forbærnedne

his geworhtne wine. Wyrd biž swiðre,

meotud meahtigra žonne ænges monnes gehygd.




Aright each man should rule evil

to loved and loathed alike do no wrong

though folded in fire he fain would have

or burnt on bale to bones and ashes

the friend he found.



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