Edwin Morgan: 1954

from  The European 14, 51-3; London, April 1954

also  Medieval Age; ed. A.Flores; New York, 1963

and in Collected Translations; Carcanet 1996.


go to: line 62: click on "irresistibly" to return

This voice is my voice, it is no fable,

I tell of my travelling, how in hardship

I have often suffered laborious days,

endured in my breast the bitterest cares,

explored on shipboard sorrow's abodes,

the welter and terror of the waves. There

the grim night-vigil has often found me

at the prow of the boat when gripped by the cold

it cuts and noses along the cliffs.

There my feet were fettered by frost,

with chains of zero, and the cares were whistling

keen about my heart, and hunger within me

had torn my sea-dazed mind apart.

The theme is strange to the happy man

whose life on earth exults and flourishes,

how I lived out a winter of wretchedness

wandering exiled on the ice-cold sea,

bereft of my friends, harnessed in frost,

when the hail flew in showers down.

There I heard only the ocean roar,

the cold foam, or the song of the swan.

The gannet's call was all my pleasure,

curlew's music for laughter of men,

cries of a seagull for relish of mead.

There tempests struck the cliffs of rock,

and the frozen-feathered tern called back,

and often the eagle with glistening wings

screamed through the spindrift: ah what prince

could shield or comfort the heart in its need!

For he who possesses the pleasures of life

and knows scant sorrow behind town-walls

with his pride and his wine will hardly believe

how I have often had to endure

heartbreak over the paths of the sea.

Black squalls louring: snow from the north:

world-crust rime-sealed: hail descending,

coldest of harvests ---

Yet now the thoughts

of my heart are beating to urge me on

to the salt wave-swell and tides of the deep.

Again and again the mind's desire

summons me outward far from here

to visit the shores of nations unknown.

There is no man on earth so noble of mind,

so generous in his giving or so bound to his lord

that he will cease to know the sorrow of sea-going,

the voyages which the Lord has laid upon him.

He has no heart for the harp, or the gift of rings,

or the delight of women, or the joy of the world,

or for any other thing than the rolling of the waves:

he who goes on the sea longs after it for ever.


When groves bloom and castles are bright,

when meadows are smiling and the earth dances,

all these are voices for the eager mind,

telling such hearts to set out again

voyaging far over the ocean-stream.

With its sad call too the cuckoo beckons,

the guardian of summer singing of sorrow

sharp in the breast. Of this the prosperous

man knows nothing, what some must endure

on tracks of exile, travellers, far-rangers.

And now my own mind is restless within me,

my thought I send out through all the world

to the floods of ocean and the whale's kingdom,

until it comes back yearning to me

unfed, unquenched; the lone flier cries.

urges my desire to the whale's way

forward irresistibly on the breast of the sea.


And keener therefore when they strike my heart

are the joys of the Lord than this mortality

and loan of life; it is not my faith

that the riches of the earth will be everlasting.

One of three things to every man

must always loom over his appointed day:

sickness, old age, or enemy's sword

shall drive out life from the doomed man departing.

And then it is best that those who come after

and speak of the dead should be able to praise him,

that he in this world before his end

should help the people with deeds of courage

against the malice of foes and the devil,

so that afterwards the children of men

will exalt his name, and his praise with angels

will remain for ever, everliving glory,

bliss among the hosts. Great days have gone,

pomp and magnificence from the world's dominions.

Now there are neither kings nor emperors

nor gold-givers such as once there were

when in their realms they dealt with the utmost

honour, and lived in the nobility of fame.

Fallen is all this chivalry, their joys have departed.

And the world is wielded by shadows of men

ruling under affliction. Oh glory brought low,

splendour of this earth grown withered and old

like man himself now through all the world!

See age come up to him, and his face go pale,

a grey head in grief recalling friends gone,

the children of men given back to the earth.

Nor can body of flesh when life has fled

taste for him any sweetness or be sensible of sorrow,

nor will hand have touch, nor the mind its thought.

And though he should strew the grave with gold

where his own brother lies, with numberless treasures

in a double burial, none will go with him

on that voyage, nor can gold avail

for the soul with its sin before God's wrath

who hoards it here while he still has breath.


Dreadful is the terror of the Creator, when the world has turned through time

He established the great abyss, the leagues of the earth and the sky.

The fool has no fear of the Lord: death falls on him unwarned.

The blessed man lives in humility: on him heaven's mercies descend:

he trusts the power of his Maker in the battlements of his mind.



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