Gavin Bantock: 1969


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


The Seafarer

	Driven to talk of myself, a true story,
I have to tell of journeys, and how I
bore the brunt of hard days with bitter
sorrow of heart, and went with my ship
through regions that whiten the hair, and there
felt the terrible under-sway of the waves.
I had to keep keen night-watch at my ship's prow
when it was driven along close under the cliffs.
My feet were constricted with cold,
gripped by the frost's cold irons; whereas the sorrow sighed
hot round my heart; and hunger within
tore at my body's nerves which were worn down by the sea.
The happiest man on earth cannot know how I,
wretched and most sad in the paths of exile,
moved through winters on the ice-ribbed sea
deprived of friend and kinsman ...
hung around with icicles when hail was
dashed down in the storms ...
There I heard nothing but the roaring
ice-edged waves of the sea;
there for my entertainment all the while
I had the song of the wild swan;
for the laughter of men --
the gannet's cry and sound of the curlew;
for mead-drink -- a gull singing.
The storms battered the cliffs;
there the tern with icy feathers
answered them; often there
the eagle, with wings dew-drenched,
yelled round ... no protecting kinsman there
to comfort my lonely mind.
In truth, those who know the good things of city life
will hardly believe it: they will know so
little of the sorrow of these wanderings--
they are arrogant and wine-crazed; while sleep-starved
I had to go the way of the sea.
The night-shadows darkened;
it snowed from the north; frost was
locked to the earth; hail fell--
the coldest kind of grain spread on the ground.
Therefore, now that I myself
venture out upon the towering seas
daring the tumult of the salt waves,
thoughts trouble my mind -- even though
the longings of my heart
urge my spirit each time to go, so that
far from here I might seek those alien ...
For there is no man on earth --
proud of heart, generous in gift-giving;
active in youth, brave in his deeds,
and serving a friendly lord -- who has not
sorrow forever on his sea-voyaging;
thinking how the Lord will treat him on his way.
Thought of harp is not with him,
nor thought of accepting rings;
no delight in woman, no pleasure in this world;
nor truth in anything but the raising and falling of waves.
Anyone who hungers to hasten sea-wards
always has this longing ...
The groves come out in blossom, and make
beautiful the dwellings of men,
brightening the meadows;
the world hastens onward: all things
urge the mind and heart to make the journey,
goading those who may intend to go
far out on the ways of ocean.
Likewise the cuckoo warns with its sad voice:
the guardian of summer sings, foreboding
bitter sorrow in the heart's feelings.
The ordinary man, blessed with comfort,
cannot know what is suffered by those
men who move in the farthest tracks of exile.
Therefore now from my breast, my heart reaches out;
my spirit journeys with the sea, over the haunts of whales,
journeys far out into all the world's regions.
Full of longing it comes
back to me often...
That spirit, flying there alone,
yells and incites me onto the whale-road,
irresistibly over the expanses of the sea,
because the joys of God are more inspiring to me
than this dead life upon land,
so soon gone after the brief lending.
Earthly wealth is by no means eternal.
Always before a man's last hour,
three things are uncertain --
sickness, old-age or sword-hate: one of these
snatches life from the doomed man.
Therefore the best of fames is the praise
given to each man after his death,
which, before he goes on his way, he must earn
by good work on land against the malice of fiends,
and by good deeds against the Devil.
Then the children of men will praise him afterwards,
and his glory shall live with the angels,
and he shall abide in glory always,
sharing glory with the host.
Days have gone by, fraying
all the wealth of the earth's kingdoms:
now there are no kings or emperors,
no gold-givers as in former times
when they did their greatest deeds of glory
and lived in their greatest fame.
All this splendour is ruined, and the joys of living
gone: weaker men dwell here, swaying in a world
where joy is nothing more than pain.
Glory declines; and all splendour, like each man
now here on earth, ages and withers:
old age strikes him down, his face whitens,
grey-haired he mourns, knowing that his former friends,
sons of noble men, are laid in ground.
Then when life leaves him, he is not able
to swallow sweet things or feel sorrows:
nor can he raise up his hand, nor think with his mind.
Though his grave will shine with gold trappings,
and though his brother will bury with him
much treasure alongside his kinsmen,
none of these precious things can go with him.
Hoarding of gold in his lifetime will not help
a sinful man when his soul is hauled before
the presence of God's terrible power.
The power of the Lord is great,
for by Him the face of the earth changes;
He created the firm foundations,
the expanses of earth and the Kingdom above.
He who has no fear of the Lord is foolish:
death comes, sudden.
He who lives humbly is blessed:
mercy comes from the heavens.
The Lord created for man his mind:
therefore he should believe in God's power.
A man should govern his headstrong will,
and, trustworthy in his promises
and pure in his way of living hold it firm.
Each man should act in moderation
towards both his enemy and his friend,
or he shall have misery ... and though God will not,
full of fire or in conflagration burn up
the friend He has made,
Fate is stronger, and God is stronger
than the thought of any man.
Let us consider then where we shall have our last home,
and then reflect how we may arrive there;
and we may then strive to gain
entrance to that eternal happiness
where life finds its being in God's love
and in the joy of Heaven.
And therefore may the Holy Lord God of Glory
receive now our thanks:
for he has exalted us forever.

Translated by Gavin Bantock (1963-9).

link to ""

back to other versions