Keith Moul: 1973

The Sewanee Review

Volume LXXXI, NUMBER 3,   July-September, 1973

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    I speak of sufferings     that I have stood to,
hardships to rock     the heart. The times
of breast-cares stretch     from breaking days
toward a bitter dark,     as down the sea-track
I steer by stars     a strange, sad ship.
The dread waves crash,     ever dog my keel
through narrow nightwatch     as I, knitted to stiff oars
keep her off the cliffs.     Cold clamps my feet
in silence, unseen     steals my limbs
with numbing grip;     while griefs yet quicken
hotly through the heart     and hunger within tears
at the sea-wearied spirit.
                                            What spasm of thought
wakes any man     who walks this world
to know the wretchedness     I dwell in, know
the ice-cold sea     I wander, its swept track
alien to my kind ?
    Where ice hangs in air     and hail knocks against the storm
I hear only wave-roar     wasted on the sea,
the sounding cold.     At times the swan's song
does me for a joy,     a desperate gaiety;
but the ganet's, curlew's cry     gags the crow of men;
and gulls mark a wide sea     with no memory of mead.
Terns there restate the storm's     beating the stony cliffs,
terns with icy feathers     where eagles turn, on like shrieks,
around and around ---     the raging spirit
feels no solace     when a kinsman's face is desolate
    Indeed he owns nothing of pain     who, proud and merry with wine,
rioting through the towns,     takes life's pleasures;
nor truly will he ever trust     my telling of the wretchedness,
how, weary to rage     yet must I wander, and wait.
    Night's shade deepened,     from the north it snowed,
frost gripped the earth,     hail too fell
the coldest of kernels.     Yes, crowding thoughts
leapt the spirit     that I sought the sea's depth,
the salt-wave's motion     to move singly on ---
and now every longing     urges me onward
to war against the waters,     wandering hence
to distant islands,     alien and strange.
    Yet no worldly man     weens a mind so lofty,
his gifts so good     nor his deeds that gallant,
nor a frame so mightily thewed,     master so friendly
to never fear     his faring on the sea,
or what the Lord holds,     waiting in the dark hall.
Here is no harping,     no hoard to be dispensed,
no pleasure in a woman ---     nowhere a worldly joy! ---
nothing, nothing, nothing     but the night-black waves.
Who sets out eagerly     ever longs with the sea.
    Flowers fill the groves;     faces of towns,
meadows brighten     and the world stirs busily:
everything spurs     the eager heart,
that beating to put bow     to a breaking sea
when spirit swells     to hoist up sails again;
even as the cuckoo     calls out sorrowfully,
the ward of summer     singing only sadness,
the bitter feelings of his breast.     He blessed with comfort
can not know, only dreads     this destiny we bear,
we who tread alone     the farthest tracks of exile.
    And yet, now, my heart would burst     the limits of my breast,
my spirit resound     the rhythms of the sea,
hunt widely the whale,     its isolated haunts
throughout the cold expanse,     and then come back to me,
eager, and with greed:     one gull screams,
rouses to the whale's way     the heart, irresistibly,
however broad the wake.     Warmer for me
those lordly joys     than this dead life
fleeing, too, this land.
                                            I do not believe
the wealth of the earth     stands, for them, unendingly.
For, to each, his final hour     fetches doubt of things,
which of three his fate     shall finally be:
sickness, old age,     the sword of hate?
All wager     none will be withstood!
So, let praise live     best in lasting words
for every earl     by those speaking after;
let that be earned     before his eyes forever close,
by holding stead,     conquering hatred;
building deeds     boldly against a devil,
that men's sons extol him     ever after.
May his self live on,     as an angelic song
strikes the ear,     eternally,
a gladness to the host.
                                            For the glitter is gone,
kingdoms stand, emptied     of earth's spectacle,
and kings dead, emperors     darkened like the day.
No gold is proffered     and the gold-givers gone
whose glory shone     in the greatness of their deeds;
gone all who lived     in lordliest luster.
Fallen the noble warriors,     the frail joys fallen
to weaker hearts     who mark this world
by fruitless toil.     Fame perishes,
the noble order     ages, fades
to now like any man     married to the earth:
with palsied body,     face grown pale,
the white-haired one weeps,     aware that his old friend,
the line of princes,     alters with the loam.
    The body, lifeless,     barren of its senses,
savors no sweetness,     nor the sear of pain,
nor the hand's motion,     nor the mind's myth.
Though a brother strew     a brother's grave
with glorious treasures,     gold from hoards
that kept him through his life,     to keep him in the next,
the body will turn     to death's touch
and the black soul     flee the body,
leave it to its emptiness     and the terror of the earth.


ll. 1-102



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