Lawrence L.Austin: 1975

The Seafarer: A Translation

Old English Newsletter VIII.2, P.983/39: 4246
Ohio State University; Kalamazoo


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I can tell a true tale of myself,
Speak of my fortunes, how I in former days
Times of hardship oft endured.
Bitter breast-care have abided,
And known in the keel of many care-halls
Terrible tossing of waves. There I oft took
Nervous nightwatch near the ship's prow
While he drives by the darkening cliffs.
Fettered in cold were my feet, frost bound,
Enchained to cold. There care cries out
Hot around my heart; hunger from within rends
My sea-weary mind. The man knows not,
He who finds life's fairest friends,
How I, sorrowfully, lived on the ice-cold sea,
Painfilled in the path of exile,
In winter, deprived of wine-friends,
Hung with icicles; hail flew in showers.
There I heard nothing but the thundering sea,
Ice-cold waves. At times the wild swan's song
I took for my gladness, the gannet's cry
And the lament of the curlew for the laughter of men,
The mew singing instead of mead-drink.
There storms beat against the stone cliff;
There the icy-feathered tern answers him;
Full oft the dewy-feathered eagle screams;
Nor can any kinsman comfort the destitute soul.
Yet little he believes who has life's laughter,
Who in the city, exalted and wine-galled,
Has abided little of life's bitter pain,
How I, often weary, had to withstand
Pain in the ocean-path.
Night-shadows darkened; it snowed from the north;
Hoarfrost bound the earth, hail fell groundward,
Coldest of kernels. So now my heart's core urges
That I try the high seas, tumult of salt waves:
The mind's longing moves me oft
To fare forth, that I far hence
May seek lands of strange peoples.
Yet there is no man over earth so proud,
So blithe in his bearing, so bold in his youth,
In his deeds so dear --- the delight of his lord ---
That he seems not sorrowful about his seafaring,
About what God might give to him.
His heart is not on harps nor on ring-getting,
The happiness of women, nor the hope of the world:
Reticent all but the rolling of the waves.
But he who fares forth on the sea feels longing always.
The forest is decked with blossoms, adorns the burg;
Bountiful the harvest; the world hurries onward;
All those things urge the eager of mind
To a journey of the heart, those who so harken
To fare on the flood-paths.
Likewise the cuckoo exhorts with sad cries,
The guardian of summer sings, announces sorrow
Bitter to the heart. He does not believe ---
The favour-blessed fellow --- what the one finds
Who lays far and widest his lonely way;
Yet now my mind moves over my breast,
My heart with the sea-flood
Over the whale's realm journeys wide;
Over the earth's surface it seeks me again
Eager and greedy, the lone-flyer cries,
Incites irresistibly the heart on the whale-ways
Gliding o'er the ocean. Thus more glowing to me
Is the light of the Lord than this life of death,
Fleeting on land: I feel by no means
That worldly wealth will eternally withstand;
One of three things is always uncertain
Before it befalls its fated time:
Disease, decrepitude, or death by the sword
Forces the life out of him who is fated
To die, about to depart.
So it is best for each man on earth
To elicit praise from the living, after-speakers,
(Most dear reputation to deserve after death)
With mighty fights against the malice of fiends,
Dear deeds on earth against devils,
Before he shall fare forth away,
So that princes' sons after sing his praise
And his honour after live with angels
Ever and always in the glory of eternal life,
Delight with the heavenly host. The days are departed,
All the wealth of the world's kingdoms;
Kings are not, nor emperors now,
Nor gold-givers as they were of old,
When they among themselves made most of glory
And lived in lordly renown.
Fallen is this fair host, their fortune departed,
The weak live on and wield this world,
Possess it through their labour. Glory is laid low;
The earth's nobility ages and withers
As now each man through middle-earth;
Age overtakes him, his aspect grows pale,
Grey-headed he grieves, knows his former friends,
The sons of princes, are surrendered to the soil.
When his life is lost his lips will not taste
The flavour of sweets, nor his body feel affliction
Nor with his hands stir; limbs will lay helpless.
Though he will strew with gold the grave
Of the brother of his blood, bury him by the dead
With treasures he wants to take with him;
Gold cannot placate God's awful power
Against the soul that is full of sin,
When he hides it while he lives here on earth ......


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