Clair McPherson: 1987

from American Benedictine Review; no 38 [1987] 115-126


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I can tell a tale of truth about myself:
I speak of travels, how I in days of toil
Suffered often times of trouble;
Bitter breast-care have I abided.
Ship-board became my abode of care,
And every wretched wave, when the night-watch
Held me in peril at the vessel's prow,
Till it pitched by the cliffs. Pinched by cold
Were my feet, bound by frost
In clasps of cold, while cares sighed
Hot round my heart. Hunger tore
The sea-weary spirit. The man knows not
Whose lot in life is fair and land-locked
How I walked by winter the exile's footpaths,
Wretched in sorrows on an ice-cold sea,
Bereft of beloved kinsmen,
Hung with icicles, showered by hail.

Naught met my ear but echoing sea,
The ice-cold surf. The swan's wild song
I made do for pastime; the gannet's cry
And the song of the whoop for the laugh of a man,
The laugh of a mew for a quaff of the mead.
There storms beat the stone cliffs, there the stearn answers back,
Frost-feathered; there shrieks the eagle
Fierce-feathered; No shielding lord
Could shelter this soul-weary wretch.
No, scarce can he believe, who leads the sweet life,
Who bides in the burg, bold and wine-wanton
Where woe stays small, how oft I, weary,
Must bide on the brine.

Night-shadow darkens, north snow falls,
Rime binds the ground, hail falls to earth,
Corn of the coldest. So now my mind
Urges my heart to the high-streams,
To go myself and see the salt-waves play.
And now this longing heart leads
The soul of seafaring, far hence to seek
The earth of a strange land.

No man upon earth is so proud in spirit
Nor so fortunate in gifts, nor so bold in his youth,
Nor so worthy for his deeds, nor so blessed in his benefactor,
That he never is anxious about sea-faring,
To what and where the Lord will bring him.

Nor is his mind on the harp, nor in the having of rings,
Nor on women, nor on this world,
Nor upon anything save the tossing of waves;
Forever he longs to take to the sea.

The boughs take a bloom, bedecked the burgs,
Make the fields fair; the world flies on;
All this drives the mind of the
Eager-mood on to journey.

And the cuckoo urges by song of sadness;
Summer's ward warbles, speaks of woe,
Bitter in the breast-hoard. The comfort-blessed man
Cannot sense how some must suffer,
Who widest lay the lines of exile.
And so my heart flies aloft above the breast-locker
My spirit sails over the ocean,
Roams wide over the whale's way,
The corners of the earth, then comes back to me,
Staring and greedy; the sole flier screams,
Whets the heart unawares on to the whale-way
Over the sea's expanse; so hotter to me
Are the Lord's delights than this dead life,
Lean upon land. I little believe
That this world's wealth lasts without limit.
For every thane one of three things
Becomes a dilemma before his death-days:
Illness or age or evil by the sword
Wrenches the life from the fated man.
So every earl seeks esteem from survivors,
The words spoken later speak loudest and best:
This he must get, before going his way.
Brave works in this World against hateful warriors,
By dire deeds against the devil,
Secure the praises of the sons of men;
His legend later lives among the angels
Always and ever in the joys of eternity,
In the delights of heaven. Days have departed,
All the pomp of the regions of earth;
No king lives nor Caesar.

The gold-givers are long gone
Who once did glory-deeds
and lived in the renown of the very lordly.
Hope has wandered, joys have withered,
Weak ones live, they inherit the world;
They exploit it by business; bliss is degraded,
Excellence of the earth fades and ages,
As does every man throughout middle-earth.
Age overcomes him, his face ashen
His crown grows white or he knows that old comrades,
Sons of princes are consigned to the ground.
The flesh-home cannot, when the life fails,
Swallow the sweet, nor feel the sore,
Nor move the hand, nor think in the mind.
Though brother for his brother gold might bring
To bedeck his gravesite, to bury him by the dead
With various of treasures, he can't take them with him;

Nor for the soul that is strained in sin
May gold prove help before God's awful power,
Though he hid it away before, when he lived here.

Mighty is the Measurer's power; before him the planet spins;
He arranged the rocky regions,
The face of the earth and the high heavens.
Mad is he who dreads not the Lord; death finds him unprepared
Blessed is he who lives lowly;
                                                  the bliss of heaven finds him waiting
God makes his mind steadfast, for he trusts in his might.
Man should steer by a strong mind, and hold that stable,
Constant in his Covenant, Clean in his ways.
Every man must bear in true moderation,
Love for friends, Loathing for foes,
Though he wants not w ---- fill
or burned on the bale
The friend he has wrought: wyrd is stronger,
The maker more mighty, than any man's craft.

Let us determine where our homeland might be,
And let us think how we might travel there;
And let us try to make that journey
To the lasting joys of eternity,
Where life is lived in the love of God,
The bliss of Heaven. Wherefore thank the Holy One
For that he glorified us, Eternal God,
Lord of wonder, world without end.


Peter Monamy (1681-1749)             a Ship in Distress


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