Karl Young: 1990
               The Seafarer: A Translation

                Tatlin Books - Bangor, Maine

1.    I will tell you      my personal testament,
2.    tally the weight      of weary days,
3.    the hours of torment,      the times of agony,
4.    the bitter heart-stabs      I have abided,
5.    endured in anguish      in endless keels
6.    thrown through the troughs      of towering waves
       often obsessed      in the cell of my heart
7.    through night's narrow watches      as the prows of my ships
8.    dashed beside cliffs.      Cold grasped
9.    my aching feet,      frost clenched my skin,
10.   chilling my bones,      while sorrow burned inward,
11.   hot in my heart:      the hunger within
12.   ate at my spirit,      sick of my wandering
        over the ocean.      He whose lot
13.   keeps him on land      can never know
14.   my sorrow and need      on the freezing sea,
15.   how I have endured      the path of the exile,
16.   deprived of my kin,      through winters of pain
17.   hung with grim icicles      while hail scourged the wind.
18.   There I heard nothing      but the roar of the sea,
19.   the crash of the ice road.      The swan's blare,
20.   did me for games --      the gannet's cry,
21.   the curlew's song      for sociable laughter --
22.   the mew's singing      for the drinking of mead.
23.   There storms beat the stone cliffs,      there the tern answered
        the shattering waves      with icy feathers;
24.   often the eagle's scream      surrounded the storm
25.   with feathers of darkness.      No familiar protector
26.   could bring consolation      to my care riddled spirit.
27.   Yet those who enjoy      a complacent life
28.   secure in their cities,      stately and wine-proud,
29.   cannot comprehend      why I must continue,
30.   however weary,      to wander the sea-path.
31.   Snow swept from the north,      night's shadows descended,
32.   frost held earth bound,      snow covered the world,
33.   the coldest of grains.      Yet thoughts grip my heart,
34.   need moves my spirit:      I must go by myself
35.   over the salt crests,      the cavernous ocean;
36.   always my mind      moves toward the distance --
37.   my heart beats faster,      I follow its surge
38.   alone as a pilgrim      to land far away.
39.   Yet none is so spirited      nor strong in his courage
40.   nor generous in giving      nor vigorous in youth
41.   nor bold in his actions      nor blessed by his lord
42.   that he has no fears      to follow the sea
43.   to the fate that the Lord      has stored up for him.
44.   The harp does not hold him      nor the hoarding of rings
45.   nor the pleasures of love      nor worldly attainments --
46.   his only thought      is the tossing of waves --
47.   though he has his longings      alone on the sea.
48.   Groves take blossom,      towns come alive,
49.   meadows flourish,      the world is refreshed;
50.   all of this urges      the eager mind
51.   of the veteran traveler      to venture forth
52.   into the distance      over deep seas.
53.   Even the cuckoo,      the warden of summer,
54.   urges him forward      with mournful voice
        foreboding sorrow,      the bitter fate
55.   of the innermost heart.      Warriors at home,
56.   blessed with comfort,      can never know
57.   how much the sea-pacer      must suffer and bear
        who follows farthest      the path of the exile.
58.   Yet now my heart      hammers my chest,
59.   longs for the journey;      my hungering spirit
60.   soars out wide      over the whale's turf
61.   to earth's far corners      and comes back to me
62.   insistant and greedy;      the lone-glider cries
63.   irresistibly pulling      my soul to the whale's path,
64.   the boundless ocean.      For the bliss of the Lord
65.   is warmer to me      than this waking death
66.   that flickers on land.      I have no faith
67.   in earthly possessions      that pass in a day.
68.   Till the end of life's tide      one of three things
69.   remains uncertain      in worldly events:
70.   illness or age      or hate driven swords
71.   will take a man's life      as fate turns its way.
72.   Hence for all men      it is best to accomplish
73.   durable fame,      renown in the world,
74.   among their survivors,      those who speak after
75.   they have departed,      through deeds of courage,
76.   through memorable acts      against the fiends' malice,
77.   opposing the devil,      earning posterity's
78.   emulation and praise,      and forever and ever
79.   enjoying the glory      of the angels in heaven,
80.   the triumphant host.      The time has passed
81.   for earthly magnificence      in majestic realms;
82.   now no emperors,      no imperial Caesars,
83.   no givers of gold      do glorious deeds
84.   among their peers      or live in splendor
85.   in lordly dominion      as they did in past ages.
86.   That fraternity has fallen,      the fellowship ended;
87.   weaklings now work      the world they left
88.   in grief and toil.      Grandeur has faded,
89.   earth's nobility      ages and whithers,
90.   just like mankind      throughout middlearth.
91.   Decrepitude takes them,      all grow pale,
92.   white-headed they lament,      mourn for old friends,
93.   the children of nobles      given to earth.
94.   When life has departed,      the cask of the flesh
95.   tastes nothing sweet,      nor feels any pain,
96.   its hands cannot move,      nor its mind fashion thoughts.
97.   Though brother gives kinsman      a magnificent funeral,
98.   packing the coffin      with precious treasure,
99.   with gold to his tribute,      it won't travel with him;
100.  no gold can aid      nor gain atonement
101.  for a soul full of sin      in the presence of God,
102.  however he hoards it      here on this earth.
103.  Great is the strength      of God almighty;
         His terrible power      turns over this world.
104.  It was He Who established      the earth's foundations,
105.  spread wide its face      and framed it with heaven.
106.  A fool is he who fears not his Lord,
                          fated to die without preparation;
107.  Blessed is he whose life is humble,
                          heaven will grant him its mercy.
108.  The Lord will secure him a steadfast spirit
                          because he surrenders to the power of God.
109.  A man must control      the heat of his temper,
                          must find a firm base      for his fierce spirit,
110.  must honor his pledges      and lead a pure life.
111.  Every man      must learn moderation
112.  with friends and with foes,      [in fellowship and] anger.
113.  Though he may not wish      to see his true friends
114.  filled with fire      or burned in the flames,
115.  [yet he must keep patience:]      Fate has more power,
116.  God has more might      than any man knows.
117.  Let us consider      where we have our true home,
118.  then let us reflect      on how to arrive there,
119.  then let us labor      to enter that place,
120.  and there find the blessings,      the beauties of heaven,
121.  where the source of life      is the love of God
122.  in endless peace.      Eternally thank
123.  our Lord in the highest,      that he should so honor us,
124.  the Prince of Glory,      throughout all time.

The present rendering consists of a poet's personal engagement with the text and extensions of Norse verse forms over a period of some 20 years. It makes no claims to scholarship. In translating other Anglo-Saxon poems, notably the Exeter Book riddles, I tried to work with the original order of phrases on the hunch that the Anglo-Saxon poets plotted half lines as a basic device shaping all levels of significance, ranging from rhythm to exposition to stages of epiphany. In one of the most provocative and meaningful workings of Anglo-Saxon poetry, "So For Then Also The Dragon," which I published in several versions, Don Wellman took a similar approach much farther. My work in this direction led me to a dead end; Wellman's does not. In my version of "The Seafarer," I returned to a more conventional approach, and to such formal properties as alliteration, which I had previously avoided, preferring to emphasize patterns set up by syntax, relative stress, and caesura. In my "Seafarer" working, I played considerably with formal attributes I had previously neglected, and I did so in ways (such as altered and extended alliteration, and assonance) not necessarily present in the original text, just as I allowed myself some of the usual liberties in lexical transference. I also found that half-lines sometimes worked better in Modern English when extended to full lines. By numbering the lines of my working according to the base text, I indicate extensions of this sort by omitting line numbers, so that extended lines have no numbers in the portions extended. I also broke hypermetric lines, presenting the second halves as separate, indented lines. My primary source for the text was the old war-horse, George Philip Krapp and Elliott Van Kirk Dobbie's The Exeter Book, Columbia University Press, 1936. My efforts with Anglo-Saxon poetry are inextricably bound up with original poems of various sorts, most importantly, Milestones, a series begun in 1970 which take their base in the life of contemporary America as seen while driving cars; and with adaptations of Chinese poetry -- particularly in a sequence titled Clouds Over Fortjade in which the activist Tu Fu holds an oblique debate with the quietist Wang Wei, through parallelism and antithesis worked out in screenfolds. My rendering of "The Seafarer" was published in a tiny but magnificently crafted edition by Walter Tisdale, which contained variants in production in different individual copies. The poem as it appears here includes several textual revisions made since the book's publication. Tisdale also published the first volume of Milestones, showing his usual sensitivity to context and sequence. May poets everywhere find such sensitivity in their publishers, on the web and in print -- as Charles Harrison Wallace shows those whose work appears at this site.

Readers interested in my Light and Dust site, a growing, eclectic, anti-sectarian, multicultural, and multilingual collection of contemporary poetry, may click on this line to check it out. - Karl Young

Karl Young 1990

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