Dr David Breeden: 1999

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The Seafarer



I shall recite a true song of myself,

speak of my plights, and how often

I have suffered days of affliction,

times of hardship, endured bitterness

on a ship in many sorrowful places,

terrible waves rolling.  I have often

held an anxious nightwatch at the ship's

prow as we beat along the cliffs, feet

pinched with cold, bound in chains

of frost, cares moaning hot around my heart.

A deep hunger tore my sea-weary mind.


He who lives happily on solid ground

cannot know the wretched sorrow

of the ice-cold sea in winter,

living in the paths of exile,

deprived of friend and kinsmen,

hung round with icicles;

showers of hail flying.


I heard nothing but the sea's roar,

the ice-cold waves.  Sometimes I listened

to the wild swan's song for entertainment;

the gannet's cry and the curlew music

in place of the laughter of men.

The solace of the seagull instead of mead.

There storms beat the stony cliff;

there the tern answered, the icy-feathered one;

often the eagle screamed, the dewy feathered one;

no kinsmen was there to comfort my soul.


He who lives his life in town,

proud and wine-wanton, never

having gone harm's journey,

won't believe this, how often,

weary, I endured the sea-ways.

The night-shadow darkened;

snow came from the North;

hoarfrost bound the earth;

hail fell on the ground,

the coldest of kernels.

My heart-thoughts urge me

to try the deep sea,

the play of the salt waves:

my mind moans out that I

journey my soul far from here,

to seek a homeland among strangers.

There is no man so proud on this earth,

so happy in his gifts, so vigorous

in youth, so brave in daring,

nor so graced by his lord, who will not

find sorrow before a sea-journey,

not knowing what God will bring to him.

His mind is not on the harp,

nor on the receiving of gifts,

nor in the joy of a woman,

nor in the joy of this world,

nor on anything but the waves's tossing;

he who sets out upon the water

is always in longing.

The woods bloom, adorn the towns

and fields; the world rushes on;

all these admonish the eager mind,

admonish the heart of him who thinks

to go far on the sea ways.

And also the cuckoo sings,

that keeper of the summer,

with his troubled voice, foreboding

bitter sorrow in the breast.

That man doesn't know,

the one blessed with comfort,

what those suffer who lay

wide the tracks of exile.

My spirit flies out beyond this body,

over the sea's waves, beyond

the kingdom of the whales;  goes

wide over this wide earth, comes

to me again, ravenous and greedy,

crying out:  the lone-flier screams,

whetting the heart irresistibly

upon the whale-way, over

the expanse of the seas.

So the Lord's joys glow brighter

than this dead life fleeting in the land:

I believe no earthly riches stand;

always one of three things wrests life

from the fated man:  disease, old age,

or sword-hate.  Any warrior eager for

praise from the living, eager to be spoken of

after death, must do good deeds, violence

against fiends and the Devil.  Then

the children of men will praise him;

his praise will live forever with angels,

the glory of eternal life.

The days are gone when the greatest deeds

were done by kings, emperors, gold-givers,

the bravest among their warriors.  Fallen

are all those hosts, their joys passed away.

The inferior remain, holding the world

in toil and trouble.  Glory is humbled;

earth's nobility aged and faded.  Now men age,

faces paling, grey haired men grieving

as old friends depart, the children of nobles.

He gives them to the earth.  The spirit leaves

its flesh-home:  neither will he feel pain,

taste sweetness, move hands, nor consider in his mind.

A brother will heap gold on the grave

of his brother, bury him among the dead

with treasure, but gold is no use

before God's power for a soul full of sin

no matter what treasure he held on the earth.

Great and awful is the Creator's power,

the earth itself shakes before Him,

the very foundation and the sky above.

Foolish is the man who does not fear God:

a hidden death will visit him.

Blessed is he who lives humbly:

the grace of heaven comes to him.

The Creator gives to him a steadfast mind

because he believes, trusts in his might.

Man must steer his headstrong spirit, hold it in bounds,

 be steadfast in his pledges, and pure in manner.  

Each man must with moderation

hold what is dear and what is hateful

though he burns with fire or a friend burns.

Fate is fixed, the Creator mightier than any man's thoughts.  Let us consider

where our house is, and how to go there,

and then strive to go there

for that eternal time.  There is long life

in love of the Lord, hope in heaven;  thus

thanks be to the Holy One, that He has honored us,

that Lord of Glory, Lord Eternal for all time.




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