The Seafarer

Years ago, in graduate school, I attempted a partial translation of the Anglo-Saxon poem “The Seafarer.” It remains one of my favorite poems, so I present it here (this is about half of the full poem):

Allow my singing of myself a song telling true,
telling the tales of my trials, of how through affliction’s days,
those times of hardship, I suffered often,
bitter grief of heart was given to endure;
of how I experienced, aboard ship in many sorrowful places,
terrible tossings of waves. There aboard I would often hold
an anxious night-watch at the prow of the ship
as it beat along the cliffs. The cold’s pinch
was upon my feet, frost was binding them
with chilling chains; there that care I lamented,
hate surrounding my heart, hunger tearing from within
my sea-weary spirit. Of such does a man not know
to whom on this earth ease does befall:
how I wretchedly watched those waters icy cold,
winter inhabiting, away from friend and kin,
icicles hanging about me, hailstorms flying.
There I heard nothing but the harsh sea,
the ice-cold wave. Once in a while the wild swan’s song
brought me pleasure; the gannet’s cry
and the sound of the curlew replaced the laughter of man;
the singing of the seagulls was the stand-in for mead-drink.
Storms beat upon the tattered cliffs: there to them the tern cried,
that icy-feathered one; frequently there the eagle screamed,
that dewy-feathered one; but not a single helping kin
might this forlorn spirit find for comfort.

Assuredly they believe little, those who life’s joys
experience in cities with few adversities
exaltant and wine-wantom, how weary I often
in that sea-way should go.
Darken the shadow of night: from the norward snowing;
hoarfrost binding the ground; hail falling to earth
in coldest kernel! I am now indeed called
by the thoughts in my heart that a wretch such as I the sea’s
tumultuous salted waves should try,
prompting my mind’s desire, on each occasion,
for my spirit to travel that I can go far from here,
as a foreigner coming to a new country.
Assuredly there is none so proud throughout earth,
nor one so happy in his gifts or in health of youth so proud,
nor one in deed so brave or so devoted to his lord,
that he never a sea-voyage of such sorrow had,
as that his Lord willed he take.
The harp is not on his mind, nor is the receiving of rings,
nor delight in women, nor this world’s hope,
nor will he think on anything else except the rolling waves;
but always will have anxiety, that which at sea directs one’s course.
Groves are adorned with blossoms as towns are decked,
their meadows beautifying them; but the world hastens onward:
all that urges to ready minds
the spirit of journey, that which is so planned
on ocean’s path to go far away.

Advertisements