The Seafarer 
Charles W.Kennedy: 1936

Old English Elegies; Princeton From An Anthology of Old English Poetry; Translated into Alliterative Verse;   NY OUP 1960.

[First published in Old English Elegies; Princeton 1936.]

 

A song I sing of my sea-adventure,

The strain of peril, the stress of toil,

Which oft I endured in anguish of spirit

Through weary hours of aching woe.

My bark was swept by the breaking seas;

Bitter the watch from the bow by night

As my ship drove on within sound of the rocks.

My feet were numb with the nipping cold,

Hunger sapped a sea-weary spirit,

And care weighed heavy upon my heart.

Little the landlubber, safe on shore,

Knows what I've suffered in icy seas

Wretched and worn by the winter storms,

Hung with icicles, stung by hail,

Lonely and friendless and far from home.

In my ears no sound but the roar of the sea,

The icy combers, the cry of the swan;

In place of the mead-hall and laughter of men

My only singing the sea-mew's call,

The scream of the gannet, the shriek of the gull;

Through the wail of the wild gale beating the bluffs

The piercing cry of the ice-coated petrel,

The storm-drenched eagle's echoing scream.

In all my wretchedness, weary and lone,

I had no comfort of comrade or kin.

Little indeed can he credit, whose town-life

Pleasantly passes in feasting and joy,

Sheltered from peril, what weary pain

Often I've suffered in foreign seas.

Night shades darkened with driving snow

From the freezing north, and the bonds of frost

Firm-locked the land, while falling hail,

Coldest of kernels, encrusted earth.

Yet still, even now, my spirit within me

Drives me seaward to sail the deep,

To ride the long swell of the salt sea-wave.

Never a day but my heart's desire

Would launch me forth on the long sea-path,

Fain of far harbors and foreign shores.

Yet lives no man so lordly of mood,

So eager in giving, so ardent in youth,

So bold in his deeds, or so dear to his lord,

Who is free from dread in his far sea-travel,

Or fear of God's purpose and plan for his fate.

The beat of the harp, and bestowal of treasure,

The love of woman, and worldly hope,

Nor other interest can hold his heart

Save only the sweep of the surging billows;

His heart is haunted by love of the sea.

Trees are budding and towns are fair,

Meadows kindle and all life quickens,

All things hasten the eager-hearted,

Who joy therein, to journey afar,

Turning seaward to distant shores.

The cuckoo stirs him with plaintive call,

The herald of summer, with mournful song,

Foretelling the sorrow that stabs the heart.

Who liveth in luxury, little he knows

What woe men endure in exile's doom.

Yet still, even now, my desire outreaches,

My spirit soars over tracts of sea,

O'er the home of the whale, and the world's expanse.

Eager, desirous, the lone sprite returneth;

It cries in my ears and it urges my heart

To launch where the whales plough their paths through the deep.

But fairer indeed are the joys God has fashioned

Than the mortal and mutable life of this world.

Truly earth's blessings are never abiding;

To the day of fulfillment remaineth a doubt

Whether old age, or sickness, or sword-edge shall ravish

Man's life when the fall of his fate is at hand.

Of memorials the noblest for man is the praise

Of men who survive him, who speak of his deeds,

That striving on earth ere the hour of death

He carry on boldly the battle with Satan,

And put to confusion the malice of fiends.

So, in ages long after, men still shall exalt

His fame, and his glory eternally gleam

Among angels forever, a splendor unending,

A joy with the heavenly hosts on high.

Gone are the days of earth's grandeur and pomp;

Gone are the princes, and givers of gold,

The kings of the past in pageant of glory

Living in splendor in lordly wise.

The heroes have fallen, the hall-joys have vanished,

Weaker men linger possessing the world

In days that are troubled; all glory is dead.

Earth's grandeur withers and wanes in decay

As man's earthly fate droops and dwindles toward death.

Old age oppresses, man's countenance pales,

Gray are his locks, and he grieves in his heart

For the friends of his prime, the children of princes,

Long since laid in the arms of earth.

And the flesh at last, when the life has fled,

Savors not sweet, suffers not pain;

The hand does not strive, the mind does not stir.

Though one strew with gold the grave of his brother,

With manifold treasure endowing the dead,

It will not go with him; gold hoarded on earth

Is no help to a soul that is burdened with sin,

In the terror of doomsday; and dreadful shall be

The fear of the Judge whereby earth is transformed.

For He it was fashioned the firm foundations,

The borders of earth, and the heavens above it.

Foolish is he who fears not his God;

All unready he runs toward death.

But blessed the heart that is humble, for mercy

Cometh upon him from heaven on high.

His heart God will stablish who trusts in His strength.

Man must rule a fierce mood, and hold it in rein,

Loyal to comrade, in cleanness of life;

Love of friend and hatred of foe

He must lock within limits, though longing in heart ...

For his dear lord laid in the funeral flame.

Firmer is fate, greater is God,

Than the thoughts of man can ever imagine.

Let us muse in our hearts on our heavenly mansions,

Thitherward planning our pilgrimage,

Seeking the way to the blessed stronghold

Of life and joy in the love of the Lord.

And thanks be to God, the Giver of glory,

The Lord everlasting, the holy King,

Who hath granted us honor through ages to come.

Amen.