Translation: The Seafarer (repost)

Another translation from Anglo-Saxon, circa 1991.  Of the Old English translations I worked on, this is the one I think I am the least satisfied with.

This poem is an elegy, told from the point of view of an old sailor. It can be found in the Exeter Book, (10th Century AD) but both the actual date of composition and the author are unknown (although some attempt has been made to attribute the work to Cynewulf).  The Wikipedia entry can be found here.

PERMISSION IS HEREBY GRANTED to reproduce this translation, so long as the following conditions are met: 1) It is to be used for classroom or other educational purposes; 2) That it is not to be reproduced for profit; and 3) That the translation be properly credited to its translator, namely me (Douglas B. Killings). If you have any questions about reproducing this work, you may contact me at DeTroyes@sbcglobal.net. Thank you!

–DBK

The Seafarer
Verse Translation
I am able about myself to sing a tale
recounting my life, how I days of travail
and times of hardships often endured,
bitter heartfelt grief have suffered,
and experienced on ship many a sorrowful place,
while terrible waves tossed. Wherein often I drew
the anxious nightwatch at the ship’s prow,
by the beating cliffs sail. Cold enshroun’d
were my feet, frost bound and
cold enchained, there then sorrow moaned
burning around my heart; a hunger from within rent
my sea-weary spirit. That men not grasp
what I in Earth’s pleasantries passed,
how I on the wretched frigid seas
took winter’s custom in the exiled pathways,
deprived of my dear kinsman,
while icicles hung, and hail storms flew.
There I did not hear any but the raging ocean,
and its ice-cold waves. Sometimes the song of a wild swan
I took for pleasure, the cry of a sea-bird
and the curlew’s clamor instead of man’s laughter,
sea-gull singing instead of mead drinking.
Storms beat on the craggy cliffs; the sea-swallow answered,
with frosted wings; while often the eagle screamed,
its wings wet with dew; and not any protecting kinsman
this destitute spirit was able to be comforted by.
For him that believes little, know that I have life’s pleasures
experienced in cities, that I have known little adversity
while valiant and drunk with wine, yet how I wearily often
on the ocean’s path would continue afterwards.
There would be the darkening night; snow from the North;
frozen rime binding the ground; hail falling to the Earth,
the coldest kernels. For that feeling how
my heart yearned to be on the sea,
the salt-sea waves rolling I alone would experience:
my spirit’s desire on each occasion
was to the journey, that I distant lands far from here,
an alien country seek out.
For there is so proud no man over the Earth,
not born to greatness, not in youth that is valiant,
not in actions that are brave, not to his master is he so kind,
that he on his sea-voyage is not fearful,
of what his Lord wills to befall.
Not to a harp’s music is his mind, nor to the receiving of treasure,
nor to the winning of a wife, nor to the joys of world’s nature,
nor anything else but to the rolling waves;
to have a heartfelt longing for that which is on the sea to set out.
Forests blossoming with adornment, towns decked in loveliness,
meadows beautiful; all the world bears down;
all then prompt the spirit eager,
for the soul’s journey, that which is intended,
on the sea-ways to far-away depart.
But then the cuckoo chortles his mournful voice;
sings as summer’s sentinel, announcing sorrowful
and bitter innermost feelings. That men not know
if each are blessed with favor, and what one’s suffering
in those exiled steps will place them to.
For this now my mind journeys over my heart,
my soul ranges among the oceans
and whales homeland passing far and wide,
over the Earthan expanse, comes again to me
eager and greedy, while the lone flyer crying out
urging me onto the sea my breast not resisting to go
over that trackless expanse. For this way I feel warmer in
the Lord’s joy than this dead life,
fleeting away on land: I believe not at all
that these earthly riches will everlasting stand;
there are always the three circumstances which each
one meets his time to become changed:
disease or old age or the violence of the sword
doom the departure of the soul out of the body.
For those that whom nobles when speaking about the dead
praise those lives with the best reputations,
know it was brought about by he that shall about to go,
by his good deeds on Earth4 against the enemy’s wickedness,
brave deeds against the Devil,
that this man’s children shall afterwards praise,
and his praise afterwards to live among the angels
always and forever, eternal life’s glory,
and joy with the heavenly host. The Days have departed
for all the splendor of the Earthan kingdoms;
there are not now Kings nor emperors
nor gold-giving lords such as there once were,
for they much among their own glory filled
and on magnificent renown lived.
Perish did this nobility all, their joys have passed;
remain still the weak and this world inhabit,
possessed through toil. Glory is cast down;
Earthan nobility grow old and wither
as thus now each man through-out the entire world:
old age on him overtakes his skin grows pale,
and grieves for his gray-hair, and remembrances of old friends,
young princes now given to the Earth.
No man him that the body, while that the life has been lost,
will not sweetness devour nor pain feel
nor hands stir nor among his thoughts consider.
Even though at that grave it will be desired to spread gold
by his brother, and to bury the dead
with various treasures so that he will be with them,
there is not a soul who is full of sin
whose gold can comfort for God’s awful power,
that which was earlier buried instead of those that here have faith.
Great be the Creator’s awful power, for it is he that changes the Earth;
that which is made a steadfast firm foundation,
the Earthan expanse and the heavens above.
Foolish be he who holds his Lord not dear: to him comes death unexpected.
Blessed be he who lives humbly: to him comes the grace of heaven.
The Creator makes steadfast the spirit, for those that are able to
Have faith. The man that shall control his headstrong spirit, and on that foundation live,
then that trustworthy man, his way is pure.
Each man shall with temperance govern
whether it be with love or with hateful malice,
though he may himself be wished full of fire
or else on a pyre consumed
by his past friend. Destiny is strong,
the Creator mightier than any man’s conception.
Let us consider where our home is,
and then let us think how we may come thither,
and moreover how we must strive so that we may be allowed
into that eternal happiness
that is depended upon our lives in the love of our Lord,
and joyous expectation in heaven. This be that Holy thanks,
that he honors us with, the glorious Prince,
everlasting Lord, in all time. Amen.
Prose Translation

(Lines 1-26) About myself I am able to sing a tale recounting my life, of how I often endured days of toil and times of hardship, suffering bitter heartfelt grief, and experienced on ship many a sorrowful time and place, while terrible waves tossed. Wherein often I drew the anxious night watch at the ship’s prow, as we sailed by the beating cliffs. My feet would be wrapped in cold, frost bound and ice enchained, and there sorrow would moan and burn around my heart; a hunger from within would tear my sea-weary spirit. Men cannot grasp what I’ve been through while traveling the pleasant Earth, how on wretchedly frigid seas I took winter’s habit while traveling exiled pathways, deprived of my dear kinsman, while icicles hung and hail storms flew. There I did not hear anything but the raging ocean and its ice-cold waves. Sometimes I took the song of a wild swan for pleasure, or the cry of a sea-bird and the curlew’s clamor instead of man’s laughter, or sea-gull singing instead of mead drinking. While storms beat on the craggy cliffs, the sea-swallow answers, its wings frosted, while often the eagle screamed, its wings wet with dew. And there were none of my kinsman this destitute spirit could be comforted by.

(Line 27-57) For him that believes little, know that I have experienced life’s pleasures in the cities, that I have known of little adversity while valiant and drunk with wine, and yet I would often wearily continue afterwards on the ocean’s path. There would be the darkening night; snow from the North; frozen rime binding the ground; hail falling to the Earth, the coldest kernels for food. For that feeling how my heart yearned to be on the sea, the salt-sea waves rolling I alone would experience. My spirit’s desire on each occasion was to the journey at hand, that I would sail to distant lands far from here, and seek out some alien country. For there is no man over the Earth so proud, not to greatness born, not in youth valiant, not in actions that are brave, not to his master be he so kind, that he on his sea-voyage is not fearful of what his Lord wills his fate to be. Not to a harp’s music is his mind, nor to the receiving of treasure, nor to the winning of a wife, nor to the joys of world’s nature, nor anything else but to the rolling waves and to have a heartfelt longing to set out for that which is on the sea. Forests blossoming with adornment, towns decked in loveliness, beautiful meadows; all the world’s beauties bears down on the person — all prompt the eager spirit for the soul’s intended journey to depart on the sea-ways for far-away. But then the cuckoo chortles his mournful voice, and sings as the herald of the end of summer, announcing those sorrowful innermost feelings. Men do not know if each are blessed with favor, and which direction one’s suffering in these exiled steps will place them to.

(Lines 58-93) For this now my mind journeys over my heart: my soul passing far and wide among the oceans and whales homeland on the great Earthan expanse, it comes again to me eager and greedy, while the lone flyer above cries out urging me onto the sea and my breast not resisting to go over that trackless expanse. For in this way I feel warmer in the Lord’s joy than in this purposeless life, fleeting away on land. I do not believe at all that these earthly riches will stand everlasting. There are always the three circumstances under which each one meets his time to become transformed: disease, old age, or the violence of the sword doom the departure of the soul out of the body. For those that, when speaking about the dead, nobles praise as having the best reputations, know that it was brought about by the one that has died through his good deeds on Earth against the enemy’s wickedness, and brave deeds against the Devil. This is what the man’s children shall afterwards praise, and his praise afterwards shall live among the angels always and forever, in eternal life’s glory, and joy with the heavenly host. The Days have departed for all the splendor of the Earthan kingdoms; there are not now Kings nor emperors nor gold-giving lords such as there once were, for on their own glory they filled and on magnificent renown lived. Perish did all this nobility, their joyous days have passed; remain still the weak who inhabit this world, possessed through toil. Their glory is cast down. Earthan nobility grows old and wither just as now each man through-out the entire world; on him old age overtakes his skin and grows pale, while he grieves for his gray-hair and remembrances of old friends, young princes now given to the Earth.

(Lines 94-124) There is no man whose body, while its life has been lost, will devour sweetness or feel pain or stir his hands or consider things among his thoughts. Even though at that grave his brother will desire to spread gold, and to bury the dead with various treasures so that he will be with them, there is not a soul who is full of sin whose gold can compensate for God’s awful power, or for that which was buried instead of those that here have faith. Great be the Creator’s awful power, for it is he that changes the Earth; it is that which makes a steadfast firm foundation for the Earthan expanse and the heavens above. Foolish be he who holds his Lord not dear: to him comes death unexpected. Blessed be he who lives humbly: to him comes the grace of heaven. The Creator makes steadfast the spirit for those that are able to have faith. The man that shall control his headstrong spirit, and on that foundation live, then the way of that trustworthy man is pure. Each man shall govern with temperance, whether it be with love toward loved ones or with hateful malice toward enemies, though he may himself be wished by his past friend to become full of fire or else on a pyre consumed. Destiny is strong, and the Creator is mightier than any man’s conception. Let us consider where our home is, and then let us think how we may come to it, and moreover how we must strive to be allowed into that eternal happiness that is depended upon our lives in the love of our Lord, and joyous expectation in heaven. This be the Holy thanks that he honors us with, our glorious Prince, the everlasting Lord in all time. Amen.

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