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.
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(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.