Songs of Wild Swans

The Seafarer, the Exeter Book, 10th century

I sing my own true story, tell my travels,
How I have often suffered times of hardship
In days of toil, and have experienced
Bitter anxiety, my troubled home
On many a ship has been the heaving waves,
Where grim night-watch has often been my lot
At the ship’s prow as it beat past the cliffs.
Oppressed by cold my feet were bound by frost
In icy bonds, while worries simmered hot
About my heart, and hunger from within
Tore the sea-weary spirit. He knows not,
Who lives most easily on land, how I
Have spent my winter on the ice-cold sea,
Wretched and anxious, in the paths of exile,
Lacking dear friends, hung around by icicles,
Where hail flew past in showers. There heard I nothing
But the resounding sea, the ice-cold waves.
Sometimes I made the song of the wild swan
My pleasure, or the gannet’s call, the cries
Of curlews for the missing mirth of men,
The singing gull instead of mead in hall.
Storms beat the rocky cliffs, and icy-winged
The tern replied, the horn-beaked eagle shrieked.
No patron had I there who might have soothed
My desolate spirit. He can little know
Who, proud and flushed with wine, has spent his time
With all the joys of life among the cities,
Safe from such fearful venturings, how I
Have often suffered weary on the seas.
Night shadows darkened, snow came from the north,
Frost bound the earth and hail fell on the ground,
Coldest of corns. And yet the heart’s desires
Incite me now that I myself should go
On towering seas, among the salt waves’ play;
And constantly the heartfelt wishes urge
The spirit to venture, that I should o forth
To the see the lands of strangers far away.
Yet no man in the world’s so proud of heart,
So generous of gifts, so hold in youth,
In deeds so brave, or with so loyal lord,
That he can ever venture on the sea
Without great fears of what the Lord may bring.
His mind dwells not on the harmonious harp,
On ring-receiving, or the joy of woman,
Or worldly hopes, or anything at all
But the relentless rolling of the waves;
But he who goes to sea must ever yearn.
The grove bear blossom, cities grow more bright,
The fields adorn themselves, the world speeds up;
Yet all this urges forth the eager spirit
Of him who then desires to travel far
On the sea-paths. Likewise the cuckoo calls
With boding voice, the harbinger of summer
Offers but bitter sorrow in the breast.
The man who’s blessed with comfort does not know
What some then suffer who most widely travel
The paths of exile. Even now my heart
Journeys beyond its confines, and my thoughts
Over the sea, across the whale’s domain,
Travel afar the regions of the earth,
And then come back to me with greed and longing.
The cuckoo cries, incites the eager breast
On to the whale’s roads irresistably,
Over the wide expanses of the sea,
Because the joys of God mean more to me
Than this dead transitory life on land.
That earthly wealth lasts into eternity
I don’t believe. Always one of three things
Keeps all in doubt until one’s destined hour.
Sickness, old age, the sword, each one of these
May end the lives of doomed and transient men.
Therefore for every warrior the best
Memorial is the praise of living men
After his death, that ere he must depart
He shall have done good deeds on earth against
The malice of his foes, and noble works
Against the devil, and the sons of men
May after praise him, and glory live
For ever with the angels in the splendor
Of lasting life, in bliss amongst these hosts.
The great old days have gone, and all the grandeur
Of earth; there are not Caesars now or kings
Or patrons such as once there used to be,
Amongst whom were performed most glorious deeds,
Who lived in lordliest renown. Gone now
Is all that host, the splendors have departed.
Weaker men live and occupy the world,
Enjoy it but with care. Fame is brought low,
Earthly nobility grows old, decays,
As now throughout the world does every man.
Age comes on him, his countenance grows pale,
Gray-haired he mourns, and knows his former lords,
The sons of princes, given to the earth.
Nor when his life slips from him may his body
Taste sweetness or feel pain or stir his hand
Or use his mind to think. And though a brother
May strew with gold his brother’s grave, and bury
His corpse among the dead with heaps of treasure,
Wishing them to go with him, yet can gold
Bring no help to the soul that’s full of sins,
Against God’s wrath, although he hide it here
Ready before his death while yet he lives.
Great is the mighty of God, by which earth moves;
For He established its foundations firm,
The land’s expanses, and the sky above.
Foolish is he that does not fear his Lord,
For death will come upon him unprepared.
Blessed is he who humble lives; for grace
Shall come to him from heaven. The Creator
Shall make his spirit steadfast, for his faith
Is in God’s might. Man must control himself
With strength of mind, and firmly hold to that,
True to his pledges, pure in all his ways.
With moderation should each man behave
In all his dealings with both friend and foe.
No man will wish the friend he’s made to burn
In fires of hell, or on an earthly pyre,
Yet fate is mightier, the Lord’s ordaining
More powerful than any man can know.
Let us think where we have our real home,
And then consider how we may have come thither;
And let us labor also, so that we
May pass into eternal blessedness,
Where life belongs amid the love of God,
Hope in the heavens. The Holy One be thanked
That He has raised us up, the Prince of Glory,
Lord without end, to all eternity.
Amen.

 

Dead Can Dance — Ocean

Echo and the Bunnymen — Ocean Rain

Pelican — March into the Sea

A Place to Bury Strangers — Ocean

Model 500 — Ocean to Ocean

Jane’s Addiction — Ocean Size

Leaf Hound — Sad Road to the Sea

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~ by atomlattice on June 4, 2008.

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