The Seafarer

Anónimo, en Sajón, circa 900 A.D.



Translation of 'The Seafarer by Kevin Crossley-Holland

I can sing a true song about myself,

tell of my travels, how in days of tribulation

I often endured a time of hardship,

how I have harboured bitter sorrow in my heart

and often learned that ships are homes of sadness.

Wild were the waves when I often took my turn,

the arduous night-watch, standing at the prow

while the boat tossed near the rocks. My feet

were afflicted by cold, fettered in frost,

frozen chains; there I sighed out the sorrows

seething round my heart; a hunger within tore

at the mind of the sea-weary man. He who lives

most prosperously on land does not understand

how I, careworn and cut off from my kinsmen,

have as an exile endured a winter

on the icy sea . . .

hung round with icicles; hail showers flew.

I heard nothing there but the sea booming—

the ice-cold wave, at times the song of the swan.

The cry of the gannet was all my gladness,

the call of the curlew, not the laughter of men,

the mewing gull, not the sweetness of mead.

There, storms beat the rocky cliffs; the icy-feathered

tern answered them; and often the eagle,

dewy-winged, screeched overhead. No protector

could console the cheerless heart.

Wherefore he who is used to the comforts of life

and, proud and flushed with wine, suffers

little hardship living in the city,

will scarcely believe how I, weary,

have had to make the ocean paths my home.

The night-shadow grew long, it snowed from the north,

frost fettered the earth; hail fell on the ground,

coldest of grain. But now my blood

is stirred that I should make trial

of the mountainous streams, the tossing salt waves;

my heart's longings always urge me

to undertake a journey, to visit the country

of a foreign people far across the sea.

On earth there is no man so self-assured,

so generous with his gifts or so bold in his youth,

so daring in his deeds or with such a gracious lord,

that he harbours no fears about his seafaring

as to what the Lord will ordain for him.

He thinks not of the harp nor of receiving rings,

nor of rapture in a woman nor of worldly joy,

nor of anything but the rolling of the waves;

the seafarer will always feel longings.

The groves burst with blossom, towns become fair,

meadows grow green, the world revives;

all these things urge the heart of the eager man

to set out on a journey, he who means

to travel far over the ocean paths.

And the cuckoo, too, harbinger of summer,

sings in a mournful voice, boding bitter sorrow

to the heart. The prosperous man knows not

what some men endure who tread

the paths of exile to the end of the world.

Wherefore my heart leaps within me,

my mind roams with the waves

over the whale's domain, it wanders far and wide

across the face of the earth, returns again to me

eager and unsatisfied; the solitary bird screams,

irresistible, urges the heart to the whale's way

over the stretch of the seas.