Saturday, June 25, 2005

The Seafarer, part I

Anonymous, translated from Anglo-Saxon

This tale is true, and mine. It tells
How the sea took me, swept me back
And forth in sorrow and fear and pain,
Showed me suffering in a hundred ships,
In a thousand ports, and in me. It tells
Of smashing surf when I sweated in the cold
Of an anxious watch, perched in the bow
As it dashed under cliffs. My feet were cast
In icy bands, bound with frost,
With frozen chains, and hardship groaned
Around my heart. Hunger tore
At my sea-weary soul. No man sheltered
On the quiet fairness of earth can feel
How wretched I was, drifting through winter
On an ice-cold sea, whirled in sorrow,
Alone in a world blown clear of love,
Hung with icicles. The hailstorms flew.
The only sound was the roaring sea,
The freezing waves. The song of the swan
Might serve for pleasure, the cry of the sea-fowl,
The death-noise of birds instead of laughter,
The mewing of gulls instead of mead.
Storms beat on the rocky cliffs and were echoed
By ice-feathered terns and the eagles screams;
No kinsman could offer comfort there,
To a soul left drowning in desolation.

* * *

I know this is probably not the best translation available, but it's the one I learned in school. I liked it so well I've memorized close to half of the whole poem (so far).

I am going to post the whole poem, hopefully, spread out over my next few posts.

The first part of the poem is very simple: it deals with the desolation of the sea. This is no romanticized poem about sailing. It is about "sorrow and fear and pain." The ocean is cold; it is unsympathetic. One who sails must go hungry, be lonely, endure the cold. There is nothing comforting here, only the crying of birds.

The speaker knows this: "This tale is true, and mine." He has experienced the suffering the sea has inflicted on him. He is not so much complaining as pointing out, "This is how it is. Take it from me, it's not easy."

No comments: