Sunday, June 26, 2005

The Seafarer, part II

And who could believe, knowing but
The passion of cities, swelled proud with wine
And no taste of misfortune, how often, how wearily,
I put myself back on the paths of the sea.
Night would blacken; it would snow from the north;
Frost bound the earth and hail would fall,
The coldest seeds. And how my heart
Would begin to beat, knowing once more
The salt waves tossing and the towering sea!
The time for journeys would come and my soul
Called me eagerly out, sent me over
The horizon, seeking foreigners' homes.

But there isn't a man on earth so proud,
So born in greatness, so bold with his youth,
Grown so grave, or so graced by God,
That he feels no fear as the sails unfurl,
Wondering what Fate has willed and will do.
No harps ring in his heart, no rewards,
No passion for women, no worldly pleasures,
Nothing, only the ocean's heave;
But longing wraps itself around him.
Orchards blossom, the towns bloom,
Fields grow lovely as the world springs fresh,
And all these admonish that willing mind
Leaping to journeys, always set
In thoughts traveling on a quickening tide.
So summer's sentinel, the cuckoo, sings
In his murmuring voice, and our hearts mourn
As he urges. Who could understand,
In ignorant ease, what we others suffer
As the paths of exile stretch endlessly on?

And yet my heart wanders away,
My soul roams with the sea, the whales'
Home, wandering to the wildest corners
Of the world, returning ravenous with desire,
Flying solitary, screaming, exciting me
To the open ocean, breaking oaths
On the curve of a wave.

* * *

The first part continues the contrast of the previous section between the gentle life of land and the hard life of sea. There is more discussion of cold and weariness. Then the mood shifts with "And how my heart would begin to beat." We see that the speaker is excited by the sea as well. The cold and danger only challenge him to continue. The exhilaration of the tossing waves and the thrill of going where he has never gone make him go to sea once again.

The next part is about the dangers of the sea, enough to humble any man on earth and make him afraid. A man who wishes to court the sea must leave, temporarily at least, any desire for rewards or pleasure. Spring comes on land, lovely and fresh, but the coming of spring also means it is time again for journeys. The song of springtime birds call the seafarer, not to enjoy the blooming earth, but to return once again to the exile that is his life.

But the last part contrasts with the thought of exile. The seafarer wants to go. When he is not at sea, he dreams of it. His heart is always at sea, exploring it, roaming with the whales among the waves.

I don't understand the lines "breaking oaths / On the curve of a wave." I'll have to look up the original and see if it makes things clearer. Can anyone guess what it might be referring to?


Anonymous said...

As waves break, so his ties with others are broken as he travels on. He compares his broken ties with the crashing of waves. Does that make sense?

Sheila said...

Oh, yes it does. That's probably it. Thanks!

Rachel said...

hello. i found this page on a google search, looking for sources with this poem on it. i'm a cellist, and my friend who is a composer by the name of Kevin Clark wrote a piece in which I narrate this poem and play an accompaniment on cello. it's very intense. you can hear it for yourself at my myspace music page, I'll warn you, though, it's a much more dramatic version than I like. I've mellowed it way down since. And as soon as I have a recording of the new way I perform it, it will be up there. Cheers, and it was helpful to me to read your commentary on this poem. :)