[Below is my translation of the OE poem The Seafarer. The image above is ‘Contact’, an installation by the Japanese art collective 目 (pronounced Mé) presently in the Mori Art Museum.]
May I by my self reckon a strong song,
share my sea-travels, speak of struck sufferings,
weary weeks of wakeful worrying,
how burdens of bitterness brought me low.
a wrangling wavewash often worked me
nervy nightwatches navigating the ship
lest we be cliff-crashed. Cold-throttled
were my feet, frost-fixed,
hot in my heart, hunger slating my innards
marineweary mood. Most men never know it.
A fellow on farmland? Fine things befall him!
But I, always illstruck on an icecold sea,
bereft of fine kinsmen,
hung heavy with icicles harangued by hail.
Nothing to hear but the howling sea
and its icecold surge. A swan's song
and curlews' cries came to me as a comfort:
seamews' moans instead of mead-drinking!
Storms beat the stonecliffs where the terns sang
icy-feathered; eagles' fanfares
made this mourning man more comfortable.
Little does he realise, life's lucky-one
abiding in some borough far from all bad things,
proud, tipsy on wine, whilst I'm punchdrunk
Nightshadows enlarge. Snow gnarls from the north;
ice seals the soil; hail is sown on the ground,
glacial grains. How grievous now are
my heart's hard thoughts, and these high streams
Months mark my desire, measuring when next
I again unfurl sails heading far from here
to the stranger's land that I set out to seek.
For there is no man so majestic on earth,
no longshanks so lionhearted, none so loved by his lord,
but that as soon as he sails anxiety assaults him:
dreading what his lord might do with him.
No harp's glissando nor gifts of rings,
nor anything else either except ocean's agitation.
But he's driven by wanting, at war with the waves.
Forests blossom burghs become fairer,
the wolds look wonderful, the world renews
is inspirited to sail out, and sets itself to
follow the floodways as a far-traveller.
It's the cuckoo's counsel, her melancholy call:
summer's ward sings a prophecy of sorrow and
(though a celebrated soldier!) what others suffer
those that wander wide through exile's wilderness.
While my soul writhes under my ribs,
my spirit soars skimming the saltwater
to all earth's corners, coming back to me
eager, still greedy, a gabbling one-flier,
urging the whale-way on the unresisting heart
over heaving seas. Hotter for me the
brief on earth's bosom. I do not believe
that all this earth-wealth ultimately endures.
One of three things through it all
is destined to dissolve all dubeity:
will dig out the soul from those doomed-to-die.
It's this way for all of us: afterwards, eulogies and
love from the living the best last words,
this one's works before he went his ways:
his daring deeds defying those devils,
heirs yet unborn will be in awe of him,
and his after-fame will abide with the angels
always and ever, the honour of eternal life,
the regal renown of earthly riches.
There are not kings nor great commanders,
nor wealthgivers as once there were,
those mighty men who accomplished marvels,
That delight's dead now: the dream has departed.
Weaker ones now dwell with the world their holding;
hard-work made it theirs. Higher glory is humbled,
earth's nobleness and all its ages evaporate,
Old-age overtakes him, obscures his face:
his grey-hairs grieve for the friends who have gone,
aristocratic offspring all interred in the ground.
His flesh unfastens itself as his soul's fire fails,
no heft in his hand nor thought in his head.
Though his graveside will be strewn with gold
by brothers of his blood though they bury with him
cornucopias of cash you can't take it with you.
grasp such gold given God's displeasure,
though he'd hidden it all when he still had his health.
In awe of the Almighty earth averts her eyes.
It was He gave us the hefty ground,
Only a fool doesn't fear God; death finds such a fellow faceless.
The holy man is humbler husked in heaven's mercy,
the Maker sets his mind steady, who fathoms His might.
Man must steer a strong spirit, and keep a settled course,
his men must be mustered effectively
love him in the light times and be loyal in the dark.
He must firm his will to the final fall of fire
when the funeral pyre flames balefully
the Maker much mightier than any man's mind.
Come, consider where we can locate home,
and then think hard how best to get thither,
to make every effort, so that we might
whose life relies on loving the Lord,
in the hope of heaven. Thanks to the Holy One,
that he gave to the world, this gift of Glory,
everlasting God, in all the earth's ages!