The Seafarer

Original Text: 
The Exeter Book, ed. George Philip Krapp and Elliott van Kirk Dobbie (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936): 143-47.
          [I can utter a true tale about myself,]
2siþas secgan, hu ic geswincdagum
          [tell of my travels, how in laboursome days]
3earfoðhwile oft þrowade,
          [a time of hardship I often suffered,]
4bitre breostceare gebiden hæbbe,
          [how bitter sorrow in my breast I have borne,]
5gecunnad in ceole cearselda fela,
          [made trial on shipboard of many sorrowful abodes; ]
6atol yþa gewealc, þær mec oft bigeat
          [dread was the rolling of the waves; there my task was often]
7nearo nihtwaco æt nacan stefnan,
          [the hard night-watch at the boat's prow,]
8þonne he be clifum cnossað. Calde geþrungen
          [when it tosses by the cliffs. Afflicted with cold,]
9wæron mine fet, forste gebunden,
          [my feet were fettered by frost,]
10caldum clommum, þær þa ceare seofedun
          [by chilling bonds. There my sorrows sighed forth,]
11hat ymb heortan; hungor innan slat
          [intensely round my heart; within, hunger rent]
12merewerges mod. Þæt se mon ne wat
          [the mind of the sea-weary man. The man knows not ]
13þe him on foldan fægrost limpeð,
          [who on land fares most prosperously]
14hu ic earmcearig iscealdne sæ
          [how I, sad and wretched, on the ice-cold sea]
15winter wunade wræccan lastum,
          [have spent a winter as an exile,]
16winemægum bidroren,
          [cut off from kinsmen,]
17bihongen hrimgicelum; hægl scurum fleag.
          [hung round with icicles. The hail flew in showers.]
18Þær ic ne gehyrde butan hlimman sæ,
          [I heard nothing there but the sea booming,]
19iscaldne wæg. Hwilum ylfete song
          [the ice-cold wave, at times the cry of the whooper swan.]
20dyde ic me to gomene, ganetes hleoþor
          [I took my joy in the cry of the gannet]
21ond huilpan sweg fore hleahtor wera,
          [and the sound of the curlew instead of men's laughter,]
22mæw singende fore medodrince.
          [the screaming gull instead of mead-drink.]
23Stormas þær stanclifu beotan, þær him stearn oncwæð
          [Storms beat there on the stone-cliffs, where the tern answered them]
24isigfeþera; ful oft þæt earn bigeal,
          [with icy feathers; very often the eagle screamed,]
25urigfeþra; ne ænig hleomæga
          [dewy-feathered; no protector]
          [could comfort the desolate heart.]
27Forþon him gelyfeð lyt, se þe ah lifes wyn
          [Yet little he believes who has joy in life,]
28gebiden in burgum, bealosiþa hwon,
          [who stays at home, seldom painfully voyaging,]
29wlonc ond wingal, hu ic werig oft
          [proud and flushed with wine, how often I weary ]
30in brimlade bidan sceolde.
          [endured on the ocean-way.]
31Nap nihtscua, norþan sniwde,
          [The shadow of night darkened, it snowed from the north,]
32hrim hrusan bond, hægl feol on eorþan,
          [frost bound the earth, hail fell on the earth,]
33corna caldast. Forþon cnyssað nu
          [coldest of grain. Yet now stir]
34heortan geþohtas, þæt ic hean streamas,
          [the thoughts of my heart that I the towering seas,]
35sealtyþa gelac sylf cunnige;
          [the tossing salt-waves, alone venture;]
36monað modes lust mæla gehwylce
          [the heart's desire urges at all times ]
37ferð to feran, þæt ic feor heonan
          [to fare onwards so that I far hence]
          [seek out the land of the alien.]
39Forþon nis þæs modwlonc mon ofer eorþan,
          [Yet there is no man on earth so proud ]
40ne his gifena þæs god, ne in geoguþe to þæs hwæt,
          [nor so good in gift-giving, so bold in youth,]
41ne in his dædum to þæs deor, ne him his dryhten to þæs hold,
          [so daring in his deeds, with a lord so gracious to him,]
42þæt he a his sæfore sorge næbbe,
          [that he has no anxiety in sea-faring]
43to hwon hine dryhten gedon wille.
          [as to what the lord will bring him.]
44Ne biþ him to hearpan hyge ne to hringþege,
          [He thinks not of the harp, the receiving of rings,]
45ne to wife wyn ne to worulde hyht,
          [the delight of a woman, the joy of the world,]
46ne ymbe owiht elles, nefne ymb yða gewealc,
          [nor anything else save the welter of waves,]
47ac a hafað longunge se þe on lagu fundað.
          [he always lacks peace of mind who sets out on the sea.]
48Bearwas blostmum nimað, byrig fægriað,
          [The woods put forth blossoms, the towns are fair,]
          [the meadows shine, the world quickens;]
50ealle þa gemoniað modes fusne
          [all these incite the eager-minded]
51sefan to siþe, þam þe swa þenceð
          [heart to a journey, he who so intends]
          [travelling far on the flood-ways.]
53Swylce geac monað geomran reorde,
          [Even so the cuckoo urges with sad voice,]
54singeð sumeres weard, sorge beodeð
          [summer's warder sings, bodes sorrow]
55bitter in breosthord. Þæt se beorn ne wat,
          [bitter in the breast-hoard. The man does not know,]
          [the prosperous man, what they suffer]
57þe þa wræclastas widost lecgað.
          [who most widely set on the tracks of exile.]
58Forþon nu min hyge hweorfeð ofer hreþerlocan,
          [That's why my thought turns in my breast,]
59min modsefa mid mereflode
          [my mind amid the sea-flood]
60ofer hwæles eþel hweorfeð wide,
          [across the whale's home turns widely,]
61eorþan sceatas, cymeð eft to me
          [the earth's expanse, comes again to me]
          [eager and greedy, the lone-flyer screams,]
          [urges on the whale-way the heart relentlessly]
64ofer holma gelagu. Forþon me hatran sind
          [over the ocean's expanse. That's why warm me]
65dryhtnes dreamas þonne þis deade lif,
          [more the joys of the lord than this dead life,]
66læne on londe. Ic gelyfe no
          [brief on earth. I do not believe]
          [that earthly wealth will stand eternal.]
68Simle þreora sum þinga gehwylce,
          [Always one of three things,]
          [before its time comes, proves uncertain;]
70adl oþþe yldo oþþe ecghete
          [sickness or age or sword-hatred]
71fægum fromweardum feorh oðþringeð.
          [from the fated, about-to-die wrests away life.]
          [Therefore will those speaking of a warrior,]
73lof lifgendra lastworda betst,
          [praise by the living, best final words]
74þæt he gewyrce, ær he on weg scyle,
          [that he work for, before he goes away,]
          [good acts on earth against the malice of fiends,]
76deorum dædum deofle togeanes,
          [brave deeds against the devil,]
77þæt hine ælda bearn æfter hergen,
          [so that the children of men after praise him]
78ond his lof siþþan lifge mid englum
          [and his fame afterwards lives with the angels]
          [for ever and ever, eternal life's glory, ]
80dream mid dugeþum. Dagas sind gewitene,
          [joy among the hosts. The days are gone,]
81ealle onmedlan eorþan rices;
          [all the magnificence of earthly kingdoms;]
82næron nu cyningas ne caseras
          [now neither kings nor kaisers]
83ne goldgiefan swylce iu wæron,
          [nor gold-givers are what they were,]
84þonne hi mæst mid him mærþa gefremedon
          [when they performed greatest deeds between them,]
85ond on dryhtlicestum dome lifdon.
          [and lived in lordly renown.]
86Gedroren is þeos duguð eal, dreamas sind gewitene,
          [All this host is fallen, joys have gone,]
87wuniað þa wacran ond þas woruld healdaþ,
          [the weak remain and keep the world,]
88brucað þurh bisgo. Blæd is gehnæged,
          [possess it in trouble. Glory is brought low,]
89eorþan indryhto ealdað ond searað,
          [the nobleness of the world ages and withers,]
90swa nu monna gehwylc geond middangeard.
          [as now does each man through middle-earth.]
91Yldo him on fareð, onsyn blacað,
          [Old age comes to him, his face pales,]
92gomelfeax gnornað, wat his iuwine,
          [gray-haired he mourns, knows that his former friends,]
93æþelinga bearn, eorþan forgiefene.
          [the sons of nobles, are given over to the earth.]
94Ne mæg him þonne se flæschoma, þonne him þæt feorg losað,
          [Nor can his flesh-home, when his life fails,]
95ne swete forswelgan ne sar gefelan,
          [eat sweet things, nor feel pain,]
96ne hond onhreran ne mid hyge þencan.
          [nor move his hand, nor think with his mind.]
97Þeah þe græf wille golde stregan
          [Although he strew the grave with gold,]
98broþor his geborenum, byrgan be deadum,
          [bury his blood-brother among the dead]
99maþmum mislicum þæt hine mid wille,
          [with various treasures that will go with him,]
100ne mæg þære sawle þe biþ synna ful
          [the soul that's full of sin cannot]
101gold to geoce for godes egsan,
          [avail itself of gold against God's terror,]
102þonne he hit ær hydeð þenden he her leofað.
          [when he before hides it while he lives here.]
103Micel biþ se meotudes egsa, forþon hi seo molde oncyrreð;
          [Great is the Almighty's power before which the earth will blench;]
104se gestaþelade stiþe grundas,
          [he established the firm land,]
105eorþan sceatas ond uprodor.
          [the earth's expanse, the heavens above.]
106Dol biþ se þe him his dryhten ne ondrædeþ; cymeð him se deað unþinged.
          [Foolish is he who fears not his lord; death comes to him unexpectedly.]
107Eadig bið se þe eaþmod leofaþ; cymeð him seo ar of heofonum,
          [Blessed is he who lives humbly; grace comes to him from heaven,]
108meotod him þæt mod gestaþelað, forþon he in his meahte gelyfeð.
          [God establishes that spirit in him because he believes in his might.]
          [Man must control a headstrong spirit, and keep it in place, ]
110ond gewis werum, wisum clæne,
          [and true to men, pure in way of life,]
111scyle monna gehwylc mid gemete healdan
          [every man must moderate]
          [his evil intent towards the loved and the hated,]
          [although he wishes engulfed in fire]
114oþþe on bæle forbærnedne
          [or in conflagration consumed]
          [the friend he has made. Fate is stronger,]
116meotud meahtigra þonne ænges monnes gehygd.
          [God more mighty, than any man's thought.]
          [Let is remember where we have our home, ]
118ond þonne geþencan hu we þider cumen,
          [and then think how we come thither,]
119ond we þonne eac tilien, þæt we to moten
          [and then also that we labour insofar as we are allowed]
120in þa ecan eadignesse,
          [in eternal blessedness,]
121þær is lif gelong in lufan dryhtnes,
          [where the source of life is in loving the lord,]
122hyht in heofonum. Þæs sy þam halgan þonc,
          [joy in heaven. Thanks be to the holy one]
123þæt he usic geweorþade, wuldres ealdor,
          [for honouring us, the prince of glory,]
124ece dryhten, in ealle tid. Amen.
          [the eternal lord, in all time. Amen.]


1] The translation is the RPO editor's. Cf. Ezra Pound's translation of the poem. Back to Line
26] frefan: feran in MS Back to Line
38] the land of the alien: heaven, to which pilgrims journey. Back to Line
49] wlitigiað: wlitigað in MS. Back to Line
52] gewitan: gewitað in MS. Back to Line
56] esteadig: eft eadig in MS. Back to Line
62] anfloga: probably the cuckoo. Back to Line
63] hwælweg: wæl weg in MS. Back to Line
67] stondað: stondeð in MS. Back to Line
69] tid aga: tide ge in MS. Back to Line
72] bið: not in MS. Back to Line
75] fremum: fremman in MS. Back to Line
79] blæd: blæð in MS. Back to Line
109] mon: mod in MS. Back to Line
112] Probably omitted words after laþne. Back to Line
113] Probably omitted words after fulne.he: presumably the hated one. Back to Line
115] swiþre: swire in MS.he: presumably the seafarer. Back to Line
117] we: se in MS. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
Publication Notes: 
The manuscript, presented to the Library of Exeter Cathedral by Bishop Leofric by 1072, was probably written in West Wessex about 970-990.
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: