Editor's Note: Originally part of The Exeter Book, this is a translation (from Old English) by
Benjamin Thorpe, circa 1842. See
Words in italics are conjectural, primarily articles.
I of myself can
a true tale relate,
my fortunes recount,
how I, in days of toil,
a time of hardship
prov'd in the ship
strange mishaps many.
The fell rolling of the waves has me there oft drench'd:
an anxious night-watch,
at the vessel's prow,
when on the cliffs it strikes,
pierc'd with cold
were my feet,
bound with frost,
with cold bonds.
There cares sigh'd
hot around my heart,
hunger tore me within,
the sea-wolf's rage.
That the man knows not,
to whom on land
all falls out most joyfully,
how I miserable and sad,
on the ice-cold sea
a winter pass'd,
with exile traces;
(Here a line is omitted.)
of dear kindred bereft,
hung o'er with icicles,
the hail in showers flew;
where I heard nought
save the sea roaring,
the ice-cold wave.
At times the swan's song
I made to me for pastime,
the ganet's cry,
and the hu-ilpe's note;
for men's laughter,
storms there the stone cliffs beat;
there them the starling answer'd,
icy of wings.
Full of the eagle scream'd,
dewy of wings.
Though there is no hiatus in the MS., some lines are evidently wanting.
no hospitable kinsman;
he a poor soul
for he little believes,
who has the joy of life
experienced in cities,
elate and wine-flush'd,
how I weary oft,
in the ocean-way
night's shadow darken'd,
from the north it snow'd,
frost bound the land,
hail fell on the earth,
coldest of grains;
therefore it oppresses now
my heart's thoughts,
that I the deep streams,
the salt wave's sport,
myself shall prove.
(Though my mind's desire exhorts
at all times,
my soul, to go,
that I far hence,
the habitation seek;)
for there is not so elate of mind,
any man on earth,
nor in his qualities so good,
nor in youth so ardent,
nor in his deeds so estimable,
nor to him his Lord so benignant,
that he never on his sea-voyage
as to what the Lord with him
He has to the harp no mind,
nor to the receipt of rings,
nor delight in woman,
nor in the world joy,
nor of aught else thinks,
save of the rolling of the waves;
but ever weariness has
he who on the deep ventures.
The groves increase with flowers,
towns appear fair,
the plains seem beautiful,
the world hastens on:
all these admonish
the prompt of mind
to go on journey;
those who so think,
on the flood-ways,
far to depart.
So also the cuckoo exhorts
with mournful voice,
the summer's warden sings,
bitter in its heart.
The man knows it not,
the favour'd mortal,
what some endure,
who their exile traces
for now my thought wanders
o'er my breast's recess;
with the sea-flood,
over the whale's home,
come again to me:
eager and greedy
yells the lone bird,
urges on the whale-way
over ocean's flood:
for to me more exciting are
the Lord's joys,
than this dead life,
transient on the land.
I believe not
that its earthly wealth
will stand for ever.
Ever either one
of three things,
ere it take place,
will be doubtful; -
disease, or age,
or hostile edge-hate,
from the fated to departure
life will expel;
therefore that to every man
last words is best:
that he work,
(ere he must away)
act on earth,
against the hate of foes;
by estimable deeds,
against the devil;
so that him the sons of men
may after praise,
and his fame thenceforth
live with angels
in the blessing of eternal life,
joy with the good.
Days are pass'd away,
all the pomps
of earth's kingdom;
kings are not now,
such as were of yore,
when they most among themselves
and in most lordly
power liv'd: fall'n is this splendour all,
joys are pass'd away;
the weaker remain,
and this world hold,
enjoy in toil.
Glory is humbled,
the honours of earth
wax old and sere:
as now every man
age comes on him,
his face waxes pale;
hoary-lock'd he grieves,
knows that his friends of old,
sons of noble ones,
are to earth committed;
may not his body then,
when life escapes him,
nor sweets consume,
nor pain feel,
nor a hand move,
nor with its mind think:
though the grave will
strew o'er with gold
a brother his brother's,
heap for the dead
with various treasures,
he will not that take with him.
May not to the soul
that is full of sins
gold be for help,
before God's terror,
when he ere hides it,
while he here lives.
(I suspect that a leaf here is wanting, and that what follows is the end of another poem.)
Great is the dread of the Creator,
for the mould shall them return:
the rugg'd depths,
and heaven above.
Foolish is he who his Lord dreads not,
death comes to him unsolicited:
happy is he who humbly lives,
to him comes mercy from heaven;
the Creator his mind strengthens,
because he in his might believes.
A man shall govern with strong mind,
and that with firmness hold,
and certain towards men,
in its ways pure.
Every man ought
moderation to preserve
towards his friend,
Here [for the next five lines] the text seems very defective, though there is no hiatus in the MS.
and towards his foe
* * *
though he will him
of fire full,
* * *
or on the pile
one become his friend.
Fate is hard,
the Creator mightier
than any man's thought.
Let us consider
where we may have a home,
and then think
how we may thither come,
and then also prepare ourselves,
that we may go thereto,
into the eternal happiness,
where life depends
on the Lord's love,
joy in heaven;
therefore be to the Holy thanks,
that he us hath honour'd,
the Chief of glory,
the Lord eternal,
in all time.
- Anonymous Anglo-Saxon poem from the Exeter Book, translation by Benjamin Thorpe in 1842. What follows is a transcription of the original, untranslated text.
Oft him anhaga are gebideð,
metudes miltse, þeah þe he modcearig
geond lagulade longe sceolde
hreran mid hondum hrimcealde sæ,
wadan wræclastas. Wyrd bið ful ared!
Swa cwæð eardstapa, earfeþa gemyndig,
wraþra wælsleahta, winemæga hryre:
"Oft ic sceolde ana uhtna gehwylce
mine ceare cwiþan. Nis nu cwicra nan
þe ic him modsefan minne durre
sweotule asecgan. Ic to soþe wat
þæt biþ in eorle indryhten þeaw,
þæt he his ferðlocan fæste binde,
healde his hordcofan, hycge swa he wille.
Ne mæg werig mod wyrde wiðstondan,
ne se hreo hyge helpe gefremman.
Forðon domgeorne dreorigne oft
in hyra breostcofan bindað fæste;
swa ic modsefan minne sceolde,
oft earmcearig, eðle bidæled,
freomægum feor feterum sælan,
siþþan geara iu goldwine minne
hrusan heolstre biwrah, ond ic hean þonan
wod wintercearig ofer waþema gebind,
sohte sele dreorig sinces bryttan,
hwær ic feor oþþe neah findan meahte
þone þe in meoduhealle min mine wisse,
oþþe mec freondleasne frefran wolde,
weman mid wynnum. Wat se þe cunnað,
hu sliþen bið sorg to geferan,
þam þe him lyt hafað leofra geholena.
Warað hine wræclast, nales wunden gold,
ferðloca freorig, nalæs foldan blæd.
Gemon he selesecgas ond sincþege,
hu hine on geoguðe his goldwine
wenede to wiste. Wyn eal gedreas!
Forþon wat se þe sceal his winedryhtnes
leofes larcwidum longe forþolian,
ðonne sorg ond slæp somod ætgædre
earmne anhogan oft gebindað.
þinceð him on mode þæt he his mondryhten
clyppe ond cysse, ond on cneo lecge
honda ond heafod, swa he hwilum ær
in geardagum giefstolas breac.
ðonne onwæcneð eft wineleas guma,
gesihð him biforan fealwe wegas,
baþian brimfuglas, brædan feþra,
hreosan hrim ond snaw, hagle gemenged.
þonne beoð þy hefigran heortan benne,
sare æfter swæsne. Sorg bið geniwad,
þonne maga gemynd mod geondhweorfeð;
greteð gliwstafum, georne geondsceawað
secga geseldan. Swimmað eft on weg!
Fleotendra ferð no þær fela bringeð
cuðra cwidegiedda. Cearo bið geniwad
þam þe sendan sceal swiþe geneahhe
ofer waþema gebind werigne sefan.
Forþon ic geþencan ne mæg geond þas woruld
for hwan modsefa min ne gesweorce,
þonne ic eorla lif eal geondþence,
hu hi færlice flet ofgeafon,
modge maguþegnas. Swa þes middangeard
ealra dogra gehwam dreoseð ond fealleþ,
forþon ne mæg weorþan wis wer, ær he age
wintra dæl in woruldrice. Wita sceal geþyldig,
ne sceal no to hatheort ne to hrædwyrde,
ne to wac wiga ne to wanhydig,
ne to forht ne to fægen, ne to feohgifre
ne næfre gielpes to georn, ær he geare cunne.
Beorn sceal gebidan, þonne he beot spriceð,
oþþæt collenferð cunne gearwe
hwider hreþra gehygd hweorfan wille.
Ongietan sceal gleaw hæle hu gæstlic bið,
þonne ealre þisse worulde wela weste stondeð,
swa nu missenlice geond þisne middangeard
winde biwaune weallas stondaþ,
hrime bihrorene, hryðge þa ederas.
Woriað þa winsalo, waldend licgað
dreame bidrorene, duguþ eal gecrong,
wlonc bi wealle. Sume wig fornom,
ferede in forðwege, sumne fugel oþbær
ofer heanne holm, sumne se hara wulf
deaðe gedælde, sumne dreorighleor
in eorðscræfe eorl gehydde.
Yþde swa þisne eardgeard ælda scyppend
oþþæt burgwara breahtma lease
eald enta geweorc idlu stodon.
Se þonne þisne wealsteal wise geþohte
ond þis deorce lif deope geondþenceð,
frod in ferðe, feor oft gemon
wælsleahta worn, ond þas word acwið:
"Hwær cwom mearg? Hwær cwom mago? Hwær cwom maþþumgyfa?
Hwær cwom symbla gesetu? Hwær sindon seledreamas?
Eala beorht bune! Eala byrnwiga!
Eala þeodnes þrym! Hu seo þrag gewat,
genap under nihthelm, swa heo no wære.
Stondeð nu on laste leofre duguþe
weal wundrum heah, wyrmlicum fah.
Eorlas fornoman asca þryþe,
wæpen wælgifru, wyrd seo mære,
ond þas stanhleoþu stormas cnyssað,
hrið hreosende hrusan bindeð,
wintres woma, þonne won cymeð,
nipeð nihtscua, norþan onsendeð
hreo hæglfare hæleþum on andan.
Eall is earfoðlic eorþan rice,
onwendeð wyrda gesceaft weoruld under heofonum.
Her bið feoh læne, her bið freond læne,
her bið mon læne, her bið mæg læne,
eal þis eorþan gesteal idel weorþeð!"
Swa cwæð snottor on mode, gesæt him sundor æt rune.
Til biþ se þe his treowe gehealdeþ, ne sceal næfre his torn to rycene
beorn of his breostum acyþan, nemþe he ær þa bote cunne,
eorl mid elne gefremman. Wel bið þam þe him are seceð,
frofre to fæder on heofonum, þær us eal seo fæstnung stondeð.