the art

"ond þe þæt selre geceos, ece rædas; oferhyda ne gym"

"choose what is better, the eternal wisdom; heed not the blinding pride"

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Old English Poetry: The Seafarer

Forþon nu min hyge hweorfeð ofer hreþerlocan,
min modsefa mid mereflode
ofer hwæles eþel hweorfeð wide,
eorþan sceatas, cymeð eft to me
gifre ond grædig, gielleð anfloga,
hweteð on hwælweg hreþer unwearnum
ofer holma gelagu.

For now my mind turns from my body, 
and my soul turns toward the river of the sea,
over the whale's country my soul turns further, 
over that region of the earth, coming again to me 
rapacious and greedy, alone the bird yells,
sharpening the heart, irresistibly, on the whale-road, 
over the flood's wave.

translation by Reid Hardaway

The Seafarer is a beautiful and strange poem.  Of the Exeter manuscript's four major elegies, the Seafarer is unique in its faculty of language and depth of expression.  The poem is a concise and potent meditation on mortality and the frailty of man in nature.   

Ezra Pound estimated that the poem was one of the finest in the 'English' language.  Read his translation here, 'The Poetry Foundation'

I encourage you to post your thoughts or criticisms below, especially if you have studied Old English.