Ezra Pound's The Seafarer (first lines)
May I, for my own self, song's truth reckon,
Journey's jargon, how I in harsh days
Hardship endured oft.
Bitter breast-cares have I abided,
Known on my keel many a care's hold,
And dire sea-surge, and there I oft spent
Narrow nightwatch nigh the ship's head
While she tossed close to cliffs.
My feet were by frost benumbed.
Chill its chains are; chafing sighs
Hew my heart round and hunger begot
Lest man know not
That he on dry land loveliest liveth,
List how I, care-wretched, on ice-cold sea,
Weathered the winter, wretched outcast
Deprived of my kinsmen;
Hung with hard ice-flakes, where hail-scur flew,
There I heard naught save the harsh sea
And ice-cold wave, at while the swan cries,
Did for my games, the gannet's clamour,
Sea-fowls' loudness was for me laughter,
The mews' singing all my mead-drink...
He who is alone often survives to find mercy, pity from God,
though he long must stir with his arms the frost-cold sea,
troubled in heart obliged to tread paths of exile over watery ways.
Full-fixed is that man's fate.
So spoke the traveller, recalling hard times,
fierce battle-slaughter, the deaths of dear kinsfolk.
Before day broke, many times I have had to tell out alone my cares;
there is no-one alive now to whom I dare reveal my secret thoughts.
True, it's a fine habit for a man to keep his heart's vaults locked tight,
to keep the hoard-casket of his mind close shut, whatever his thoughts.
A weary heart's thoughts cannot resist Fate,
an angry mind's cannot bring help.
Those eager for fame shut their sorrowful thoughts
captive in their breast's treasure-chest. So wretched with cares,
I have left my homeland and family behind,
and here am obliged to use fetters to fasten the thoughts of my heart.
All this since the time, many years ago now,
that I enclosed my gold-friend in the darkness of his grave;
then I crossed the web of the waves winter-grieving for the loss of a hall.
I sought again a giver of treasure, a place somewhere, be it far or near,
where in some mead-hall I might find a man
who would recognize my family's name, or comfort me in my friendlessness,
happy to see me come.
Any who have felt it know how cruel is the sorrow of one
who must live alone without love or protection.
There is nothing left but the path of exile, no sign of twisted gold armlets;
in his heart-case frozen thoughts, no earthly joys.
He can only remember former hall-warriors, the taking of treasure,
the eager feasts of youthful days with the lost gold-friend.
All those delights are gone now.
Any who have long been obliged to forgo the guiding of a lord they love,
will know: when the poor lonely fellow lies sleeping sadly
it will seem at times that he is once again there kissing and holding his liege,
expressing thanks, laying hands and head on his knees as in former times
when gifts were being shared out.
But then he wakes, and has no lord,
but only the tawny waves and the gulls bathing with wings outstretched,
under frost and snowfall, mingled with hail.
Then his heart aches more, longing for the lord he once loved;
sorrows renew with the sudden memory of long lost kinsmen:
he thinks to hail them gladly, gazes eagerly at that company of warriors
whose shadows fade, gliding away over the waters.
No familiar voices come echoing from those passing shades,
and cares deepen as he sets out again, time after time, over the web of the waves.
No wonder, then, if my thoughts grow dark
when I consider human life in this world;
how terribly swiftly the brave young thanes leave the hall-floor for ever!
Daily this middle-earth fails and falls.
Wisdom can only be found with time, the fruit of many winters endured.
The wise man knows patience, must not be inflamed, not quick to speak,
be neither too fearful nor too blithe, not greedy for gain,
or eager to boast without prior thought.
A man who boasts must first wait and reflect where his words may lead.
A wise warrior should think of the dreadful days
when all this world's wealth will lie waste;
just as we see in many places wind-blown walls covered with layers of frost,
storm-beaten and drear. The old wine-halls totter, their former lords lie bereft of joy,
for all the heroes have fallen who formerly sat against the wall;
some went in war, carried away, this one borne by a bird over the deep,
and this devoured by a wolf and Death, while another sadly hid in an earthen grave.
Mankind's Maker laid waste all those buildings,
the old work of giants stood there useless, no echo now of their former guards' songs.
So the wise man ponders deeply upon these ruins, and this dark life,
recalls the slaughters of the past, and speaks:
Hwaer cwom mearg? Hwaer cwom mago? Hwaer cwom maththumgyfa?
Hwaer cwom symbla gesetu? Hwaer sindon seledreamas?
Eala beorht bune! Eala byrnwiga!
Eala theodnes thrym! Hu seo thrag gewat,
genap under nihthelm, swa heo no waere.
Where did the horse go? Where the bold youth? Where is the treasure-giver?
Where is the feast-place? Where the hall's bliss?
Alas, bright cup! Alas, man of arms!
Alas, the lord's might! How those days have gone,
dark under night, as if they never had been.
Now the snake-adorned wall stands there marvellously high,
towering over signs of what was, dear companions.
Spears have taken the lords away, blood-thirsty weapons of Fate almighty.
Storms beat at the walls, and snow heralds winter,
falling thick it binds the earth as darkness falls
while northern hailstones harshly proclaim hatred for men.
Earth's kingdoms are wretched, for Fate intervenes to change the world.
Wealth is fleeting, friends, all men, and women too are fleeting.
Every home shall soon lie bare.
So spoke the man whose heart was wise, sitting apart at the council-meeting.
The good man does not break his word,
and one should never speak before one knows what will truly bring relief,
such is a leader with his courage.
And all will be well for the one who seeks favor and comfort from the Father above,
with whom alone all stability dwells.