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Short poem

Ezra Loomis Pound (1885-1972)

The Seafarer

(From the early Anglo-Saxon text)

              1May I for my own self song's truth reckon,
              2Journey's jargon, how I in harsh days
              3Hardship endured oft.
              4Bitter breast-cares have I abided,
              5Known on my keel many a care's hold,
              6And dire sea-surge, and there I oft spent
              7Narrow nightwatch nigh the ship's head
              8While she tossed close to cliffs. Coldly afflicted,
              9My feet were by frost benumbed.
            10Chill its chains are; chafing sighs
            11Hew my heart round and hunger begot
            12Mere-weary mood. Lest man know not
            13That he on dry land loveliest liveth,
            14List how I, care-wretched, on ice-cold sea,
            15Weathered the winter, wretched outcast
            16Deprived of my kinsmen;
            17Hung with hard ice-flakes, where hail-scur flew,
            18There I heard naught save the harsh sea
            19And ice-cold wave, at whiles the swan cries,
            20Did for my games the gannet's clamour,
            21Sea-fowls, loudness was for me laughter,
            22The mews' singing all my mead-drink.
            23Storms, on the stone-cliffs beaten, fell on the stern
            24In icy feathers; full oft the eagle screamed
            25With spray on his pinion.
            26              Not any protector
            27May make merry man faring needy.
            28This he little believes, who aye in winsome life
            29Abides 'mid burghers some heavy business,
            30Wealthy and wine-flushed, how I weary oft
            31Must bide above brine.
            32Neareth nightshade, snoweth from north,
            33Frost froze the land, hail fell on earth then
            34Corn of the coldest. Nathless there knocketh now
            35The heart's thought that I on high streams
            36The salt-wavy tumult traverse alone.
            37Moaneth alway my mind's lust
            38That I fare forth, that I afar hence
            39Seek out a foreign fastness.
            40For this there's no mood-lofty man over earth's midst,
            41Not though he be given his good, but will have in his youth greed;
            42Nor his deed to the daring, nor his king to the faithful
            43But shall have his sorrow for sea-fare
            44Whatever his lord will.
            45He hath not heart for harping, nor in ring-having
            46Nor winsomeness to wife, nor world's delight
            47Nor any whit else save the wave's slash,
            48Yet longing comes upon him to fare forth on the water.
            49Bosque taketh blossom, cometh beauty of berries,
            50Fields to fairness, land fares brisker,
            51All this admonisheth man eager of mood,
            52The heart turns to travel so that he then thinks
            53On flood-ways to be far departing.
            54Cuckoo calleth with gloomy crying,
            55He singeth summerward, bodeth sorrow,
            56The bitter heart's blood. Burgher knows not --
            57He the prosperous man -- what some perform
            58Where wandering them widest draweth.
            59So that but now my heart burst from my breast-lock,
            60My mood 'mid the mere-flood,
            61Over the whale's acre, would wander wide.
            62On earth's shelter cometh oft to me,
            63Eager and ready, the crying lone-flyer,
            64Whets for the whale-path the heart irresistibly,
            65O'er tracks of ocean; seeing that anyhow
            66My lord deems to me this dead life
            67On loan and on land, I believe not
            68That any earth-weal eternal standeth
            69Save there be somewhat calamitous
            70That, ere a man's tide go, turn it to twain.
            71Disease or oldness or sword-hate
            72Beats out the breath from doom-gripped body.
            73And for this, every earl whatever, for those speaking after --
            74Laud of the living, boasteth some last word,
            75That he will work ere he pass onward,
            76Frame on the fair earth 'gainst foes his malice,
            77Daring ado, ...
            78So that all men shall honour him after
            79And his laud beyond them remain 'mid the English,
            80Aye, for ever, a lasting life's-blast,
            81Delight mid the doughty.
            82              Days little durable,
            83And all arrogance of earthen riches,
            84There come now no kings nor Cæsars
            85Nor gold-giving lords like those gone.
            86Howe'er in mirth most magnified,
            87Whoe'er lived in life most lordliest,
            88Drear all this excellence, delights undurable!
            89Waneth the watch, but the world holdeth.
            90Tomb hideth trouble. The blade is layed low.
            91Earthly glory ageth and seareth.
            92No man at all going the earth's gait,
            93But age fares against him, his face paleth,
            94Grey-haired he groaneth, knows gone companions,
            95Lordly men are to earth o'ergiven,
            96Nor may he then the flesh-cover, whose life ceaseth,
            97Nor eat the sweet nor feel the sorry,
            98Nor stir hand nor think in mid heart,
            99And though he strew the grave with gold,
          100His born brothers, their buried bodies
          101Be an unlikely treasure hoard.


1] Pound translates only the first 99 lines of the poem. His translation differs in many details from the original.

12] mere-weary: sea-weary.

17] scur: storm.

20] gannet: sea-bird.

22] mews: seagulls.

34] Nathless: nevertheless.

39] fastness: stronghold.

49] bosque: thicket, small wood.

81] doughty: brave.

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Ripostes of Ezra Pound (London: Ovid Press, 1912): 25-30.
First publication date: 30 November 1911
Publication date note: New Age 10.5:107
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 1998.
Recent editing: 4:2002/4/15

Form: Four-stress alliterative lines

Other poems by Ezra Loomis Pound