The Seafarer

This is the truth: the way I toiled
distraught, for days on end
enduring cares and bitter bale
within my breast, my keel cleaving
endless halls of heaving waves

I would often at the bark’s bows wake
the strait night through, steering
her clear of clashing cliffs

Cold fetters froze my feet
and hunger seared my heart
with sore sea-weariness

That man lolling on fair land
has no earthly inkling of how I
a wretched wreck on ice-cold seas
weathered each winter
exiled from kith and kin

Hail scoured my skin, and hoar hung heavy
All I ever heard along the ice-way
was sounding sea, the gannet’s shanty
whooper and curlew calls and mewling gull
were all my gaming, mead and mirth

At tempest-tested granite crags
the ice-winged tern would taunt
spray-feathered ospreys overhead
would soar and scream

No kinsman near to fend off need
no one to comfort or console

That fine fellow, carefree in his cups
set snugly up in town, cannot conceive
the load I hauled along the sea-lanes

The dark night deepens, northern snow
hardens the soil and hail hits earth like cold corn

Yet my heart hammers now, yearning anew
wanting the steep salt-water road
longing with lust to roam rough seas, alone
to seek out some far foreign shore

The mood to wander mills within my mind
But none on earth may be so proud
so prodigal or yare in youth
nor so express in action
nor smiled on by so mild a master
that he embark with unconcern
what end for him the Master may intend

He will not heed the harp though
and is not gladdened by gold rings
nor woman’s winning ways
and wants no worldly joys
only the rolling oceans urge him on
the wave play pulls him and impels

Then blossom decks the bower’s bough
the bothie blooms, the sea meads gleam
the wide world racks the restless mind
of him who on the full flood tide
determines to depart

And heralding his summer hoard of pain
the gowk repeats his plaintive geck
foreboding bitterness of breast
Soft-bedded bloods cannot conceive
what some men suffer as abroad
they travel tracks of exile

Reckless of that, my thought is thrown
beyond my heart’s cage now. Hot hunger
keenly comes again. My mind is cast
upon the sea swell, over the whale’s world
widely to course creation’s coast