Editor's Note: Originally part of The Exeter Book, this is a translation (from Old English) by Benjamin Thorpe, circa 1842. See http://is2.dal.ca/~caowen/thorpe.htm.

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
oft suffer'd,
bitter breast-cares
have endur'd,
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,
the mew-singing;
for mead-drinking,
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
might go;
for he little believes,
who has the joy of life
experienced in cities,
misfortunes few,
elate and wine-flush'd,
how I weary oft,
in the ocean-way
must bide:
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,
of strangers
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
fear entertains,
as to what the Lord with him
will do.
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,
sorrow announces
bitter in its heart.
The man knows it not,
the favour'd mortal,
what some endure,
who their exile traces
furthest set;
for now my thought wanders
o'er my breast's recess;
my spirit,
with the sea-flood,
over the whale's home,
wanders wide,
earth's regions
come again to me:
eager and greedy
yells the lone bird,
urges on the whale-way
natheless suddenly,
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
of after-speaking,
praise animating,
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
for evermore,
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,
nor emperors,
nor gold-givers,
such as were of yore,
when they most among themselves
glories perform'd,
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
throughout mid-earth;
age comes on him,
his face waxes pale;
hoary-lock'd he grieves,
knows that his friends of old,
sons of noble ones,
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:
he establish'd
the rugg'd depths,
earth's regions,
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.

I've always preferred the Burton Raffel translation. More melancholier.

This tale is true, and mine. It tells
How the sea took me, swept me back
And forth in sorrow and fear and pain,
Showed me suffering in a hundred ships,
In a thousand ports, and in me. It tells
Of smashing surf when I sweated in the cold
Of an anxious watch, perched in the bow
As it dashed under cliffs. My feet were cast
In icy bands, bound with frost,
With frozen chains, and hardship groaned
Around my heart. Hunger tore
At my sea-weary soul. No man sheltered
On the quiet fairness of earth can feel
How wretched I was, drifting through winter
On an ice-cold sea, whirled in sorrow,
Alone in a world blown clear of love,
Hung with icicles. The hailstorms flew.
The only sound was the roaring sea,
The freezing waves. The song of the swan
Might serve for pleasure, the cry of the sea-fowl,
The death-noise of birds instead of laughter,
The mewing of gulls instead of mead.
Storms beat on the rocky cliffs and were echoed
By icy-feathered terns and the eagle’s screams;
No kinsman could offer comfort there,
To a soul left drowning in desolation.

And who could believe, knowing but
The passion of cities, swelled proud with wine
And no taste of misfortune, how often, how wearily,
I put myself back on the paths of the sea.
Night would blacken; it would snow from the north;
Frost bound the earth and hail would fall,
The coldest seeds. And how my heart
Would begin to beat, knowing once more
The salt waves tossing and the towering sea!
The time for journeys would come and my soul
Called me eagerly out, sent me over
The horizon, seeking foreigners’ homes.

But there isn’t a man on earth so proud,
So born to greatness, so bold with his youth,
Grown so brave, or so graced by God,
That he feels no fear as the sails unfurl,
Wondering what Fate has willed and will do.
No harps ring in his heart, no rewards,
No passion for women, no worldly pleasures,
Nothing, only the ocean’s heave;
But longing wraps itself around him.
Orchards blossom, the towns bloom,
Fields grow lovely as the world springs fresh,
And all these admonish that willing mind
Leaping to journeys, always set
In thoughts travelling on a quickening tide.
So summer’s sentinel, the cuckoo, sings
In his murmuring voice, and our hearts mourn
As he urges. Who could understand,
In ignorant ease, what we others suffer
As the paths of exile stretch endlessly on?

And yet my heart wanders away,
My soul roams with the sea, the whales’
Home, wandering to the widest corners
Of the world, returning ravenous with desire.
Flying solitary, screaming, exciting me
To the open ocean, breaking oaths
On the curve of a wave.

Thus the joys of God
Are fervent with life, where life itself
Fades quickly into the earth. The wealth
Of the world neither reaches to Heaven nor remains.
No man has ever faced the dawn
Certain which of Fate’s three threats
Would fall: illness, or age, or an enemy’s
Sword, snatching the life from his soul.
The praise the living pour on the dead
Flowers from reputation: plant
An earthly life of profit reaped
Even from hatred and rancour, of bravery
Flung in the devil’s face, and death
Can only bring you earthly praise
And a song to celebrate a place
With the angels, life eternally blessed
In the hosts of Heaven.

The days are gone
When the kingdoms of earth flourished in glory;
Now there are no rulers, no emperors,
No givers of gold, as once there were,
When wonderful things were worked among them
And they lived in lordly magnificence.
Those powers have vanished, those pleasures are dead.
The weakest survives and the world continues,
Kept spinning by toil. All glory is tarnished.
The world’s honor ages and shrinks,
Bent like the men who mould it. Their faces
Blanch as time advances, their beards
Wither and they mourn the memory of friends.
The sons of princes, sown in the dust.
The soul stripped of its flesh knows nothing
Of sweetness or sour, feels no pain,
Bends neither its hand nor its brain. A brother
Opens his palms and pours down gold
On his kinsman’s grave, strewing his coffin
With treasures intended for Heaven, but nothing
Golden shakes the wrath of God
For a soul overflowing with sin, and nothing
Hidden on earth rises to Heaven.

We all fear God. He turns the earth,
He set it swinging firmly in space,
Gave life to the world and light to the sky.
Death leaps at the fools who forget their God.
He who lives humbly has angels from Heaven
To carry him courage and strength and belief.
A man must conquer pride, not kill it,
Be firm with his fellows, chaste for himself,
Treat all the world as the world deserves,
With love or with hate but never with harm,
Though an enemy seek to scorch him in hell,
Or set the flames of a funeral pyre
Under his lord. Fate is stronger
And God mightier than any man’s mind.
Our thoughts should turn to where our home is,
Consider the ways of coming there,
Then strive for sure permission for us
To rise to that eternal joy,
That life born in the love of God
And the hope of Heaven, Praise the Holy
Grace of Him who honored us,
Eternal, unchanging creator of earth. Amen.

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