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The Seafarer

Jonathan Slocum

This page contains a text in Old English with a modern English translation. This particular text and its translation are extracted from a lesson in the Early Indo-European Online series, where one may find detailed information about this text (see the Table of Contents page for Old English Online in EIEOL), and general information about the Old English language and its speakers' culture.

The Seafarer

Mæg ic be mē sylfum         sōðgied wrecan,
sīþas secgan,         hū ic geswincdagum
earfoðhwīle         oft þrōwade,
bitre brēostceare         gebiden hæbbe,
gecunnad in cēole         cearselda fela,
atol ȳþa gewealc.
        Þǣr mec oft bigeat
nearo nihtwaco         æt nacan stefnan,
þonne hē be clifum cnossað.
        Calde geþrungen
wǣron fēt mīne         forste gebunden,
caldum clommum;         þǣr þā ceare seofedun
hāt(e) ymb heortan;         hungor innan slāt
merewērges mōd.
        Þæt se mon ne wāt,
þe him on foldan         fægrost limpeð,
hū ic earmcearig         īscealdne sǣ
winter wunade         wræccan lāstum
winemǣgum bidroren         ...

bihongen hrīmgicelum:         hægl scūrum flēag.
Þǣr ic ne gehȳrde         būtan hlimman sǣ,
īscaldne wǣg,         hwīlum ylfete song:

dyde ic mē tō gomene         ganetes hlēoþor
and huilpan swēg         fore hleahtor wera,
mǣw singende         fore medodrince.

Stormas þǣr stānclifu bēotan,         þǣr him stearn oncwæð
īsigfeþera;         ful oft þæt earn bigeal
        Nǣnig hlēomǣga
fēasceaftig ferð         frēfran meahte.

For þon him gelȳfeð lȳt         sē þe āh līfes wyn
gebiden in burgum,         bealosīþa hwōn,
wlonc and wīngāl,         hū ic wērig oft
in brimlāde         bīdan sceolde.

Nāp nihtscua,         norþan snīwde,
hrīm hrūsan bond;         hægl fēol on eorþan,
corna caldast.
        For þon cnyssað nū
heortan geþōhtas,         þæt ic hēan strēamas,
sealtȳþa gelāc         sylf cunnige;

monað mōdes lust         mǣla gehwylce
ferð tō fēran,         þæt ic feor heonan
elþēodigra         eard gesēce.

For þon nis þæs mōdwlonc         mon ofer eorþan,
ne his gifena þæs gōd,         ne in geoguþe tō þæs hwæt,
ne in his dǣdum tō þæs dēor,
        ne him his dryhten tō þæs hold,
þæt hē ā his sǣfōre         sorge næbbe,
tō hwon hine Dryhten         gedōn wille.


I can tell a true tale about myself, of voyages speak, how in days of toil I often endured a time of hardship, experienced bitter sadness, have known on a ship places of sorrow, much dire tossing of the waves. Where an anxious night-watch often kept me on the prow of a ship when it drives beneath the cliffs. My feet were pressed cold, bound in frigid fetters by the frost; where sorrows sighed hot around my heart; hunger gnawed within, a sea-weary mood. The man does not know, to whom everything happens most happily on earth, how wretched I spent an ice-cold winter at sea in the paths of exile bereft of kinsmen... behung with icicles: the hail flew in showers. There I heard nothing but the sea roar, ice-cold billow, sometimes the song of a swan: I made for my own amusement the gannet's song and the water-bird's call for the laughter of men, mew singing for mead-drinking. Storms there pounded stony cliffs, where sea-swallow replied to them with frosted wings; often the eagle screamed dewey-winged. No protective kinsmen might cheer the poor in spirit. Because he trusts little who has experienced life's joy in cities, with perils few, proud and intoxicated, how often I must remain exhausted in the sea lane. Night's shadow grew dark, from the north it snowed, hoar-frost bound the soil; hail fell upon earth, the coldest of grains. Therefore it strikes now the thoughts of the heart, that I the humble streams, the tumult of sea waves myself should test; the mind's desire urges at all times the spirit to travel, so that I seek far hence the land of foreigners. Because (there) is not a man on earth so proud, nor of his gifts so generous, nor in youth quite so bold, nor in his deeds quite so valiant, nor to him his lord quite so gracious, that he never has anxiety (about) his sea travel, (or) to what end the Lord will bring him.

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