Translated from 10th century Old English and read by Greg Delanty poemsoutloud.net
The loner holds out for grace
the Maker’s mercy—though full of care
he steers a course, forced to row
the freezing, fierce sea with bare hands,
take the exile’s way; fate dictates.
The earth-stepper spoke, heedful of hardship,
of brutal battle, the death of kith and kin:
“Often at first lick of light
I lament my sole way—no one left
to open myself up to wholly,
heart and soul. Sure, I know
it’s the noble custom for an earl
to bind fast what’s in his breast,
hoard inmost thoughts, think what he will.
The weary mind can’t fight fate
nor will grim grit help.
Driven men often harbor
chill dread fast in their chests.
So I, at sea in my angst,
(wretched outcast from my land,
far from kind kindred) brace myself,
having buried my large-hearted lord
years back in black earth. Abject,
I wander winter-weary the icy waves,
longing for lost halls, a helping hand
far or near. Maybe I’ll find
one who’d host me in the toasting hall,
who’d comfort me, friendless,
gladly entertain me. Any who attempt it
know what cruel company sorrow can be
for a soul without a single mate;
exile’s path holds him, not finished gold;
a frozen heart, not the world’s wonders;
he recalls retainers, reaping treasure,
how in youth his lavish liege
feted and feasted him. All is history.
He who lack a loved lord’s
counsel knows this story:
whenever sorrow and sleep combine
the wretched recluse often dreams
that he is with his loyal lord.
He clasps and kisses him, lays
his hands and head on those knees, loves
the liberal ruler as in whilom days.
As soon as the sober man wakes
he sees nothing but fallow furrows;
seabirds paddle and preen feathers;
snow and frost combine forces.
Then his heart weighs heavier, sore
for the loved lord, sorrow renewed.
He recalls friends from the past,
gladly greets them, feasts his eyes.
His mates swim in waves of memory.
Those fellows float away in his mind,
barely utter a word. Down again
the man knows he must cast
his harrowed heart over frigid waves.
It’s not hard to guess why in the world
my spirit’s in such a stark state
as I consider the lives of those lords,
how they abruptly quit the halls,
the bold youth. In this way the world,
day after day, fails and falls.
For sure, no man’s wise without his share
of winters in this world. He must be patient,
not too keen, not hot tongued,
not easily led, not foolhardy,
not timid, not all gusto, not greedy
no too cocky till he knows life.
A man should take stock before a vow,
brace for action, be mindful
of the mind’s twists and turns.
The wise man knows how ghostly it will be
when all the world’s wealth is wasted
as in many regions on Earth today,
the still-standing walls wind-wracked,
ice-bound; each edifice under snow.
The halls fall, the lords lie low,
no more revels, troops of gallant veterans
lie valiant by the wall. Some fell in battle,
borne away: one was borne by vultures
over the ocean; one the hoar wolf
wolfed down; another a noble laid in a cave
—his mein a death mask of grief.
So the Shaper laid the Earth waste,
until, bereft of human life,
the ancient works of giants stand empty.
Anyone who dwells on these battlements,
ponders each stage of our dark life,
will wisely survey the distant past,
the myriad struggles, and exclaim:
Where is the horse gone? The young bucks? The kind king?
Where is the banquet assembly gone? The merrymaking?
O the glittering glass. O the uniformed man.
O the general’s glory. How that time has passed.
Night shrouds all as if nothing ever was.
Now all that is left of those veterans
is a tower wall ringed with serpent devils;
missiles slaughtered those who served,
weapons amassed for mass murder, and incredible end.
Hurricanes attack the rocky coast.
Snowstorms sheet the earth.
Winter’s tumult (dark comes then,
nightshadows deepen) drives hailstorms
out of the north to try us sorely.
This earthly realm is fraught.
Fate changes everything under the sun.
Here wealth is brief, friendship brief,
man brief, kinship brief.
All human foundation falls to naught.”
So spoke the wise man from his heart, musing apart.
Blest is he who holds true. No man should openly bare
his heart’s hardships unless he knows the cure,
that is his great feat. It’s well to seek solace
from the Maker, our only security.
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