The Seafarer is found in Exeter, Cathedral Chapter Library, MS 3501, the Exeter Book, starting on folio 81v. As with the other translations of Old English I’ve provided for my students, the translation below is rough and ready. If you have stumbled on this page from outside the world of my class, be warned! You can read a careful literal translation, and notes on the poem, on Jonathan Glenn’s site, here
The Virtual Books page of the Exeter Cathedral website includes a link to a digitization of the Exeter Book
The Exeter Book digitization project site is another way to get at images of the manuscript
The Elegies of the Exeter Book, at the British Library, includes some discussion The Seafarer and The Wanderer
Mæg ic be me sylfum soðgied wrecan,
siþas secgan, hu ic geswincdagum
earfoðhwile oft þrowade,
bitre breostceare gebiden hæbbe,
gecunnad in ceole cearselda fela,
atol yþa gewealc, þær mec oft bigeat
nearo nihtwaco æt nacan stefnan,
þonne he be clifum cnossað. Calde geþrungen
wæron mine fet, forste gebunden,
caldum clommum, þær þa ceare seofedun
hat ymb heortan; hungor innan slat
merewerges mod. þæt se mon ne wat
þe him on foldan fægrost limpeð,
hu ic earmcearig iscealdne sæ
winter wunade wræccan lastum,
bihongen hrimgicelum; hægl scurum fleag.
þær ic ne gehyrde butan hlimman sæ,
iscaldne wæg. Hwilum ylfete song
dyde ic me to gomene, ganetes hleoþor
ond huilpan sweg fore hleahtor wera,
mæw singende fore medodrince.
Stormas þær stanclifu beotan, þær him stearn oncwæð
isigfeþera; ful oft þæt earn bigeal,
urigfeþra; ne ænig hleomæga
feasceaftig ferð frefran meahte.
Forþon him gelyfeð lyt, se þe ah lifes wyn
gebiden in burgum, bealosiþa hwon,
wlonc ond wingal, hu ic werig oft
in brimlade bidan sceolde.
Nap nihtscua, norþan sniwde,
hrim hrusan bond, hægl feol on eorþan,
corna caldast. Forþon cnyssað nu
heortan geþohtas, þæt ic hean streamas,
sealtyþa gelac sylf cunnige;
monað modes lust mæla gehwylce
ferð to feran, þæt ic feor heonan
elþeodigra eard gesece.
Forþon nis þæs modwlonc mon ofer eorþan,
ne his gifena þæs god, ne in geoguþe to þæs hwæt,
ne in his dædum to þæs deor, ne him his dryhten to þæs hold,
þæt he a his sæfore sorge næbbe,
to hwon hine dryhten gedon wille.
Ne biþ him to hearpan hyge ne to hringþege,
ne to wife wyn ne to worulde hyht,
ne ymbe owiht elles, nefne ymb yða gewealc,
ac a hafað longunge se þe on lagu fundað.
Bearwas blostmum nimað, byrig fægriað,
wongas wlitigað, woruld onetteð;
ealle þa gemoniað modes fusne
sefan to siþe, þam þe swa þenceð
on flodwegas feor gewitan.
Swylce geac monað geomran reorde,
singeð sumeres weard, sorge beodeð
bitter in breosthord. þæt se beorn ne wat,
esteadig secg, hwæt þa sume dreogað
þe þa wræclastas widost lecgað.
Forþon nu min hyge hweorfeð ofer hreþerlocan,
min modsefa mid mereflode
ofer hwæles eþel hweorfeð wide,
eorþan sceatas, cymeð eft to me
gifre ond grædig, gielleð anfloga,
hweteð on hwælweg hreþer unwearnum
ofer holma gelagu. Forþon me hatran sind
dryhtnes dreamas þonne þis deade lif,
læne on londe. Ic gelyfe no
þæt him eorðwelan ece stondað.
Simle þreora sum þinga gehwylce,
ær his tid aga, to tweon weorþeð;
adl oþþe yldo oþþe ecghete
fægum fromweardum feorh oðþringeð.
Forþon þæt bið eorla gehwam æftercweþendra
lof lifgendra lastworda betst,
þæt he gewyrce, ær he on weg scyle,
fremum on foldan wið feonda niþ,
deorum dædum deofle togeanes,
þæt hine ælda bearn æfter hergen,
ond his lof siþþan lifge mid englum
awa to ealdre, ecan lifes blæd,
dream mid dugeþum. Dagas sind gewitene,
ealle onmedlan eorþan rices;
næron nu cyningas ne caseras
ne goldgiefan swylce iu wæron,
þonne hi mæst mid him mærþa gefremedon
ond on dryhtlicestum dome lifdon.
Gedroren is þeos duguð eal, dreamas sind gewitene,
wuniað þa wacran ond þas woruld healdaþ,
brucað þurh bisgo. Blæd is gehnæged,
eorþan indryhto ealdað ond searað,
swa nu monna gehwylc geond middangeard.
Yldo him on fareð, onsyn blacað,
gomelfeax gnornað, wat his iuwine,
æþelinga bearn, eorþan forgiefene.
Ne mæg him þonne se flæschoma, þonne him þæt feorg losað,
ne swete forswelgan ne sar gefelan,
ne hond onhreran ne mid hyge þencan.
þeah þe græf wille golde stregan
broþor his geborenum, byrgan be deadum,
maþmum mislicum þæt hine mid wille,
ne mæg þære sawle þe biþ synna ful
gold to geoce for godes egsan,
þonne he hit ær hydeð þenden he her leofað.
Micel biþ se meotudes egsa, forþon hi seo molde oncyrreð;
se gestaþelade stiþe grundas,
eorþan sceatas ond uprodor.
Dol biþ se þe him his dryhten ne ondrædeþ; cymeð him se deað unþinged.
Eadig bið se þe eaþmod leofaþ; cymeð him seo ar of heofonum,
meotod him þæt mod gestaþelað, forþon he in his meahte gelyfeð.
Stieran mon sceal strongum mode, ond þæt on staþelum healdan,
ond gewis werum, wisum clæne,
scyle monna gehwylc mid gemete healdan
wiþ leofne ond wið laþne bealo,
þeah þe he hine wille fyres fulne
oþþe on bæle forbærnedne
his geworhtne wine. Wyrd biþ swiþre,
meotud meahtigra þonne ænges monnes gehygd.
Uton we hycgan hwær we ham agen,
ond þonne geþencan hu we þider cumen,
ond we þonne eac tilien, þæt we to moten
in þa ecan eadignesse,
þær is lif gelong in lufan dryhtnes,
hyht in heofonum. þæs sy þam halgan þonc,
þæt he usic geweorþade, wuldres ealdor,
ece dryhten, in ealle tid.
I can recite a lay of truth about myself,
relate experiences, how I often in days of toil
suffered a time of hardship.
I have experienced bitter breast-care,
explored in a ship many abodes of care,
the terrible tossing of seawaves, where often
the anxious night-watch held me at the stern of the boat,
when it tosses by the cliffs. Constricted by cold
were my feet, bound by frost
with cold fetters, while cares sighed
hot about my heart; hunger tore from within
the spirit of the sea-weary one. That man does not know,
to whom things happen most pleasantly on land,
how I, wretched and sorrowful, on the ice-cold sea
wandered in winter on the paths of an exile,
bereft of beloved kinsmen,
hung about with icicles; hail flies in showers.
There I heard nothing but the roaring sea,
the ice-cold wave. Sometimes the wild swan’s song
cheered me [?], the cry of the gannet
and the sound of the curlew, in place of the laughter of men,
the singing mew instead of mead-drink.
There storms beat the stone cliffs, there the tern answered them,
icy-feathered one; very often the eagle screamed round about,
dewy-feathered one; no protecting kinsman
could comfort the wretched in spirit.
Indeed he little admits to himself, he who the joy of life
has experienced in the cities, proud and flushed with wine,
how I, weary, often
had to remain on the sea-way.
The shadow of night grew dark, it snowed from the north,
frost bound the earth, hail fell on the ground,
kernels coldest. Truly now
thoughts urge my heart, that I should myself experience the high seas,
the tossing of the salt sea-waves.
The desire of the heart urges, with each occasion,
the spirit to journey, so that I, far from here,
may seek the land of strangers on earth.
For indeed there is not a man so proud throughout the earth,
nor his gifts so good, nor so vigorous in youth,
nor in his deeds so brave, nor his lord so kind to him,
that he may not ever have sorrow in his sea-faring,
to the extent the Lord will bring him to.
Thought for him is not for harp, nor for the receiving of rings,
nor pleasure in a woman nor joyous expectation in the world,
nor concerning anything else except the tossing of sea-waves;
but he who will go to sea has ever a longing.
The groves take on blossom, adorn the cities,
make fields beautiful; the world hastens on,
all these urge the eager spirit
of the heart to journey, for him who so thinks,
to depart far away on the sea-ways.
So the cuckoo urgers with mournful voice,
the guardian of summer sings, forebodes sorrow,
bitter in the breast-hoard. The man blessed with comfort does not know what these endure
who lay furthest the paths of exile.
Indeed now my spirit takes flight beyond my bound breath,
my heart flies wide with the sea stream,
over the whale’s realm,
the surfaces of the earth; comes again to me
ravenous and greedy; the solitary flier calls out,
incites irresistibly the heart onto the whale-way,
over the waters of the sea. For hotter to me are
the joys of the Lord than this dead life,
transitory on land. I do not believe
that earthly riches endure eternally for him.
Ever one of three things becomes an occasion for uncertainty
for each of the retainers before his last day:
disease or old age or sword-hate
wrest life away from the one fated to die, passing away.
Therefore for each man the praise of the living, of those speaking afterwards, is the best reputation left behind.
Let him bring it about that, before he must depart,
by good deeds on earth against the enmity of fiends,
by brave deeds against the devil,
that the children of men may extol him afterwards,
and his praise may live afterwards with the angels,
always to eternity, the glory of life eternal,
joy among the heavenly host. The days are departed,
all the glories of the kingdom of the earth;
now there are neither kings nor emperors,
nor goldgivers as there once were,
when they performed amongst themselves so many glorious deeds,
and lived in the most lordly renown.
All this host is fallen, joys are departed,
the weaker ones remain and rule the world,
gain the use of it by toil. The blossom is bowed down,
the nobility of the earth grows old and fades,
just as now each of the men throughout middle-earth.
Old age overtakes him, the face grows pale,
the hoary-haired one mourns, knows that his friendship of former days,
children of princes, have been given to the earth.
The flesh-home may not then, when life fails,
either swallow sweet, or feel pain,
or stir a hand, or think with the mind.
Although a brother may wish to strew with gold
the grave of his brother, bury him with the dead
with manifold treasures, they will not go with him–
gold cannot be a help to the soul which is full of sin,
before the terror of God
when he hides it formerly while he lives here.
The terrible power of the Measurer will be great, before which the earth will turn aside;
He established the rocky foundations,
the surfaces of the earth, and the heaven above.
Foolish is he who does not fear his Lord: death comes to him unprepared.
Blessed is he who lives humble; grace from the heavens comes to him.
The Measurer makes firm his spirit, because he believes in His might.
A man must control his headstrong spirit, and keep it in place,
and trustworthy in pledges, pure in its ways.
Each man should govern with moderation,
love to a loved one and malice to an enemy,
although he may not… filled up with fire…. [?]
Fate is stronger,
The Measurer mightier, than the conception of any man.
Let us think where we have a home,
and then consider how we may come thither;
and then also we may endeavour, so that we might go
to that eternal blessedness,
where life is inseparable from the love of the Lord,
bliss in the heaevens. Let there be thanks to God,
the Lord of Glory, that He has honoured us,
true Lord, for all time.