I can utter a true song about myself, tell of my travels, how in toilsome days I often suffered a time of hardship, how I have borne bitter sorrow in my breast, made trial of many sorrowful abodes on ships; dread was the rolling of the waves. There the hard night watch at the boat's prow was often my task, when it tossed by the cliffs. Afflicted with cold, my feet were fettered by frost, chill bonds. There my sorrows, hot round my heart, were sighed forth; hunger within rent the mind of the sea-weary man. The man who fares most prosperously on land knows not how I, careworn, have spent a winter as an exile on the ice-cold sea, cut off from kinsmen, hung round with icicles. The hail flew in showers, I heard naught there save the sea booming, the ice-cold billow, at times the song of the swan. I took my gladness in the cry of the gannet and the sound of the curlew instead of the laughter of men, in the screaming of gull instead of the drink of mead. There the storms beat against the rocky cliffs; there the tern with icy feathers answered them full often the dewy-winged eagle screamed around. No protector could comfort the heart in its need. And yet he who has the bliss of life, who, proud and flushed with wine, suffers few hardships in the city, little believes how I often in weariness had to dwell on the ocean path. The shadow of night grew dark, snow came from the north, frost bound the earth; hail fell on the ground, coldest of grain. And yet the thoughts of my heart are now stirred that I myself should make trial of the high streams, of the tossing of the salt waves; the desire of the heart always exhorts to venture forth that I may visit the land of strange people far hence. And yet there is no man on earth so proud, nor so generous of his gifts, nor so bold in youth, nor so daring in his deeds, nor with a lord so gracious unto him, that he has not always anxiety about his seafaring, as to what the Lord will bestow on him. His thoughts are not of the harp, nor of receiving rings, nor of delight in a woman, nor of joy in the world, not of aught else save the rolling of the waves; but he who sets out on the waters ever feels longing. The groves put forth blossoms; cities grow beautiful; the fields are fair; the world revives; all these urge the heart of the eager-minded man to a journey, him who thus purposes to fare far on the ways of the flood. Likewise the cuckoo exhorts with sad voice; the harbinger of summer sings, bodes bitter sorrow to the heart. The man knows not, the prosperous being, what some of those endure who most widely pace the paths of exile. And yet my heart is now restless in my breast, my mind is with the sea-flood over the whale's domain; it fares widely over the face of the earth, comes again to me eager and unsatisfied; the lone-flier screams, resistlessly urges he heart to the whale-way over the stretch of seas.
Wherefore the joys of the Lord are more inspiring for me than this dead fleeting life on earth. I have no faith that earthly riches will abide for ever. Each one of three things is ever uncertain ere its time comes; illness or age or hostility will take life away from a man doomed and dying. Wherefore the praise of living men who shall speak after he is gone, the best of fame after death for every man, is that he should strive ere he must depart, work on earth with bold deeds against the malice of fiends, against the devil, so that the children of men may later exalt him and his praise live afterwards among the angels for ever and ever, the joy of life eternal, delight amid angels.
The days have departed, all the pomps of earth's kingdom; kings, or emperors, or givers of gold, are not as of yore when they wrought among themselves greatest deeds of glory, and lived in most lordly splendour. This host has fallen, the delights have departed; weaklings live on and possess this world, enjoy it by their toil. Glory is laid low; the nobleness of the earth ages and withers, as now every man does throughout the world. Old age comes on him; his face grows pale; grey-haired he laments; he knows that his former friends, the sons of princes, have been laid in the earth. Then, when life leaves him, his body can neither taste sweetness, nor feel pain, nor stir a hand, nor ponder in thought. Though he will strew the grave with gold, bury his brother with various treasures beside dead kinsmen, that will not go with him.(1) To the soul full of sins the gold which it hoards while it lives here gives no help in the face of God's wrath. Great is the fear of God, whereby the earth turns; he established the mighty plains, the face of the earth, and the sky above. Foolish is he who fears not his Lord; death comes to him unexpected. Blessed is he who lives humbly; mercy comes to him from heaven; God establishes that heart in him because he trusts in his strength.
One must check a violent mind and control it with firmness, and be trustworthy to men, pure in ways of life.
Every man should show moderation in love towards a friend and enmity towards a foe. . . . Fate is more strong, God more mighty than any man's thought. Let us consider where we possess our home, and then think how we may come thither, and let us then also attempt to win there, to the eternal bliss, where life springs from God's love, joy in heaven. Thanks be for ever to the Holy One because He, the Prince of glory, the Lord everlasting, has honoured us. Amen.
1. An obscure passage.