The Seafarer (poem)

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The Seafarer is an anonymous Old English elegiac poem on the cares of the mariner's life. It dates from the 8th or 9th century.

The translations used here are by Michael Alexander, and are taken from his The Earliest English Poems (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1975).



  • Þæt se beorn ne wat,
    sefteadig secg,      hwæt þa sume dreogað
    þe þa wræclastas      widost lecgað.
    • Blithe heart cannot know,
      Through its happiness, what hardships they suffer
      Who drive the foam-furrow furthest from land.
    • Line 55


  • Simle þreora sum      þinga gehwylce
    ær his tiddege      to tweon weorþeð:
    adl oþþe yldo      oþþe ecghete
    fægum fromweardum      feorh oðþringeð.
    • Three things all ways threaten a man's peace
      And one before the end shall overthrow his mind;
      Either illness or age or the edge of vengeance
      Shall draw out the breath from the doom-shadowed.
    • Line 68


  • Nearon nu cyningas      ne caseras
    ne goldgiefan      swylce iu wæron,
    þonne hi mæst mid him      mærþa gefremedon
    ond on dryhtlicestum      dome lifdon.
    • Kings are not now, kaisers are not,
      There are no gold-givers like the gone masters
      Who between them framed the first deeds in the world,
      In their lives lordly, in the lays renowned.
    • Line 82


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