Beowulf & Beyond

Dan Veach



The Seafarer

Winner of the Willis Barnstone Translation Prize

...Harrowing night watch in the vessel’s prow

was often my lot, as the boat beat and pitched

its way beneath the cliffs. My feet

felt the pinch of cold, chained
in fetters of frost. The clutch of fear

was hot around my heart; inward hunger

ate at my water-weary mind.

The only sound was the pounding

sea, the ice-heavy wave. Sometimes

the wild swan’s song I took

for my pleasure, the gannet’s cry,

the curlew’s call instead of the laughter
of men, the seagull’s mewing

instead of honey mead.

Night shadows darken, snow comes

from the north, hoarfrost binds

the ground, hail falls to earth,

the coldest of grains. And yet,

beating upon my heart, still it comes—
the thought that I must try

the play of the high sea’s salt waves

for myself, the soul always urging

the spirit to fare forth, and far hence

seek the lands of foreign people.

So now my heart soars up

out of its chest, and flies—

my soul across the flooded seaways,

the kingdom of the whale, goes circling wide

over the surface of the earth, coming back to me

eager and greedy. The lone flyer screams—

whetting the spirit irresistibly

over the whale-way, over the trackless

expanses of the sea.

Copyright 2012 by Daniel Veach

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