The Wanderer

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The Wanderer

trans. Charles W. Kennedy

Oft to the Wanderer, weary of exile,

Cometh God’s pity, compassionate love,

Though woefully toiling on wintry seas

With churning oar in the icy wave,

Homeless and helpless he fled from Fate.

Thus saith the Wanderer mindful of misery,

Grievous disasters, and death of kin:

"Oft when the day broke, oft at the dawning,

Lonely and wretched I wailed my woe.

No man is living, no comrade left,

To whom I dare fully unlock my heart.

I have learned truly the mark of a man

Is keeping his counsel and locking his lips,

Let him think that he will! For woe of heart

Withstandeth not Fate; a failing spirit

Earneth no help. Men eager for honor

Bury their sorrow deep in the breast

So have I also, often in wretchedness

Fettered my feelings, far from my kin,

Homeless and hapless, since days of old,

When the dark earth covered my dear lord’s face,

And I sailed away with sorrowful heart,

Over wintry seas, seeking a gold-lord,

If far or near lived one to befriend me

With gift in the meadhall and comfort for grief.

Who bears it, knows what a bitter companion,

Shoulder to shoulder, sorrow can be,

When friends are no more. His fortune is exile,

No gifts of fine gold; a heart that is frozen,

Earth’s winsomeness dead. And he dreams of the hallmen,

The dealing of treasure, the days of his youth,

When his lord bade welcome to wassail and feast.

But gone is that gladness, and never again

Shall come the loved counsel of comrade and king.

Even in slumber his sorrow assaileth,

And, dreaming he claspeth his dear lord again’

Head on knee, loyally laying,

Pledging his liege as in days long past.

Then from his slumber he starts lonely hearted,

Beholding grey stretches of tossing sea,

Sea-birds bathing, with wings outspread,

While hail storms darken and driving snow

Bitterer then is the bane of his wretchedness,

The longing for loved one; the grief is renewed.

The forms of his kinsmen take shape in the silence;

In rapture he greets them; in gladness he scans

Old comrades remembered. But they melt into air

With no word of greeting to gladden his heart.

Then again surges his sorrow upon him;

And grimly he spurs on his weary soul

Once more to the toil of the tossing sea.

No wonder therefore in all the world,

If a shadow darkens upon my spirit

When I reflect on the fates of men—

How one by one proud warriors vanish

From the halls that knew them, and day by day

All this earth ages and droops unto death.

No man may know wisdom till many a winter

Has been his portion. A wise man is patient,

Not swift to anger, nor hast7y of speech,

Neither too weak, nor to reckless, in war,

Neither fearful nor fain, nor too wishful of wealth,

Nor too eager in vow—ere he know the event.

A brave man must bide when he speaketh his boast

Until surely the goal of his spirit.

A wiseman will ponder how dread is that doom

When all the world’s wealth shall be scattered and waste—

As now, over all, through the regions of earth,

Walls stand rime covered and swept by the winds.

The battlements crumble the wine halls decay;

Joyless and silent the heroes are sleeping

Where the proud host fell by the wall they defended.

Some battle launched on their long, last journey;

One a bird bore o’er the billowing sea;

One the grey wolf slew; one a grieving earl

Sadly gave to the grave’s embrace.

The warden of men hath wasted this world

Till the sound of music and revel is stilled,

And these giant built structures stand empty of life.

He who shall muse of these mouldering ruins

And deeply ponder this darkling life,

Must brood on old legends of battle and bloodshed,

And heavy the mood that troubles his heart:

‘Where now is the warrior? Where the war horse?

Bestowal of treasure and sharing of feast?

Alas! The bright ale cup, the brymy-clad warrior,

The prince in his splendor—those days are long sped

In the night of the past, as if they never had been!’

And now remains only, for warriors’ memorial,

A wall wondrous high with serpent shapes carved

Storms of ash spears have smitten the earls

Carnage of weapon, and conquering Fate.

Storms now batter these ramparts of stone;

Blowing snow and the blast of winter.

Enfoldeth earth; night shadows fall

Darkly lowering, from the north driving

Raging hail in wrath upon men.

Wretchedness fills the realm of the earth,

And Fate's decrees transform the world.

Here wealth is fleeting, friends are fleeting

Man is fleeting, maid is fleeting;

All the foundation of earth shall fail!'

Thus spake the sage in solitude pondering

Good man is he who guardeth his faith.

He must never too quickly unburden his breast

of its sorrow, but eagerly strive for redress;

And happy the man who seeketh for mercy

From his heavenly Father, our Fortress and Strength.