The following anglo-saxon poem is one of my favourites, its harsh gloomy mood speaks down to us through the centuries, the misery of cold and ice and dangers faced are captured clearly. The strength of the spoken language comes over vividly. Michael Alexander in his book Earliest English poetry, stresses the fact that these Saxon poems come from a much earlier tradition of bardic poetry, it has the same strong echoes that are found in the early British poet Taliesin. To read them out loud, one must remember that they were delivered in a great smoky timbered hall to the assembled company as they feasted. Because they are spoken, the person who recites them can alter the words to suit the moment, the drama of the words are underlined by the half-line rendition; between these two half-lines one must imagine the sound of a harp giving the dramatic pause of a story in the telling. Also, like Shakespeare, there are rich metaphoric images, so that the sun is woruld candel the sea is swan-rud (swans riding).
Mæg ic be me sylfum soðgied wrecan,
May I for my own self song's truth reckon,
siþas secgan, hu ic geswincdagum
Journey's jargon, how I in harsh days
earfoðhwile oft þrowade,
Hardship endured oft
bitre breostceare gebiden hæbbe,
Bitter breast-cares have I abided,
gecunnad in ceole cearselda fela,
Known on my keel many a care's hold
atol yþa gewealc, þær mec oft bigeat
And dire sea-surge, and there I oft spent
nearo nihtwaco æt nacan stefnan,
Narrow nightwatch nigh the ship's head
þonne he be clifum cnossað. Calde geþrungen
While she tossed close to cliffs.
wæron mine fet, forste gebunden,
My feet were by frost benumbed
caldum clommum, þær þa ceare seofedun
Chill its chains are; chafing sighs
hot'ymb heortan; hungor innan slat
Hew my heart round and hunger begot
merewerges mod. þæt se mon ne wat
Mere-weary mood. Lest man know not
þe him on foldan fægrost limpeð,
That he on dry land loveliest liveth,
hu ic earmcearig iscealdne sæ
List how I, care-wretched, on ice-cold sea,
winter wunade wræccan lastum,
Weathered the winter, wretched outcast
Deprived of my kinsmen; .
bihongen hrimgicelum; hægl scurum fleag.
Hung with hard ice-flakes, where hail-scur flew,
pær ic ne gehyrde butan hlimman sæ
There I heard naught save the harsh sea
iscaldne wæg. Hwilum yifete song
And ice-cold wave, at whiles the swan cries
dyde ic me to gomene, ganetes hleo€or
Did for my games the gannet's clamour,
ond huilpan sweg fore hleahtor wera,
Sea-fowls, loudness was for me laughter
mæw singende fore medodrince.
The mews' singing all my mead-drink
Stormas pær stanclifu beotan. €ær him stearn oncwæõ
Storms, on the stone-cliffs beaten, fell on the stern
isigfe€era; ful oft €æ earn bigeal,
In icy feathers; full oft the eagle screamed
urigfe€ næra; nænig hieomæga
With spray on his pinion.
Anglo Saxon transcribed by Alan Watson
English by Ezra Pound
The rest of the poem can be found here.