Simple Reality at Sea

The Wanderer and The Seafarer
(authors unknown-early 8th century-Northumbria)

Translation by Charles W. Kennedy

These two Old English poems would be for most of us unreadable in the original. The content, however, would be familiar to those of us conversant with Simple Reality. The poet who wrote The Wanderer lived in a violent time and likely experienced one of those raids by marauding Norseman which caused him to reflect on the impermanence of life in “Angle-land.”

Here wealth is fleeting, friends are fleeting,
Man is fleeting, maid is fleeting;
All the foundation of earth shall fail!

The fundamental illusion of the world of form was beginning to dawn on the poet who “sees that desolation which will sooner or later overtake all the pleasant things of this world.”

In The Seafarer the universal realization that life is suffering hangs like a heavy fog over the consciousness of this poet. “The sea is portrayed as a capricious mistress, exacting and cruel, seductive and fatal. Her days are toil and hardship; her nights are weariness and peril.”

Nevertheless he senses and is attracted to that wondrous perfection that many of us can only connect to when confronted by the beauty of nature.

Yet still, even now, my spirit within me
Drives me seaward to sail; the deep,
Nor other interest can hold his heart
Save only the sweep of the surging billows,
His heart is haunted by love of the sea.
Eager, desirous, the lone sprite returneth;
It cries in my ears and it calls to my heart
To launch where the whales plough their
Paths through the deep.

These early Christian poets projected their experience of the epiphany of the NOW into a future time and place called Heaven. “Only in the life to come can a seafarer hope to find safe harbor.”  Fortunate indeed are those of us who no longer have to long for the peaceful harbor—our ship has docked—we have found safe harbor.

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References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry.

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