Noon Position: 44 31S 179 45E
Bar: 1027, steady
Cabin Temperature: 58
Water Temperature: 55
Sail: Working jib and main full, close hauled
Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good: 43
Miles this leg: 1,432
Avg. Miles this leg: 119
Miles since departure: 18,687
Consider for a moment the commonality of human experience through time.
We lay becalmed all night. The sails hung like sheets on a line, dripping with dew. I stowed them after dinner, put on the anchor light and went to my bunk.
At midnight, I rose, anticipating wind from the north, but the sea was but an undulation, smooth and black and quiet as breath. A beaming moon hung above the spreaders, a lone eye keeping watch as the firmament slumbered. Then the white flash of a bird on the wing.
I rose again at four. Now the anemometer said 8 knots, but on deck I turned my face to the north and felt nothing. The mast had played its tricks; as we rolled it whipped the wind instrument back and forth from three stories high. Up there, it was blowing 8 knots. But nothing had changed down below.
Finally, an hour before sunup, we sailed on the foretold northerly.
The day came on gloomy, again. Even at noon there was the sense that the sun had not quite risen. Then the wind veered and we were being pushed east. North and out of this ocean is what I want, not east; north and out of the reach of the coming great harvesters from the west; north and out of a foreshortened day and lowering gray; north and out of the grim and the cold.
All day the albatross and the cape petrel circled Mo in packs, the one soaring in slow arcs at distance, aloof, observant; the other quick flapping so close as to receive lift off Mo’s weather topsides. Then a pod of seals. Then they depart astern, and it is just the boat and the sea. All about, the horizon is a clean, endless expanse.
And I think, who would choose to come to such a place, and who, having seen it, the abode of the wild god of the world, would ever choose another.
Then, from a friend, I receive a note with a poem attached. The Seafarer, one of the first Old
English poems, anthologized in c. 975 AD, but likely much older.
Heres’ one section:
33 Now, therefore, the thoughts of my heart are in conflict as to whether I for my part should explore the deep currents and the surging of the salty waves–my mind’s desire time and time again urges the soul to set out, so that I may find my way to the land of strangers far away from here–but there is no one on earth so confident of temperament, nor so generous of his gifts, nor so bold in his youth, nor so courageous in his deeds, nor his lord so gracious to him, that he never worries about his seafaring, as to what the Lord will send him; he will have no thought for the harp, nor for the ring-receiving ceremonial, nor for the pleasure of a woman nor for trust in that which is of the world, nor for anything else, but only for the surging of the waves–and yet he who aspires to the ocean always has the yearning.
How strange today to feel kinship with a voice so old. We think our thoughts are our own; our experiences, sought-after, we gather them to us as if fresh and new. But they are not; they pre-exist us and those who begot us and stretch back, with lives of their own, to the very beginning. We can only ever see, per The Quartets, “as if” for the first time.
Here is the entirety of what was sent:
The Seafarer (SAJ Bradley translation)
I can tell the true riddle of my own self, and speak of my experiences – how I have often suffered times of hardship in days of toil, how I have endured cruel anxiety at heart and experienced many anxious lodging-places afloat, and the terrible surging of the waves. There the hazardous night-watch has often found me at the ship’s prow when it is jostling along the cliffs. My feet were pinched by the cold, shackled by the frost in cold chains, whilst anxieties sighed hot about my heart. Hunger tore from within at the mind of one wearied by the ocean. This that man does not understand, who is most agreeably suited on land – how I, wretchedly anxious, have for years lived on the ice-cold sea in the ways of the sojourner, bereft of kinsfolk, hung about by ice-spikes; hail pelted in showers. There I heard nothing but the raging of the sea, the ice-cold wave. Sometimes I would take the song of the swan as my entertainment, the cry of the gannet and the call of the curlew in place of human laughter, the sea-mew’s singing in place of the mead-drinking. There storms would pound the rocky cliffs whilst the tern, icy-winged, answered them; very often the sea-eagle would screech, wings dappled with spray. No protective kinsman could comfort the inadequate soul.
27 He, therefore, who has experienced life’s pleasure in cities, and few perilous journeys, insolent and flown with wine, little credits how I, weary, have often had to remain on the ocean path. The shadow of night would spread gloom; it would snow from the north, rime-frost would bind the ground; hail, coldest of grains, would fall upon the earth.
33 Now, therefore, the thoughts of my heart are in conflict as to whether I for my part should explore the deep currents and the surging of the salty waves – my mind’s desire time and time again urges the soul to set out, so that I may find my way to the land of strangers far away from here – for there is no one on earth so confident of temperament, nor so generous of his gifts, nor so bold in his youth, nor so courageous in his deeds, nor his lord so gracious to him, that he never worries about his seafaring, as to what the Lord will send him; he will have no thought for the harp, nor for the ring-receiving ceremonial, nor for the pleasure of a woman nor for trust in that which is of the world, nor for anything else, but only for the surging of the waves – and yet he who aspires to the ocean always has the yearning.
48 The woodlands take on blossoms, the cities grow more lovely, the meadows become beautiful, the world hastens onwards: all these urge anyone eager of mind and of spirit, who thus longs to travel far upon the ocean paths, to the journey. The cuckoo too serves warning by its mournful cry; summer’s herald sings and foretells cruel distress at heart. That man, the fellow blessed with affluence, does not understand this – what those individuals endure who follow the ways of alienation to their furthest extent.
Now, therefore, my thought roams beyond the confines of my heart; my mind roams widely with the ocean tide over the whale’s home, over earth’s expanses, and comes back to me avid and covetous; the lone flier calls and urges the spirit irresistibly along the whale-path over the waters of oceans, because for me the pleasures of the Lord are more enkindling than this dead life, this ephemeral life on land. I do not believe that material riches will last eternally for him. One of three things will ever become a matter of uncertainty for any man before his last day: ill-health or old age or the sword’s hostile violence will crush the life from the doomed man in his heedlessness.
72 For every man, therefore, praise from the living, speaking out afterwards, is the best of epitaphs: that, before he has to be on his way, he accomplishes gains against the malice of fiends, brave deeds in the devil’s despite, so that the sons of men may afterwards extol him, and his praise may endure for ever and ever among the angels, and the splendour of his eternal life and his pleasure endure among the celestial hosts.
80 The days have been slipping away, and all the pomps of the kingdom of earth. There are not now kings nor emperors nor gold-giving lords like those that used once to be, when they performed the greatest deeds of glory among themselves and lived in most noble renown. This whole company has perished; the pleasures have slipped away. The weaker remain and occupy the world; in toil they use it. Splendour had been humbled. Earth’s nobility ages and grows sear just as each man now does throughout the middle-earth. Old age advances upon him, his face grows pallid, grey-haired he mourns: he is conscious that his former friends, the sons of princes, have been committed to the earth. Then, when life fails him, his body will be unable to taste sweetness of feel pain or stir a hand or think with the mind. Although a brother may wish to strew the grave with gold for his kinsman, to heap up by the dead man’s side various treasures that he would like to go with him, the gold he hides in advance while he lives here cannot be of help to the soul which is full of sins, in the face of God’s awesomeness.