Verse > Anthologies > Margarete Münsterberg, ed., trans. > A Harvest of German Verse
Margarete Münsterberg, ed., trans.  A Harvest of German Verse.  1916.
The Seafarer
By Lulu von Strauss und Torney (1873–1956)
THE SHIP was bursting with a mighty crash:
Ablaze were bow and deck and every mast.
The old boat pitching rose to port: a splash—
A surging of gray waves—the gale’s shrill blast—
Thundering orders—prayers—then cry on cry—        5
A blow, a headlong fall—God stand me by!—
Down, down. Black night upon all senses fell.
Mate, fill my glass! This yarn is long to tell.
’Twas in the deep I saw—I saw that sight.
They have no day down there, they have no night.        10
The sand is shimmering green. There planks lie scattered,
Beside a giant mast in splinters shattered.
And up from pallid vines rise bubbles whirling—
From vines that evermore are swaying, curling,
Their long and wary tendril-arms unfurling.        15
And glistening shells among the wreckage lie
That snap without a sound when prey floats by,
And there are fish with lustre livid pale
That beat their tails transparent as a veil.
A restless host is wandering on down there,        20
A thousand thousand, an unnumbered band.
Their hands are stiff, their eyes unseeing stare;
With leaden feet they wade across the sand,
Wayfarers lost without a path or way—
Blue-jackets, grimy fellows, women folding        25
Limp arms round languid infants they are holding—
Who lived on sunken ships. Forlorn they stray,
Their names are lost, they wear strange garbs of yore—
All those who went and then returned no more.
I saw them all like pallid phantoms pass,        30
As though I watched them through a blurring glass.
One beckoned dumbly as he passed me by,
And so I followed him, I knew not why.
The way was endless and it grew and grew;
Our feet were tired and they stumbled too.        35
And him who fell, his helping neighbour raised.
A woman slipped and when I helped her, dazed
She hung upon my neck, a load of lead.
Deep blue abysses gaped. And overhead,
Like clouds upon the water gray and pale,        40
The shadows passed of many a giant whale.
One man I looked at more than all the rest,
His languid head hung limp upon his breast:
And then I knew old Peter Jens, the rover,
Who once went overboard, at night, by Dover.        45
I gently pulled his ragged shirt to say—
And then my voice seemed strange and far away—
“Where are you bound?”—He looked with glassy eye.
“We’re seeking, seeking, seeking!” his reply.
“What are you seeking, Jens?”—He answered: “Land!”        50
Then all about who with us crept and drifted,
Their weary, pale and anguished faces lifted.
A wailing trembled all along the sand.
Yet all at once my power seemed to gain.
I turned about with mighty voice to call        55
Unto this lifeless, ever wandering train:
“Now courage! Follow me! God leads us all!”
My heart was quickened and it beat again,
And ever through the void all pale and still
I was drawn onward by an unknown will;        60
Behind me crept that endless gloomy train.
How long a time elapsed, I did not know.
At times the darkness fainter seemed to grow—
The gloom that hung about on every hand—
And on the hard and livid waves of sand        65
Something arose quite near that seemed like land—
Within our grasp! And then again it faded.
The ugly brood that lurks within the deep
Pursued us lazily. Then faint and jaded,
Lost in the mighty void, we cannot keep        70
Our courage; stifled, all our hopes must cease—
No morning dawns! Ah, there is no release!
Wherefore this torment?
          Faint they reeled and stayed
Worn out, beneath the everlasting shade.        75
“Where art Thou, God?” I cried, but no sound made.—
—Now, now: a point! A sudden glimmer bright!
A crevice burst—a flood of light was gleaming,
The earth and sky with golden glow were streaming!
Salvation! Hail! A rushing for the light!        80
I hurled the woman up unto the strand
And staggered, with my last force crying: “Land!”
Here, mate! My glass is empty. Fill it, lad!
What next? Why, nothing. I can tell no more.
I only know—the night was very bad—        85
They found me lying on the Scottish shore.
My ship? The wreck? God knows where that had stranded.
All those who in the night with me had landed
Were dead and cold. They’ve found a resting-place:
A bit of earth, a cross. God give them grace!        90
Sometimes at night when there’s a creaking, crashing
And when the whistling winds the yards are thrashing,
Against the hatches angry waves are splashing—
Then it comes over me: I seem to wander
Forever with those thousand others yonder!        95
Many I’ve seen for years, but ever more
Newcomers join—each night a mighty band!
Sometimes I find one whom I knew before;
He nods and dumbly stretches out his hand.
And many a comrade in that silent throng        100
I’ve borne upon my back or dragged along.
I see them, all the sea did ever swallow;
The others, too, I see: those yet to follow—
Many a youth who laughs with us to-day,
Upon whose heart no thoughts of dying weigh.        105
And step for step through all the night we go,
Deep, deep down there.
          Jan Witt, ah, well you know,
No shaking then can wake me from my dream,
E’en should you shout to wake the dead, and scream.        110
But I come back at early dawn of day,
When in the east the blackness turns to gray;
Then I awake. My head is dull and weighs
Like lead. And then I cannot laugh for days.
Ho, fellows, why so dumb? A roundelay!        115
For what the morrow brings, who cares to-day?
Heads high and gay! Our sailors’ custom keep!
We men, when we’re at home or when we fare
On foreign seas, each day our shroud must wear.
And He above—He also knows the deep!        120

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