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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

The Fortunes of Men

By Anglo-Saxon Literature

Translation of Henry Morley

FULL often it falls out, by fortune from God,

That a man and a maiden may marry in this world,

Find cheer in the child whom they cherish and care for,

Tenderly tend it, until the time comes,

Beyond the first years, when the young limbs increasing

Grown firm with life’s fullness, are formed for their work.

Fond father and mother so guide it and feed it,

Give gifts to it, clothe it: God only can know

What lot to its latter days life has to bring,

To some that make music in life’s morning hour

Pining days are appointed of plaint at the close.

One the wild wolf shall eat, hoary haunter of wastes:

His mother shall mourn the small strength of a man.

One shall sharp hunger slay; one shall the storm beat down;

One be destroyed by darts, one die in war.

One shall live losing the light of his eyes,

Feel blindly with fingers; and one, lame of foot,

With sinew-wound wearily wasteth away,

Musing and mourning, with death in his mind.

One, failing feathers, shall fall from the height

Of the tall forest tree; yet he trips as though flying,

Plays proudly in air till he reaches the point

Where the woodgrowth is weak; life then whirls in his brain,

Bereft of his reason he sinks to the root,

Falls flat on the ground, his life fleeting away.

Afoot on the far-ways, his food in his hand,

One shall go grieving, and great be his need,

Press dew on the paths of the perilous lands

Where the stranger may strike, where live none to sustain.

All shun the desolate for being sad.

One the great gallows shall have in its grasp,

Stained in dark agony, till the soul’s stay,

The bone-house, is bloodily all broken up;

When the harsh raven hacks eyes from the head,

The sallow-coated, slits the soulless man.

Nor can he shield from shame, scare with his hands,

Off from their eager feast prowlers of air.

Lost is his life to him, left is no breath,

Bleached on the gallows-beam bides he his doom;

Cold death-mists close round him called the Accursed.


One shall die by the dagger, in wrath, drenched with ale,

Wild through wine, on the mead bench, too swift with his words;

Through the hand that brings beer, through the gay boon companion,

His mouth has no measure, his mood no restraint;

Too lightly his life shall the wretched one lose,

Undergo the great ill, be left empty of joy.

When they speak of him slain by the sweetness of mead,

His comrades shall call him one killed by himself.


Some have good hap, and some hard days of toil;

Some glad glow of youth, and some glory in war,

Strength in the strife; some sling the stone, some shoot.


One shall handle the harp, at the feet of his hero

Sit and win wealth from the will of his Lord;

Still quickly contriving the throb of the cords,

The nail nimbly makes music, awakes a glad noise,

While the heart of the harper throbs, hurried by zeal.