by Adam Lindsay Gordon (1833 - 1870)
Translation © by Bertram Kottmann

The swimmer
Language: English 
Available translation(s): CAT GER ITA
With short, sharp violent lights made vivid,
  To southward far as the sight can roam ;
Only the swirl of the surges livid,
  The seas that climb and the surfs that comb.
Only the crag and the cliff to nor'ward,
[And]1 The rocks receding, and reefs flung forward,
[And]1 waifs wreck'd seaward and wasted shoreward,
  On shallows sheeted with flaming foam.

A grim, gray coast and a seaboard ghastly,
  And shores trod seldom by feet of men --
Where the batter'd hull and the broken mast lie,
  They have lain embedded these long years ten.
Love! when we wandered here together,
Hand in hand through the sparkling weather,
From the heights and hollows of fern and heather,
  God surely loved us a little then.

The skies were [fairer and]2 shores were firmer --
  The blue sea over the bright sand roll'd;
Babble and prattle, and ripple and murmur,
  Sheen of silver and glamour of gold.
[And the sunset bath'd in the gulf to lend her
A garland of pinks and of purples tender,
A tinge of the sun-god's rosy splendour,
  A tithe of his glories manifold.]1

Man's works are graven, cunning, and skilful
  On earth, where his tabernacles are;
But the sea is wanton, the sea is wilful,
  And who shall mend her and who shall mar?
Shall we carve success or record disaster
On the bosom of her heaving alabaster?
Will her purple pulse beat fainter or faster
  For fallen sparrow or fallen star?

I would that with sleepy, soft embraces
  The sea would fold me -- would find me rest,
In luminous shades of her secret places,
  In depths where her marvels are manifest;
So the earth beneath her should not discover
My hidden couch -- nor the heaven above her --
As a strong love shielding a weary lover,
  I would have her shield me with shining breast.

When light in the realms of space lay hidden,
  When life was yet in the womb of time,
Ere flesh was fettered to fruits forbidden,
  And souls were wedded to care and crime,
Was the course foreshaped for the future spirit --
A burden of folly, a void of merit --
That would fain the wisdom of stars inherit,
  And cannot fathom the seas sublime?

Under the sea or the soil (what matter?
  The sea and the soil are under the sun),
As in the former days in the latter,
  The sleeping or waking is known of none.
Surely the sleeper shall not awaken
To griefs forgotten or joys forsaken,
For the price of all things given and taken,
  The sum of all things done and undone.

Shall we count offences or coin excuses,
  Or weigh with scales the soul of a man,
Whom a strong hand binds and a sure hand looses,
  Whose light is a spark and his life a span?
The seed he sow'd or the soil he cumber'd,
The time he served or the space he slumber'd,
Will it profit a man when his days are number'd,
  Or his deeds since the days of his life began?

One, glad because of the light, saith, "Shall not
  The righteous Judge of all the earth do right,
For behold the sparrows on the house-tops fall not
  Save as seemeth to Him good in His sight?"
And this man's joy shall have no abiding,
Through lights departing and lives dividing,
He is soon as one in the darkness hiding,
  One loving darkness rather than light.

A little season of love and laughter,
  Of light and life, and pleasure and pain,
And a horror of outer darkness after,
  And dust returneth to dust again.
Then the lesser life shall be as the greater,
And the lover of life shall join the hater,
And the one thing cometh sooner or later,
  And no one knoweth the loss or gain.

Love of my life! we had lights in season --
  Hard to part from, harder to keep --
We had strength to labour and souls to reason,
  And seed to scatter and fruits to reap.
Though time estranges and fate disperses,
We have HAD our loves and our loving mercies;
Though the gifts of the light in the end are curses,
  Yet bides the gift of the darkness -- sleep!

[See! girt with tempest and winged]3 with thunder,  
And clad with lightning and shod with sleet,
  [The strong winds treading the swift waves sunder]4
The flying rollers with frothy feet.
  One gleam like a bloodshot sword-blade swims on
The sky-line, staining the green gulf crimson,
A death stroke fiercely dealt by a dim sun,
  That strikes through his stormy winding-sheet.

O, brave white horses! you gather and gallop,
  The storm sprite loosens the gusty reins;
Now the stoutest ship were the frailest shallop
  In your hollow backs, on your high arch'd manes.
I would ride as never [a]1 man has ridden
In your sleepy, swirling surges hidden,
To gulfs [foreshadowed through straits]5 forbidden,
   Where no light wearies and no love wanes.

E. Elgar sets stanzas 1-3, 12-13

View original text (without footnotes)
1 omitted by Elgar, who sets stanzas 1-2, 3:1-4, and 12-13
2 Elgar: "fairer, the"
3 Elgar: "So girt with tempest and wing'd"
4 Elgar: "And strong winds treading the swift waves under"
5 Elgar: "foreshadow'd thro' strifes"


Musical settings (art songs, Lieder, mélodies, (etc.), choral pieces, and other vocal works set to this text), listed by composer (not necessarily exhaustive)

Available translations, adaptations or excerpts, and transliterations (if applicable):

  • CAT Catalan (Català) (Salvador Pila) , "El nedador", copyright © 2013, (re)printed on this website with kind permission
  • GER German (Deutsch) (Bertram Kottmann) , "Der Schwimmer", copyright © 2015, (re)printed on this website with kind permission
  • ITA Italian (Italiano) (Ferdinando Albeggiani) , "Il nuotatore", copyright © 2011, (re)printed on this website with kind permission

Researcher for this text: Emily Ezust [Administrator]

This text was added to the website between May 1995 and September 2003.
Line count: 104
Word count: 820

Der Schwimmer
Language: German (Deutsch)  after the English 
Plötzlich und heftig erhellt von Blitzen -
gen Süden soweit das Auge reicht
nichts als das Wüten wirbelnder Wellen -
brodelt und brandet die See heran.
Nichts als Klippe und Kliff gegen Norden
und weichende Felsen und ragende Riffe,
Treibgut, das an der Küste zerschellt
auf Untiefen überschäumt von Gischt.

Grimmig, grau, grauenvoll diese Küste,
und Ufer, die man selten betrat, -
wo zerschmettert der Rumpf, gebrochen der Mast
diese langen zehn Jahre schon liegen.
Liebe! war es, als wir Hand in Hand
im Sonnenschein durchs hüglige Land
wanderten zwischen Heidekraut, Farn und Sand:
Wir spürten Gottes liebende Hand.

Heit’rer der Himmel, das Ufer fester -
ein blaues Meer rollte über den hellen Sand;
Plätschern und Plappern, Kräuseln und Murmeln,
Silbernes Schimmern und goldener Glanz.









So, sturmwindgegürtet und donnergeflügelt,
in Blitzen gewandet, eisregenbeschuht
trennen die starken Winde auf flinken Wellen
anfliegende Brecher mit schäumendem Fuß.
Wie eine blutige Klinge funkelt’s am Horizont 
und färbt die grünfarb’ne Bucht tiefrot,
ein wilder Todesstreich der letzten Sonne
durch ihr stürmisches Leichentuch.

O wackere Schimmel! Ihr schart euch und sprengt,
die Windsbraut lockert die Zügel der Böen;
das robusteste Schiff wär’ dann das zerbrechlichste Boot
auf euren gesenkten Rücken und euren flatternden Mähnen.
Ich ritt euch wie nie je ein Mensch zuvor,
verborgen in euren müden rollenden Wogen, 
zu erahnten Buchten durch verbotene Engen,
wo kein Licht ermüdet, keine Liebe vergeht.


  • Translation from English to German (Deutsch) copyright © 2015 by Bertram Kottmann, (re)printed on this website with kind permission. To reprint and distribute this author's work for concert programs, CD booklets, etc., you must ask the copyright-holder(s) directly for permission. If you receive no response, you must consider it a refusal.

    Bertram Kottmann.  Contact: BKottmann (AT)

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This text was added to the website: 2015-08-07
Line count: 104
Word count: 295