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Crux Versions: Thorpe and Grein


Since Benjamin Thorpe, 1782-1870, and C.W.M.Grein, 1825-1877, are the two earliest translators of The Seafarer I thought it might be interesting to examine their interpretations in detail. Most serious translators will, in the first instance, have checked the efforts of these two in order to make sure that they are conforming to what has already been decided. Luckily, in my case, I was solely inspired by Ezra Pound's abomination, and therefore not misled in any way at all, not looking at Thorpe or Grein, or other translators, until years after starting my interpretation. Grein has clearly read Thorpe, to his unfortunate detriment. He still gets "deathway" right, though.

The more I look at Thorpe's translation, the less I respect it. I can't help feeling that in his career he depended greatly on the unacknowledged linguistic abilities of his Anglo-Danish step-daughter, Elise Otte. But not in this instance.

Some words. More to come.

hyge. The Anglo-Saxon word hyge is identical in meaning with the Modern Swedish word håg. It certainly does not mean "heart". See here.

The word sefa [click] means sense, mind, or spirit. Grein emphasises the mod of modsefa, and goes for "Gemüt" --- "mood, disposition". Better than "spirit" here.

sceatas means "womb" or "lap" and/or (therefore) "grave or tomb", to which man must eventually return. It does not mean "regions", "surfaces", "expanse"; although more conceivably "corners".

eft does not mean "again". It is cognate with Swedish "efter", and means "afterwards" or "then". Its surviving descendant in English is "eftsoons", and its closest existing equivalent is "anon", meaning "soon after".

hweteš means "whets". It does not mean "augurs" (?), "incites", "urges", "arouses", but it could mean "sharpens". A "steel", noun, is a "rod with roughened surfaces for sharpening knives"; "to steel", verb, is "to harden, toughen (the heart, courage, resolution, etc)" in a person.

onwęl weg means "on the death way". It is not impossible that an ambiguity is intended, as the whale is an animal apt to drag an Anglo-Saxon sailor down to his death. At present I'm settling for the pun on "whale's" and "wails".

ofer holma gelagu means "beyond the spread of the skerries", but it has so far been too difficult for me to work that into the translation.

unwearnum does not mean "irresistibly" [Grein], or "suddenly" [Thorpe]. Difficult to see how Thorpe came up with that one. In 1872 Leo gets it dead right. The concept of man's vulnerability at the approach of death is commonplace. Further proof that anfloga means the approaching death bird.

The explanation for how Thorpe comes up with "suddenly" for unwearnum is presumably because he reads the Anglo-Saxon word as "unwarning", ie "without warning". More strange is his reading of "nathless" for hrežer. At its second occurence he seems to have mistranscribed hrežer as hwežer. See below for the manuscript, which is clear enough. Bosworth, 1838, has hwęžer, "whether", and hwęžre, "whether", "nevertheless", which is where, I suppose, Thorpe gets "nathless" from. Pretty meaningless, from a mistranscription.

ofer hrežer-locan. Here Thorpe translates hrežer as "breast", and it is evident that Grein has read Thorpe, since he also translates hrežer here as "Brust". In my opinion the hrežer is adequately but not really well-translated as the "breast".

hrežer unwearnum. At this point Grein just seems to give up, and translates hrežer as "mich", having translated unwearnum as "unwiderstehlich", following Thorpe. Curious, when he correctly translates unwearnum as "unversehens" in Beowulf.

unwearn. Since Leo gives "der sich nicht hütet" for the adjective unwearn, it seems like a good idea to translate what the German means. "Sich hüten" means "be on one's guard". "Watch, guard, defend, preserve"; ie unwearnum means being in a state of none of these. "Unguarded".

unwearnum, in Beowulf, is translated by Grein, correctly, as "unversehens"; ie unexpectedly, unforeseen (hence "suddenly"?), unawares. Notice the prefix An- in "Anlauf". Amusing, isn't it ?

Discussion of whether anfloga means the cuckoo, or the seafarer's own imagination, is absurd.
Neither the cuckoo nor the imagination can be described as "yelling, eagerly and greedily".
Or "longingly, voraciously, ravenously, avidly, or as ungratified, unsatisfied, unsated, gluttonous".

foržon nu min hyge hweorfeš ofer hrežerlocan
min modsefa mid mereflode
ofer hwęles ežel hweorfeš wide
eoržan sceatas cymeš eft to me
gifre and grędig

Gielleš anfloga
hweteš onwęl weg hrežer unwearnum
ofer holma gelagu

Reckless of that, my thought is thrown
beyond my heart's cage now. My mind is cast
upon the sea swell, over the whale's world
widely to course creation's coast
anon the death-knell keenly calls

The closing raptor wails on wing
that steels the unarmed soul to start
across the waters where the whale sways

The anfloga makes what a genuine germanista would call its Angriff, or onslaught.
What anfloga does NOT mean is "one-flier"
suddenly and irresistibly all the words fall into place

curiously striking image: origin uncertain: shaynelaverdiere ?

click for more on this matter
Translation of unwearn: Heinrich Leo, Angelsächsisches Glossar, 1872, columns 15, 16

commentaries: one, two, three [more than 60 other versions], four, five, six
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Seafarer Fidelity

© Charles Harrison-Wallace 2016