"I do not know whether it is still the fashion to elaborate poems at length, to keep them between being and non-being, suspended for years in the presence of desire; to nourish doubts, scruples and regrets --- so that a work perpetually resumed and recast gradually takes on the secret importance of an exercise in self-reform.

This way of producing little was not uncommon among poets and some prose writers forty years ago. For them, time did not count; in that, they were rather like gods. Neither the Idol of Beauty nor the superstition of Literary Eternity had yet been destroyed; and belief in Posterity was not entirely abolished. There existed a kind of Ethic of Form that led to infinite labour. Those who devoted themselves to it well knew that the greater the labour, the fewer the people who understand and appreciate it; they toiled for very little --- and, as it were, holily .....

Thus one moves away from the 'natural' or ingenuous conditions of literature and comes little by little to confuse the composition of a work of the mind, which is a finished thing, with the very life of the mind --- which is the power of transformation always in action. One ends by working for work's sake. In the eyes of these lovers of anxiety and perfection, a work is never complete --- a word which to them is meaningless --- but abandoned; and this abandonment, which delivers the work to the flames or to the public (whether it be the result of weariness or the necessity of delivering), is for them a kind of accident comparable to the interruption of a thought annulled by fatigue, an importunate person, or some sensation."

Paul Valéry. The Collected Works, Vol 7, The Art of Poetry, translated by Denise Folliot, Bollingen Foundation 1958, p.140.

"The poet .......... is expected to present a plain unannotated text of his poems, and no supporting documents or testimonials whatsoever."

Robert Graves; Dame Ocupacyon, The Crowning Privilege; Cassell 1955; p.115.

The friends that have it I do wrong
Whenever I remake a song
Should know what issue is at stake,
It is myself that I remake.
Collected Works, William Butler Yeats, 1908

These are working notes mostly compiled in the course of composition, tidied up here for wider consumption. A precedent for self-annotated verse was set by the most influential English-language poem of the first half of the 20th century, T.S.Eliot's The Waste Land, 1922. Graves passes a few tart comments on Eliot, and others, in These Be Your Gods, O Israel!, another essay in The Crowning Privilege, 1955. Massive precedent for self-annotated translation is set by Vladimir Nabokov's Eugen Onegin, 1964. Nabokov, it would also seem, had no great affection for T.S.Eliot. It is not always possible to satisfy the expectations of others.

The annotation merges comment on both target language (MV) and source language (AS) texts. The notes are grouped by MV stanza. The numbered lines of the AS are sectioned to match the stanzas. The lines divide as follows: stanza 1 MV = lines 1-6a AS; 2 = 6b-8a; 3 = 8b-12a; 4 = 12b-16; 5 = 17; 6 = 18-25a; 7 = 25b-26; 8 = 27-30; 9 = 31-33a; 10/11 = 33b-38; 12 = 39-43; 13 = 44-47; 14 = 48-52; 15 = 53-55a; 16 = 55b-57; 17 = 58-62a; [centre] 18 = 62b-64a; 19 = 64b-67; 20 = 68-71; 21 = 72-80a; 22 = 80b-85; 23 = 86-93; 24 = 94-99; 25 = 100-105; 26 = 106-107; 27 = 108; 28 = 109-116; 29 = 117-122a; 30 = 122b-124/5. Click on numbers for transportation.

The notes for each stanza are sub-divided into sections: (g): General overview of stanza. (e): Excerpts and echoes from many sources, freely associated with the AS. Many of these guided the choice of wording in the MV; others are mentioned for some congruence of thought and image. Several of them, if pre 975 AD, may conceivably have been in the Seafarer author's own mind. For notes on genuinely likely influences, see Corey Owen's site, available [here]. A website project, Fontes AS, at, will eventually offer a complete catalogue of all that a literate C10th Anglo-Saxon might have read. Whether or not he knew them at first hand, it now seems to me that the poet had the works of Boethius permanently in mind. (s): Specific points that attracted attention during translation; not a substitute for annotations in the several scholarly editions. (a): Ambiguities, puns, homonyms, multiple meanings, reinforcements, sliding syntax, mainly in the MV. Much in the AS will have been missed. AS and MV cannot often match, but MV wordplay may compensate for wordplay elsewhere in the AS. No section; no notes.

In the interests of brevity there is minor source editing of some the excerpts quoted. Correction of fact is welcomed. Differences of opinion, since opinion is the breath of thought, are also welcomed. Please mail here. These notes are under permanent construction.

Annotation Pages

Modern Version stanzas 1-7;   Anglo-Saxon lines 1-26

MV stanzas 8-14;   AS lines 27-52:         MV stanzas 15-20;   AS lines 53-71

MV stanzas 20-24;   AS lines 72-99:        MV stanzas 25-30;   AS lines 100-125

  A un poeta sajón


  Hoy no eres otra cosa que unas palabras

  Que los germanistas anotan.

  Hoy no eres otra cosa que mi voz

  Cuando revive tus palabras de hierro.




Sunset at Maerrapanna; Norway

photo: © Trine Sirnes 1999

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