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


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.

(g): General overview of stanza. (e): Excerpts and echoes from many sources. (s): Specific points that attracted attention during interpretation. (a): Ambiguities, puns, homonyms, multiple meanings, reinforcements, sliding syntax, mainly in the MV.


MÆG ic be me sylfum | soðgied wrecan
siþas secgan | hu ic geswincdagum
earfoðwile | oft þrowade
bitre breostceare | gebidan hæbbe
gecunnad in ceole | cearselda fela       (5)
atol yþa gewealc |


MAY my words spell the truth: of the ways I toiled
distraught, for days on end
enduring cares and bitter bale
within my breast, my keel cleaving
endless halls of heaving waves


The first issue is the vocal tone of the opening. The repetitive content of the first two or three lines suggests that the scop (or preacher?) is allowing his audience a few seconds to gather their wits and concentrate their minds. Is there a hint of something resembling a formulaic poetic introit, such as Arma virumque cano? (Virgil, Aeneid, 1.1). Beowulf opens with Hwæt, which, in my view, and respecting Seamus Heaney's persuasive reasoning for "So", has a martial, clarion ring to it. My belief is that there was nothing sotto voce about these performances: they were dramatic, even if some of the content has been given a muted treatment by translators. Certainly the first half of The Seafarer vibrates with sufficient passion to justify a delivery of some intensity. Hwæt, a word connoting "sharpness" (see stanza 18), is akin to the town crier's stentorian "Oyez!", or the Sergeant-Major's "Atten---shun!". For these and other reasons, such as the background presence of Coleridge's Ancient Mariner, 1798, with its similar scenario and argument, hypnotic narrator and transfixed listener, I decided, for better or worse, to compress the repetitions and accelerate. The seafarer is presenting himself as a new kind of hero in what was still a heroic age.

July 2005. Returning to the MV after three years when I was occupied with other things I am now coming round to think that the original opening "This is the truth" is just too abrupt. Something like "My words tell the truth of the ways I toiled" would be an improvement. In fact, in any future publication of the text this amendment will be adopted. Still hovering between "tell" and "say", nevertheless.

December 2006. Now I feel that one simply has to use "may", in as imperative a sense as is possible in Modern English. "Spell" is now preferred in place of the more alliterative "tell". It suggests that the speaker intends to hold his listeners spellbound by word-force (wrecan); it spells out what he wishes to say; it slightly hints at "spill", which seems to be present in soğgied. It also alludes to the "spell" in godspell: ie "good news". The poem is evangelical, and designed both to convert and sustain the converted.

October, 2012. After trawling the internet for the etymology of "spell", it is worth repeating some of the findings. The verb "to spell" is cognate with Anglo-Saxon spellian "to tell, speak," influenced by Old French espeller "declare" from Frankish *spellon "to tell;" both Anglo-Saxon and Frankish from Proto Germanic *spellan (cf. Old High German spellon "to tell," Old Norse spjalla, Gothic spillon "to talk, tell"), from Proto Indo European *spel- "to say aloud, recite." To "spell out", meaning "to explain step-by-step" is first recorded 1940.

The noun "spell", meaning "incantation, charm," can be related to Anglo-Saxon spell "story, speech," from Proto Germanic *spellan. (cf. Old Norse spjall, Old High German spel, Gothic spill , "report, discourse, tale.") The poem is, naturally, both a form of incantation and a tale, story or report.

December 2011. Psalm 19 is quoted, twice, here. It becomes attractive to quote it a third time, but not in its AV translation, which reads verse 14 thus: "Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight...." More apt seem to be the translations adopted by both the New International Version (1984), and the New Living Translation (2007): "May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing...." The question of which is to be preferred, "let" or "may", is touched on here. The translation of mæg as "can", is robustly rejected, here. An instance of further advisability for the etymological approach, seemingly ignored and eschewed by the porofoundly misconceived Toronto Dictionary of Old English, so-called, occurs in this imagined comment of a mother to her son, as he sets forth on his military career: Adieu mein Kleiner, möge das Glück mit dir sein! See here. Or here. German möge and Anglo-Saxon mæg could hardly be closer in sound, sense and import. It does seem passing strange that so many of the most modern interpretations of Anglo-Saxon poetry appear to be made by writers otherwise ignorant of Germanic languages, both modern and ancient. There seems, sadly, to be no complete Anglo-Saxon version of Psalm 19 extant .

October, 2012, again. Comment is required on an assertion which has recently appeared on a website described by its Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer as "an educational site that specializes in literature, history, and poetry". It advises that this translation is "very poetic, but not very faithful. Professor (sic) Wallace has taken an awful lot of liberties with the original text, all in the name of poetic effect." The site is perhaps intended for you "if you're (sic) Anglo-Saxon is a little rusty". It may also be intended for you if you're gullible and backward. It must be stressed that the translation given here is by far the most well-considered and conscientiously faithful that has ever been produced. Few other versions show the slightest familiarity with the Germanic languages (ie German and Scandinavian) from which Anglo-Saxon is derived. Among the worst are those by Pound, Spaeth and Raffel.


I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. The Gospel according to St John, 14.6, Authorised Version 1611. Parts of this gospel were translated into Anglo-Saxon by Baeda, 673-735 AD. The Anglo-Saxon translation presented in Joseph Bosworth's edition of The Gothic and Anglo-Saxon Gospels, 1865, reads: Ic eom weg, and soþfæstnys, and lif; ne cymþ nan to fæder, buton þurh me. This translation is not attributed to Baeda, but I don't suppose for a moment he used siþ instead of weg. In a website [here] devoted to The Wanderer, Tim Romano points out that poem's multi-faceted references to John's gospel. Tim's site is at; it is essential reading for its own sake, as well as for the incidental light it sheds on The Seafarer.

My soul like to a ship in a black storm/Is driven I know not whither. John Webster, The White Devil, V, vi, 245-6, 1612, quoted by T.S.Eliot, Imperfect Critics, The Sacred Wood, 1920.

The hollow seas that roar. Andrew Marvell, Bermudas, 1681.

Now that I come to die/Do I view the world as a vale of tears? Robert Browning, 1812-1889, Confessions.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea. T.S.Eliot, The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock, 1917.

Tote that barge and lift that bale ... Show me that stream called the River Jordan/That's the old stream that I long to cross. Jerome Kern, Ol' Man River, 1927. (Thanks to Tony Wright,

When they come, those stormy, gasping chords, it usually signifies the end is near. Another intriguing word, end ... Rend, impend ... Thunder rending the sky, dust clouds of impending doom. Vladimir Nabokov, Music, 1932.

And as the twilight nets the plunging sun/My heart's keel slides to rest among the meadows. Laurie Lee, 1914-1997, Home from Abroad, Selected Poems.


Mæg ic: "May I" is too weak to convey the speaker's firm intention to be heard. Discussed in Swedish Sprachgefühl for Anglo-Saxon (SSAS). See also above, under g.

be me sylfum: redundant in MV, as there is oral stress on "I".

soðgied wrecan: "sooth", emphatic; gied wrecan is almost tautologous, both words implying "outpouring, expression"; cf Sw (ut)gjuta, vräka, to "pour out, heave out, spill, ejaculate"; expressed in MV by vehemence of opening words.

siþas secgan hu ic: siþas is a member of a vast family of complex words, "sit, seat, set", etc. See OED. Important here is connotation of motion, "set off, set out, set upon", ie "journey, pathway". Absent from dictionaries is any entry for added sense of "manner"; cf Sw sätt, which reappears in "way = manner", eg "I did it my way". Thus siþas secgan hu means "explain the ways how" rather than "tell of my travels". Sw säga retains this sense of "explain", which exists also in modern Eng "say", but weakly. "Way" gains impetus in MV from AV allusion.

October 2007. The assertion, above, that the meaning "manner" is absent from dictionaries is badly wrong. Bosworth-Toller, under sense IV for siþ, gives "a proceeding, course of action, way of doing, conduct", which is, I would contend, the strongly underlying if not the dominant sense here. However, B-T fails to cite Seafarer, which is certainly a serious omission. The word must also be cognate with Sw sed, meaning "custom". Pound's "journey's jargon" is senseless, ugly, and indicative of his inability to understand the poem. See Journey's Jargon, for more on the interpretation of these words.

geswincdagum : swinc survives as "swink" = "hard work/heavy toil", cognate with "swing". Dative of attendant circumstance (Gordon). Some translations introduce "oars" here, unjustifiably in my view, since the work is unspecified and generalised. Although "swing" has, admittedly, been used of rowing; cf Eton boating song.

earfoðwile oft: "distraught", sufficient, if imperfect; a compromise, to be examined further.

oft þrowade: "endured"; reinforced by "on end", "endless"; see a.

bitre breostceare gebidan hæbbe: "bitter bale". "Bale" was long finding. First "bile", then "bale" asserted itself, especially since "bitre breostceare" anticipates "bitter in breosthord", line 55a; see a.

hæbbe gecunnad: "have known/kenned": "cleaving", faint undertow of biblical "cleaving unto", "having knowledge of": if the sea has a gender, it is female ("She is our great sweet mother." Ulysses, p.3, James Joyce); see a.

in ceole: "keel"; it seemed vital to keep this ancient metonymy. "Curuca [coracle] and cyula, keel (23.3), accurately distinguish the native British and English words for their ships. Cyula here is probably the earliest surviving word of written English." Note by John Morris, p.149, Gildas; The Ruin of Britain and other documents; Phillimore 1978. Gildas writes (540 AD): "Then a pack of cubs burst forth from the lair of the barbarian lioness, coming in three keels, as they call warships in their language." (Translation by Michael Winterbottom.) The keel was a crucial factor in the establishment of northern maritime ascendancy.

cearselda fela: these much-discussed "care-halls" suggested the "vale of tears", a sense of life as a corridor where one oppressive compartment leads into another; not unlike the repeated hollowing of waves in heavy seas, familiar to any small boat ocean sailor; see a.

fela atol yþa gewealc: "heaving waves", conflation; atol: "horrible, ghastly, sickening?"; hence hint of "retching" (?); cf Ger toll, "crazy, wild, infernal", etc (the force of a- in this context needs investigation); gewealc: implies "rolling", "rollers"; yþa: cf Sw yta, "surface"; hence "rolling surface".


Liquid syntax: hu, oft, hæbbe, fela, work both backwards and forwards, seamlessly linking phrases as indicated above.

endured = 1) suffered; 2) survived/lasted; ("duration"); "on end", an aural hint of "unending"; cf Ger ohne Ende. The morpheme "end" is repeated three times here, twice in stanza 12, and once finally in stanza 30. Man suffers and expires, God lasts.

bale = 1) load/burden; 2) simmering (boil?) inner evil; 3) pyre/fire (Bel, firegod, & Sw bål); 4) Baal (implicit paganism); 5) bail? (oust water from boat, for survival).

cleaving = 1) cutting through; 2) closing up with.

halls = 1) rooms, chambers; 2) hauls (aurally), as in "long haul"; see stanza 8. "Hall" is aptly related to cell, hull, hell, (John Ayto, Dictionary of Word Origins). See also Empress of Hel.

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                              þær mec oft bigeat
nearo nihtwaco | æt nacan stefnan
þonne he be clifan cnossað |


I would often at the bark's bows wake
the strait night through, steering
her clear of clashing cliffs


This stanza is meant to be choppy and disconcerting. The night wind is blowing against the tide; all sailors know the judders and shakes of a boat in such conditions. The unease is reflected in arbitrary grammar and sense distortion.


They found themselves entering the narrowest part of the winding straits. Rugged cliffs hemmed them in on either side. They moved ahead in fear, for now the clash of the colliding rocks and the thunder of surf on the shores fell ceaselessly on their ears. The Voyage of Argo, Apollonius of Rhodes, c 250 BC, trans E.V.Rieu, 1959.

In the dead wast and middle of the night. Shakespeare: Hamlet, 2.2.198, c 1600. Wast seems to be a pun on "waste", "waist" and "vast"; if "waist", it has a strong common factor with middle; if "vast", the connection could be that the night seems longest when you are in the middle of it; if "waste", the connection is that people are about at the two ends of a night, but the middle is a desolate region put to no good. William Empson, Seven Types of Ambiguity, 1953. See, or return to, Sonnet 129.

The streits of Time too narrow are for thee,/Launch forth into an undiscovered Sea,/And steer the endless course of Vast Eternity,/Take for thy Sail this Verse, and for thy Pilot Me. Abraham Cowley, Sitting & Drinking in the Chair made out of the Reliques of Sir Francis Drake's Ship, 1663.

His own thought drove him like a goad./Dry clash'd his harness in the icy caves/And barren chasms, and all to left and right/The bare black cliff clang'd round him. Alfred Tennyson, Morte d'Arthur, 1842.

It matters not how strait the gate/How charged with punishments the scroll/I am the master of my fate/I am the captain of my soul. W.E.Henley, Invictus, 1875.

The Clashing, Wandering, or Blue Rocks, shrouded in sea mist, seem to have been ice-floes. Other Wandering Islands in the Baltic Sea seem to have been known to the amber-merchants. Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, 1955.

Telepylus, which means "the far-off gate (of Hell)", lies in the extreme north of Europe, the Land of the Midnight Sun. To this cold region, "at the back of the North Wind", belong the Wandering, or Clashing Rocks, namely ice-floes. Robert Graves, ibid.



nearo nihtwaco: "narrow night-watch". Can a night-watch be narrow?

nearo: this word means "narrow", or, probably more precisely, "close"; cf Sw nära, "near". Its modification of niht at first seems dictated by the exigencies of form, ie mere alliteration, but there may be more to it. As the echoes show, "strait" is a much-used concept in association with journeys, especially those hard and difficult ones driven by the search for salvation. The dark closes in; forward motion through darkness resembles a passage through a narrow tunnel. Thinking again about Sw nära, in the sense of "closeness", the concept of "oppressive" begins to assert itself. The word certainly doesn't mean "anxious", as some commentaries and translations have it.

waco: "watch/wake". The choice of "wake" creates a knot of clotted meaning in the MV. The reader is alerted to a gnarled and bumpy nightride. "Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night." Bette Davis. See a.


stefnan: "stave, staff"

be clifan cnossað: "knocks by cliffs". cnossað causes problems as to what precise kind of knocking is meant; the nautical-sounding "beats by the cliffs" has been tried. "Steering her clear", not explicit in AS, but an implicit duty on night-watch in a small boat. Anticipates stieran, stanza 28.


strait = 1) constricted/arduous. 2) straight. The homonyms are etymologically unrelated, but that is of no significance here. "Desperate straits" is suggested. The ear may resolve "the strait night through" into "straight through the night"; but the reader remains puzzled, and must address "the strait night". The AS text is on the cusp linking written and recited verse.

wake = 1) be awake, 2) keep vigil, 3) watch, n, v, 4) feast for the dead, 5) boat-track through water. Also, amusingly, "waka", a canoe.

"at the bark's bows wake/bow's wake" = 1) keep vigil at the bow of the bark. 2) keep vigil at (in) the wake of the bow. A boat is not steered from the bow; but in these waters the helmsman would have to attend closely to what lay immediately ahead. The furl of water at the bark's bow slips down its flanks and becomes its wake. (Omission of an apostrophe in Joyce's nightmare Finnegans Wake implies the title is also an exhortation. The implications are "Finnegans! Awake!"; a "wake for Finnegan"; and the "wake (or funeral feast) that follows this Finnegan, and all Finnegans". ).

clear of clashing cliffs = 1) clear of colliding (against) the cliffs; 2) clear of the cliffs which clash; an allusion to the Argo, and Robert Graves' idea. 1) is somewhat fudged and 2) is unjustified --- unless the story of the clashing cliffs could have reached Anglo-Saxon ears. Few listeners will have time to wonder, in an oral performance.



                              calde geþrungen
wæron fet mine | forste gebunden
caldum clommum | þær þa ceare seofedun       (10)
hate ymb heortan | hungor innan slat
merewerges mod |


Cold fetters froze my feet
and hunger seared my heart
with sore sea-weariness



His strength shall be hunger-bitten, Job xviii: 12. Cited by Pancoast & Spaeth, Early English Poems, 1911, p. 422.

Who shall, from this Dungeon, raise/A Soul inslav'd so many wayes?/With bolts of Bones, that fetter'd stands/In Feet; and manacled in Hands. Andrew Marvell, A Dialogue between the Soul and Body, 1681.

Forgetfulness dumbness necessity in chains of the mind lockd up/In fetters of ice shrinking. William Blake, Vala: Night the 4th; l.4, 1804; and The Book of Urizen, 4.4, 1794-1815.


calde geþrungen wæron fet mine:

wæron fet mine forste gebunden:

caldum clommum: Dative of AC. Cf Sw. kalla klämmor.

þær þa ceare seofedun hate: "cares sighed/soughed hot"

ymb heortan: cf Sw om hjärtat; typical Sw construction, "about/around the heart".

hungor innan slat: slat, see SSAS.


ceare seofedun hate = seared; a rather cavalier conflation.



                              þæt se mon ne wat
þe him on foldan | fægrost limpeð
hu ic earmcearig | iscealdne sæ
winter wunade | wræccan lastum       (15)
winemægum bidroren


That man lolling on fair land
has no earthly inkling of how I
a wretched wreck on ice-cold seas
weathered each winter
exiled from kith and kin




þæt se: distancing, conflated into "that".

mon ne wat: "cannot conceive"; man's congenital inability to empathize with the burdens of others is the bar to human civilisation; MV "conceive" implies gestation, not adduced to wat.

on foldan fægrost: fægrost generally used in association with natural or physical beauty, cf Sw fägring/fagrast; hence adjectivally applied to land, not a comparative adverb modifying the verb.

limpeð: cf Sw lämpa (sig) "is suited to/fitted for"; hence "lolling" for sense of (enviable? reprehensible?) ease. The concept of "fitness/aptness" is recognized in Bosworth-Toller's limplice, cf Sw lämplig, but not (by them) in limpan.

earmcearig: earm, cf Sw arm, "poor", "wretched".

winter wunade: "weathered each winter", a nod to Pound; otherwise wunade, cf Ger wohnen, means "lived" (through); ie "survived".

wræccan: ancestral to both "wretched" and "wreck", the root concept being something ejected, jettisoned.

lastum: "footstep/track", surviving in cobbler's "last". The sense of drift is felt to be sufficiently implied by MV "wreck on ice-cold seas".

winemægum: wine, cf Sw vän, "friend"; mæg(um), cf Sw måg, technically "son-in-law" but also any near male relative; hence "kith and kin", ie friends and relations; wine survives in the names "Selwyn", "Winifred", among others.





bihongen hrimgicelum | hægl scurum fleag


Hail scoured my skin and hoar
hung heavy



Haply some hoary-headed swain may say ... Elegy in a Country Churchyard; Thomas Gray; 1751


bihongen hrimgicelum: hrim means "rime/hoar/frost"; gicel means "icicle". Can hrimgicel really mean "frost-icicle/hoar-icicle"? Hoar grows on hair as well as rigging in freezing weather, and the anticipation of stanza 23 was too strong to resist; hence omission of "icicle" in MV. "Heavy" responds to the impression given by bihongen, "behung with", and the exigencies of form. Revision may be called for; see a for possible secondary meaning.

hægl scurum fleag: discussed in SSAS.


hrimgicelum: there is AS usage to prove gicel means "icicle", but it is not impossible there could be an intended mental link with other words starting gic-, all denoting "itch", "pricking", "pruritus", (and sometimes "hiccup"); thus hrimgicel may suggest "frostbite/chilblain"; so bihongen hrimgicelum could also (instead?) imply "in a state of/covered in frostbite/little ice-pricks".

scurum = 1) shower, 2) scour. What led Pound to coin "hail-scur"? See SSAS.

fleag = 1) flew, 2) (aurally) flayed or flogged; the second posited as muted pun, to vindicate MV "skin". See SSAS.



þær ic ne gehyrde | butan hlimman sæ
iscaldne wæg | hwilum ylfete song
dyde ic me to gomene | ganetes hleoþor       (20)
and huilpan sweg | fore hleahtor wera
mæw singende | fore medodrince
stormas þær stanclifu beotan | þær him stearn oncwæþ
isigfeþera | ful oft þæt earn bigeal
urigfeþra |


All I ever heard along the ice-way
was sounding sea, the gannet's shanty
whooper and curlew calls and mewling gull
were all my gaming, mead and mirth
At tempest-tested granite crags
the ice-winged tern would taunt
spray-feathered ospreys overhead
would soar and scream


The catalogue of birds here creates one of the most haunting passages of the poem. Some damage is possibly done to the AS in substituting an osprey, a lesser sort of eagle, for þæt earn, but, scorning Volodya's scorn of paraphrasis, an excuse is offered. The juxtaposition of the seabirds' clamour with the hleahtor wera strongly suggests, to me anyway, that the former are the latter's ghosts, if not now, then in due course. Absent friends may be gone before.


A white large and strong billd fowle called a Ganet which seems to be the greater sort of Larus. It may be named Larus maior Leucophæopterus as being white and the top of the wings browne.

In hard winters elkes a kind of wild swan are seen in no small numbers,

A yarwhelp so thought to bee named from its note a gray bird intermingled with some whitish fethers somewhat long legged and the bill about an inch and a half. Esteemed a dayntie dish.

Larus cinereus greater and smaller, butt a coars meat; commonly called sternes.

Hirundo marina or sea swallowe a neat white and forked tayle bird butt longer then a swallowe.

A lesser sort of Agle called an ospray which houers about the fennes and broads and will dippe his claws and take up a fish oftimes.

Cuccowes of 2 sorts the one farre exceeding the other in bignesse. In the summer they are to bee found as high as Island. Above excerpts from: Notes on certain Birds found in Norfolk, published 1716; The Works of Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682), Vol III; ed Charles Sayle; pp. 514-520, 1927.

And the Strong Eagle now with numming cold blighted of feathers/ Once like the pride of the sun now flagging on cold night/ Hovers with blasted wings aloft watching with Eager Eye. William Blake, Vala: Night the 8th; 55R [35], 1804.

The weeds of Death inwrap his hands and feet blown incessant/And wash'd incessant by the for-ever restless sea-waves foaming abroad/Upon the White Rock .../Over them the famishd Eagle screams on boney Wings, and around/Them howls the Wolf of famine deep heaves the Ocean black. William Blake, Jerusalem: C 4, plate 94, [5] - [15], 1804-20.

The sounding furrows. Alfred Tennyson, Ulysses, 1833.

Them birds goin' fishin' is nothing but souls o' the drowned,/Souls o' the drowned an' the kicked as are never no more. John Masefield, Sea-Change, 1902

Var man som lyfter sina lår/till gamman i hans sal. Erik Axel Karlfeldt, 1864-1931, I Lissabon; discussed in SSAS ; see also below.

.......the air/Still flashing with the landward gulls/And loom and slowly disappear/The sails above the shadowy hulls ... Archibald MacLeish; You, Andrew Marvell, 1930.

The common or arctic tern: in flight, the pale, translucent patch or "window" on the wing is visible. River, Wetland and Lowland Birds, Reader's Digest, National Trust, 1986. [Picture.]

The Seafarer of c 700 names the Anglo-Saxon birds ylfete, ganete, huilpe, mæw, stearn and earn. These species indicate that the location of the poem was the Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth. Ylfete was the Whooper Swan, Cygnus cygnus, on migration. The Mute Swan, Cygnus olor, would be extremely unlikely near the Bass Rock, especially prior to the late 12th century. Ganete was the Gannet, Sula bassana, which bred there. Huilpe was the Curlew, Numenius arquata or more likely the Whimbrel, N. phæopus on migration. Mæw is non-specific but was either a gull or the Kittiwake, Rissa tridactyla, which bred there. Stearn is the Common Tern, Sterna hirundo or Arctic Tern, S. paradisiæa on migration. Earn is the Sea Eagle, Haliætus albicilla, which bred there. The Ornithology of Anglo-Saxon England: from an article in Ğa Engliscan Gesiğas Handboc. © Frank Stanford. For this website click [here].


þær ic ne gehyrde butan hlimman sæ :

iscaldne wæg:

hwilum ylfete song:

gomene: word implying "fun and games" rather than just "games"; cf "sport". MV "gaming" tries to encompass the meanings inherent in the AS. Modern "gaming" is now used as a flashy euphemism for "gambling", but it has other associations, several with a sexual connotation; cf "gamey", "game (for anything)", "gamic", and other words deriving from Gr gamos, "marriage". See SSAS.

ganetes hleoþor: hleoþor is glossed "cry". Onward, the sailors cry: the gannets are dead sailors.

huilpan sweg:

fore hleahtor wera:

mæw singende:

fore medodrince: See SSAS.

stanclifu beotan:

him stearn oncwæþ: oncwæþ --- why "taunt"? For and-cwis the DOE gives: "answer", and notes: "See also: and-, cwis; cf. oncweşan". For oncweşan Bosworth, 1838, gives: "to say, address, answer". "Address" is the relevant gloss here. The prefix on-, also often appearing as an-, as in anfloga, implies aggression and attack; the "address" is combative, and anyone familiar with the behaviour of the tern will be aware of its antagonistic sallies. Hence "taunt".

isigfeþera: ice- or icy-feathered/winged. For picture of precisely what this instances, see here.

earn bigeal:

urigfeþra: both "spray-feathered" and "ice-winged" seem slightly odd compounds; poetry distorts as well as preserves. "Spray-feathered" may suggest, or be misheard as, "splay-feathered"; uncertainty perhaps reproduces doubt on the meaning of urigfeþra


iceway = 1) ice-way, 2) I sway;

shanty = 1) sailors' song, strongly rhythmic, to lighten work, 2) a ramshackle dwelling: the seafarer's life on earth.



                              nænig hleomæga       (25)
feasceaftig ferð | frefran meahte


No kinsman near to fend off need
no one to comfort or console


The emphasis here appears to be that no kinsman, blood-related protector, is present to comfort the voyager: consolation must be sought from the frefrend, ie the Holy Ghost, the Comforter; always provided the emendation from feran to frefran is correct. It may not be; scribes were neither incompetent nor stupid. Further note: 7/10/01. A recent brief discussion of Unferð has prompted more thought on the meaning of ferð. It is evident that the MV fudges this issue; the crux is dodged. A more concentrated analysis is being prepared on a separate page: here.



nænig hleomæga: hleo: "lee", Sw , ie shelter from storm, especially at sea.


ferð: this word clearly requires concentrated examination. I prefer a meaning of "voyage/journey", cf Sw färd;, so that would mean, perhaps, "profitless or unrewarding journey", "miserable voyage"; one apparently without (spiritual) support. See Unferð.

frefran meahte: the emendation to frefran from the ms feran definitely needs further investigation.


no one to comfort or console = no one for the seafarer to comfort or console; no one to comfort or console him: his solitude is doubled.


annotation introduction
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

other versions

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