Seafarer Essays & Papers

main index

A translation is faithful when it conveys the meaning, not merely the words, of its original.
The aim of the translation on this site is to achieve the closest fidelity to its source, in both manner and meaning.
This text is subject to continuous experiment and improvement.

a summing up

Faithful Infidelity

"Charles Harrison Wallace Translation: This one's 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."

As elsewhere noted, this quote comes from a website apparently jestingly or jovially intended by semi-academics for deprived and benighted seven year olds. It features a massively misanalysed, misunderstood and misinterpreted account of The Seafarer.

Who could object to having their poetics called poetic ? Who would not object to having their fidelity labelled faithless ? Who might reject an unmerited accolade ?

These questions, coupled with the fortuitous discovery of a snippet of The Seafarer translated by another in a seemingly faithful fashion, inspire the investigation below. Further ribaldry from the Philistine boor of long years ago is not unexpected.

Extracts to the left, notes to the right. Authorities consulted: Clark Hall, 1894; Stora Engelska Ordboken; Cassell Concise English Dictionary..

Bearwas blostmum nimaš, byrig fęgriaš,
wongas wlitigaš, woruld onetteš;
ealle ža gemoniaš modes fusne
sefan to siže, žam že swa ženceš
on flodwegas feor gewitan

25 words

bearwas = groves
byrig; cognate byre, hut
wongas = meadows, meads.
wlitig = radiant, gleaming.
fus = ready to depart; dying
"Dying" is a highly revealing gloss (3) in Clark Hall.

The woods take on blossoms, towns become fair,
fields grow beautiful, the world hastens on;
all these things urge on the eager mind,
the spirit to the journey, in one who thinks to travel
far on the paths of the sea.

41 words

Not "woods"; not "towns"; not "fields"; not "eager"; not "spirit". Gemoniaš = not "urge", but "admonish".
Semi-prosaic versions are bound to betray verse.

Then blossom decks the bower's bough
the bothie blooms, the sea meads gleam
the wide world racks the restless mind
of him who on the full flood tide
determines to depart

31 words: 25 + 6 add-ons

bower = arbour, grove
bothie = cottage, hut
flood-tide = flod (Sw.)
Alliterating words to add and elucidate: bough, sea, wide, full, tide. Depart, not travel.
žam že = him who

Repeated credentials: Fluent in Swedish at an early age, my French and German was acquired by residence in both countries before the age of fifteen. Latin had been studied for seven years, starting at age eleven, which provided me with just about enough to pass the then requirements for entry to Oxford. Presumably Latin is no longer required. Before my schooling ended I had learned 200 lines of Ancient Greek verse, without understanding a single word.. Later I picked up a few words of Persian, by living some years in Iran. My knowledge of Swedish meant that my competence to understand Anglo-Saxon already well exceeded that of established Anglo-Saxonists, and others dependent on exclusively book-based learning. I well remember the extreme annoyance of my English tutor on his discovery that I knew what tho meant, in Chaucer. "I suppose it was written in", he expostulated, in a fit of intense anger. I came to the conclusion that there was nothing I could learn from him. He also remarked to me that I was "one of those people who seem intelligent, but are actually very stupid." Our relationship ended at my request. These incidents remind me of a statement by one interviewer at BNC, who explained that the college was "not a place of education, but of learning". See Floury Freshmen, page 231, Brian Miller. Miller, a kind man and an Anglo-Saxonist, was not the tutor of Chaucerian learning..

Sweden named East-Denamearc
by Ohthere, 890. Or his scribe
Map & note from Two Voyagers, 1984
William Sessions of York
Route: Kaupang to Hedeby

The following comments are iundeniable:

"Accuracy is measured by the degree to which users of a translation get the same meaning which the original text had."
Wayne Leman
"Much of the literature of translation is not about errors in translation; it is about errors in understanding the original ."
E.Bruce Brooks

Click for fidelity, integrity and truth.

© Charles Harrison-Wallace 2018

all rights reserved

An edition was published June 2005, limited to 125 copies: ISBN 0-9550 126-0-0

The published text has since been repeatedly revised

anglo-saxon text         manuscript
annotation         essays & papers
other versions         main index
mail here
a summing up

Door of Perception