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What is the meaning of fer(h)ð in The Seafarer?

fero ferre tuli latum

faring forth with the ferryman: a toll-free translation

translations of fer(h)ð: its transference to other tongues

Date

  975
 

Date

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Author

Anonymous
 

Translator

B.Thorpe
 
 

C.W.M.Grein
 

S.A.Brooke
 

L.LaM.Iddings
 

R.Imelmann
 

J.D.E.Spaeth
 

E.Pound
 

E.Sieper
 

F.Olivero
 

C.Faust &
S.Thompson

R.Imelmann
 

N.Kershaw
(Chadwick)

R.K.Gordon
 

W.S.Mackie
 

G.Bone
 

C.W.Kennedy
 

O.S.Anderson
(Arngart)

K.Malone
 

C.C.Abbott
 

A.Scott
 

E.Morgan
 

D.Whitelock
 

N.Denny
 

T.Scott
 

B.Raffel
 

K.Crossley-Holland
 

M.Alexander
 

S.Susuki
 

C.L.Wrenn
 

C.B.Hieatt
 

G.Bantock
 

W.O.Rogers III
 

R.Hamer
 

R.Breuer
R.Schöwerling

L.L.Austin
 

J.Wain
 

S.A.J.Bradley
 

J.A.Glenn
 

R.F.Leslie
 

A.Oldknow
 

C.McPherson
 

K.Young
 

L.J.Rodrigues
 

G.D.Hansson
 

S.L.Higley
 

Site version
 

A.Wheeler
 

D.Breeden
 

W.G.Busse
 

A. Text ll 25b-26

                        nænig hleomæga
feasceaftig ferð f(r)e(f)ran meahte

Translation

no hospitable kinsman
he a poor soul
might go

trösten konnte den freudenarmen
Sinn der Freunde keiner.

None of all my kinsmen Could this
sorrow-laden soul stir to any joy.

There none of my kinsmen
Might gladden my desolate soul;

von den Verwandten     kein einziger
Das betrübte Herz     trösten konnte.

---
 

Not any protector
May make merry man faring needy,

Kein Freund war dort, / Der
den traurigen Sinn mir trösten konnte.

Nessuno de' miei famigliari poteva
consolare la mia anima dolente.

No dear friend comes With merciful
kindness     my misery to conquer.

Keiner von der Schutzsippe konnte
das elende Herz trösten!

I had no protecting kinsman who
could comfort my desolate soul

No protector could comfort
the heart in its need.  

No near kinsman ..........
could comfort my desolate soul.

No friend, no shelter of love
For the want in my heart! ---

In all my wretchedness, weary and lone,
I had no comfort of comrade or kin.

None of my protecting kinsmen could
comfort the bereaved heart.

Not one of my kinsmen could
help my hapless heart in that faring.

Not one of my kin could
cheer and protect my desolate heart.

Then nane o my kinsfowk
micht lowse the sairness frae my hert

ah what prince could shield
or comfort the heart in its need!

No protecting kinsman could comfort
my desolate heart.

No protectors
The needy heart might cheer.

Nae succoran lord
Comfort the hert can in want o its kin.

No kinsman could offer comfort there,
To a soul left drowning in desolation.

No protector
Could console the cheerless man.

No friend or brother
by to speak with the despairing mind.

None of protecting kinsmen
could comfort my desolate heart.

No protecting kinsman was there
to comfort my desolate heart.

No protecting kinsmen could comfort
the destitute soul.

no protecting kinsman there
to comfort my lonely mind.

My spirit was helpless to seek out its
home, Its own tribe's Protector.

No patron had I there who might have
soothed My desolate spirit.

kein naher Verwandter
konnte das einsamme Herz trösten.

Nor can any kinsman comfort
the destitute soul.

No kin of my hearth
was near to comfort my needy spirit.

No protective kinsman could comfort
the inadequate soul.

no sheltering kinsman
brought consolation to a destitute life.

Not one of [my] close kinsmen
[my] wretched spirit could [support].

no kinsmen there
to bring delight to a desolate soul.

No shielding lord
Could shelter this soul-weary wretch.

No familiar protector could bring
consolation to my care riddled spirit.

protecting kinsmen none
the wretched heart might there console.

Ingen bror eller frände
fyllde med glädje min färd.

Not any protecting kinsmen
the destitute spirit could travel (console?)

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

No kinsmen to give shelter,
To give succour to my soul.

no kinsmen was there to comfort my soul.
 

keiner der schützenden Verwandten
vermochte das traurige Herz zu trösten.

                        nænig hleomæga
feasceaftig ferð feran meahte

B. Text ll 36-37a

monað modes lust mæla gehwylce
ferð to feran

Translation

though my mind's desire exhorts me
at all times
my soul, to go

an treibt mich des Gemütes Lust zu allen
Stunden auf die Fahrt mich zu begeben

For a passion of the mind every moment
pricks me on/All my life to set a faring

And all stir the heart of the wanderer
eager to journey

Es treibt des Sinnes Begierde   jegliches Mal
Das Gemüt zur Fahrt,

Daily, hourly, drives me my spirit
Outward to sail, far countries to see.

Moaneth alway my mind's lust
That I fare forth

Gar häufig heisst mich   des Herzens Drang
Auf die Flut zu fahren

la passione che m'agita il cuore sempre
m'induce a partire

My soul constantly kindles in keenest
impatience To fare itself forth

All diese Dingen
mahnen den entschlossenen Sinn zur Fahrt.

At every opportunity a yearning impulse
incites my heart to set forth

the desire of the heart always exhorts
to venture forth

Heart's desire ever urges
my soul towards departing,

Often in the day My wish tells me
the way Over the sport of the waves

Never a day but my heart's desire
Would launch me forth on the long sea-path,

My heart's desire incessantly calls on
my spirit to set forth

Deep goes the mood that drives my soul
to fare from home

Now and always
desire is urging my heart to wander

Heat i my hert foriver forces
my saul tae traivel far frae hame

Again and again the mind's desire
summons me outward

at all times my heart's desire
urges my spirit to travel,

Exhorts the heart's lust always
Forth to fare

Maens my mind's lust aye to move afaur
hyne, To fare me aye forrit

The time for journeys would come and
my soul Called me eagerly out,

My heart's longings always urge me
To undertake a journey,

Mind-lust maddens, moves as I breathe
soul to set out,

the desire of the heart urges always
my soul to go forth,

Every moment the mind's desire
is urging my spirit to the journeying

desire of spirit constantly urges
my heart to go forth

even though the longings of my heart
urge my spirit each time to go,

Every moment my spirit demands
That forth I fare,

And constantly the heartfelt wishes urge
The spirit to venture,

Des Herzens Lust mahnt mich unablässig
aufzubrechen und fern von hier

The mind's longing moves me oft
To fare forth,

Without cease my spirit spurs me:
hunger of mind keeps me homeless,

my mind's desire time and time again
urges the soul to set out,

Mind's desire urges, ever and again,
my spirit to fare,

my heart's desire incites my spirit
over and over again to set out

at all such times, the overwhelming itch
to wander flares up in the mind,

And now this longing heart leads
The soul of seafaring,

always my mind moves toward the distance
my heart beats faster, I follow its surge

the heart's desire exhorts each time
the thought to fare,

I uppror är mitt hjärta
och min håg flyr

Mind's desire reminds on each occasion
the spirit to travel,

The mood to wander mills within my mind
 

Yet desire still makes my spirit advance,
 

my mind moans out that I
journey my soul far from here,

es gemahnt des Herzens Lust, der Sinn,
ein jedesMal zu fahren,

monað modes lust mæla gehwylce
ferð to feran

 

ferð
ferð

 

soul
soul
 

Sinn
Fahrt

soul
life?

soul
eager?

Herz
Gemüt?

--
outward?

?
forth

Sinn
?

anima
?

?
forth

Herz
Sinn

soul
forth

heart
forth

soul
soul

heart
way?

?
forth

heart
spirit

heart
soul

heart
heart

hert
saul

heart
outward?

heart
spirit

heart
forth

hert
forrit

soul
eagerly?

man
journey

mind
soul

heart
soul

heart
spirit

soul
forth

mind
spirit

spirit
forth

spirit
spirit

Herz
fern?

soul
forth

spirit
mind?

soul
soul

life
spirit

spirit
spirit

soul
mind

wretch?
soul

spirit
mind

heart
thought

färd
håg

spirit
spirit

?
?

soul
spirit

soul
soul

Herz
Sinn

I have lived long enough: my way of life
Is fall'n into the sear, the yellow leaf

 
Macbeth; V iii 22

The short answer to the question heading this page is that ferð means "journey". Strange and remarkable to say, it does not, au fond, mean "soul, life, heart, spirit, mind", or "thought". Translators who approach an appreciation of its buried meaning, in one or other of the two instances (A and B) that occur in the poem, are: Grein, Spaeth, Pound, Faust/Thompson, Kershaw, Bone, Kennedy, Morgan, Denny, T.Scott, Crossley-Holland, Hieatt, Rogers, Hansson. Its basic sense is more openly admitted under the B column, where the word "forth" is used 10 times, and where the image of a journey is implicit in the words "outward", "way", and håg. In Swedish Sprachgefühl I suggested that "Swedish håg often seems to connote a sense of motion." Crossley-Holland actually uses the word "journey". It is also perfectly apparent that the very closest renderings are by Grein, Fahrt (= journey), and Hansson, färd (= journey). Sw färd is quite patently the nearest possible equivalent to ferð. I'll have to check the Danish, Norwegian and Icelandic versions of färd later.

It might reasonably be objected that if the Anglo-Saxon poet meant to say "forth", he would have used the identical Anglo-Saxon word forð. Quite so: ferð does not mean "forth", it means "journey". However, to an Anglo-American translator the phrase ferð to feran (B) is so strongly suggestive of "forth to fare", that the impetus to use "forth" is almost overpowering. Ezra Pound, for one, obeying his homophonic instincts, was thus overpowered. "To fare forth" is certainly more accurate than, for instance, "soul to go" (Thorpe), or "spirit to travel" (Whitelock). Because ferð has no close cognate in modern English a reading of "soul/spirit" is the more easily accepted. Besides which, something like "journey/voyage to fare/travel" perhaps sounds rather tautological, and sense-redundant. In Swedish, however, färd att fara is perfectly idiomatic, and also an exact rendering of the original Anglo-Saxon.

Why then, in the first place, should ferð be thought to mean "spirit", "soul", and the rest? The short answer is because the dictionaries say so; and only a madman, as every scholar knows, would dare disagree with a dictionary. Bosworth-Toller doesn't admit any sense of "journey" for ferð, or ferhð, and only gives 1) "the soul, spirit, mind"; anima, mens; and 2) "life"; vita. Clark Hall has the same, but adds "intellect" and "person [Seaf 26]". Sweet ditto, plus "understanding", which is only very remotely acceptable, if at all --- in fact, ferð cannot possibly contain an intrinsic meaning of "understanding", "intellect", or "person".

The long answer, it seems to me, is a good deal more complicated, since it is arguable that the practical, everyday meaning of ferð, a journey, can indeed come to be used as a base for the more abstract concept of "life", in the first place, and eventually hence possibly also "soul" or even "spirit". The root idea must be the sense of life as a voyage, an outward journey towards an unknown destination, the curriculum vitae, man's individual trek from cradle to grave, and the road taken by the Christian pilgrim, as in Bunyan. Shakespeare's "my way of life" is quoted above. "Midway upon the journey of my life" is Dante's opening line of his Inferno (Longfellow's translation). Perhaps the concept of soul is inseparable from that of life. "Behind the word soul lies the ancient notion of the soul as something fleeting or mercurial", writes John Ayto, "for its prehistoric Germanic ancestor, *saiwalo, was related to Greek aiólos 'quick-moving'". See Bird, Ship, Sun, Sea. The soul may be envisioned as a sparrow, a bird of passage, flying from one end of the mead-hall to the other, and the ferð, its transit, becomes a metaphorical substitute for the intangible thing itself. The conception of the soul as ferð is highly sophisticated, since a journey is in a sense nothing at all except changing scenery, a succession of events or perceptions through time, which is about as close as we can get to a mental grasp of the notion of the soul. This image of transience seems to me intellectually superior to the blurred concept of, say, an ectoplasmic bit of gossamer; ie the hreþer in its hreþerloca.

Clark Hall lists thirteen compounds starting ferhð-, and six of these occur "only or mainly in poetical texts", which to me indicates the essentially metaphorical notion of the soul as a journey. This sense of thrust, of the curriculum vitae, as opposed to a sense of "intellect" or "spirit", is to my mind present in all, or nearly all, of them. One of these compounds, ferhðwerig, pops up, rather surprisingly, in an apparently literal modern English form and somewhat out of context, in Clair McPherson's rendering of line 26 above: "soul-weary". This compound seems to me vacuous, if ferhð is translated as "soul". What does "soul-weary" mean? "Way-weary", on the other hand, is a description of physical and mental exhaustion at once recalling Poe's Nicèan barks of yore, that home "The weary way-worn wanderer bore/To his own native shore".

While I'm at it, I may as well examine Clark Hall's list of compounds in more detail. This is fun.

ferhð compound

ferhðbana
ferhðcearig
ferhð-c(le)ofa
ferhðfrec
ferhðfriðende
ferhðgeniðla
ferhðgewit
ferhðleaw
ferhðgrim
ferhðloca
ferhðlufu
ferhðsefa
ferhðwerig

ferhð
 
†   poetic usage

Clark Hall definition

murderer
of anxious mind
breast
bold, brave
sustaining life
mortal enemy
understanding
wise, prudent
savage
breast, body
heartfelt love
mind, thought
soul-weary, sad

mind, intellect, soul, spirit; life; person (Seaf 26)

suggested reading

career bane, terminator
burdened, heavy laden
life coffer, vehicle?
venturesome, thrusting
sustaining, as en route
career enemy, underminer
streetwisdom, streetwise
judgement of action
ruthlessly forceful
life-locker, carriage?
lifelong love, lodestar?
train of thought
way-worn, way-weary

journey or way (of life), career path, curriculum

Conceded that the case is not proven. Still, there seems to be enough substance in the argument to sanction the jettisoning of "intellect, mind" and probably also "soul, spirit". "Life" has to be allowed, with a strong connotation of "course of life" rather than animus, but "person" has no place, nor has any translator used it in their renderings of The Seafarer.

 

See Seafarer annotation: ferð, lines 26a and 37a.
See Unferð

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