The intention on this page is to link, however tenuously, three writers of Scandinavian ancestry or antecedents, who have had something to say, either exclusively and directly on The Seafarer, or on other Anglo-Saxon verse compositions. Comments on Widsith, for instance, link Björk with Schütte. I retain the umlauts. As I tried to say in my letter to him of 1995, it is from Anderson's article in 1937 that all rational understanding of the Anglo-Saxon poem flows. His postscript in 1979, after changing his name to Arngart, further simplifies his understanding of the poem's structure.
Map from The Origins of the British, p 204, showing Old Scandinavians coming from Skåne, as well as Denmark.
"Didn't the Angles come from Scandinavia ?" Yes, but they were speaking Old Scandinavian, not Old English.
On page 416 of his opus The Origins of the British: a genetic detective story, 2006, Stephen Oppenheimer throws out this stunning remark. "The evidence against a Dark Ages root of English goes deeper than (an early "Norse" influence). In terms of vocabulary, English is nowhere near any of the West Germanic languages it has traditionally been associated with. It actually roots closer to Scandinavian than to Beowulf, the earliest "Old English" poem and probably written in the elite court of the Swedish Wuffing dynasty of East Anglia. One study suggests that, on this lexical evidence, English forms a fourth Germanic branch dating to before AD 350 and probably after 3,600 BC." Huh ? Come again ?
Anderson's 1937 article is fairly long, at 50 pages, and exhaustive. It seems to ramble a little, which is perhaps why it has not always been properly appreciated, but its dedication to its subject means that it is absolutely required reading by anyone interested in plumbing the truth about the poem. This includes remarkably few scholars, since the majority of them are content to copy, or re-cycle in slightly different words, what the last two or three of their fellows had to say.
Anderson begins his essay with an "Examination of Earlier Interpretations". This may have been advisable in 1937, but I can't help thinking it is as though Christopher Columbus had prefaced his bid to embark for the New World by discussing the Flat Earth theories of past geographers. It is useful, nevertheless, to realise that the theories concerning this poem put forward by Rieger, Boer, Lawrence, Kluge, Brandl, Sieper, Imelmann, Sweet, Kock, Kershaw, Krapp, Ehrismann, Schücking, Heusler and Hönncher, though historically interesting, are no longer worth considering, and can be dispensed with in future assessments. It is also amusing to note how many of these authorities are German: it points to the non-Germanic, but essentially Old Scandinavian, character of the Anglo-Saxon language and idiom. Not to say that nearly all translations into Modern English, from Benjamin Thorpe on, are remarkably fault-ridden.
Anderson's relatively enlightened Scandinavian approach is summed up by him in the following contention: "The only way to find the true meaning of The Seafarer is to approach it with an open mind, and to concentrate on the actual wording, making a concentrated effort to penetrate to what lies beneath the verbal surface." [Page 5]. He points out that many scholars had come to the study of The Seafarer with a definite --- preconceived --- idea of its meaning. He also adds that : "A careful study of the text has led me to the conclusion that the two different sections of The Seafarer must belong together, and that, as it stands, it must be regarded as in all essentials genuine and the work of one hand. According to the reading I propose, it would not be possible to omit any part of the text without obscuring the sequence."
Anderson goes on to analyse The Seafarer, by breaking it up into three sections, and here he goes sadly astray. His presentation is confusing, as he says that "most critics agree with Kluge" in regarding the second half of the poem as "an addition by a later hand"; yet at the same time he points out that there are "reasons for thinking that this portion of the text too may be genuine". Further on he seriously fails to follow his own precept to "penetrate what lies beneath the verbal surface."
He interprets lines 58 ff as relating how the seafarer's "very soul as it were leaves his bosom, wanders far and wide over land and sea, and returns again to him, eager and desirous, with the message which he cannot resist inciting him to leave the shore and voyage far away over the sea." This is, of course, a grievously mistaken interpretation. It misunderstands hyge, sceatas, eft, anfloga, hweteð, wael-weg, unwearnum. It is amazing how multiple errors compounded from 1842 to 1937 can bamboozle an honest truth-seeker. He even repeats these misunderstandings on page 31 of his essay. We leave him here, but quote his seminally significant final words: "personally I believe that [lines 103-124] are to be accepted as a genuine portion of the poem ..... one single and undivided poem."
This is a simple poem. It is incredible that so much academic treblespeak could have been spun from it. It conveys a proto-typical gospel message. This message recurs in Tennyson's Crossing the Bar, Masefield's Sea Fever, and Abba's I have a Dream. Not to mention Kipling's Harp Song of the Dane Women. Tennyson's Ulysses expresses, yet again, sentiments which, if not exactly identical, are highly similar: fortitude in the face of advancing age and approaching death.
On to Professor Robert Björk, or Bjork, if you will. Here is an exceptionally eminent and highly distinguished American academic, who, according to his on-line CV, or resumé, is positively reeling under a back-breaking array of credentials. Self-evidently of Swedish, or at least Scandinavian, heritage, he obtained a Certificate in Swedish after a year's study at Stockholm University in 1975. He has been strenuously occupied in many, many aspects of scholarly research, and has translated numerous well-known literary works from Swedish to English. In 1998 he was included in Who's Who in the West, and in 2000 came his first inclusion in Who's Who in America. Trump that !
Here is what he had to say about The Seafarer, in A Companion to Anglo-Saxon (!) Literature, 2001, pp 395-396: "The anfloga ('lone-flyer'), the rapacious bird of thought in lines 58-64 of The Seafarer, may also have its Old Norse antecedent. Stanza 20 of Grimnismal ("the Lay of Grimnis), for instance, concerns Huginn and Munninn, Ódinn's birds of prey and wisdom, and contains two verbal correspondences with the lines of The Seafarer. Hyge, ("thought") in the Old English poem, which the speaker says 'cymeth eft to me' ((Krapp and Dobbie 1936: 145; 'comes again to me', line 61b), is comparable to Huginn, a name derived from 'thought' , whom the Old Norse speaker fears 'aptr né komiþ' (Neckel 1962: 61; 'will not come back') (North 1991: 105).
I am not persuaded that Professor Bjork benefited grreatly from his year of Swedish study, despite his Certificate. Hyge is a close equivalent to Swedish håg, which translates better as "mind" than as "thought". Anfloga doesn't mean lone-flyer. Hugin and Munin are ravens, which are scavengers, not birds of prey. Hugin is a projection of the mind, into the future. Cymeð eft to me means "then comes to me", not "comes back to me". Reliance on Krapp and Dobbie is ill-advised.
Discovering that Bjork had translated several Old English Shorter Poems for publication in 2014, I was wildly and optimistically anticipating ingesting his translation of The Seafarer. I was, however, to learn that my anticipation had been child-like. My disappointment was monumental. In great bemusement I carefully read his transference of the Anglo-Saxon text to Modern English. To start with, I couldn't understand why his version vaguely reminded me of the notorious travesty by Ezra Pound, but eventually it dawned on me that, aside from the many erroneous glosses of the actual words, he was translating them in their literal order. This site demonstrates Pound's word-for-word translation of the original text, producing a strangely contorted modern reading, similar to Mark Twain's account of The Awful German Language, and his translation of the Tale of the Fishwife and its sad Fate. In Pound's case, of course, he simultaneously mangled the honourable version by Lola LaMotte Iddings, by purloining her vocabulary.. The words of E.Bruce Brooks come again to mind. "Much of the literature of translation is not about errors in translation; it is about errors in understanding the original." Björk unfortunately follows Arngart in misreading hyge, sceatas, eft, anfloga, hweteð, wael-weg, unwearnum.. Inter alia.
Björk, like many others, goes immediately wrong with the first two words, by translating them "I can". See here for a comment on the optimal translation of mæg ic. The phrase is also discussed elsewhere on this site. It seems worth repeating what was said on the first page of annotation; as follows: 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 ! German möge and Anglo-Saxon mæg could hardly be closer in sound, sense and import. Almost the same goes for Swedish må, English may.
Few comparatively recent versions show even moderate fluency in the Germanic languages (ie German and Scandinavian) from which Anglo-Saxon is derived. Among the worst are those by Pound, Spaeth and Raffel, although both Pound and Raffel get mæg ic right. At least they are not blatantly plagiaristic, like others not worth naming. No names, no pack-drill; not that pack-drill wouldn't be deserved. There is at least one version of The Seafarer which is nothing but a cynical amalgam of four earlier averagely semi-competent versions. The perpetrator of this shoddy performance has made no effort of any kind at all to "penetrate to what lies beneath the verbal surface."
Gudmund Schütte, 1872-1958, author of Our forefathers: The Gothonic nations, was Danish.
The popular modern continuation of Widsith is known as The Bragging Song.
In his Old English Shorter Poems Bjork also translates Widsith. Although this work is composed in Anglo-Saxon, Schütte points out its several subsequent analogues in Danish and German. I doubt whether Bjork had read him, but I feel exhausted, and am too tired to investigate the matter, just at present. Anglo-Saxon is a Scandinavian/Germanic language; not Old English.
Oppenheimer's remark, under the map above, strikes me as a jaw-dropping assertion. What lexical evidence does its originator have in mind, pre-350 AD, and post-3,600 BC ? I'd like to see some literature from, say, 3,500 BC. Moreover, Beowulf is much, much closer to Modern Scandinavian than to Modern English, or Modern German. It is written in Anglo-Saxon, a language which evolved from Old Scandinavian. Varieties of Old English were spoken by Chaucer, Piers Plowman, and the Gawain poet. What is the point of calling the language spoken in Britain, pre-Beowulf, pre-350 AD, English of any kind ?
Why have I produced by far the most faithful and accurate translation of the Anglo-Saxon poem The Seafarer ? The answer, my friend, is not blowing in the wind, although it is invisible to the back-scratching monoglots that infest Kalamazoo, who seem seriously unfamiliar with Scandinavian languages. It is firmly rooted in the self-evident fact that Modern English is securely based on Old Scandinavian, and not on that profoundly comical and retrograde concept, Old English.