Seafarer Essays & Papers
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Errors are made.

"Much of the literature of translation is not about errors in translation; it is about errors in understanding the original."
E.Bruce Brooks

is best ?

Kine die and kin die
All kinds must die; but I
Know what does not die
How men are deemed
After their death.

At left is the rational philosophy of the pagan Anglo. "So any noble spirit will aspire to earn an everlasting epitaph of praise" for "good deeds done on earth, bold blows dealt at the Devil and against fell foe." I use my own translation here, as it is enlightened. The nucleus of this Lucretian molecule is hreer unwearnum, the "naked wraith", when life leaves the inert body to mingle with the fecund soil or vanish in funereal flame.

The heading for this page was originally chosen because of the suspicion that the words it contains might be the last on the topic of this website. But that is only a suspicion.. Perhaps of greater immediate relevance is an extract from the curious Seafarer translation by Benjamin Thorpe, 1842, (click), as follows:

This passage is the same as the one translated by me further up the page, although you might not think so. However, it is, to a degree, and up to a point, relatively accurate, making every allowance for its virtually unreadable Modern English. It may be compared with the central crux excerpt, also by Thorpe, mounted below. That translation is quite exceptionally bad, as well as seriously misleading..


The pagan surmised that there would be nothing left of him at her death, except his reputation. Perhaps s/he might experience happiness in the classless Elysian fields of Hel, the gentle, healing goddess. Contrariwise, the novel authoritarian religion of Rome, with infallibility at its papal apex, held great appeal for the post-pagan king. He set about conversion with enthusiasm. Olaf toured his vassals with an axe, or perhaps sometimes a seax, in one hand and a bible or a cross, as most of them couldn't read, in the other. He was concerned to make their conversion consensual, so he offered each vassal a choice. Few chose the axe. I don't think any did. Olave was rewarded by the Romans with sainthood. His religion magnified and consolidated his power.

In place of a conception of death and Hel as a pleasant dream, rewarding a life of achievement, the militant crusader threatened the pagan with a redesigned Hell of permanent torture in a fiery furnace. The Roman ruled by instilling fear. There is no sense of loving an enemy, or turning the other cheek, as had been promoted by his adopted religion's alleged founder. Inquisitorial persecution of dissidents was rampant. Indulgence or remission might be purchased for ready cash, as time went on The power of authority was augmented. The early original pagan, especially the northern pagan, had little fear of death, unlike the Roman convert, who was kept in subjection by a priestly reiteration of what fate had in store for all, as all were judged to be sinners. Purgatory beckoned.

Heading this page is an excerpt from Karen Armstrong's 500-page History of God, 1993, It's upsetting to realise that her history has only one mention of Zeus, page 80, and nothing at all about Odin. Her account deals virtually exclusively with a dreadful, ferocious and primitive Middle-Eastern volcanic deity named Jahve (as identified by Freud), the origin of the Hebrew, Christian and Muslim faiths, the inspiration for National Socialism's concept of the master race of chosen people, and the ultimate justification for ethnic cleansing from the land of Canaan, as outlined in the Hebrew scriptures.

The multiple gods of Greece and Scandinavia offered refreshing relief from this oppressively jealous monotheism. For a start, these gods were more human. Forgive the irony. They laughed and had a sense of humour, a trait completely absent from the tyrant of the biblical scriptures. They were exceptionally sensitized to beauty. Armstrong mentions Apollo. Associated lords and deities, sons of the sun, include Bel, Belinus, Balder, and presumably Baal, excoriated by the Jahve (Yahweh - spellings vary) devotees, and others, to be transformed into a demon: Beelzebub. Check Wikipedia (click).

So what was the ethnic origin of the conflicted Seafarer author ? Many readers seem to have felt he identified more with the realism of the first 58 lines, than with the piety of the final 57.

An understanding of the nature of the Empsonian ambiguities that have rattled past scholars, soi-disant, in their interpretations of The Seafarer, especially in connection with its central crux, lines 58-68, begins to dawn. Contained in its author's mind are two incompatible attitudes to the future that awaits us all. This may have played a part in the early perception, among some misguided souls, that there were "two voices" in The Seafarer. There was obviously only one voice, but it was internally conflicted. It didn't really buy into the Roman religion imposed upon it.

It is staggering to realise that every word boxed in red above mistranslates the original Anglish. Is it worth mentioning that hyge might mean "thought", but more accurately "mind"; hweorfe doesn't mean "wanders"; ofer means "beyond" rather than "over"; wl means "death", not whale ? And so on. Examined elsewhere, click: wl is the "val" in "valkyrie", the "death-chooser", and the "val" in "valhalla", the "death-hall". It's confusing, of course, since "val" in Swedish also happens to mean "choice". But don't let yourself be confused. Below are lines omitted from the above extract:

"Regions" should read "lap" (ie Schoss); "again" should read "then"; "lone bird" should read "on-flier" or "attacking bird".
The Bird of Death is eager and greedy, and it yells, like the keening hag that it is.
The "lone bird" or "one-flier" reading seems more ridiculous than ever.

This page, this entire website, is much concerned with words, first, last and intermediate. It is consequently wholly appropriate to mention the 3,000 word compilation produced by Lennart Pearson, and a compressed scan of the cover of his dedicated work, Ancestors and Descendants, is presented below:


Lennart Pearson's compilation is certainly admirable, but it is also, in view of its author's ancestry and descent, in a way, sad and tragic. Lennart Pearson, died 2012, was of Swedish descent, and the tragedy is that he did not devote his energies to a compilation of the relationship between Anglish and Swedish, rather than Modern English.

A reminder
Some Swedish Seafarer words: anflygare, efter, grus, holme, hg, m, ovrn, skura, skte, stten, srja, valvg (valplats), varer, vng.
Some linked Anglish words: anfloga, eft, hrusan, holma, hyge, mg, unwearnum, scur, sceata, sias, sorge, wl weg, hreer, wongas


"The duality of interpretation proposed for the projected voyage in The Seafarer has its counterparts not only in the ambivalence of attitude expressed by the speaker toward that peregrination in the passage itself, but in a deliberate ambiguity of diction throughout the poem." P 156, The Old English Elegies, Greenfield, 1966.

Here are some comments from Shippey, Old English Verse, 1972, that could be profitably explored. "The Seafarer contains several problems ..... all of them contribute, some might think deliberately, to make it a poem of considerable ambiguity." p 68. "Wisdom grows out of experience alone ..... the poet can rely on the very looseness of much Old English verse." p. 70. "Even his vocabulary shows signs of deliberate ambiguity." p. 71. These remarks seem a cut above what is otherwise turned out by the Anglo-Saxon faculty

Familiarity is encouraged to be acquired with Professor S.B.Greenfield's remark (in The Old English Elegies, an essay in Continuations and Beginnings, Nelson 1966: "...the Seafarer poet approaches a more complex Empsonian type of ambiguity in his use of equal and opposite semantic values of the same word to underline ambivalences in attitudes and levels of meaning", Page 158. See Tweedledum and Tweedledummer.

Gaut         Getae        Goth

ridicule                opposition                 acceptance
It is dangerous to be right when established authority is wrong. Voltaire.
Anyone who claims that quantumizing The Seafarer makes everything clear, doesn't really understand it.
Henry Sweet is the Aristotle of Anglo-Saxon studies.
The Horace Walpole of Linguistics.

The following comment is undeniable:

"Accuracy is measured by the degree to which users of a translation get the same meaning which the original text had."
Wayne Leman

Click for fidelity, integrity and truth.

© Charles Harrison-Wallace 2019

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
swedish angle-names
lucretius  again
ancient scandinavia
other versions         main index
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a summing up

Low-German ?? Stone knife or celt ??