main index


Martin Lehnert
Poetry and Prose of the Anglo-Saxons
Dictionary 1956

The key words in The Seafarer, which it is necessary to translate accurately, in order to obtain an accurate translation of what the poem is actually saying, are the following (and let us be accurate):

anfloga, eft, holma, hreþer, hweteð, hyge, mæg, onwæl weg, sefa, sceata, unwearnum, wongas

Already I sense a feeling of unease creep over me as I anticipate the changes from Friedrich Groschopp's revision of Christian Wilhelm Michael Grein's Kleines angelsächsisches Wörterbuch of 1883 to Martin Lehnert's Dictionary in 1956. The contamination of meddlesome English and American linguistic ignorance and insensitivity cobbled together by Lehnert after the intervening seventy-odd years is discouraging to contemplate. I feel obliged nevertheless to concede at the outset that it was a noble effort of him to essay an Old English - New English (his choice) dictionary.

No. I just can't face investigating what Lehnert had to say about all those misinterpreted words. I'll just pick out a few of them.

HYGE - The precise meaning of this interesting Anglo-Saxon word is not accessible to those ignorant of Swedish. How that statement will annoy the non-Swedish-speaking membership of the Anglo-Saxonist academic fraternity ! And that means either ninety or ninety-five per cent of them.

The Swedish word håg (earlier hug) is the exact equivalent of AngloSaxon hyge. It definitely does not mean "heart" or "soul". "Mind, mood, thought", yes, OK: the emphasis is on the mind. Perhaps there is a soupçon of "heart" in the slight element of desire or longing which the word includes. Lehnert's "mnded" and/or "disposed" are on the right track. One better than Bosworth-Toller here.


EFT - This word cannot possibly mean "again". "Afterwards, then, in turn," if you like, but again not "again". Benjamin Thorpe has enormities to answer for. His misinterpretation of it as "again" has misled almost everyone who has since ventured a translation, of whatever nature. Untold thanks to S.T.Coleridge ! Best now glossed as "anon", in a temporal, not identity, sense.


HWETEÐ - Does not mean to "prompt, urge on, incite". Amusingly, Lehnert instances the German word wetzen, which, according to my Cassell's German-English dictionary, means, as anyone might guess, to "whet, sharpen". Wetzstein: a "whetstone". A human being anticipating the approach of the Bird of Death is not "incited, urged or prompted", but rather has to summon up a sense of steely, sharpened resolution at the onslaught of the inevitable.

"Whither" is included here in memory of Thorpe's confusion.


ONWÆL WEG - Lehnert omits wælweg from his dictionary, and instead supplies the sorry emendation hwælweg. An English-speaking monoglot saw wæl and thought "whale". An "h" was therefore risibly added. See clear MS, below:

Lehnert follows Bosworth-Toller, excerpt above. Astonishingly, wælweg is given a unique interpretation, and donated an "h". Wæl so very obviously implies "death": cf valkyrie, Valhalla. Wang does not mean "plain", incidentally.


UNWEARNUM - It is a revelation to observe how this word has been traduced by its translators over the last seventeen decades. At least in its employment in The Seafarer. Its appearance in Beowulf, line 741, has occasionally been more correct. Here, also, however, Lehnert, in his translation of Beowulf, comes up with "schlitzte ihn ohne Widerstand auf". Lehnert also respectfully terms the Anglo-Saxon language "altenglisch", whereas it is Old Scandinavian, or Anglish. He was not to know that "wearn" is the exact equivalent of the Swedish word värn, in its modern spelling. One translation of värn would be "guard", as used in what is familiar to us survivors of WWII as "Home Guard", the exact Swedish equivalent of which is hemvärn. Hondsciô could be described as unguarded, whereas the Seafarer is defenceless. No sense whatsoever of "eagerly".


Dr Gregor Sarrazin, 1857-1915. Kiel - Breslau. So far as I can tell, none of the scholarly and excellent works of Dr Sarrazin have been translated into English. What a triumph for the rampant nationalism of Henry Sweet ! Perhaps Sweet's involvement in the creation of the OED ensured the promotion of "Old English", and the exclusion of any suggestion of anything "Saxon". Sarrazin died on the outset of WWI, and the Royal House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was abolished in Britain by the end of the war. Anti-German sentiment in the British Empire was strong, many years prior to the war.

Some quotes: "Sweet ..... felt under particular pressure from German scholars in English studies who ..... 'annexed' the historical study of English. ..... He felt that 'no English dilettante can hope to compete with them -- except by Germanizing himself and losing all his nationality.' " Wikipedia. Sweet never realized, of course, that the Anglo-Saxons were actually from what is today Skåne, in Sweden, not Germany.

Anglo-Saxonist academics of the 19th century are generally (though not invariably) markedly superior to their counterparts of the 20th and 21st centuries --- predominantly American, with the odd Anglo. It seemed amusing, therefore, to discover what Harrison and Baskervill, in their translation of the German of Groschopp's revision of Grein's Poetical Lexicon of the Anglo-Saxon Language, had to say about the vocabulary of The Seafarer, in 1886. On another page are some extracts from Harrison and Baskervill, together with comments selected from Swedish Sprachgefühl, revised and edited. It is not necessary to translate Anglo-Saxon into Swedish: Anglo-Saxon is Swedish, or, if you prefer, Old Scandinavian, or Anglish. Difficult for the monoglot or linguistically challenged to comprehend.

unwearnum correctly understood

Beowulf. Översatt i orginalets versmått av Björn Collinder

1999: Swedish Sprachgefühl for Anglo-Saxon
2013: More Sprachgefühl for Anglo-Saxon
Toronto's Plan

*** *** ***

essays and papers
geats      parerga
harrison & baskervill
crux versions
journey's jargon

© Charles Harrison-Wallace 2018
All Rights Reserved