On this page one or two other matters will also be addressed. Such as the pronouncement that the depiction of the seafaring life in the seafarer composition "is too nuanced, complex, and emotionally realistic to settle easily into the category of allegory"; followed by the stupefying query "what about the seasonal return to land ?" Words from someone who can only be as dense as ten thick planks. Some questions simply defy response, so let us move on, and look at something else..
See R.I.Page & the DOE
The activities of the lexicographers ostensibly engaged in penetrating the semantic mysteries of the Anglo-Saxon language, for at least the last 40 years, and actually much longer, remind me of nothing so much as a bevy of semi-learned, linguistically limited stiffs busily setting about solving an enormous crossword puzzle, by the simple process of inserting words more or less at random, provided the letters match at the intersections, and, meanwhile, boldly ignoring the clues, down, up and across, that actually liberally litter the potentially rewarding areas of serious inquiry. The Angles, Jutes and Saxons, who by common consent started arriving in the British Isles from ca 400 AD were not initially speaking "Old English", or even "Anglo-Saxon". Their language has been given many names, but probably the most useful one would be "Old Scandinavian", a widely comprehensible lingo, perhaps originating in Hedeby, and stretching up north to Uppsala in Sweden, and west across to and along the shores of modern Frisia. In the course of the next three to five hundred years this tongue slowly evolved, in Britain, into Anglo-Saxon, with several small regional differences, and began to be written down, having absorbed a number of other immigrant influences, such as Latin, and probably Hebrew and Aramaic. Something else remains to be said on this matter, but, for the time being, anyone truly interested in descrying the fundamental, historical meanings of the Anglo-Saxon's vocabulary cannot do better than investigate the language of the oldest runic inscriptions.
Start by examining the preposition, and prepositional prefix, an, from: The Language of the Oldest Runic Inscriptions, by È.A.Makaev, 1965, translated from the Russian by John Meredig in 1996. Section IV. Glossary, page 101.
an (II, 28), ana (I, 55). The preposition 'on'. Of Common Germanic origin; cf. Goth. ana, Ic, á, Faer. á, OE on, Fries, ana, ô, OS an, OHG ana. The difference between ana and an may be chronological in nature: ana is an earlier form, and an, with apocope of a, a later form. Krause (1937: 572) states that the relationship of final a in Gothic, OHG, and runic is unclear. Based on the laws governing word endings, one would expect *ano in runic. One must, however, bear in mind that so-called minor words (prepositions, conjunctions, proclitics, enclitics) of a semi-auxiliary and auxiliary nature, because of their lack of stress and because of the rules of syntactic phonetics, sometimes exhibit phonetic behaviour that deviates from the norm for fully meaningful words.
It could hardly be more blindingly obvious, all things considered, that this runic an is the direct forerunner of the an- in anfloga, though well on its way to becoming on- in Anglo-Saxon. In Modern Scandinavian, of course, it remains still unchanged today, in words such as ankommande, annalkande; ie "oncoming", "approaching": --- not to mention Modern German, anfliegen, angreifen, ankommen, and so on, and so forth.
One or two more examples, from the same publication: what about these two, from page 106 ? Suggestive ?
gakar: Meaning unclear. Krause assumes that a u was left out and reconstructs *gaukar 'cuckoo' ..... Jacobsen-Moltke view gakar as a magic word ..... there could exist variations in the beginning of the word with some sort of magical purpose that is still unknown to us. galande. 'singing, yelling'.
Over-speculative, perhaps. The cuckoo may be magical, but it's not yelling. A trick of the alphabet juxtaposes those two words in Makaev's glossary. What about this one, page 122 ? Wearn --- a stone fence, a wear or wær ?
warur. Possibly, 'stone fence, pile of stones'. Krause.
"Much of the literature of translation is not about errors in translation; it is about errors in understanding the original."
Next, comment is invited upon the matchless modesty and self-effacement of the renowned translator of Anglo-Saxon poetry, Burton Raffel. In The Art of Translating Poetry, 1988, p 165, Raffel remarks: "do not go to Ezra Pound's translation [of The Seafarer] for an accurate portrayal of the Old English soul or of the Old English mind. The heart probably beats harder in his translation. I think it beats more complexly, as well as rather more accurately, in mine."
Hard to say whose version is the more inaccurate, Burton's or Ezra's; but, yes, I think Ezra just has the edge.
A few years earlier, in The Old English Elegies, 1983, Burton had this to say, page 37: "It is not for me to prejudge readers' reactions, but I think it is not prejudicial, or even inappropriate, for me to say that there seems to me to be a lot more of the scop's poetic passion in my own version." Here, the comparison is with some lines translated from The Seafarer by Stanley Greenfield. Raffel was taking a swipe at Greenfield, who had had the temerity to carefully set his "rendering against [Raffel's] own". This had been in Greenfield's Esthetics and Meaning and the Translation of Old English Poetry, in Old English Poetry, edited by Daniel G.Calder, 1979, page 95 onwards.
Find the style. When the style is found, write in the style. E.Bruce Brooks: Translation Maxims
Semi-Nutritious Reading Matter
1972: The Interpretation of Old English Poems, by Stanley B.Greenfield.
1979: Old English Poetry: essays on style. Edited by Daniel G.Calder
1982 A Readable Beowulf, by Stanley B. Greenfield
1983: The Old English Elegies; edited by Martin Green
1986: Modes of Interpretation in Old English Literature. Edited by Phyllis Rugg Brown, Georgia Ronan Crampton, Fred C.Robinson. Essays in Honour of Stanley B.Greenfield.
1989: Hero and Exile: The Art of Old English Poetry, by Stanley B.Greenfield. Edited by George H.Brown.
Stanley B.Greenfield is probably the professor who has written most about The Seafarer.
He deserves a page of his own.
"What is matter ? Never mind. What is mind ? Doesn't matter".
Advice from Bertrand Russell's family.
"Brief and powerless is man's life; on him and all his race the slow, sure doom falls pitiless and dark."
"Truth sits upon the lips of dying men."
"Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals."
© Charles Harrison-Wallace 2014, 2016
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