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Very little has been done hitherto to investigate the exact shades of meaning in Old English words.
Otto Jespersen, Growth and Structure of the English Language, Chapter 3, § 52; 1938.

See letter in History Today

to sişe

Pound's "journey's jargon" misrepresents the seafarer,
and is ugly.

"Translation accuracy is measured by the degree to which readers get the true meaning of the original."
Wayne Leman.

Ezra's "poem has survived on merits that have little to do with those of an accurate translation". J.B.Bessinger

sişas secgan hu ic:     sätten säga hur jag

the ways expound how I

My earlier web page on this topic may have been begun as early as 2007. This page materialises following my attention having been drawn to a book published in 2012, however. I am tempted to suppose that the book is inspired by my opinion of Pound's jargon, since it appears to be devoted, wholesale, to a manic defence of that very jargon. This is a temptation I find difficult to resist.

The book in question is Ezra Pound s Early Verse Lyric Tradition: A Jargoner s Apprenticeship, by Robert F. Stark. I must now seek out a selection of choice quotes. Meanwhile, a recapitulation is given below.

Sadly, I feel a liitle too old and weary to tackle Stark, just at this moment in time. What irritates me most about his book is his insistence in calling Pound's "refraction" a translation. It is anything but a translation.

Here are some illuminating books which I've nevertheless come across, as a result of reading him.

Jargon: its uses and abuses. 1993. Walter Nash. British. Excellent.

A Guide to Ezra Pound's Selected Poems. 1983. Christine Foula. American. Unfortunate.

The Roots of Treason: Ezra Pound and the Secrets of St Elizabeth's. 1984. E.Fuller Torrey. American. Eye-Opening and Myth-Shattering. "The biggest myth ..... was that he was insane." p xix.

sişas secgan hu ic

Pound referred to The Seafarer in his Philological Note: 'The text of this poem is rather confused'. The truth is that Pound's "refraction" is more than rather confused itself. The poem isn't confused in fact, but Pound's lines confuse it sufficiently to persuade his admirers that he had really reproduced the original Anglo-Saxon, of which they had not the slightest grasp. Still, whatever Pound meant by "refraction", it is a word which sounds, and is, more accurately descriptive than "translation".

A digressive comment here on translation. Anyone with a reasonable command of two languages must know that word-for-word translation is doomed, if the aim is to convey ideas, sensations, or anything beyond the most basic of concrete objects from one language to another. A rose is a rose is a rose, indeed; but anything which has a breath of metaphor about it needs further thought. Is a siş a course, custom, journey, manner, pathway, pilgrimage, proceeding, progression, road, route, way, or none of these? Even Pound himself somewhere remarks: "Do not translate what I said, but what I meant to say". He didn't follow his own advice --- mainly because most of the time he neither understood, nor cared, what his source was actually saying, or meant to say.

Time to introduce a topical note. To wit, Ezra Pound was the Donald Trump of early C20th American verse. The more outrageous his assertions, the more fake his compositions, the more mannered his output, the more his acolytes admire him, and the greater his mind-numbing influence. Curious how both men express their enthusiasm for Mussolini. Ezra - Enoch: another astonishing parallel !

exploiter and exploited

Pilgrim in Jabberland

Left. Neophyte feels initially threatened and intimidated by a gaggle of Anglo-American germanistas, but starts to discern that they are nothing but a mindless pack of cards.

Right. Confident neophyte, promoted, now takes matters into own hands, and deals with gaggle in appropriate manner. Note red queen of Kalamazoo kaffeeklatsch suitably dished and ditched.

In the Review of English Studies, 36, 144, November 1985, Bruce Mitchell has a short piece entitled The Syntax of the Seafarer, Lines 50-52.

Lines 50-52Site interpretation
ealle şa gemoniağ modes fusne
sefan to sişe şam şe swa şenceğ
on flodwegas feor gewitan
the wide world racks the restless mind
of him who on the full flood tide
determines to depart
C.W.M.Grein 1857E.Pound 1911
es mahnt dieses alles den im Gemüt beeilten
hinaus zu ziehen, der also gedenkt
fernhin zu wandern auf die Flutenwege;
All this admonisheth man eager of mood,
The heart turns to travel so that he then thinks
On flood-ways to be far departing.

"I propose to leave to the reader of the poem to choose that interpretation which suits him best." This is Mitchell's final comment.

E.V.K.Dobbie, 1953, Beowulf and Judith, The Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records, Vol IV, p 161. In his note to Beowulf, line 908, sið, Dobbie has this to say: "Does this word mean 'journey, expedition' (its usual meaning), or does it mean 'fate' (as Kock, Anglia XLV, 117, takes it)? Or may it not simply mean 'way (of doing things),' as apparently in ll. 2532, 2541? That is, it was Heremod's conduct which was lamented by his followers. The obscurity of the allusion makes it impossible to judge."

I wouldn't say that, EVKD; the word quite simply does not mean "journey, expedition"; nor does it mean "fate". It does, quite emphatically, mean "way"

Those contemplating undertaking a translation might like to read the sum of what is said by Wayne Leman, here, as well as by E.Bruce Brooks, here

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about seeking whom he may devour ! Whom resist, steadfast in the faith ...... The gods themselves contend in vain against stupidity, but intrepid resistance is indicated. Silence implies assent, and only a base man will ignore outspoken idiocy, even when its utter inanity appears to be recommending disregard.

The following guidelines, included by Theodore Savory in The Art of Translation, Cape 1957; new and enlarged edition 1968, are the ones I favour.

A translation must:

give the ideas of the original
read like an original work
reflect the style of the original
read as a contemporary of the translator
sometimes add to or omit from the original
translate verse into verse

Quoted by Ernst-August Gutt, Translation and Relevance, Blackwell 1991, p.120

the meaning of sişas

my fortunes recount how1842Thorpe
erzählen meine Fahrten 1857Grein
telling of my travels1898Stopford Brooke
of my voyages telling1902Iddings
mein Ergehn [experiences] beschreiben1908Immelmann
tell of my travels1910Spaeth
journey's jargon1911Pound
Kunde den Menschen melden1915Sieper
tell of my travels 1918Faust & Thompson
meine Geschicke [destinies] kunden1920Immelmann
recount my adventures1922Kershaw
tell of my travels1926Gordon
narrate my adventures1933Mackie
sing of my sea-adventure1936Kennedy
tell of my adventures1937Anderson/Arngart

David Burns noted: "historians seem to dismiss, or not wish to pursue"
the link between Swedish and Anglo-Saxon.

"The greater the labour, the fewer the people who understand and appreciate it".
Paul Valéry, 1871 - 1945.

"Every great advance ..... has involved the absolute rejection of authority." T.H. Huxley

" I have been obliged to content myself through life with saying what I mean
in the plainest of plain language, than which, I suppose,
there is no habit more ruinous to a man's prospects of advancement."
T.H.Huxley, Autobiography, p 1, Lectures & Essays, Watts & Co, published 1931.

See here for anfloga BC.

""Scholars belong to guilds held together by common opinions, attitudes, and methods … innovation is welcome only when it is confined to surface details and does not modify the structure as a whole." Cyrus H.Gordon

try starting from another angle: here

The line numbers in brackets indicate Gordon's 1960 edition. The Modern Swedish cognate follows.

Mæg ic (1) - Må jag. (notes: 1)
slat (11) - slet. (notes: 3)
scurum (17) - skur. (notes: 5)
gomene (20) - gamman. (notes: 6)
medodrince (22) - mjöddricka. (notes: 6)
hrusan (32) - grus. (notes: 9)
forşon (27, 33, 39, 58, 64, 72, 103, 108) - ändå, ty då, för då. (notes: 10/11)
sorge (42, 54) - omsorg or sörja för. (notes: 12)
hyge (44, 58, 96) - håg. (notes: 13)
wongas (49) - vång. (notes: 14)
sceatas (61, 105) - sköte (skatt). (notes: 17). See also "Empress of Hel".

*** *** ***

essays and papers
site version
journey's jargon one
swedish sprachgefühl
bacon gardner pound williams
beowulf's maritime excursion

"A" is the same as the letter "A"
Ludwig Wittgenstein

See here for the Central Crux. ll.58-68.

commentaries: one, two, three [60 plus other versions], four, five, six
annotation         main general index
more on unwearnum         more and more on unwearnum
Seafarer: Veracity & Fidelity
Seafarer Birds         Seafarer Cuckoo

ezra - enoch


© Charles Harrison-Wallace 2016