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Matthew 11:28

King James Bible : "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."


Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari, 2014, p 297


The anfloga sights the unwearnum.
The Central Crux.
line 63

The Bipartite Nature of the Seafarer Poem

Lines 1-62: Life, laboursome and heavy laden.   Lines 64-125: Death, a heavenly benison gifted by God
Death acquires meaning, courtesy Christianity.
Pagans were more realistic.

To my mind the poem's text merely implies that the seafarer, when faring alone at sea, had exchanged the wassail of the mead-hall for the company of various varieties of birds. A learned Christian monk, assuming the persona of a seafarer, presents his imagined experiences, projected as labouring and heavy laden, as an illustrative exemplum, leading to early evangelical and philosophical advice to his hearers on how to face the approach of death. The composition was delivered orally. Death is brought by the anfloga --- Time, on eagle wing.


From Homo Deus, 2015, by Yuval Noah Harari

It has generally been considered that The Seafarer is constructed in two halves, although no real consensus about these halves has been reached. If we take the single word "Amen" to constitute the poem's last line [line 125], then its midpoint, at lines 62b - 64a, is occupied by the word unwearnum.

The word wearn is an adjective, essentially meaning "guarded";
unwearn therefore essentially means "unguarded".
"For fear the cruell Feends should thee vnwares deuowre". Spenser.
Is "unwares" an adjective or an adverb ?

Here are a dozen of the seafarer's almost universally misunderstood words:
anfloga, eft, holma, hreer, hwete, hyge, mg, onwlweg, sceata, sorge, unwearnum, wongas.


G.D.Hansson, 1991

Since Modern Swedish is the language most closely resembling the language spoken by the Anglians (sometimes misleadingly called Old Englishmen !) it is of interest to see what Gunnar Hansson makes of The Seafarer in his Swedish translation, now soon 30 years since.

It is immediately clear that what has been called the "personality" of the Swedish language closely approaches that of the Anglian language. It is also clear that Hansson ignores the weird idea that the seafarer's hyge somehow converts into the anfloga. This interpretation grows ever more ludicrous the more it is proposed.

However, Hansson cannot completely rid himself of the accumulated errors committed by the Angloglots of previous years.

In spite of the existence of a term in Swedish such as "valplats", meaning "death place", Hansson still accepts the ill-advised Anglo emendation hwl for wl, and he reduces the attack of the anfloga to "the bird's sad cry kindles, or excites, my heart, driving me out to the ways of the whale and the wilds of the ocean." This is rather a long way from the greedy and avid ravages and rapine of the bird of prey, as it yells and shrieks.

On the other hand, in his introduction to Slaget vid Maldon, 1991, Hansson has an illuminating comment to make about the "lauded" interpretation of Ezra Pound, which he judges may just about have managed to approximately reproduce the sound of the original. He also confesses that, according to the perspective of Burton Raffel's The Art of Translating Poetry, which followed the Pound approach, his own efforts to pay close attention to the original compositions might be judged "half-witted". Sadly, he does not translate The Seafarer beyond line 107. This was something I similarly, deplorably and regrettably, failed to do in my first attempt.

Returning to Hansson's tacit but unfortunate acceptance of the emendation of wl to hwl, it is amusing to note, in a recent publication, that Smithers' "attempt to leave wlweg unemended in line 63, as 'way to the abode of the dead'" is described as "unpersuasive". It had failed to persuade Ida Gordon, but Smithers was a somewhat better linguist than Gordon, as of the unidentified recent critic, and there are other scholars who have found Smithers totally persuasive. There were also those prior to Smithers who found onwlweg unemended perfectly acceptable. The word wlweg actually means "death way". Other key words, besides anfloga, are unwearnum which means "unguarded", and eft which means "anon", or "then", not "back".

Arthur Koestler makes an interesting point in The Heel of Achilles, 1974. Here is a sample: "The German word for composing poetry is 'dichten' --- to compress. (A rather curious idea, etymologically, since Hellquist derives it from Latin "diktare", not "thicken", but let it pass. Ed.) But compression can also operate in semantic space, by squeezing several meanings, or levels of meaning, into a single statement. Freud thought this was the essence of poetry; Empson's 'seven types of ambiguity' are variations on the same theme."

Now read below what interesting words Professor J.R.R.Tolkien has to say about the manner in which Anglian verse is structured. What he says here also applies to The Seafarer.


In Homage to Catalonia George Orwell wrote that he saw "eager intellectuals buildng emotional superstructures over events that had never happened". He wasn't thinking about eager Anglo-Saxonists building interpretative superstructures over creative translations that avidly misread their sources.

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

commentaries: one, two, three [more than 60 other versions], four, five, six
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"It is dangerous to be right when authority is wrong". Voltaire


I have been given the impression that I was considered insulting
for having wished to discuss the meaning of The Seafarer.
Does this debate, like others, become increasingly bitter because its issue is so trivial ?

"Ignoring pertinent information makes one an idiot". Ethan Indigo Smith, 2014,
The Complete Patriot's Guide, p 41.

Truth treads on toes.
In 1992 the Vatican conceded that Galileo had been right in 1633.
I wonder if anyone reads this flummery ? They might give me a billet.
"no one to keen him but the black hags that do be flying on the sea"

© Charles Harrison-Wallace 2018
All Rights Reserved


Wahllos schlgt das Schicksal zu
Heute er und morgen du!
Ich hr' von fern die Krhen schrei'n
Im Morgenrot, warum muss das sein?